The relationship issue in Nigeria’s public governance

By Rees Chikwendu

Relationship is one of the basic sources of challenge that confronts people everywhere. This can either be relationship with God, employees, bosses, family, friends, citizens, etc. And to understand the dimensions of this source of challenge to people can be a way forward to improve public governance in troubled states such as Nigeria. This is because relationship and the value orientation people place on it determine their responses when faced with moral dilemma.
With the view to corporate culture, Trompernaars & Hampden-Turner (2015), identified five dimensions of relationship in doing business and management, and these include: rules versus relationship, individual versus the group, the degree of expressing feelings, the degree of involvement, and how status is accorded. Although, these were applied to business management, in this essay, I have decided to discursively stretch it to public governance, with Nigeria as an example.
The kind of judgment one brings into a relationship is crucial to its health and survival. How do you judge the other party with whom you are in a relationship? Have you agreed to particular rules or standards to live in the relationship? For example: Do not lie? Do not cheat? Trust each other? Love her the same way you love yourself? Have deep respect for him? These become obligations if both parties agreed to these rules and standards. But, what if one party encounters a particular obligation or circumstance where s/he decides to break the agreed rules?
Well, it is possible that the woman may encounter a former ex – still hot and with six packs – and decides to bend or break the rule, maybe just for once. “I still feel something for him” or “we were once in love,” she excused herself, cognitively. The man, too, can encounter a particular obligation where he decides to break the rule. “If I don’t do this it will show I am not a real man and not in charge in this relationship,” he beats his chest. By the time these trends start to multiply, the rule is shifting (or has shifted) from that which was agreed upon to something else. There is no longer equality. No longer trust. The rules no longer apply. And the more you continue to make exceptions for these ‘illegal conducts,’ the relationship collapses. This is also true in public governance – that is, the system will collapse when the rules are broken.
In business management, of course, there might not be fixed rules. Cultures could determine the rules. Sometimes, corporate organizations may want to push for standard policy across cultures, but they must always be aware of when to jettison universal (generally agreed) obligations for particular (exceptional) obligations. However, public governance is not exactly like corporate governance, but there is something that can be learned from this aspect of business culture and management, in order to improve relationships within nation-states – especially in multicultural and multi-ethnic state like Nigeria. I am of the opinion that generally public governance in plural societies should be tilted towards universal rules system. This is opposite to corporate governance where culture and circumstance is used to determine obligations. This does not mean that a universal rule cannot be jettisoned sometimes for particular obligations in some public governance situations. In a situation where it does, it should be applied with humane and moral judgments.
However, Nigeria’s public governance system is still fundamentally lacking in what should be called agreed or universal rules. That is to say, the relationship has not even (yet) been defined in the relational sense of one ethnic group to another. What is still obtained in Nigeria’s public governance is a primarily particularist obligations and judgments based on the ethnic group of who the president of the country is. If we take the current Nigerian regime as an example, the question of what is good for all citizens rarely comes into national decision-making of the president. It is a nepotism-ridden government, with skewed appointments favoring those from the president’s Hausa/Fulani ethnicity in Nigeria. The question of who is an indigene and who is not is always asked in national decision-making, which has marred public policies. Therefore, Nigeria’s public governance becomes a matter of who should have my love versus who should have my hate. The lives of people (including cows) from the northern part of the country are protected while the lives of those from the southern part are discounted. This happens mainly because there are no agreed rules, therefore there is no question like, what does the rule say?
Pointing to the constitution as agreed rules here does not make sense to me. Obviously Nigeria’s constitution is a sham. It is a constitution produced in the same way the British colonialists decided the fate of Nigeria in far away Buckingham Palace without involving those that live in that territory. The current Nigerian constitution was a military dictator’s work, in the same manner of the British divide-and-rule strategy, favoring northern dominance. There is nothing democratic about it. No Nigerian ethnic nationality was consulted before it was drafted. Under this situation, citizens from the various ethnic nations in Nigeria do not trust one another. They look at one another with suspicion. And effective public governance cannot be achieved in such environment of mistrusts.
Consider this: Where there are agreed rules by the various ethnic nationalities, when a citizen is oppressed, everyone will disapprove the action. It will be easier to point to the rules we created for ourselves and say, “this is immoral and it is against our constitution.” Then a Nigerian will be proud to call the constitution “our.” You see the point? Because it was jointly agreed upon, and in the conscience of every group that produced that rule (in this case, the constitution), oppression will be stamped as evil. Oppression for one will be perceived as oppression for all. Therefore, if you don’t speak up when Okeke is oppressed, next victim might be Tunde. This is why agreed universal rules are important in public governance.
Sometimes, though, universal rules may not envisage certain situations, and for this reason they are subject to continuous review and improvement. But, first, to establish healthy relationship in Nigeria’s public governance, the rules must be collectively defined and agreed upon by all ethnic nationalities that comprised the country. It would enhance its implementation across its cultures, giving every party the sense of belonging and protection. As long as this is not done, Nigeria will continue in the reggae dance it started since its independence. Its mistrusts will continue to tear its ethnic groups apart to the country’s eventual collapse. To redefine Nigeria, the relationship must be collectively defined and acceptable by all.
Rees Chikwendu is a Public Policy Analyst.

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