Pushing for change in Nigeria IV: Neo-feudal culture and widening public administration deficits

We have thus far examined the foundation on which the apparatus of the Nigerian state was super-imposed when power changed hands at independence. The new set of rulers not only inherited the esoteric and intimidating technology of modern administration, but also came with the attitude of mind unique to their indigenous environments. Like their colonial predecessors, the post-independence leaders have basically ruled, rather than govern. This explains the internal contradictions frequently spotted in the day-to-day application of the “rules of the game”.

Meanwhile, but unnoticed by the new rulers, socio-economic growth and demographic changes have continuously shifted the center of gravity from the nebulous group that the authorities acknowledge, to the individual, who is generally ignored or treated as non-existent. The failure to give the individual due recognition in the policy process has turned to be a mistake of the highest order. It is the individual, not the group, whose choices impact directly on state construction or disintegration process, as the case may be. Where the individual is fully engaged and duly motivated, s/he can make positive contributions to the growth of the economy, the smooth functioning of government machinery, and the maintenance of public order. The converse is also the case where the individual is disoriented. Besides, unlike the group whose motivations are difficult to pin-point, the individual has fairly precise demands. Among these are demands for personal security, for food and shelter, for clean, hygienic, environment, for prompt and affordable access to services like health, education, gainful employment, electricity and water supply, paved highways, dignity and equality, and for expeditious and fair dispensation of justice. They are the type of demands that can only be met by a “governing” rather than a “ruling” mindset.

The gap between “ruling” and “governing” continues to widen due largely to the contradictory interpretations of succeeding Nigerian constitutions. The underlying aim of the constitutions is to secure citizen obedience to a central authority. Obedience, in this sense, serves as a metaphor for the acceptance of cosmopolitan ideals, such as those of universalism, open-mindedness, public spiritedness, justice, equity, constitutionalism, and democracy. It may sound counter-intuitive, but the practice to-date has been to pursue the universal ideals by falling back, and harping, on primordial loyalties.

The 1999 Constitution, for example, acknowledges the tension between national and sectional, and between both and individual allegiance. In the preamble, it falsely claims that “we the People” came together to author and sign off on the document, the nearest equivalent of a social contract. In Chapter II, Section 14 (2), it avers that sovereignty belongs to, and resides with, the people. It then stipulates that the “security and welfare of the people (meaning, individual citizens) shall be the primary purpose of government”. It further provides, in Section 15 that “national integration shall be actively encouraged, whilst discrimination on the ground of place of origin, sex, religion, status, ethnic or linguistic association shall be prohibited”. The same Constitution contains elaborate provisions on citizenship. The fundamental law [particularly, in Sections 14. (2), 17. (1) and (2), as well as 42. (1) (a) and (b)] fully acknowledges, and underscores, the individuality of the citizen.

However, in trying to forge unity out of diversity, the Constitution’s interpreters frequently end up legitimizing and fueling inter-group animosity. Instead of encouraging each citizen to be the best Nigerian s/he possibly can be, succeeding administrations constantly harp on his/her primary identities, thus effectively downgrading or devaluing his/her citizenship of the Nigerian state.

When it comes to deciding on who gets what, the country’s rulers have persistently denied the individuality of the citizen, preferring instead to give undue attention to cronies falling within particular ethnic and other politically weighty demographic groups. The due consideration which the Constitution expects the government and its agents to give to Nigeria’s “federal character” has almost invariably been interpreted to mean favoring whomever the rulers choose. The sense of belonging that the “federal character” provision of the Constitution seeks to foster is unfailingly negated by the crass favoritism that has become a regular feature of the public appointment process. Rather than acknowledge every eligible Nigerian’s basic right to be considered (on his/her merit) for full and fair consideration for political and top-level career vacancies, succeeding rulers have allocated job quotas to themselves and their proxies, while denying suitably qualified candidates the opportunity of serving their motherland.

Proceeding on the easily falsifiable assumption that the amorphous group is synonymous with, or better still, supersedes, the discrete individual, the rulers expend their quotas on their favorites in particular states or zones while denying better-qualified rivals from the same states or zones the opportunity to compete at all, much less, on a level playing field. Regardless of how a candidate is selected (or handpicked), a designated group is deemed “represented” once the appointing authorities is able to establish that the favored candidate is from a group recognized by law.

The rulers’ unwillingness to acknowledge the average citizen’s existence and individuality accords perfectly with the client-patron arrangements that have evolved over the years. Believing that amorphous groups are easier to control or manipulate than discrete, thinking, calculating, unpredictable, opinionated, myopic, possibly, neurotic, individuals, current and aspiring rulers ignore their subjects’ individual energies and motivations, and devote a disproportionate amount of time to appeasing or cultivating the groups with which the subjects might (or might not) identify. In other words, the rulers ascribe shifting identities to otherwise autonomous individuals, almost invariably corralling the latter within ethnic Bantustans, linguistic groups, sectarian orders, and religious communities. Individuals are also officially profiled and branded, based on their places of birth, states of origin, “geo-political zones”, and, in recent years, their gender as well as the age brackets within which they fall.

Non-government organizations play a crucial role in this involuntary attribution of identity, this egregious violation of human rights. The civil society agents of ethnic profiling include socio-cultural organizations, such as the Ohaneze Ndigbo, the Afenifere, the Odua People’s Congress, and the Ijaw National Congress. The religious organizations have since got into the act. The Christian Association of Nigeria, in particular, has consistently viewed government recruitment and allied policies from narrow, sectarian lens. It, at the slightest opportunity, disparages policies or decisions deemed unfavorable to its constituency, thereby forcing rival religious organizations to retire to the trenches and respond in kind.

Other clients that the government relies upon in the systematic derogation of citizen identity are traditional rulers and political godfathers. The godfathers, in particular, welcome the opportunity not only to consolidate their hold on local institutions but also to enjoy the patronage and protection of the centre. It is thus not unusual for them to invest time and energy on the seizure and control of party machinery, the manipulation of election primaries, the imposition of candidates for elective and appointive offices, the alteration or falsification of election results, and the recruitment of thugs with a view to spooking opponents or thwarting unfavorable developments.

The gradual relegation of the individual to a group-controlled robot has profound governance and public administration implications. The insensitive display of power which favoritism (towards specific individuals within groups) represents has negative impact on the image of government. At the very least, it breeds widespread discontent and amplifies the “marginalization” claims which cultural and religious organizations milk for political gain. Other consequences of individuality’s negation are examined in the succeeding paragraphs.

Growing citizen disaffection with the state

A neo-feudal system is neither fit for purpose nor for the pursuit of excellence. By eroding the value of citizenship, such a system places a cap on individual aspirations, and restricts individual and collective potential for advancement. Among other things, the system’s constant negation of individuality produces a citizen ideal-type with a neurotic, maladjusted personality, and an uncivil deportment. While additional empirical studies are necessary to track the link between acknowledgement of the citizen’s individual being and public spiritedness, available anecdotal evidence seems to suggest a connection of sorts.

Whatever the case, the act of negating the citizen’s individuality spoils whatever chance the state has to “civilize” the self-seeking, unruly, individual. By focusing on the group rather than the individual, the state basically releases the citizen from the obligation to be civil and public-spirited, hoping against hope that the amorphous group will clean any residual mess created by individual choices. The anarchy on Nigeria’s highways and in other spheres of life, for instance, may be a window to the average citizen’s soul, a soul using group solidarity as a veil for the relentless pursuit of personal emancipation.

A backlash cannot be ruled out where the state ignores real but uniquely different persons, and instead panders to the divisive inclinations of nebulous “groups”, and of the groups’ self-appointed but legally unaccountable spokespersons. The backlash, which is the upshot of appropriated responsibility, may take the form of minor or major infractions on the highway, engagement in acts of vandalism, frequent renunciation of legal and moral obligations, a lack of empathy for compatriots deemed to be “strangers” on one’s land, the refusal to extend to “fellow” citizens the courtesy or regard to which human beings are ordinarily entitled, the progressive impairment of individual capacity to think rationally and independently, the tendency to spot faults in others but not in oneself or in one’s “tribe”, the persistent urge to regard the truth and falsehood as interchangeable (or as a function of who utters it), the inclination to attribute unfavorable developments to “enemy plots” or to the wrath of ancestral gods, the declining feeling of self-worth, the belief that the ordinary man’s voice does not count, and most serious of all, the waning allegiance to the sovereign commonwealth.

Needless to add that the negative effects of individuality’s denial cannot be reversed by “citizenship training” (or by what is sometimes termed, “civic education”). The solution lies, not in tutoring, neither in appeals for “sacrifices”, nor in sermonizing, but in the unmistakable acknowledgement of the citizen’s individuality, and particularly, the individual rights and obligations which are arbitrarily auctioned to the lowest bidder, meaning, conceded or passed on to the faceless “group” without the individual’s express permission.

Institutional normlessness in a season of anomie
Institutions are unlikely to operate as statutorily mandated where holders of key offices (e.g., Attorney-General, Police Commissioner, circuit Court Judge) are not viewed as autonomous and morally responsible individuals but as pieces on the ruling class’s chess board. The prevailing doctrine of excusable irresponsibility
discharges the individual from any obligation to answer for his actions. Anyway, since s/he most probably got his/her job, not on personal merit, but at the pleasure of the rulers and on the recommendation of a godfather, the mentally “erased” individual will sooner act on “instructions from above” than apply rational-synoptic (or at least, incrementally rational, win-win) decision techniques in performing his statutory functions. Finding innovative and results-oriented solutions to the socio-economic challenges flagged in the second article is unlikely to be on an individually “non-existent” and virtually unaccountable public functionary’s mind.

After all, the non-existent individual’s disaffection with civil society is not confined to the civic arena, but follows him/her to the work place. Thus estranged from organized society, the unacknowledged individual serving in government is apt to violate his oaths of office, convert public office into private gain, carry himself as the public’s master rather than its servant, constantly evade responsibility for his actions or attribute own failures to rival tribes’ machinations, at the slightest opportunity, sell official secrets to the highest bidder, and refuse to provide prompt, courteous, and least costly access to essential services.

Restricted access to essential services
Meanwhile, a combination of population growth and resource scarcity has stretched the service delivery capacity of state agencies to breaking point. The agencies are increasingly obliged to accomplish more with less, and while at it, to serve the citizen promptly, courteously, and without discrimination. Unfortunately, and due largely to steady erosion of individuality and of the corresponding accountability, the agencies have earned the dubious accolade for sub-optimal, nay, shoddy, delivery of essential services. The practice over the years has been to view service provision in much the same way as another form of power display, that is, as a favor to be extended to acquaintances or well-connected citizens, rather than a basic constitutional right.

In his day-to-day interactions with the MDA or its field agents, the citizen who manages to find his way through the bureaucratic labyrinth is unlikely to scale the obstacle courses awaiting him/her at every turn. Unless s/he knows who is in charge and meets the decision-maker in the right mood, s/he should brace for surprises and frustrations. If s/he is looking for information (like a guide on eligibility for a particular service, the procedure to follow to access the service, the number of forms to fill, and the sequence in which to follow up cases with multiple layers of authority), the citizen must make time to attend to business himself or ‘outsource’ the task to ‘expediters’ working on retainer, only-pay-only-served, basis (Balogun, 2013).

Since the average MDA is unlikely to be on the information highway, the citizen can neither contact it by e-mail nor leave a message on Facebook. The only exception is when applying for e-passports outside Nigeria. Even then, the applicant cannot be sure that s/he will easily find the appropriate link or complete the transaction smoothly and on time.

If the citizen decides to send a letter the conventional way, he should not count on his mail being delivered by the postal staff, or if delivered, to be read and acknowledged, as in days gone by, by one of the “obedient servants”.

The citizen should get used to the idea that the MDA would unilaterally decide what services to provide, when, how, and at what cost. The supplier of the services, “big men” (and women) in their own rights, would not consult the citizen-consumer when formulating performance indicators. The service providers will unilaterally set performance standards (including time, cost, and quality standards). In the unlikely event that the MDA decides to promulgate Customer Service Pledges and Charters, it will not seek the beneficiary’s opinion on product quantity/volume, unit cost, and delivery deadlines. Since the citizen’s opinion (on the timeliness, cost-effectiveness, quality and reliability of services, as well as courtesy of delivery agents) does not count, he should not expect to participate in beneficiary feedback surveys any time soon.

The police provides a good illustration of the precipitate decline in service delivery standards. Victim perception surveys and eye-witness accounts reveal that Nigerians are likely to be more dissatisfied than nationals of other countries with the quality and timeliness of police response to crime alerts. In contrast to the 45 percent dissatisfaction rate reported for other African countries, 51 percent of the Nigerians surveyed in 2008 had no confidence in the ability of the police to come to their rescue when victimized (van der Spuy and Rontsch, 2008). Another survey carried out in 2014 indicates that 42.0 percent of the respondents disagreed with the view that the Police always treat all ethnic groups fairly, while 46.5 percent maintained that the Police lacks crime prevention capacity. Still, these figures are not as troubling as the 53.9 percent who felt that the Police could not be relied on to respond to crime alerts, the 72.9 percent who maintained that the Nigeria Police applies excessive force; or the 71.7 percent that accuse the police of arresting innocent people (Osude, et al, 2014).

Corrupt police constables routinely mount roadblocks on the highways to remind the road users that “your boys are here”, and if the latter still does not get the message, to apply innovative, sometimes, violent, bribe-extorting methods. Equally crooked cops have been known to supply arms and munitions to armed robbers, to provide criminals safe passage or to finger informants.

Inadequate investment in equipment and supplies is, apart from corruption, a plausible explanation for the growing security lapses and policing failures. Police units are chronically short of detective, investigative, information and communication, and inter-agency intelligence sharing capacities. The force is short of experts in community policing, intelligence gathering and analysis, finger printing and forensic analysis, cyber crime investigation, and criminal profiling. Even paying for stationery is a headache at police stations, a headache that the police gladly pass on to their “customers”, mostly complainants and accused persons. Where criminals roam the streets brandishing sophisticated weapons and terrorizing citizens, the police lacks the wherewithal to respond fire for fire.

`The judiciary is another arm of the justice administration system that has performed poorly. Between January and December 2016, courts operating at federal and state levels handled a total of 13,438 cases. Less than 50 percent of the caseload (6,417) had been disposed off as at the end of the reporting cycle, leaving 7,023 pending (Table 5). The number of civil cases appearing on the court calendar in 2016 was 4,105. Out of this number, 2,488 were completed, while 1,617 were still pending (Table 6).

The figures in Tables 5 and 6 do not tell the whole story. They certainly do not show that among the cases mentioned were those which might have been instituted decades earlier. Surprisingly, those controlling Nigeria’s justice administration system have never asked themselves one serious question: if a case takes ten to fifteen years to decide, when do the parties have time for worthwhile pursuits, as in, time to fulfill their ordained missions on earth? The Ministries of Justice, in particular, have yet to act proactively by commissioning diagnostic studies into the root causes of the delays, exploring process simplification and acceleration opportunities, and developing templates for weeding out frivolous cases that clog the justice administration system.

The egregious delays in rendering court judgements in Nigeria compare unfavorably with the expeditious manner in which such cases are handled elsewhere. The total number of cases brought before the entire Nigerian judiciary in 2014 (13,440) is negligible compared to the 328,028 cases that were completed in Canada’s adult criminal courts alone in 2014-2015 (Maxwell, 2014). As it so happens, access to expeditious and fair dispensation of justice is one of the statutory rights enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As understood in R. v Askov (1990) and R. Morin (1992), trial in a “timely manner” means completion of proceedings and rendition of judgement within ten months. Of course, complex cases, like homicide, usually take longer to dispose off (Maxwell, 2014).

Civil cases are also likely to be completed in Canadian courts within one to two years, a relatively short time. For instance, between October 2017 and September 2018, Family Courts in Ontario Province received a total 17,554 case, disposed of 17,125, and listed 8,189 as pending (Ontario Court of Justice, www.ontariocourts.ca/ocj/files/stats/fam/2018/2018-Family-RDP.pdf)

Table 5: Total Number of Cases handled by Nigerian Courts, as at December 2016
Total No. of applications received 13,440
Total No. of applications granted 13,438
Total No. of applications rejected 2
Total No. of cases completed 6,417
Total No. of cases pending 7,023
Source: Legal Aid Council of Nigeria, 2016

Table 6: Nigeria’s Civil Case Statistics (as at December 2016)
No. of applications received 4,105
No. of applications granted 4,105
No. of applications rejected 0
No. of cases completed 2,488
No. of cases pending 1,617
Source: Legal Aid Council of Nigeria.

As to be expected, public perception of the Nigerian judiciary is far from favorable. More than half of the respondents surveyed by Osude et al in 2014 (52.1 percent) railed against the delays in the delivery of court judgements. 42.3 percent of the respondents held the application of outmoded technology responsible for the excruciating delays. Another 42.3 percent found court processes too arcane and cumbersome for the average citizen to understand.

Unfortunately, when law enforcement and adjudication institutions are too incapacitated to assure the citizen unimpaired access to their services, self-help and vigilante justice take over. The citizen is likely to distrust the law where he is constantly betrayed by those expected to uphold it, notably, the police and the judiciary. Ineffective law enforcement and adjudication arrangements send wrong signals to rights violators and law breakers. Such practices convey the impression that lawlessness has no consequence or attracts any penalty. This spells danger for citizen trust in government, for quality of life, for internal security, and for Nigeria’s corporate existence.
Of equal significance is the link between public order, on the one hand, and “ease of doing business”, economic growth, and job creation, on the other. There is no disincentive to domestic and foreign investment greater than a combination of rampant insecurity, endemic policing failures, and a capricious dispute adjudication regime. This is why any government should spare no effort to record noticeable changes in the efficient delivery of intelligence gathering, crime control, and justice administration services.

Endemic corruption
Citizen access to quality service is further likely to be impeded by corruption. As earlier noted, corruption is at the root of the sub-optimal performance of the police, as well as the security challenge facing Nigeria. Corruption has also impacted negatively on the prompt delivery of other types of service. Registering a business, obtaining a permit, or making simple payments into government treasuries are among the tasks rendered almost impossible by cumbersome procedures deliberately created by individually non-existent, obligation-exempt, responsibility-evading, yet bribe-taking, officials.

The Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index is not an accurate measurement of the scale and depth of corruption at any time or place. For what it is worth, the Index places Nigeria squarely in the top ranks of the world’s corrupt nations. Based on the Index, Nigeria was ranked 121st least corrupt country among the 175 surveyed in 2008. The low ranking continued till 2011 (when Nigeria became the 143rd least corrupt among 180 countries). The CPI improved slightly in 2012 (presenting Nigeria as the 139th least corrupt among 180 countries), only to resume the nosedive in 2013 (144th). As at 2017, Nigeria’s CPI ranking fell to 148th among 180 countries (Transparency International, Corruption Perception Index, various years).

Unending Agitation for change
The depressing picture earlier painted is what stares the average Nigerian in the face every day of his/her life. The gloom follows him/her anywhere s/he goes—everywhere, including the privacy of the home, the public highway, the airports, market places, hospitals and recuperation facilities, the children’s schools, gasoline retail stations, and government offices. Some disaffected citizens find release in criminality, while a few others, especially, the youths, embark on the long and hazardous trek to Europe, only to suffer a fate worse than death, either en route or on arrival at their destinations.

With things rarely going one’s way, the promise of change, especially, change of the grandiloquent, cure-all, type, becomes an opium that only a few can resist. As a matter of fact, the increasingly strident agitation for change and for restructuring (or outright secession) cannot be understood except within this dystopian context. Yet, changes take different forms, with some triggering chain reactions far beyond the expected and the desirable. It will take calmness and studied application of the intellect to separate the chaff from the wheat.


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