Getting Government To Work For Development And Democracy

Tunji Olaopa

All over the world, governments are getting reinvented for the sake of concretizing the democratic imperative. This imperative goes beyond the electoral necessity of procedurally voting a group of people into government. On the contrary, the ethical import of democracy demands that those so voted into power use their constitutional authority to ensure that the citizens’ trust in their governing capability is translated into definite plans of actions that are transformative in socioeconomic terms. The resurgence of democracy all over the world, in the United States, Belgium, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, France, Singapore, and even in South Africa, Botswana and Nigeria, raises the challenge of how to make governments more effective and efficient in a manner that brings democracy alive from theory to practice.

This reflection is not only one of the founding philosophies of the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP), it is also so important and urgent as to be made the focus of the inaugural conference that launches the School to public reckoning. Between February 1 and 2, the crème of Nigeria’s stakeholders in government, civil society, public sector, businesses, private sector and the Nigerian diaspora were gathered together in intense deliberation on the theme of ‘Getting Government to Work for Development and Democracy in Nigeria.’ Since the ISGPP was founded on the urgency of rethinking the governance basis of Nigeria’s democratic experiment in order to make the Nigerian government more democratically responsible and responsive, it becomes ultimately imperative to find the means of closing the yawning gap between theory and practice.

One way is to initiate a deep rapport between the practitioners and the academics who are involved in the ongoing efforts to reinvent Nigeria as a space of optimal governance. Another method is to facilitate an active interaction between policy intelligence and action research in a way that embolden public policies. The ISGPP conference was such a beginning. It was conceptualized around a fundamental question: ‘What are the fundamental structures, institutional deficits, issues, processes and dynamics of government that have made the attainment of an all-inclusive development in governance, economy and democracy in a manner that conducive to peace and social justice difficult in Nigeria?’

No wonder when the conference eventually kicked off, the conference venue hummed with intense anger and recriminations, calculated analysis and projected recommendations, solutions and resolutions. The anger was generated around the state that Nigeria has degenerated to despite her potentialities and possibilities. Let us forget colonialism for a moment; all the participants agreed on the fact that Nigeria deserves greatness but has been crippled by structural and institutional dysfunctionality. One of the most devastating critiques of the conference was initiated at the panel on ‘Intergenerational Discourse on Getting Nigeria to Work for Development and Democracy in Nigeria.’ I personally considered this panel one of the critical highlights of the conference. According to George Bernard Shaw, ‘All that the young can do for the old is to shock them and keep them up to date.’ But beyond the shock therapy, the intergenerational discourse is significant because it signals an ongoing conversation around the need to open up a frontier space where competencies, skills, values, insights, and visions can be mined and harnessed, across the generations, for better nation-building paradigms and good governance strategies.

Those who anchored the panel deployed a significant strategy of the trajectory of generational capital and responsibility to make the point that each generation of elite in Nigeria has not been sincere to the Nigerian project. And one of the consequences is the abject state of the Nigerian youths who have been so demobilized from a meaningful and patriotically coherent interaction with their Fatherland. For Sonia Sanchez, the US poet, ‘So much of growing up is an unbearable waiting. A constant longing for another time.Another season.’ Nigeria is a country of youths who are no longer patient with their futile attempt to catch up with tomorrow. Their question, as one of them beautifully put it at the conference, is: What are the lessons to learn and unlearn?

The conference was therefore also an occasion for calculated analysis and projected recommendations, solutions and resolutions. There was a resounding consensus at the conference that as far as Nigeria is concerned, institutions are a sine qua non for national development. Structural deficiencies and institutional debilities have ensured degenerations in the framework of social policy. For instance, across all the panels, participants rigorously bemoan the fact that federalism, a concrete national aspiration, has failed to manifest as a platform for engaging Nigeria’s plural existence and challenges. Since the past mostly teaches us notable lessons, Nigeria’s regional experiment during the First Republic became a serious pointer to the future Nigeria has been trying to avoid. And the Nigerian elite and elite formation dynamics were also not spared. Elite identity politics is not configured around national identity and interests but self-aggrandizement and divisive ethnic mobilization. The effect of elite malfunction on citizen action is enormous. For example, take the issue of taxation. Due to the problem of excessive taxation, corruption and the disconnection between taxation and infrastructural development, it becomes a regular phenomenon for citizens to evade paying tax. And their justification: What is the point of paying since we do not see the infrastructural effects?

If these are some of the fundamental structures, institutional deficits, processes and dynamics of government that has prevented the development of an all-inclusive governance framework in Nigeria, where do we go from here? The ISGPP conference, true to expectations, outlines several recommendations, some truly unique and some truly radical and some truly perceptive. Right from the opening plenary session, ISGPP got a marching order on those thematic areas that could guide its modus operandi—state systems and political orders; optimization and productive innovation; defending and claiming democracy; social wealth (‘wealth’ representing Water, Electricity/Education, Agriculture, Lawful Governance, Transport and Health/Housing); federalism and conglomerate governance; democratic developmental governance; religion and the public sphere; and collective security. These areas effectively capture the fundamental locus for institutional reengineering Nigeria requires and also provides the organizing frameworks around which ISGPP can commence a theory-practice dialogue, research and policy recommendations.

At more specific levels, there were novel and trenchant recommendations too. For instance, as a counterpoint to elite ethnic jingoism and prebendalism, there was a suggestion for an energetic professional networking that deliberately transcends religious, ethnic and class differences. This professional mobilization can become the platform for a new elite formation that is patriotic enough to shoulder the responsibility of nation building and generational coalition in Nigeria. One immediate consequence of this professionalization of the elite will be on national asset management and infrastructural development. This requires the evolution of a new and coherent infrastructural model, i.e. an active infrastructural fund, which matches policy with investment, timelines and estimated costs to achieve a growing and proactive infrastructural profile for Nigeria. In this context, Nigeria urgently requires a public-private partnership paradigm that catalyzes an entrepreneurial spirit necessary for achieving developmental goals.

Nigeria’s educational sector, despite its many years of debilitations, actually holds the key to the calibration of a solid social policy reorientation. A good starting point, it was recommended, is to first find an operational framework that can engage all the policy recommendations, stakeholders’ aspirations and expert task forces and harness them into the viable implementation models. As with almost all other institutional reforms in Nigeria, the devil is always in the details of implementation. It is right here that the ISGPP stands at the threshold of becoming a reference point as an institutional template that connects theoretical thinking and ideas-based policy advocacy with actual policy making and innovations.

The responsibility that ISGPP has carved for itself as a school of governance in Nigeria became all the more expanded and clarified at the conference. The ultimate objective is to jumpstart a research framework built around the urgency of restructuring Nigeria’s governance architecture. Essentially, the task is to interrogate and articulate those elements of governance that are required for a robust national development and rigorously insert them into the gaps of structural stagnation that effectively prevents proper institutional evolution in Nigeria. The pursuit of social wealth is a very good starting point. This is not an overly ambitious aspiration. This is because ISGPP already has in place a multidimensional institutional framework that is meant to tackle the mandate.

First, there is the framework of executive education that targets the training of policy makers within the nexus of theory-practice interaction. This derives from the fundamental belief that the policy makers are as important as the policy recommendations in the overall governance dynamics. Second, as a direct corollary, there is an existing multidisciplinary faculty of brilliant academics and veteran practitioners from government, civil society, private and the public sectors as well as the diaspora ready to engage the governance issues from the multiple perspectives in a way that generate useful insights and directions. This outstanding repertoire of available human resources at the disposal of the ISGPP will further translate the insights from training and education into further researches, training packages and outreach activities that facilitate a wide dispersal of governance insights and recommendations.

The last framework is significant: ISGPP equally has in place a multi-institutional networks and collaborations—research institutes, government agencies, industries, private organisations and global partners—that provide concrete platforms for getting the government to work in Nigeria. These platforms will generate the appropriate dynamics for interrogating the necessity for remodeling Nigeria’s development profile.

All in all, the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy is ready to do critical business with the re-articulation of Nigeria’s governance challenges. And, if, as Alexander the Great once echoed, ‘upon the conduct of each depends on the fate of all,’ then all hands must be on deck and in partnership for this patriotic task of reinventing the Nigerian government for greater democratic responsibility.

Dr. Olaopa is Executive Vice Chairman, Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP), Ibadan
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