Pushing for change in Nigeria V: Way forward

Systemic Reform: A path to real and believable change
A political system answering to enfranchised citizens is by nature, wired for change. The alternative is one that allows a tiny elite to play one group against another while retaining the power to determine what to change and what to leave intact. The implementation of systemic reform is about the only assurance there is of transforming a neo-feudal into a people-centred system. In contrast to other change ideal-types, systemic reform targets issues of direct concern to the proverbial common man. Its underlying concern is how to enhance the citizen’s status/well-being vis-à-vis (a) the dominant governance culture, (b) the mindset of the elite and the counter-elite, (c) extant government and public administration processes, and (d) the link between these processes, on one hand, and the adequacy, quality, timelessness, and cost of access to essential services, otherwise termed, public goods, on the other.

Among systemic reform’s distinguishing features are:

(a) Active involvement of the People in constitution writing, and/or failing that, in constitution amendment, processes (resulting in the emergence of new “rules of the game” which, having been legitimized in plebiscites and referenda, command the loyalty of a wide cross-section of society);
(b) Complete adherence to the rule of law (with emphasis on proactive closure of the gap between the law and its day-to-day application, the abrogation of oppressive laws, and the gradual retreat from skewed, incorrect, mischievous, and corrupt interpretations/applications;
(c) Review and redrafting of ministerial and agency mandates in light of dominant challenges (including the re-formulation of strategic visions to proffer new solutions to current and unfolding challenges);
(d) Reorganization and restructuring of ministries, departments and agencies, in line with the new strategic visions;
(e) Banishment of whims and caprices in policy and decision-making, and application of rational analytic techniques in tackling day-to-day as well as medium- to long-term problems;
(f) Accent on performance, results, and impact in all arms and at all levels of government (with a view to triggering a demonstration effect on civil society and private corporations).
(g) Establishment, periodic review, and rigorous enforcement of output, cost, time, and ethical standards for state officials and service delivery agents (so as to foster discipline on, and alertness to, duty).
(h) Involvement of the citizen in the determination of services to be provided by state agents, and in the periodic evaluation of the adequacy, quality, cost-effectiveness and overall worth of the services.
(i) Performance contracting and monitoring, and results-based budgeting (including the installation of processes and mechanisms to ensure proper accountability for the delivery of, and access to, services such as police protection, expeditious and fair dispensation of justice, business registration and regulation, electricity and water supply, urban traffic control and de-congestion, garbage collection, sewage disposal, prohibition of toxic waste dumping, and environmental sanitation);
(j) Alignment of personnel recruitment, selection, and retrenchment practices with the change agenda’s demands and priorities (to ensure that the paramount considerations in staff selection are competence, performance, and demonstrable capacity to deliver results
, while the candidates’ demographic attributes, such as state of origin, gender, or age, serve merely as “tie breakers”;
(k) Placement of change agents in key positions, and movement of change resisters to trivial jobs or out of government/public service);
(l) Process simplification and re-engineering–including the simplification of convoluted, time-consuming, technicality-plagued police, court, business registration, revenue collection, inspectorate/regulatory and general service delivery procedures (along with the inculcation of citizen-caring attitudes in all classes of state officials);
(m) Zero tolerance for corruption, impunity, patronage and favoritism (marked by total rejection of sacred cows, exceptionalism, and a sense of entitlement); and
(n) Periodic conduct of citizen satisfaction surveys (the results of which will be tested against, or fed into, follow-up diagnostic studies of agency governance practices).

The implementation of systemic reform is not a process to be deferred to the middle or closing months of a government’s tenure. To have any impact, the roots-and-branch restructuring of the state must start from the very day a government is entrusted with the People’s mandate. Needless to add that the measures instituted in the first month of coming to power, and the caliber of persons placed in strategic positions, will be a pointer to the importance which a government attaches to change.

Short-term implementation goal: Quick Wins

Among the Quick Wins which a change-oriented government needs to log in, at the initial stage, that is, before embarking on the substantive task of governing, are:
(a) Organization of meetings between members of the Transition Team and authors of Handing-Over Notes in the MDAs;
(b) Release of a blueprint or Policy Statement on the strategic directions that the government intends to follow during its tenure (including the measurable strategic outcomes it pledges to bring about in various areas within specific timelines, e.g., public order and security, justice administration and dispensation, economic diversification, infrastructure development and rehabilitation, electricity generation, job creation, per capita productivity increases);
(c) Based on international good practices in public administration reform and the government’s strategic directions, the redrawing of organization maps, the allocation of responsibilities to newly established Ministries, Departments and Agencies, the negotiation of outcome-directed, time-bound, Performance Contracts, and the preparation of Operation Manual for Ministers and Political Office Holders;
(d) Team building, including talent headhunting, the opening up of key vacancies to competition, the design of candidate screening forms, invitation of candidates for face-to-face interviews (to allow the President/Governor, assisted by experts, to establish each candidate’s preparedness for policy oversight, executive leadership, and target meeting roles), followed by the conduct of background checks.

The first two initial acts of a change-oriented government (organization of transition meetings, and release of Policy Statement) are self-explanatory. The last two—review and rationalization of Ministerial portfolios, and personnel recruitment—need further elaboration.

Review and Reorganization of Ministerial Missions

A government that embarks on change without reviewing and drastically rejigging the existing structure is setting itself up for failure. The logic is not difficult to understand: if the old structure was working well, it would have succeeded in subduing the long-accumulating challenges. As the saying goes, applying the same method all the time and expecting different results is pure insanity.

Security is a classic illustration of a vexing problem that requires an innovative solution, but which has consistently been tackled with outdated tools. This is a problem that exceeds the capacity of an “Internal Affairs Ministry”, a “Ministry of Police Affairs”, or a “National Security Adviser”. It is a problem that calls for the creation of an energetic Ministry for Public Security, a Ministry which, like the US’s Department of Homeland Security, combines intelligence coordination and general oversight functions with the prosecution of a relentless war on all types of anarchic behavior—from acts of vandalism and gangsterism, as well as unlawful erection of roadblocks on public highways, through police corruption, gun running, kidnapping, ritual killing, armed robbery, to suicide bombing. The new Public Security Ministry will not only gather and analyze intelligence material from disparate agencies (such as the National Identity, Immigration, Customs, Police, the Drug Law Enforcement Agencies), but will also actively engage traditional rulers and community-based organizations. Under the new plan, the Ministry will ensure that traditional rulers stay away from partisan politics and money-making business pursuits, and focus exclusively on their customary role of securing their subjects’ life and property.

The other Ministries to create along with the Public Security Ministry will, of course, not be known until the government has mapped out its strategic directions.

Accent on merit in personnel selection
Personnel recruitment is another process that needs to be approached from a novel, possibly, revolutionary, angle. At the very least, the process should be de-linked from the long-standing patronage (or spoils) system. The paramount consideration should be the necessity of securing the highest standards of competence, efficiency, and effectiveness–not of branding the applicants by place of birth, state of origin, age, religious belief, or political party affiliation. Talent hunting should be fully integrated into the recruitment system.

Medium- to long-term implementation priorities
Systemic reform raises profound cultural and political questions. To build a fair degree of consensus around solutions, it is recommended that a National Governance Summit be convened at least, once a year. Meeting under the chairmanship of the President of the Federal Republic, and backstopped by Technical Committees, the Summit will include the leadership and principal officers of the two arms of the National Assembly, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, the President of the Court of Appeal. The following will attend either in their official capacities or as and when required: key Ministers, the Clerk of the National Assembly, Judges nominated by the Chief Justice and by the President of the Court of Appeal, the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court, Chairpersons of mainstream political parties, representatives of cultural and religious organizations, as well as trade union and professional associations (especially, the Bar Association).

The Summit’s main objective will be to work out modalities to determine acceptable standards of conduct for public officers both in the political and the career wings of Government. Without prejudice to other issues that might be raised by participants at the Summit, the leaders would be expected to deliberate on Technical Committees’ recommendations on how the following issues should be resolved:

• The measures to adopt so as to strengthen institutions instead of personalities;
• Attitude change (including proposals for transforming dependent, ethnic-directed individuals into morally and legally responsible citizens);
• The strategy to apply to wage, and mobilize the entire society for, a relentless war on corruption (including the pros and cons of enacting a law extending total or partial amnesty to those who, within specific deadlines, return ill-gotten gain, i.e., those who mend their ways before the activation of a zero-tolerance policy on corruption);
• The role of the Executive Branch and the National Assembly in budget formulation, and the need to subject so-called “constituency projects” to rigorous feasibility, and cost-benefit analytic tests, and with that, preempt budget distortions and strengthen accountability;
• The necessity to measure government and public service performance by impact, cost, as well as time taken to reach specific landmarks;
• Public officers’ obligations regarding prudent, accountable, and results-oriented allocation of resources;
• Sanctions for wasteful/extravagant allocation of resources, violations of professional ethics, petty or grand corruption, inducement to commit, and/or collusion/complicity in the commitment of, the aforesaid offences;
• Review of criminal and civil arraignment procedure (to facilitate quick, transparent, and confidence-inspiring dispensation of justice); and
• Application of cost-benefit, value-for-money, citizen-service yardsticks in the allocation of public resources.


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