Pushing for change in Nigeria V: Way forward

Systemic Reform: A path to real and believable change

Right from independence up to the present, leaders have come, leaders have gone, while Nigeria’s challenges remain and continue to multiply. Only those leaders will leave an indelible footprint, a lasting legacy, who work assiduously to change the country’s governance and public administration culture. The alternative is to bequeath when they leave office what they inherit at the beginning of their tenure, notably a culture that persistently frustrates public will and dampens private morale.

Anyway, with things rarely going one’s way, the promise of change, especially, change of the grandiloquent, but probably injurious type, becomes an opium that only a few can resist. As a matter of fact, the increasingly strident agitation for restructuring and, in some quarters, for outright secession, cannot be understood except within this dystopian context. Restoring hope in a season of despondency warrants striking a balance between inaction and reckless moves.

Starting from the premise that individuals are uniquely different and are fired by different motives, change designs must not only respond to issues of common concern but also target distinct needs and demands. Clearly, every citizen needs full, unimpaired access to the basic rights, notably, right to life, limb, and the pursuit of happiness, right to dignity, to fair and expeditious dispensation of justice, and to equality before the law.

Over and above the cross-cutting needs are, of course, the discrete, situationally determined, wants and aspirations. Citizens who feel “marginalized” are likely to place “restructuring” at the top of their demands. The farming communities will appreciate whatever assistance the government could provide to facilitate the cultivation, harvesting, storage, transportation, and marketing of their crops. The air-travelling public will, in all probability, value airport renovation, while road users crave reconstructed, rehabilitated, hassle-free highways. By the same token, university graduates want jobs, while citizens interested in government vacancies pine for full and fair consideration of their candidatures. Nothing will calm victims of robbery or arson except timely arrest and diligent prosecution of the culprits. Law-abiding parties to civil actions are ever eager to have their cases decided promptly, impartially and justly. Applicants for business permits will be glad if service delivery agents treat clients courteously, equally, and without demanding kickbacks. The list of personalized longings is endless.

An agenda for change is incomplete unless and until it accommodates demands for basic civil rights along with the average citizen’s situation-specific aspirations. The implementation of systemic reform is about the only assurance there is of responding meaningfully to both collective and individual concerns. Systemic reform seeks nothing less than radical overhaul of the neo-feudal system. It takes as given the fact that 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, denies the citizen the God-given right to apply his/her endowments towards fulfilling his/her destiny, and restricts individual and collective potential for advancement.

In contrast to other change ideal-types, systemic reform particularly targets issues of direct concern to the proverbial common man. Its underlying concern is how to enhance the citizen’s status and 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) 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;
(d) 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);
(e) Reorganization and restructuring of ministries, departments and agencies, in line with the new strategic visions;
(f) Accent on performance, results, impact and time-consciousness 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 mainstreaming and downward cascading of performance pledges, as well as 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) Under the supervision of the President’s Office’s Citizen Affairs & Liaison Unit, 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.

Quick Wins: Short-term implementation targets

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) Watch synchronization, followed by inculcation of time consciousness in public officials and their private partners;

(b) Organization of meetings between members of the Transition Team and authors of Handing-Over Notes in the Ministries, Departments and Agencies/MDAs;

(c) 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);

(d) Based on international good practices in public administration reform and taking into account the government’s strategic directions, the establishment of a Citizen Affairs & Liaison Unit in the President’s (or the Governor’s) Office, the redrawing of organization maps, the allocation of responsibilities to newly established Ministries, Departments and Agencies, the negotiation of outcome-directed, time-sensitive, Performance Contracts, and the preparation of Operation Manual for Ministers and Political Office Holders;

(e) Team building, including talent headhunting, installation of a computerized Talent Bank/Roster in the President’s or the Governor’s Office, 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 three initial acts of a change-oriented government (inculcation of time consciousness, 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 clarification.

Review of Mandates and Reorganization of Ministries

A government that embarks on change without first 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 mounting 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 invariably 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 assemble and analyze intelligence material from disparate agencies (such as the National Identity/Civic Registration, Immigration, Customs, Police, the Drug Law Enforcement Agencies, Local Governments, neighboring countries, and foreign intelligence 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 or business-related 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. Regardless of how these Ministries are named or structured, they should imbibe and faithfully apply the principles of performance contracting.

Competencies Audit and Open, Competitive Recruitment

Personnel recruitment is another process that needs to be approached from a novel, possibly, revolutionary, angle. The challenges confronting Nigeria on the socio-economic and political fronts call for the recruitment and deployment of the best and the brightest in filling government and public service vacancies. Ironically, the patron-client arrangement, which is currently in place, erects insuperable obstacles to the fair and equitable implementation of the Constitution’s federal character provisions and to the identification of talent. The arrangement imposes artificial barriers (in the form of godfathers, party hacks, ethnic advocacy groups, influence peddlers, and ascriptive, instead of achievement-oriented, selection criteria) on the identification of suitably and genuinely qualified candidates for strategic vacancies.

In a twist of irony, challenges keep multiplying while those capable of tackling them are locked out on flimsy, nay, untenable, grounds like their ethnic origin, religious belief, gender, age, and, this is the most ridiculous, their lack of godfathers. Since the recruitment system is patronage-ridden, the rulers’ instinctive reaction to citizen-initiated contacts is to equate such contacts with the intent to solicit favors, mostly prestigious jobs, or lucrative government contracts. Even citizens with ideas of how to move the country forward are likely to be perceived as favor seekers that need to be rebuffed or otherwise kept at arms length.

When Nigeria should be looking for individuals with the right competencies in various fields, that is, individuals with the expertise and motivation to find solutions to security, socio-economic and other challenges, the neo-feudal arrangement allows gatekeepers to place incompetent personnel in strategic jobs, leaving the public to bear the consequences. Here is the equation: a few well-connected individuals upload performance-inhibiting, impact-erasing viruses on the system’s hard drive, and the state as well as ordinary citizens download godfathers’ moles in strategic positions, substandard delivery of essential services, endemic corruption, economic hardships, mass unemployment, spiking crime rates, traffic gridlocks, policing failures, and insecurity, bland and boring official press releases, poor election management logistics, diplomatic setbacks, and other headaches. To hit the nail on the head, the patriot-client arrangement places incompetent, easily manipulated, possibly corrupt, personnel in jobs requiring extraordinary capacities, including the capacities to handle complex, constantly mutating, and mounting challenges. How long this should be allowed to continue is a question crying out for a categorical answer.

At the very least, the public recruitment process should be de-linked from the long-standing patronage (or spoils) system. Political activists should no longer see their appointment to party positions as an entitlement or as a qualification for automatic transfer to make-or-break posts in government. Access (or the mere fact of proximity) to the corridors of power should cease to be the decisive factor in the selection of candidates for top flight jobs. The paramount consideration should henceforth 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, political party affiliation, and/or political connections. Technical knowhow should replace “technical know-whom”. Talent hunting should be fully integrated into the recruitment system. To assist the search for the best and the brightest, a computerized Talent Bank should be opened in the President’s (or the Governors’) Office, and Nigerians interested in government or public service jobs should be encouraged to upload their resumes and join the roster. Above all, the antecedents of each candidate should be duly investigated, and the information supplied by background checks should be uploaded along with the data the candidate filed on the Talent Roster.

To ensure that merit considerations are balanced with those of representation, the online talent registration system must include a dashboard drawing attention to efforts made to reflect Nigeria’s federal character in the composition of key agencies.

Medium- to long-term change 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, or in his absence, 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, including “Opposition”, 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;
• Core elements of governance and public service reform (with emphasis on transforming the state into an agent of civilization, one that supports the citizen in his unceasing struggle to fulfil his/her manifest destiny, rather than one that views its role solely as that of coercion and regimentation);
• Attitude change (including proposals for transforming dependent, ethnic-directed individuals into public-spirited, 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 (including step-aside options) for misconduct, petty or grand corruption, wasteful/extravagant allocation of resources, violations of professional ethics, 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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