Pushing for change in Nigeria V: Way forward

Systemic Reform: A path to real and believable change

Leaders come, leaders go, while Nigeria’s challenges remain, and continue to multiply. Only those leaders will leave indelible footprints and lasting legacies, 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.

Undoubtedly, and with things rarely going one’s way, the promise of change, especially, change of the grandiloquent, but probably meaningless or 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. Preventing discontent from spiralling into social conflagration and disorder necessitates making sure that no legitimate civic demand is left unprocessed, and that no space is left ungoverned.

Starting from the premise that individuals are uniquely different and are fired by different ambitions, 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. For instance, 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 and uncomplicated departure and arrival formalities, 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 candidature. Nothing will calm victims of kidnapping, robbery or arson except timely arrest and diligent prosecution of the culprits. Law-abiding parties to civil actions will be anxious to have their cases decided expeditiously, impartially and justly. Applicants for business permits will be glad if service delivery agents treat clients’ cases promptly, courteously, equally, and without demanding kickbacks. The list of personal 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. It is the only guarantee of government’s presence in the life of persons residing within a territory to which a state stakes a sovereign claim, a territory whose inhabitants are subject to the state’s edicts.

Systemic reform starts with the assumption that a mal-functioning system does not become suddenly so, but has almost invariably taken time and effort to acquire, entrench, and/or condone unhealthy habits. The reform ideal-type consequently seeks nothing less than radical overhaul of dysfunctional systems, especially, systems of the neo-feudal type.

Systemic reform takes as given the fact that a neo-feudal system is by nature 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 does not see politics as a “game”, much less a game of numbers. Rather, it sees politics as a clash of ideas on how to embark on the difficult task of governing, and while at it, improving the citizens’ living conditions. The change model’s underlying concern is how to assist the state to govern the space it calls its own properly, and to ensure that the average citizen feels the civilizing and pain-relieving presence of government. Systemic reform consequently targets issues of direct concern to the proverbial common man, particularly, 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 citizen in constitution writing, and/or failing that, in constitution amendment, processes (meaning that key changes in the constitution, or the “rules of the game” cannot come into force until they have been legitimized in plebiscites and referenda);
(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, quality 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, particularly, poverty relief and eradication, police protection, expeditious and fair dispensation of justice, installation and application of uncomplicated business registration and regulation mechanisms, as well as provision of seamless electricity and water supply, urban traffic control and de-congestion, garbage collection, sewage disposal, toxic waste dumping prohibition, and environmental sanitation services);
(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 entirely);
(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 (or the State Governor’s) Office’s Citizen Affairs and 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. The Quick Wins that a change-oriented Administration must target at the early stage are identified in the succeeding paragraphs.

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/contractors;
(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.
(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 and Liaison Unit in the President’s (or each 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 responsibilities, followed by the conduct of background checks.

The first two initial acts of a change-oriented government (inculcation of time consciousness, and organization of transition meetings) are self-explanatory. The last three—release of policy statement, review and rationalization of Ministerial portfolios, and personnel recruitment—need further clarification.

Release of Policy Statement: New Priorities and Strategic Directions

The APC which came to power in 2015 identified three areas in which it planned to make a difference. These are the fight against corruption, war on terror and insecurity, and stabilization of the economy. Considering the hardships facing the average citizen and the widening social and human welfare deficits, it is highly recommended that two pillars be added to the APC’s change design, now termed #TheNextLevel. The two additional priority areas are human development (including poverty eradication via wealth creation), and public administration revitalization and reform. If this recommendation is accepted, the attention of Ministries, Departments and Agencies/MDAs will focus on the delivery of preferred outcomes in the following areas:

1. Corruption (the war on corruption will be waged by a combined force comprising the EFCC, ICPC, the Ministry of Justice, the Police, the Judiciary, and whistle blowers);
2. Terrorism/Insecurity (with the Minister/Commissioner for Public Security coordinating and overseeing the implementation of the overall counter-insurgency strategy, tactical operations and logistics will be handled by local intelligence agencies, the Police, the Civil Defense Corps, the Federal Road Safety Corps, vehicle registration and licensing offices, traditional rulers, community watch groups, all acting in collaboration with agencies responsible for Immigration, Civic Registration, Drug Rehabilitation, and Drug Law Enforcement, and the relevant foreign counterparts);
3. Economic Diversification and Sustainable Development (public and private economic actors, including the ministries of finance, agriculture, industry, trade, transport, communications, infrastructure rehabilitation and development, all acting in partnership with research and development institutions, the manufacturers association, business conglomerates, small and medium-size enterprises);
4. Human Development and Poverty Eradication (agencies responsible for managing aggregate investment in health, rehabilitation of drug addicts, education, electricity and water supply, sewage disposal/environmental sanitation, and urban traffic control, among others);
5. Public Administration Revitalization and Reform (Impact in any of the preceding areas is impossible without the support of a properly organized, adequately trained, duly motivated, and results-oriented public service).

The gains logged and the setbacks encountered in each of the five priority areas can be monitored if the appraisal exercise starts with fairly quantifiable performance/impact indicators. Such indicators will provide precise measures of the quantity, quality and timeliness of accomplishments in various areas (e.g., school enrollment and drop-out rates, types and rates of crime, status of active and cold cases, case clearance rates, time taken to investigate crime and/or settle civil complaints, criminal sentencing and re-offending rates, progress and setbacks in economic diversification, mileage of roads constructed or rehabilitated over a period, cost of construction/rehabilitation per mile/kilometer, human development index ranking over a period, number of hours electricity stays connected to, or disconnected from, industrial/residential/commercial consumers, number of jobs created/unemployment rates over a period, length of time saved by work/process simplification, citizen evaluation of access to services provided by state agents, and the amount of savings logged in vis-à-vis the quantity of, and access to, public goods produced within a period, the cumulative impact of interventions in various areas on GDP growth, per capita productivity, ease of doing business, and global competitiveness of the economy). The focus here is on the link between agency and individual performance, on one hand, and short- to medium-term results, and long-term strategic outcomes, on the other.

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 nagging problem that requires an innovative solution, but which has almost invariably been tackled with obsolete 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, cattle rustling, 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 sources (such as the National Identity/Civic Registration, Vehicle Registration, Immigration, Customs, Police, the Drug Law Enforcement Agencies, the National Communications Commission, Local Governments, neighboring countries, external and friendly 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 the customary role of securing their subjects’ life and property.

Kidnappers rely on forest cover to outwit trackers and escape arrest. To confront the new challenge, the Nigeria Police should, as a matter of urgency, establish a Forest/Jungle Reconnaissance Regiment, a mobile, rapid-deployment, para-military unit trained to survive in, as well as comb and secure, forested areas. The unit may be staffed with men and women drawn from existing police commands or with local vigilantes exposed to proper training, including training in police procedures. The notorious Anti-Robbery Squad should also be replaced with a new Highway Patrol and equipped with powerful motor-bikes and sophisticated communication devices.

To ensure that the existing and the new structures are not infiltrated by criminals, the Ministry of Public Security should periodically vet police personnel records and weed out bad eggs. A new Internal Affairs or Internal Surveillance Unit (previously known as the X Squad) should also be established under the direct supervision of the Public Security Minister.

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’ monitoring and evaluation.

Competencies Audit and Open, Competitive Recruitment

Personnel recruitment is another process that needs to be approached from a novel, possibly, revolutionary, angle. Under the current patronage system, job seekers without godfathers face momentous challenges, as the job “slots” have, in all probability, been shared among the Big Men (and Women) in the corridors of power. The elite’s callous abuse of office (or privilege) has created a situation whereby an increasing number of youths openly express their loss of faith in “the System”. An indication of the growing despondency is the number of youths losing faith in life itself. Favoritism in public and private employment may not be entirely to blame for the rising suicidal tendencies among the youth population, but it is an angle that men and women of conscience must seriously explore.

The challenges confronting Nigeria on the socio-economic and political fronts, at any rate, call for the recruitment and deployment of the best and the brightest when 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. Besides thriving on favoritism, 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) to the identification of suitably and genuinely qualified candidates when strategic positions fall vacant.

In a twist of irony, challenges keep multiplying while those capable of tackling them are locked out based on flimsy, nay, untenable, grounds. Factors which play little or no role in performance but which keep influencing personnel selection processes include ethnic origin, religious belief, gender, age, and, this is the most ridiculous, godfather backing (or lack of it).

Since the recruitment system is patronage-ridden, the rulers’ instinctive reaction is to equate individual offers of assistance or technical know-how 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 godfathers and allied gatekeepers to place incompetent personnel in strategic jobs, leaving the public to bear the consequences. Even State Governors who were defeated at the 2019 polls were hoping that their failure would be rewarded with ministerial or high-profile Federal appointments! Here is how the equation works out: a few well-connected individuals upload performance-inhibiting, impact-blocking viruses on the system’s hard drive, and the state as well as ordinary citizens download headaches such as electoral rejects, godfathers’ moles in key positions, substandard delivery of essential services, endemic corruption, economic hardships, mass unemployment, soaring crime rates, heightened sense of insecurity, policing failures, bland and boring official press releases, poor election management logistics, and diplomatic setbacks.

To hit the nail on the head, the patriot-client arrangement places incompetent, easily manipulated, possibly corrupt and criminally inclined, personnel in sensitive positions, especially, those requiring extraordinary capacities, including the capacities to exercise judgement and 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 stepping stone to 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 each Governor’s) Office, and Nigerians interested in government or public service jobs should be encouraged to upload their resumes and be placed on the roster. Above all, the antecedents of each candidate should be duly investigated, and the information obtained from background checks should be uploaded along with the data that 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. Nigeria’s diversity should be managed in such a way as to give every citizen a sense of belonging, while at the same time ensuring that public officials view themselves, not as representatives of primordial groups, but as members of one, unified, truly national public service.

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 (or State Governor), and backstopped by Technical Committees, the Summit will include the leadership and principal officers of the two arms of the National/State Assembly, the Chief Justice of Nigeria/Chief Judge of a State, 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/Commissioners, the Clerk of the National/State Assembly, Judges nominated by the Chief Justice and by the President of the Court of Appeal, the Chief Registrar of the Supreme/State High 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 Governance Summit will, among other things, provide a forum at which the President and Commander-in-Chief delivers his Annual State of the Republic Address. 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 one-day Summit, the leaders would be expected to deliberate on Technical Committees’ recommendations on how the following issues should be resolved:

• Matters raised in the President’s State of the Republic Address;
* 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 fulfill his/her manifest destiny, rather than one that views its role solely as that of coercion and caste or group segregation);
• 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, violation of professional ethics, inducement to commit, and/or collusion/complicity in committing, the aforesaid offenses;
• 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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