Remarks By Mr. Oseloka Henry Obaze, MD/CEO Selonnes Consult Ltd., At the Correspondents (Chapel Forum) of the NUJ, Anambra State Chapter News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) Office, Awka, Tuesday, 9th May 2017.
It’s a great honour to be invited to speak with the resident members of the Fourth Estate – at this Correspondents Chapel Forum. The topic you have chosen – conflict between politics and governance – is very important, but one which often goes unacknowledged.
Politics and Governance are inextricable. Yet, here in Nigeria, there is an emergent and evident dichotomy that can simply be described as dangerous. Four key realities underline this dichotomy or conflict. The first, is the ever present and increasing of conflict of interest that is often ignored by our political leaders. The second, which derives from the first, is the growing impunity within governance circles that leads to absence of transparency and accountability. The third strand is the burden of undue expectation – the unending “general expectation that those in government have infinite resources to dole out to friends and acolytes.” And the fourth is a prevailing trust gap between the political leaders and the governed.
Politics is an unending process. Governance and the sole mission of any government, is to serve the people. Politics and governance can be accomplished in a seamless manner, when political leaders, are focused, honest and have the will. The latter derives from capacity and credibility. When all these variables are presence, purposeful leadership becomes possible. When these variables are shirked or wittingly ignored, naturally, economic and social development will suffer immeasurably.
Today, Nigeria remains in a governance crisis mode; in arrested development and indeed, in economic recession. Simply put; the country is not working optimally – not at the federal level, not at the state level and governance is near non-existent at the local government level. The State of the Nigerian Nation, to say the least, is deeply worrying. The State of the Nation is not strong!
Nigeria is not just in recession we are in deep trouble. Primarily, Nigerians are hungry and that is not a good sign. The economy is under performing in almost all sectors. While we acknowledge the efforts underway through the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), it seems evident that the political leadership continues to struggle. Nigeria is presently ranked 152nd out of 188 countries in the UNDP Human Development Index (HDI). She thus retains a position she has held since 2014, which confirms that our country belongs to the Low Human Development (LDH) category.
The political leadership does not know what to do. There are many challenges. There is increasing restiveness. All these are evidence of governance and policy failure and the clash of the demands of politics and governance. There is a deficit of policy coherence and coordination. Despite the promised change, economic reforms are not working and general direction remains ambiguous. We must look at the subsets: with over 180 million people, a GDP of $413bn, foreign reserve of about $30bn, and market capitalization of about $30bn, we have a negative GDP growth, 19% inflation, 20% unemployment rate and two successive national budgets (2016 and 2017) each with a deficit overhang of N2.3 trillion.
Our foreign exchange policies are at best mercurial; the Naira continues to swing pendulum-style against the dollar, our benchmark currency. We have gone from the promised N2 to $1 exchange ratio, to an all-time depreciated exchange rate of N518 to $1 and to the present N391 to $1. Rather than take hardheaded policies that would support the domestic market and domestic production, we pursue a lineal two-tier Forex policy that is simply wrong. We have politicized our foreign exchange regime, so that it favours the privileged and those in government; not the wealth creators in the manufacturing sector. The present ratio of 60% to 40% allocation is lopsided since it means that nearly 90% of the GDP is ignored. This creates panic and underpins the parallel market. Inflow from foreign investors and diaspora remittances has fallen drastically, due to capital flight and fear.
Warped Fiscal Policies and Forex Regime
The wrong economic policies combined with warped fiscal policies and forex regime led to the recent drastic loss of the value of Naira. Worse still, we refuse to officially devalue, which means that we refuse to confront reality. This development also made a mess of the disposable income and thus forcing the middle class to go into extinction in Nigeria. Today, what is certain, are the prevailing uncertainties. Just a few days ago, the CBN revised marginally, its funding stance for the 41 items for which importers are banned from accessing the forex market. Justifiable as the ban may be, it was evidently an ad hoc measure instituted without due consultations and without any remedial policy to augment the local content. As Manufacturer Association of Nigeria (MAN) has indicated, the 41 items banned when broken down to 110 components, 75 components are raw materials required to keep the national industries running.
Relatedly, the Cost of Governance (COG) remains too high. Besides policy incoherence, Nigeria still maintains a very huge public service at the federal, state and local government levels. Cost of administering the legislative branch is mindboggling. I have heard an incumbent governor admit that “there is no recession in the government house” – a reality that is applicable to all government houses. Paradoxically, a majority of ours states are not viable. Indeed, on record and by any acceptable measure, only four (4) of our thirty-six states (36) are deemed viable. That is less than 25% of our states. The reality is that our states cannot exist on bailouts; and it is a far more risky proposition to allow them to continue the present trend of excessive borrowing.
We are encountering very troubling infrastructure deficit. This pertains to social and physical infrastructure or what some refer to as soft and hard infrastructure. Examples are available in the transport and power sector, where we experienced 26 power grid systems collapse between 2016 and 2017. Although we have spent N5 trillion ($36 billion) since 1999 on our power sector, we have an installed capacity of 12.5 megawatt from our 26 power plants, compared to 40 megawatts produced by South Africa, but still cannot distribute up to 10,000 megawatts due to decrepit infrastructure. Present realities are reflected by the increasing protestations nationwide over dismal service delivery and excessive tariffs charged by the DISCOS. We presently encounter a vicious cycle; the GENCOS are debt strapped; the DISCOS are also debt strapped and cannot upgrade the existing infrastructure; they are owed huge debts of over N700 billion by the consumers, notably, government MDAs including the military and the police. Hence the DISCOS pass off their huge operating costs to the unsuspecting consumer. But surely, we have reached a breaking point. The fact remains that we are not seriously looking at upgrade, midgrade and renewable energy. That, by itself, is policy failure. An attentive government or leadership should have long declared a state of emergency in the power sector.
Political agitation is on the rise as does militancy. There is a reason for all these. Simply the government is not being responsive. The herdsmen farmers’ clashes across the nation are a law and order issue. The primary goal is to disarm the herdsmen then focus on the viable options of ranching as it obtains in the civilized world, or grazing reserves, where the local Land Use Act so permits. It’s evident to all, that the promised change has not materialized and the political leadership rather than focusing on governance, are already politicking for 2019 and beyond. With these realities in place, one can hardly speak positively of economic and social development. There are core areas of governance that are crisis prone, which we must address aggressively. Let me use the time left to address them, sector by sector.
Human capital remains our greatest national asset; but we continue to undervalue, underestimate and underfund that sector, due to the absence of demographic dividend – the freeing up of resources for a country’s economic development and for future posterity. We have been unrealistically allergic to saving for the future and for our posterity. Today, Nigerian youths comprising of 15-35 year olds, make up 70 million of Nigeria’s 180 million people. Some 54% of these youths are unemployed. Of the 57 million out of school children worldwide – 10.5 million reside in Nigeria alone. Thus as a nation, we encounter a critical mosaic represented by two unemployed sets: the educated, skilled and unemployed and the illiterate, unskilled and unemployed. The consequences are glaring; Nigeria has a high percentage of 10% of the world youth population that are categorized as NEET (not in education, employment or training); invariably, we are a nation with a huge youth population that is predisposed to violence, cultism, scams, kidnapping, and concerted revenge on society; regrettably our youth bulge has not translated to cheap labour as it ought to.
The singular solution to youth unemployment is to engender policies that are youth focused and youth friendly. We must strengthen our institutions and policies that cater for the youth. Unremitting exposure, to mentoring, training and access to global best practices are means of making our youths globally competitive. Besides, creating endless youth policy platforms like NAPEP, NYC, GEEP, SURE-P, Graduate Internship Initiative, Youth Parliament, Youth Empowerment Support (YES), we need to get our youth involved in programmes like YALI (Young African Leadership Initiative); they need sponsors and mentors; and we must give them space to operate responsibly.
Policy Inertia and Contradictions:
Conventionally, public policies are made to serve or to be implemented progressively; that is for the short, medium and long term. Presumably, such policies are public-interest driven; but we are witnesses to numerous public policies that that transaction-driven or meant to serve as recompense or patronage. Additional challenges ensue, when policies are tied to in-office tenures. Moreover, at the federal and state levels, we are witnesses to how functional policies and programmes are abandoned at will. Hence we hurriedly abandoned well-established and legislatively approved policies purely on the grounds of change of government, despite paying lip service to sustainable development and the cliché, governance is a continuum. The Sure-P programme and ANIDS programmes are stark testimonies. Such practices result in wastage, duplication and attendant crumbling of our infrastructure and laggardly economic and social development.
It was most gratifying reading in national daily recently, wherein the Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Economic Matters, Dr Yemi Dipeolu, admitted that Nigeria needed to return to a holistic national development plan. His words: “We really must get back to the era of National Development Plan, we did that in the early 60s and 70s, we must get back to the era of treating national plans as national plans” (Vanguard May 1, 2107). The value of a recommendation is to is that they are not aligned to in-office tenure, they are holistic as well as cross-cutting. Why focus our blueprints and actions plans on four-year cycles linked to elective offices? If we are interested in governance, good policies ought to be our priority and this will be long-term because governance is about the people and sustainable development. Inability to grasp this reality explains why political leaders delay the execution critical public sector projects, and wait to do so hurriedly just ahead of the elections, in the erroneous belief that it will yield higher political impact. Often overlooked, is that haste makes waste. The status quo in Anambra represents a case in point.
Equity and Empowerment vs Nepotism:
Good governance rests on the delivery of services including ensuring equity and guaranteeing empowerment. Yet the risk exist – despite the dictates of federal character – that misapplied, the drive for empowerment easily turns to nepotism and disenfranchisement of others. Governance is about serving the people with their resources. If one must take up this responsibility, you must be ready to give the people the very best that available resources can offer. However, since we tend to confuse politics with governance, political leaders risk awarding contracts to friends and political allies, who may have aided them politically. Similarly, there is a loss of sense of balance, which results in lopsided political appointments; lack of gender and ethnic balance, in extreme cases, a majority of political appointees coming from a leader’s hometown or catchment area; as is now the case in Anambra State.
Respect for the rule of Law and Transparency in Governance:
Politics aside, those in government should be at the forefront of respecting the Constitution, which they swore to uphold. Contextually, no overt or covert influence of the government should be exerted on the impartiality of law enforcement and adjudication of legal matters. Good governance means that despite immunity accorded top certain public officers, government as an entity can be sued, just as government can sue individuals and other entities. Regrettably, in Nigeria, government has become omnipotent; governors infallible; and law enforcement agencies irreproachable. Increasingly we are witnessing the mismanagement of public information, growth of massive misinformation, untruths and blatant lies from governmental institutions in Nigeria. The scope is alarming broad; lies in our manifestation; lies related to loot recovery and forfeitures, whistle blowing and Chibok girls. Lies are also a growth industry in some states where achievement and accomplishments are not evidence-based. These challenges, when they go unquestioned, tarnish the level of trusted the public has for government and its institutions. Today we are enforcing whistle blowing policies not backed by legislation; it was not passed by the 7th Senate and is still under consideration in the 8th Senate. We need to do thing properly and follow due process.
Sectional Politics Gone Awry:
We have allowed sectional politics to discolor governance. Today, while there are representatives from non-oil producing areas on the Board of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), there are hardly any southerners on the North East Recovery Commission. Yet the proposed North East Development Commission was billed to be funded by 3% of the federation value added tax (VAT) over a ten year period. Public sector appointees with statutory appointments are being sacked daily with hardly any public umbrage over such violations of constitutional dictates. Closer home, we are witnesses to the intractable completion of the Second Niger Bridge project; the non utilization of the Onitsha Inland port since it was built in 1982. These things have happened because politics has overtaken governance.
Nigeria is going in the wrong direction in many ways. No area is this reality is starker in the realm of campaign financing. One cannot fully address the issue of conflict between politics and governance without talking about a deeply entrenched culture of “cash and carry” politics and a flawed campaign finance model we practice here in Nigeria. It is hardly news to this audience that elections in Nigeria are capital intensive. We are prime witnesses. Everywhere you go in this country today, engaging in any form of politicking provokes solicitation for financial inducement. Some will unapologetically and unashamedly tell you, “money for hand, thumb for ballot.” This imposes huge financial burdens on those running for political offices. It implies also and indeed confirms that those with the deepest pockets or those who are willing to cut deals are most likely to get elected. Wining through such a model translates to huge political debts to pay. These debts are paid at the expense of socio-economic development. There is no perfect democracy anywhere, but there are some that are better than others; and many democracies fare better than ours. Naturally, we sometimes wish we are like them. Yet we are not ready to contribute to the causes and candidates we believe in.
Let’s make no mistake; democracy yields the greatest dividend to those who own it. If we truly need respite from bad governance, we the people must take back ownership of governance by consciously reversing this culture of instant gratification. We certainly cannot continue to expect the kind of rewards our peers in advanced democracies get without electing to make the kind of sacrifices they make. If we must have the results they have, then we must be willing to be proactive in doing the things they do.
Since we are in the season of elections let me touch briefly on and how our collective attitude to electoral matter undermine our development. We all understand that there is hunger in the land. People must put food on their tables, pay school fees, house rents, medical bills and all what not. That’s the excuse we often make to perpetuate this culture. While we admit the seeming plausibility of this excuse, we should one day start asking thought–provoking questions. We must ask ourselves; “since we started collecting N5,000 at polling booths, have our lives been better for it?” Since we started collecting N1,000 and a few cups of rice at political rallies, have our hunger abated? “How have we fared since we started electing people who we know are both intellectually and morally deficient but can afford to buy our votes and support?”
But then we also make another excuse, telling ourselves that “all politicians are the same and thus the logical thing to do is to collect as much as we can in any, and indeed, every election cycle.” That’s not true. All politicians are not the same and we know it. It is the system and our increasingly eroded value system that is the same and thus the prevailing confusion and consternation. If we fail to change this mindset and our present electoral system, I’m afraid politics will always trump governance. There is this other thought process that holds us down. We tell ourselves that our votes do not count, and that regardless of how we vote, the results are already predetermined. Well, looking back at our immediate past alone, that might seem to be true, but the question I will like us to ponder on is this; “if our votes do not count, why will someone pay as much as N5,000 per polling unit to have it?” Ladies and Gentlemen, I humbly submit the stark reality to you, OUR VOTES COUNT.
So long as there are nations with history and people, conflict between politics and governance will persist. Nigeria is a very lucky and richly endowed country hobbled by a succession of bad leaders. Once the African bellwether and the envisaged leader of the Concert of Medium Powers, today we are relegated to the third cluster of global power brokers –the MINT (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey). Although our rebased economy remains the largest in Africa, we have been excluded from the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, China, South Africa) economic category, simply because of uncertainties related to our economy, our poor infrastructure, and our poor governance record.
Nonetheless, Nigeria remains very resilient and we have survived because we are a nation of “ordinary people made extraordinary by the holy combination of desire and grace” – desire for good governance and the grace to continue trusting fully in God’s benevolence. If for once we can get our leadership components right, we will do well. But we must always speak truth to power and to ourselves. We must speak up when thing go awry and indeed, before they do. We must criticize constructively, and without fear or favour.
Accordingly, permit me to humbly remind you the members of this chapel that you also have a duty and a moral obligation to your noble profession to speak and write truth to power and to promote the right people into leadership positions in our collective interest. We have all witnessed and suffered the consequences of promoting misfits and the wrong people into leadership, thus allowing politics to override good governance. Go tell our people to always vote right, regardless of the chances of electoral victory, for it is better to do the right things and lose than to do the wrong things and win. The chief proposition here is that we must collectively and vividly begin to rethink our leadership recruitment protocol. Both the electorate and those seeking public office have a role to play in this regard.
It is often said that “all politics is local.” That is true. What it also means in that in every localized setting the people know who the good leaders are; those with the capacity and credibility to govern well rather than play politics and those who can truly deliver the dividends of democracy and good governance. One premise must singularly influence our efforts to ensure that politics does not override governance to our detriment. In choosing our prospective leaders, we must operate on the premise that they are “sufficiently good to be in politics and not that being in politics will make them good.” If we develop this mindset, we would have successfully eased off a lot of pressure on our leaders so that the need to settle political debts will not continue to greatly jeopardize the whole essence of governance.
Thank you and God bless.
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.
Selonnes Consult Ltd. is a Strategic Policy, Good Governance and Management Consulting Firm, founded by Mr. Oseloka H. Obaze who served as Secretary to Anambra State Government from 2012-2015; a United Nations official from 1991-2012 and a Nigerian Foreign Service Officer from 1982-1991.