WEDNESDAY COLUMN BY SAFIYA ADAMU
As a social scientist, I have long come to the conclusion that that while governance or the lack of it is a serious issue in Nigeria, the greater problem lies with people of Nigeria. Never in modern or even ancient history has any country been so unfortunate to be populated with ethnocentric and religious egomaniacs. The people are so filled with self-importance that each tribe and ethnic group is willing to set ablaze the common land. No learning from history, no learning from other nations’ experience.
Leadership seems to have taken a walk while governance takes flight. But then who do we blame for the poor governance or total lack of it? I blame us, we the people who fail to even grasp the basic essence of governance, its implication, and expectations. This is why we cannot demand for accountability or hold leadership accountable. Others have argued and are still arguing that the people of Nigeria are so poverty-stricken or that the different governments at one time or another have ridden us so badly we have ceased to care. I don’t agree and I refuse to succumb to that defeatist stance. My take is that because of our failure to stand together as a people we encouraged and help grow the situation we find ourselves today.
Governance implies delivery of services and results that meet the needs of a society and takes care of the general collective well being of the people. How does this happen? It happens when processes and institutions are deployed to produce results that meet the needs of society through optimal application of available resources. Optimal application of resources means optimization of efficiency, which implies sustainable use of natural resources, protection of the environment, and targeted deployment of revenue. In all, governance encompasses that process of decision-making and implementation of those decisions. It requires political will; unshakeable drive to deliver not just on promises but on what needs to be done to make life worthwhile for the general populace.
Good governance is participatory, consensus oriented, accountable and transparent, responsive to the people’s needs and yearnings, effective and efficient and very importantly equitable and with a strong presence of the rule of law. Who are the people entrusted with this implementation? Who are those responsible for the operationalizing of policies resulting from decisions taken? The public service provides that machinery and it is manned by the career civil service personnel, persons who “begged to apply “ for the jobs entailed in this machinery. The failure of these persons to implement and deliver on services is our collective failure. Because we the people do not demand for accountability and are not willing to hold anyone accountable so they get away with not doing the right thing, they get away with mediocrity and we let them. Punishment for failures or gross misconduct is not applied, because we have chosen to throw standards to the dogs. These failures have now become the new normal and are now systemic.
Systemic failure is today the bane of our public service, it has created and constituted barriers to governance. This is an issue that causes me so much vexation. Why? Because it begs questions like; how did we get to this state of affairs? When did we lose it? Where are we headed? What happened to us as a people? Who stole our sense of ethics and morality? The questions are just endless and each one threatens to sink one. For real? Yes for real! Systemic failure in its simple meaning is failure due to a flaw or flaws in a system. But how can systems have flaws when there are people appointed, or elected, or employed to man it and run it? Something is most certainly not right here. Systems do no just fail overnight; flaws develop as a result of failure to apply checks and balances in the system, coupled with total refusal to carry out “turn –around” maintenance through upholding of standards. In the case of political entities and systems it is simply a case of refusal to do a review of the system and do away with what is not working while retaining that which works, replacing or redesigning what has to be done away with. There has to be continual improvement in the way we do things because ideas and concepts are continually evolving. Change is constant in life and we must live with it. The only way we can survive is by imbibing it wholesome. Why are there no serious innovations in the system? Is this an intellectual laziness, or just lack of interest, or more likely, a case of short sightedness?
Intellectual laziness may be; because the Research and Development (R&D) Departments are not necessarily funded or given any importance per se. Even where funds are available there are rarely any noticeable linkages between the public services and research institutions, moreover what little is done usually ends in files and file cabinets. Results hardly impact on the service, on policies and implementations etc so that year- in –year- out the processes remain the same and results remain unimpactful. The civil service seems to have peculiar effect on the civil servants. By some unwritten rule there appears to be a general consensus that efficiency and impact are anathema to the service and the bureaucrats. It just does not make any sense that things don’t get done properly yet the rules, laws and regulations are there, present in documents available to everyone. Short sightedness to the point that all that matters is accumulation, all that matters me, mine, and myself. It is frightening when you dare to compare the lifestyle and spending or “wealth” of some civil servants with their levels on the service cadre. What is going on?
Systemic failure in this case is failure to deploy the processes and institutions to deliver services for the public good. Examples abound for this; take the budgeting process for one. Budgeting and budget preparations do not follow best practice in most of the MDAs (Ministries, Departments and Agencies). This is because the process is found to be wanting or deficient in needs assessment, consultation, inclusiveness, and participatory. An effective budget references your past to predict your future and determine your present. So each budget cycle must necessarily reflect the needs of the people at that point in time, their wants and expectations from the decision makers and those responsible for implementing those decisions. If the budget does not reflect the wants of the people, and the needs that would enhance their general well being then there would be a problem.
Budget is an important instrument and a strategic tool in the kit of governance so a bad budget begets a bad macro economy this is why the budget must be right.
We may shout and scream all we want about government failures but nothing exhibits these failures like the eruption of a crisis, any crisis. Budget becomes a good example because crises force us to face up to our inadequacies and force us into admissions. Take the Covid-19 pandemic for example. The pandemic has exposed the flaws in our healthcare system and how poorly equipped the hospitals are, how highly deficient they are in the face of such crises and even in day –to day healthcare. We see our inefficiencies and low capacity glaring at us.
However the lack of good governance is not due to failure of particular administration but due to our complacence. The assumption that countries fail or succeed because of bad or good leaders and leadership is a fallacy. Failures or successes occur because of the dynamics within the system. Flawed systems happen because the people let them happen. Right now we are in a quagmire and I quote “ display of leadership including moral leadership is near impossible in a quagmire”.
We must as a people collectively decide to have a leadership that thinks good governance, one with the political will to move this nation forward, a leadership with a bright mind and it is all encompassing.