Policy Briefs

Is Redemptive Governance Nigeria’s Option?

By Oseloka H. Obaze ~~

Nigeria is politically and developmentally in the wilderness. Poor leadership and the attending governance challenges are causative. Because the redeeming power of prayer is near eschatological, Nigerians still pray for Nigeria in distress.  Prayer bolsters faith and “has great powers to produce results.” But Nigeria’s resort to prayers to resolve its leadership challenges, even as it offers succor, also underlines that governance fails when it’s not redemptive. It also adds fillip to Karl Marx’s contention that “religion is the opiate of the masses.” Yet, it is now obvious that turning Nigeria around may require redemptive governance, and a non-partisan coalescing of various individuals — sufficiently bold and selflessly honest; “men who possess opinions and a will” to rethink Nigeria’s remediation modalities, and indeed, make Nigeria whole and functional again.

As Nigeria hobble under recessionary pressures and sustainable livelihood becomes a gargantuan challenge, religion becomes a thriving industry; an escapism replete with dupes and foretold false prophets. This state of play in Nigeria’s depressed economy, also validate long-held local contention that “God dey, is the poor man’s prayer.”  Yet Nigeria’s present realities underpin the enormity of the challenges confronting her; more so, the fact that despite the promised change, the nation and those entrusted to bring about that change, are all struggling badly.  If change reflects success, little of it abounds in Nigeria. And that’s the mainstream view. The initial flush of collective optimism, exhilaration and bravura has waned. With the recession, trickle down dividends of democracy are painfully slow in coming to Nigerians. Nigeria’s governance problem is that the ‘change’ bar might have been set too high; beyond the scope of what Nigeria’s weak leadership, weak institutions, weak infrastructure and weak resolve can deliver.

Confoundedly, the Buhari administration has a publicly articulated vision, purpose and governance strategies; the ‘right’ set of people, with the requisite integrity and accountability credentials; positive culture and ethics to drive policies and is promoting frugality and due process in the use of scarce resources. It thus remains incomprehensible to Nigeria observers, why it’s difficult to turn around Nigeria, when nearly all the fundamentals of good governance are seemingly in place. Unbiased analyses point to the need for clarity, absence of organisational capability to deliver on purpose and lack of effective stakeholder engagement, as critical factors mitigating desirable change.

The present stagflation makes fixing the country’s main challenges rather difficult.  Meanwhile, Nigeria’s political leadership continues to insist that the country must think and act and look beyond oil.  Factors beyond their control compel such consideration.  Oil price vacillation still makes nonsense of planning and budgeting, as global oil prices swing in pendulum fashion from a high of $100 per barrel in 2014 to a low of $27 per barrel in early 2016 and currently, $52 per barrel. Prevailing challenges are worsened by a political class and leadership averse to making personal sacrifices. First, national interest has completely disappeared from the national lexicon, thus rendering every policy measure suspect and subject to idiosyncratic construal. Second, a combination of poor infrastructure, poor electricity supply and expanding unemployment bulge, compound present challenges.  Third, Nigerian legislators refuse to embark on frugality. Fourth, while financing agriculture is a viable option, the agribusiness blueprint and mosaic seems opaque due to lack of synergy. This status quo makes it impossible to accomplish the enunciated goal of reducing food importation to the barest minimal by 2019. These factors make remediation of decrepit governance and physical infrastructure all too arduous.

Absence of policy synergy between the federal government and the state and local governments in pressing and critical areas still pose immense challenges. Despite recent bailout of states, only four states are economically viable. The remaining six states that did not receive initial bailout are now all heavily indebted. While the federal government tries to address burgeoning national debt, the states in parallel opposite, continue borrowing. Unchecked, such borrowings compound Nigeria’s intractable foreign exchange and contingent liabilities, and make ongoing efforts to address critical sectors of the economy intensely fractious rather than holistic.

 As SBM Intelligence, a policy a think tank observed recently, most Nigerian states failed “to diversify their economies by developing human capital and levering on the substantial resources they possessed. The result has been powerful governors beholden to ostentatious living, bloated public work-forces, with its attendant wage demands; fully 80% of the states owe salaries.”  Paradoxically, as state governments seek reimbursements for funds they expended on fixing decrepit federal infrastructures; the same states also spend enormous fiscal resources in underwriting logistical and financial support for federal law enforcement agencies, with hardly any recompense from Abuja. It’s these awkward realities that compel demands for true federalism and restructuring. Most of the 2017 draft budgets presented by the federal and state governments are largely unrealistic; very few are zero-based and very few will be funded and implemented fully. Insofar as the federal and state governments fiscally strangulate the local governments, prevailing challenges will subsist.  This past week, UNIDO proclaimed Nigeria’s SMEs, “Ignorant of certain investment and technological skills” required to liberate the country from the claws of the current recession.”

Oddly enough, those who dare to advise or criticize the Buhari government are being pummeled with a barrage of counter-criticisms. Not considering that we are in a democracy, Presidential aides have become pointlessly defensive, combative and shockingly impolitic. They pushback consistently against any advice or criticism, be it mundane or well-intended. Hence, the government has lost sight of the fine divide between jibes by its traducers and exhortations from well-meaning Nigerians, including members of the attentive public. For its own edification, the Presidency needs to commission some policy preceptors to explore the constructive role of three thirteen century figures — Robert of Sorbon, a churchman; Etienne Boileau, a bourgeois; and Simon de Nesle, an aristocrat — that jointly orchestrated the transfiguring of French politics by fostering redemptive governance during the reign of King Louis IX.

It should be deeply worrying that midway into President Muhammadu Buhari’s first term, most of his initial supporters have “changed’ and are jumping ship.  His erstwhile political allies are also seeking “change” by realigning for 2019; convinced that Buhari won’t be catalytic to the electoral outcome, despite the power of incumbency.  Recent electoral trends in Gambia, Ghana, and before now, Nigeria, which swept underperforming leaders aside seem to support such rationalizations. As Kingsley Moghalu, noted recently, “Nigeria’s fiscal crisis in a world of low oil prices can be addressed only through a constitutional redesign that devolves decision-making to units that will have economies of scale.”  Ditto Nigeria’s governance challenges.

Nigerians are suffering. As such, Nigeria needs a governance catharsis; redemptive and smart power governance methods not influenced by partisan or ethno-political considerations. Since constitutionally guaranteed social justices no longer suffice, we should perhaps resort to philosophical-theological dictates which draw their impetus from the Bible and the Koran. Nigeria should retool its leadership advisory and decision-making methods. Considering that one major governance challenge we face, relates to placing people who are still seeking relevance in public offices, Nigeria needs to have in public offices, people who no longer need government, but whose counsel the government can’t do without. It’s worth recalling that former U.S. Vice-President Walter Mondale served as the 24th U.S. Ambassador to Japan from 1993 to 1996. Such public service underlined extraordinary patriotism, exemplary leadership and the high regards the U.S. had for Japan. Such dispositions are rare in Nigeria, where politics and public service are self-indulgent.

If the remaining segment of President Buhari’s tenure must yield tangible results, there must be a clinical rethink and readjustment, aimed at fostering redemptive governance.  If it must start with a cabinet reshuffle, so be it. This proposition is not in favour of non-secular or dogmatic governance methods; but on the need to embark on governance methods that are people-oriented, which will substitute rhetoric and promises with compassion; trade precepts for efficient and quick delivery of basic needs and services; and promote common good in place of divisive policies based on leadership whims.  If “Heaven helps those who help themselves,” then Nigeria’s rebirth may hinge on redemptive governance.

Obaze is MD/CEO of Selonnes Consult Ltd.

See links to published op-Ed version.




Oseloka Obaze, MD & CEO

Oseloka Obaze, MD & CEO

Mr. Obaze is the former Secretary to the State Government of Anambra State, Nigeria from 2012 to 2015 - MD & CEO, Oseloka H. Obaze. Mr. Obaze also served as a former United Nations official, from 1991-2012, and as a former member of the Nigerian Diplomatic Service, from 1982-1991.

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