Were Nigeria to be a business enterprise, most of the people will scarcely accept that they have a stake in its survival and growth. The majority will instead view the “enterprise” as a cow that a tiny minority holds down and milks in private kraals to the exclusion and annoyance of other putative shareholders.
A system that goes out of its way to block change is in self-denial. In that state, it sees no evil, hears no evil, and thinks of nothing that needs changing…. It piles up and implements new programs, but leaves underlying values, structures, rules, and processes untouched. It remains in this basically motionless state until changes begin to emerge from unanticipated directions.
Those customarily referred to as “leaders” may be anything but. “Politician” is a more fitting noun for one whom a people trust with their destiny but who constantly lets them down. Where true leaders, as nation-builders, accept responsibility for finding solutions to nagging challenges, politicians not only view the acquisition and retention of power as the sole objective but also blame others for their failures…. This paper argues that instead of praying and waiting for the politicians to be miraculously transformed into visionary leaders, attention should focus on the litmus test of leadership, that is, on Nigeria’s enduring challenges. An accurate description of these challenges will indicate the competencies needed to tackle them as well as the profiles of persons with the requisite qualifications, experience and character attributes.
Regardless of what anyone may think, time is not on the side of reactionary, self-seeking, politicians. Only those leaders will succeed who take the prevailing dystopian condition as an opportunity to implement imaginative and believable change.
Were Nigeria to be a business enterprise, most of the people will scarcely accept that they have a stake in its survival and growth. The majority will instead view the “enterprise” as a cow that a tiny minority holds down and milks in private kraals to the exclusion and annoyance of other putative shareholders. The excluded majority will thus not feel a pang of guilt either setting the kraals ablaze or slaughtering the cow and walking away with their own portions. Why is this the case? Clearly, only a few are happy with the current state of the nation. The economy is not growing fast enough to meet the demands of a swelling population. Entrenched poverty and widening inequality continue to breed inter-group tension and resentment. Public officials are yet to demonstrate the zeal and the motivation that enable their counterparts elsewhere to engineer the growth of their economies and improve their peoples’ living standards. Life and property remain perpetually at risk, as armed robbers, kidnappers, bandits, ritual killers, and other anti-social elements operate freely. Even more troubling than the worsening crime situation is the fact that the state’s protective capacity is at best, weak, at worst, badly compromised.
Strangely, different generations of leaders have come and gone without finding solutions to the mounting challenges. Successive changes in leadership have not, up to now, translated into a substantial change in the public administration culture and processes, much less, in the average citizen’s living condition. Notwithstanding the airtime expended and the resources budgeted on the prosecution of the anti-corruption war, the menace is yet to be defeated. Impunity, corruption’s comrade-in-arm, is alive and well. Thanks to the creeping politicization of the career service and the entrenchment of patronage at all levels, mediocrity constantly triumphs over excellence. An observer does not have to look far to notice signs of mediocrity and monumental incompetence—e.g., grammatically faulty, bland, and internally contradictory speeches written by poorly trained officials, and robotically read by, government leaders; widening performance deficits at senior, middle, and junior management levels; and kneejerk, inadequate, response to burning political, constitutional and policy questions.
The situation is so dismal, secession-inclined Nigerians are calling for the renegotiation of the country’s unity. Now then is the time to change the narrative. What to renegotiate is not Nigeria’s corporate existence, but the terms of independence, and particularly, the mechanisms for sharing the costs and benefits of association. Now is when to realize the potential that served as the original and primary justification for the merger of diverse nationalities into a state now called Nigeria. Regardless of what anyone may think, time is not on the side of reactionary, self-seeking, politicians. Only those leaders will succeed who take the prevailing dystopian condition as an opportunity to implement an imaginative and believable change program. Such visionary leaders will reshape distorted values, strengthen institutions, and most important of all, empower ordinary citizens to demand quality service.
A caveat is in order. Those customarily referred to as “leaders” may be anything but. “Politician” is a more fitting noun for one whom a people trust with their destiny but who constantly lets them down. Where true leaders, as nation-builders, accept responsibility for finding solutions to nagging challenges, politicians not only view the acquisition and retention of power as the sole objective but also blame others for their failures. As once noted by the world-renowned psychiatrist, Adeoye Lambo, politicians are not averse to total dissolution of society. Admittedly, politicians are a necessary evil, as electoral triumphs are inconceivable without them. However, as soon as victory is achieved and the task of governing commences, the politicians must either reinvent themselves into, or stand aside for, visionary leaders. This paper argues that instead of praying and waiting for the politicians to be miraculously transformed into visionary leaders, attention should focus on the litmus test or determinant of leadership, that is, on the capacity to weather enduring challenges.
As it so happens, a collocation of circumstances has rendered the challenges facing Nigeria increasingly daunting and seemingly intractable. Top on the list of these circumstances is a land area which is fixed at 923,768 square kilometers, and which is supposed to meet the needs of a rapidly growing, predominantly youthful, and highly demanding population—that is, meet rising demand with dwindling resources. Most serious of all, lowly motivated public officials continue business as usual, unmindful of the rationality, cost-effectiveness and moral soundness of their choices, and the devastating impact of mediocrity on citizen welfare.
As things currently stand, we cannot realistically talk about change until the average citizen feels its (i.e., change’s) impact, and the challenges facing the various demographic groups are effectively tackled. Regardless of what anyone wants, the challenges will not go away until bold and decisive steps are taken to change the underlying neo-feudal governance and public administration culture. After all, Nigeria’s lingering governance crisis cannot be realistically viewed as intractable or attributed to the dynastic succession “conspiracy” of here-today, gone-tomorrow, rulers. The stumbling block which has constantly been ignored is the underlying governance culture. This is a culture that places a higher premium on power acquisition than on accountability for performance and results.
The upshot of this is that the average citizen’s condition will not change for the better, and the leaders’ efforts will not be appreciated, unless Nigerians come to common cause on a few critical governance principles, values, practices, and standards. For this to happen, holders of, or aspirants to, the key offices (of president, governor, legislator, permanent secretary, board, council, or party chairperson) must lead a national dialogue on the changes that must happen to demystify the notion of public office and to hold incumbents accountable for quantitative and qualitative improvements in the delivery of essential services. The visionary among these change leaders will go further to secure the commitment of the principal stakeholders (political actors, public officials, civic and business leaders) to a governance doctrine that puts the citizen first and regards ministering to every citizen’s legitimate demand as the state’s primary goal.
To be adjudged viable, the new governance doctrine must constantly raise performance standards within and across agencies. The standards must be anchored on four indices of governmental effectiveness, notably:
- The quantity and quality of outputs produced, or services rendered (mileage of roads constructed, number of civil and criminal cases successfully closed, recovery and recuperation rates at hospitals, electricity generated and distributed, literacy rates, number of households with access to potable water and sanitation, etc.);
- inputs (including recurrent and capital expenses budgeted and the debt incurred to produce goods and services and fulfil obligations);
- the length of time taken to produce desired goods and to render services (years/months/weeks spent constructing or rehabilitating x number of miles, how long it takes to investigate or detect crime, recover stolen property, and dispense justice); and
- level of citizen trust in the integrity of public officials (citizen perception of ethical uprightness, dependability, accountability, and responsiveness of officials).
Systemic Reform: A path to real and believable change
The new, citizen-caring, governance doctrine will differ substantially from the existing ruler-centered one. The doctrine starts from the premise that every individual is unique in his/her own way as well as in the demand s/he makes on the state. It goes on to argue that every life is precious and deserves to be treasured. Systemic reform will consequently not regard occupants of public office as idols to be worshipped but as individuals to be held accountable for the delivery of programs with beneficial impact on all citizens. It will leave no room for favoritism or special pleading but will ensure that public agencies work for all and leave none behind. With the citizen as its object of undivided attention, the new doctrine will place individual destiny where it truly belongs, in individual hands, rather than in the hands of ethnic champions and other self-appointed custodians of the citizen’s conscience.
Systemic reform proceeds from the underlying assumption that a system is never “suddenly” corrupt, incompetent, or broken, but must have taken its time to acquire, perfect, entrench, and implicitly legitimize, or at least, condone, unhealthy habits. 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.
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 govern successfully, and in the process, improve the citizens’ living conditions. The change model’s underlying concern is how to assist the state to govern properly the space that it calls its own, and to ensure that the average citizen feels the civilizing and pain-relieving presence of government in his life. In other words, the overriding goal of systemic reform is the emergence of a state that serves the interests of all, and is, at the same time, undergirded by the principles of justice, equity, and the rule of law. The independent, and self-reliant state of the founders’ dream would not only apply its sovereign powers for the benefit of every citizen but would also ensure that major institutions operate as intended, thereby enabling the People to enjoy the dividends of peace, order, and good government. Among systemic reform’s distinguishing features are:
- Negotiation and ultimate ratification of a Citizen Service Pact, that is, a Pact that bye-passes amorphous groups and power brokers, and responds directly to the average citizen’s clamor for inclusiveness, equal opportunity, justice, equity, and the benefits of order and good government;
- Design and implementation of citizen-centered policies, including state restructuring and devolution policies;
- Banishment of whims and caprices in policy and decision-making, and application of rational analytic and innovative techniques in tackling day-to-day as well as medium- to long-term problems;
- Replacement of the spoils system with one anchored on the paramount considerations of merit, competence, and integrity;
- 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);
- 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;
- Placement of change advocates in key positions, and movement of change resisters to trivial jobs or out of government/public service entirely); and
- Zero tolerance of corruption, impunity, patronage, and favoritism (marked by the immediate cancellation of “job slots” to privileged members of society; total rejection of sacred cows, exceptionalism, and a sense of entitlement; as well as instant retrenchment of officials whose conduct adversely affects the image of government and erodes public trust in the state).
Putting the Citizen First: Focus on the Constitution, Processes and Practices
One way of ensuring that the citizen comes first is by promulgating a Citizen Service Charter that explicitly acknowledges the citizen’s right of access to quality service. However, the Charter will not stand alone. It will be anchored on the larger consideration of political empowerment, that is, the empowerment of citizens to have a say in the governance of their communities, and to elect and recall their leaders. This is where the debate on restructuring and devolution becomes pertinent. The growing threat to life and property especially calls for the devolution of power and the transfer of resources to the tiers of government that, because of their proximity to the people, are well-positioned to secure life and property.
Equally significant to putting the People first is the ongoing debate on the Electoral Amendment Bill. Empowering the citizen entails allowing him/her to participate directly in the screening of candidates for elective positions. Along with free, fair, and credible elections, direct primaries allow the citizen’s voice to be heard before and on the polling day. In fact, only those in favor of the retention of the current neo-feudal arrangements will be against the introduction of direct primaries as a major plank of electoral reform. By contrast, a leader who is desirous of putting the citizen first will be a fervent supporter of electoral reform and, by extension, of direct primaries.
Putting the citizen first especially calls for drastic reduction in the exorbitant cost of political participation. In what looks like a conspiracy against poor Nigerians–young and old, men and women–political parties have formed the habit of imposing levies that only well-heeled aspirants to elective offices can defray. Over and above the stringent INEC conditions that candidates for elective offices must fulfil, political parties demand non-refundable amounts ranging from N800,000 to N2.5 million for mere “expression of interest” in various elective offices. The nomination forms are even costlier, ranging from N20 million to N45 million for aspirants to the presidency. Even President Muhammadu Buhari deemed prohibitive the N25 million that an aspirant was required to pay in 2015 to obtain the APC’s presidential ticket. In the end, he had to apply for a bank loan to meet the nomination expenses. In the run up to the 2019 presidential election, the President relied on well-wishers to raise the N45 million war chest he needed to obtain his party’s ticket and to sustain his candidature. In the 2018 gubernatorial election conducted in Edo State, the All-Progressives Congress generated N135 million from levies imposed on individuals eyeing the State’s highest office, while its opponent, the People’s Democratic Party, realized N84 million. In 2019, the APC alone extorted no less than N12.64 billion from candidates seeking to contest various elective offices under the party’s umbrella.
Apart from turning electoral contests into a commercial operation and encouraging recourse to dubious, nay, corrupt, return-on-investment ploys, the high cost of political participation shuts out most Nigerians, especially, the youth. Even the entire lifesavings of a typical adult will not secure him/her the ticket of the chairmanship of the lowest tier of government, that is, Local Government. How can the citizen be the sovereign in a such plutocratic state? How can public policy place the citizen first and respond to his dominant concerns? When so much has gone into financing an election, will winning at all costs not be the aim of contestants?
Curiously, the 1999 Constitution, contains elaborate provisions on citizen sovereignty– provisions that can, under normal circumstances, form the basis of the promulgation of a Citizen Charter. All the state needs to do is ensure that its acts accord with the letter and spirit of the nation’s fundamental law. In case the Constitution proves inadequate in holding the state fully accountable, it should be amended to allow and empower the citizen not only to demand quality service but also to weigh in periodically with assessments of the range of services delivered by state agencies. The constitutional amendment must be unequivocal on the obligation of the state to serve the citizen and on the necessity to demystify the notion of public office. Under the new dispensation, public officials will be viewed as mortal beings that can be held to account for their acts rather than as demigods that the masses must venerate.
Enacting citizen-centered policies
The policies enacted by a state at any point in time provide a clear indication of where it places the citizen in the scheme of things. A state that charges prohibitive fees for participation in electoral contests and goes on to sanction wholesale privatization of public enterprises has signaled its bias towards the moneyed class. The cuddling of the rich becomes palpable when the divestiture program ignores the plight of the swelling ranks of the jobless and underestimates the pains of the working poor. The divestiture policy takes a weird turn where civil strife could reasonably be traced to government inaction, and where the stabilization of turbulent and under-governed communities is hampered by lack of investment in crucial sectors like restructuring and devolution, education, health, water and irrigation, highway development, rural infrastructure, forest patrol and community crime watch, police protection, and justice dispensation.
Nigeria is indeed at that critical stage right now, the stage at which the Visible Hand of the state needs to connect with its Invisible, private sector, counterpart to lift the citizen from want, squalor, misery, and insecurity. There are no half measures about it. Putting the citizen first in a turbulent Nigeria warrants that a Stabilization, Growth, and Development Program be launched as soon as possible. The main components of this Program are:
- Justice Administration, Police Protection, and Security
- Infrastructure Rehabilitation and Development (including the revitalization of the energy sector)
- Human Capital Development (education, health, and housing)
- Job creation (through investment in the resuscitation of dead or dying industries, as well as the revitalization of the food, agriculture, and mining sectors)
- Urban and Rural Development,
- Roll-out of an Afro-centric foreign policy (with an accent on self-reliance at home and optimization of external relations gains) and
- Institution Strengthening (through the implementation of a credible anti-corruption policy)
The argument is not that the state must roast the rich to feed the poor, but that it must constantly optimize the creative and productive energies of every citizen for the benefit of all. The state cannot afford to stand back and wait until private entrepreneurs have the desire or the profit-denominated incentive to act. The state must not only provide an environment that is conducive to capital formation, but must also fill whatever void the private sector’s fixation with profit-making might create. Implementing the Stabilization and Development Program successfully, in any case, entails combining private ingenuity with a sense of public purpose and responsibility.
Placing emphasis on Legality and Pursuit of Excellence
The Stabilization, Growth and Development Program will achieve the desired results only if the Government acts proactively to promote the enablers and check the disablers of change. Putting the citizen first, at the very least, requires that public organizations subscribe fully to the principle of order, meaning, having a place for everything, putting everything in its place. In any case, if the targets set for the Stabilization and Development Program are to be reached, order must replace the chaos that one encounters in almost branch of government—especially, in determining eligibility for participation in electoral contests, vetting the qualifications of candidates for public vacancies, outlining the procedure for gaining access to various types of service, designing the layout of offices and service perimeters, and separating private from public domicile. Other matters that need streamlining and rationalization are the chaotic procurement processes, the prevailing attitudes to work and to attendance and punctuality, as well as the gaps in record keeping and archives management. Clearly framed and faithfully enforced rules provide a guarantee of order, and ensure peaceful arbitration of conflict.
Once order and due process prevail, public agencies must ensure that those delivering essential services have the capacity and the motivation to apply the rules correctly and to perform designated functions. Surely, equitable representation in all arms of government is important. However, the clamor for representation may be carried to ridiculous extents. For instance, while justifying his advocacy of rotational presidency, Senator Eyinnanya Abaribe once lamented that the only Aso Rock official from the entire South-East was a photographer (The Premier News, 21 November 2021). He wondered how a mere photographer could be of assistance if an Igbo (most likely, a member of the elite) had a problem which could only be solved at Aso Rock. The Senator noted that the system we run is built on favoritism and around informal networks. However, the Senator did not go on to ask if such a system is rational, equitable or sustainable. If the Senator laments the absence of Igbos in key Aso Rock positions, what choices are open to the over 240 minor tribes that do not have the numbers needed to participate equally in the current “game” of politics? In other words, what is the fate of the minorities that have no hope of producing Nigeria’s President or just one lowly official they can dial at Aso Rock should they need one favor or the other? Equally salient is the question whether any Nigerian (Igbo, Fulani, Yoruba or Ijaw, etc.) can, regardless of his/her humble social status, pick the phone and dial an Aso Rock, just because a fellow kinsman is the President? Anyway, what is important is the competence as well as the ethical uprightness of those holding key positions in government, including that of President. As luck would have it, Senator Abaribe’s main contention has since been refuted. There are high-ranking Igbo officials at Aso Rock, and these are no mere photographers.
That does not mean that Abaribe’s underlying belief is totally groundless. He is right to aver that the system that Nigeria runs is not only highly centralized, but is also built around informal networks. It relies on “back channels” and under-the-counter negotiations to get things done. It is a system which readily lends itself to capture by strong personalities and vested interests. The system is thus not rational, talk less of being legally supportable, equity-grounded, or sustainable. The influence peddling that thrives under it is a synonym for favoritism and institutional corruption. Instead of finding a way around or panel-beating such a dysfunctional system, attention should focus on how to change it.
This then is the time to give serious consideration to the replacement of the longstanding patronage system with one that is anchored on merit. While observing the constitutional stipulations on the reflection of Nigeria’s federal character in the composition of government organs, applicants for public vacancies, whether political or technocratic, must participate in open and fair competitions. Aspirants to key state offices must submit themselves to background checks, and their antecedents (including their past and current affiliations) must be critically scrutinized. An aspirant with a blot on his/her record must stand aside and leave the field clear for rivals with clean records. A candidate with links to the underworld, or who is reasonably suspected of consorting with criminals, should not be allowed anywhere near public office. No tainted or otherwise unqualified applicant should be allowed to ride on the backs of godfathers, religious fraternities, ethnic “spokespersons” and lobby groups, or highly placed government functionaries, to gain an undue advantage over eligible rivals.
The public service rules must accordingly be revised to provide for the replacement of patronage with open, credible, and fair competition in staff selection. The rules should, as in the pre- and immediate post-independence period, explicitly forbid, and in fact, penalize, soliciting political or outside support in matters relating to recruitment, promotion, discipline, and career advancement. Government jobs should go to those capable of adding value, and should not be treated as candies and toys to be handed out to favored children.
What does merit in public service recruitment have to do with putting the citizen first? An official who owes his/her job to an outside benefactor will always remain beholden to the benefactor. The citizen’s preferences are secondary where political godfathers decide who becomes a cabinet minister, Central Bank Governor, Inspector-General of Police, Comptroller of Immigration, a customs inspector, or a police constable. The allegiance of such officials will be to their sponsors rather than to the State or to the Government, and certainly not to ordinary citizens. South Africa’s experience is highly illustrative. The Guptas’ power to determine the appointment and tenure of the country’s Finance Minister virtually turned a public matter, i.e., fiscal and macro-economic policy, into a family affair!
For citizens to enjoy equal access to the protection of the law, the law must itself be clear and those interpreting it must not be under extraneous influences. Decisions must accordingly be regularly audited to detect gaps between the letter and spirit of the law, on one hand, and day-to-day interpretations and applications, on the other. The decision audits must identify ‘apartheid’ and social segregation practices that qualify for instant abrogation. The audits must also lead to a steady retreat from skewed, incorrect, mischievous, and corrupt legal interpretations/applications.
Needless to add that public officials’ failure to abide by the law sends wrong signals to ordinary citizens. Such an act feeds the belief that the law is supine and can always be ignored without consequences. It also erodes public confidence in the fairness of official decisions, including the decisions to find accused persons innocent or guilty, to keep convicts in jail or set them free, or to appoint some to key positions while denying others full and fair consideration.
The accent on the rule of law implies the rejection of whims and caprices in policy and decision-making, and the adoption of rational analytic and innovative techniques in responding to short- medium-, and long-term challenges. The challenges in need of steady application of the intellect include those of law enforcement and security, the stabilization and long-term development of communities wrestling with insurgency and criminality, economic diversification and growth, debt management, job and wealth creation, energy generation and distribution, and state restructuring. The challenges have so far defied solutions because of the failure to disconnect the personal preferences of the various stakeholders from fact-based solutions. The citizen is, as it so happens, the ultimate victim of the hit-or-miss approach to policy and decision-making.
Converting Processes into superior Performance and Preferred Outcomes
Another condition precedent to the attainment of the Stabilization and Development objectives is the alignment of government and public service operations with the quest for improved performance and measurable impact across the board. Even with the formulation of the soundest economic policy, or the application of the most sophisticated decision technique, the citizen’s interest will not be served until the Ministries, Departments and Agencies critically examine their mandates and ask if the mandates are still relevant. The review should indicate whether ongoing programs and projects are equal to unfolding challenges or need to be radically revised. An example is the mandate of the Ministry of Health, one that has been rendered obsolete by rising cases of drug addiction, the emergence of hitherto unheard-of pandemics, and the increasingly demonstrable link between environmental pollution and respiratory disorders. The police’s cops-and robbers mandate needs a rethink, considering the rising incidence of cyber and white-collar crime, the escalation of terrorist and miscellaneous security threats, and the devastating impact of corruption on law enforcement. As a matter of fact, the security challenge facing Nigeria warrants that an omnibus Ministry of Public Security be created to connect the dots among key agencies, coordinate the allocation of resources to local and community security outfits, and follow up actionable intelligence on miscellaneous threats. In a nutshell, constant review of the mandate of government agencies will reveal gaps between the public’s current expectations and the agencies’ actual performance.
One possible explanation for the public service’s failure to meet the citizen’s expectation is of course the disproportionate attention given to form over substance, that is, to symbols and appearances over real accomplishments. The bias towards formal processes manifests as the enactment of rules that nobody obeys or enforces, budgets that are passed without any indications of what impact to expect, road projects that are started without a completion date, court processes that are strong on “technicalities” but weak on expeditious and credible justice dispensation, and the huge sums that are allocated every fiscal year to the payment of civil service salaries and allowances without any tangible impact on the life of the average citizen. In the early post-independence period, Ministries and Departments used to publish annual reports. Performance reporting has largely been discontinued, making it a major casualty of the structural adjustment and downsizing policies embarked upon in the 1990s.
A credible change agenda will place a strong emphasis on individual and ministerial performance, as well as on mechanisms for tracking results, impact, and outcomes. Such mechanisms will enable performance to be measured against pre-determined standards, notably, cost, output, time, and quality standards. To foster discipline on, and alertness to, duty, these standards should be validated and then applied in negotiating, rolling out, monitoring, and evaluating the performance contracts that the government, as the employer, signs with holders of positions at various levels.
Performance contracting and results-based budgeting are, indeed, critical to the success of efforts at putting the citizen first. The contracts should naturally be negotiated with the full participation of service beneficiaries and civic groups. The mainstreaming and downward cascading of performance pledges, and the installation of accountability mechanisms will facilitate access to wide-ranging services, particularly, poverty relief and eradication, police protection, expeditious and credible dispensation of justice, installation and application of uncomplicated business registration and regulation systems, as well as provision of seamless electricity and water supply, urban traffic control and de-congestion, detoxification and counselling of drug addicts, garbage collection, sewage disposal, toxic waste dumping prohibition, and environmental sanitation services.
Process simplification and re-engineering
Performance will continue to fall behind expectations so long as the public service refuses to simplify complex and time-consuming processes. Such processes do not necessarily uphold the principle of order. They may instead serve as a tool that power-driven officials rely on to block access to wide-ranging services. Among services that could do with process re-engineering are crime reporting, detection, and investigation; justice dispensation; business registration; revenue generation; and expenditure control. Apart from replacing scattered operations with one-stop centers, and convoluted rules with succinct, straightforward ones, efforts must be made to improve the “customer care” attitude of the service delivery agents, and to develop the service beneficiaries’ rules-compliance culture.
Empowering Service Beneficiaries to evaluate service quality
Performance will not improve unless constantly monitored and evaluated. Unfortunately, little has been done to involve the citizen (as the consumer of the services) in the evaluation of the service delivery agents’ performance. The practice over the years has been to view access to quality service in much the same way as another form of power display, that is, as a favor to be extended to acquaintances and well-connected citizens, rather than a basic and constitutionally guaranteed citizenship right. That is how come a police constable may stop, search, and extort a law-abiding citizen but gladly serve as a bona fide criminal’s bodyguard.
The system that has been in place since the dawn of independence in fact leaves no room for citizen participation in the establishment of service delivery standards, much less for “customer feedback”. Placing the rulers and their entourage first and the citizen last, the system allows public officials to decide by themselves the quantity and quality of services to provide. It denies the citizen-customer the opportunity to rate the adequacy, timeliness, and cost-effectiveness of the services on offer. The citizen may complain silently or loudly about interminable delays in justice dispensation or lament the extortionist practices taking place in various arms of government. That is about all he can do—moan alone. Short of taking his grievances to newspapers, a dicey choice, or to the legislator representing his constituency in the state or national assembly, an equally unreliable reparation method, the citizen has no avenue for transmitting his misgivings on service delivery directly to the officials or the agencies concerned. It takes a full-blown crisis, like the congestion at the Apapa Wharf or the #EndSars protests, to alert government leaders to the anomalies going on in public agencies, anomalies that ordinary citizens have put up with for a long time.
To be fair, soliciting the citizen’s opinion on service quality is a rare practice in the African public service in general. The Ethiopian Airlines, a commercial entity, was an exception. The airline maintained its leadership position in the aviation sector due largely to the application of sound management practices, and because of the feedback it solicited from its passengers as well as the corrective action taken thereon.
Ghana is among the first African countries to introduce Service Beneficiary Surveys across government agencies in the 1990s. That singular act not only kept the agencies on their toes, but also assured the citizen improved access to essential services. The new emphasis on performance and results naturally hastened Ghana’s economic recovery and placed the country on a trajectory of growth and development (Doudou, 1996). Other countries (like Botswana, Mauritius, Tanzania, the early post-apartheid South Africa, and Namibia) have, with varying results, applied different types of citizen feedback methodology. By contrast, the decline of South African Airways began in recent years when strong personalities took over the leadership of the airline and competent, achievement-oriented managers left in droves, leaving behind pliable replacements.
For the Nigerian state to survive, develop, and, at the same time, respond to the growing clamor for improved living conditions, every government agency must place the citizen at the top of its program design and implementation agenda. The capital and the annual budget must respond to the masses’ genuine concerns rather than the officials’ empire building inclinations. Public agencies must no longer set service delivery standards unilaterally while at the same time deeming themselves competent to decide that the standards have been met. That will be no different from a student setting himself an examination and grading his own answer script!
The citizen, as an elector, has a major role to play in recapturing the lost initiative. Before casting their votes for or against rival candidates for elective offices, the electorate must first find out where the candidates stand on public accountability, and, particularly, on the establishment of institutional mechanisms for receiving and processing citizen feedback on a broad range of services. The voting public must not allow monetary inducements to distract it from its civic responsibility. It must reject candidates that oppose holding the providers of essential services (like police protection, electricity and water supply, highway maintenance and construction, rehabilitation of drug addicts, resettlement of refugees, and stabilization of conflict-torn communities) accountable for the maintenance of minimum delivery standards.
For their part, government and public service leaders must act proactively to ensure the success of the new governing paradigm. Among other things, they should create Citizen Affairs and Liaison Units and hold the Units responsible for the conduct of citizen satisfaction surveys, the results of which will inform the remedial action to take at any time. The Citizen Affairs Unit will also commission diagnostic studies of agency governance practices with a view to identifying bottlenecks to efficient service delivery across the broad spectrum of government. For the avoidance of doubt, these Units should not be confined to the highest office, the President’s Office, but should be replicated at the State and Local Government levels.
Decades ago, government offices used to have telephone switchboards that service beneficiaries could call. The switchboards in turn routed the calls to the appropriate officers or desks. Today, the citizen does not enjoy the luxury of communicating with service delivery agents, except through back channels. There are hardly any dedicated telephone lines that the citizen could dial to obtain answers to simple queries, or to convey their grievances. While public services in other parts of the world have joined the Information Highway, Nigerian government agencies are not linked to one another by the Intranet, and their clients cannot reach them over the Internet! Placing the citizen first therefore warrants, among other things, bringing back the discarded telephone switchboards, and opening official email accounts enabling service beneficiaries to transmit their concerns to the appropriate desk officers. Each government office should have a fully operational Citizen Affairs/Relations Unit to direct the communication traffic.
Replacing serial change resisters with change champions
Beneficial change rarely happens by itself or spontaneously. The experience of many African countries indicates that change will not happen unless it is painstakingly engineered and constantly followed up by champions. In Jerry Rawlings’ Ghana, change was plotted and overseen at two critical points, in the office of the Secretary to the Provisional Defense Council, headed by Mr. Emmanuel A. Sai, and the office of the Head of the Civil Service, Mr. Robert Doudou. Sai handled the political angle of change while Doudou focused on implementing and deepening the change in the career civil service. As Thabo Mbeki’s Minister of Public Service and Administration, Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi built on the Batho Pele principles inaugurated by the Mandela government on 1st October 1997. The service delivery changes she pioneered subsequently earned South Africa the UN’s innovation awards and other international recognitions. As Namibia’s first Prime Minister, current President, H.E., Dr. Hage Geingob, not only presided over the transition from a system founded on apartheid to an independence era public service, but also oversaw the enactment of a new Public Service Act and the implementation of wide-ranging service delivery initiatives.
Like any other country, Nigeria is blessed with change-oriented leaders who coexist with serial change resisters. The transition from colonial rule to the post-independence Administration would have been problematic had government and public service leaders been remiss on the implementation of the necessary institutional and process changes. With the support of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the late Simeon Adebo, as Head of the Western Region Civil Service, pushed through changes demanded by the challenges of “Nigerianization”. Jerome Udoji’s success as Head of the Eastern Region Civil Service was due largely to the changes he undertook with the backing of the Region’s Premier, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, and Azikiwe’s successor, Dr. Michael Okpara. Premier Ahmadu Bello’s Northernization and development policy was implemented under the supervision of the first indigenous Secretary to the Premier and Head of the Region’s Civil Service, Ali Akilu. At the Federal level, a generation of civil service leaders (from S.O. Wey, through Abdul-Azeez Attah to C.O. Lawson, Ibrahim Damcida, and Philip Asiodu) created the structure and processes enabling the Civil Service to design and implement ambitious development programs.
None of the change champions listed above acted alone. The hackneyed phrase, lone tree in a forest, is apt here. Rather than stand and act alone, the personalities mentioned in the preceding paragraphs relied on the “trees” around them to make verdant forests. The other trees are the highly motivated and competent men and women working with the change champions in the center and as change agents in the line Ministries, Departments and Agencies. The change agents are the exact opposite of spineless and pliable officials that collude with external forces to undermine the integrity of institutions.
Regrettably, the change momentum in Nigeria has decelerated in recent years. Even when the case for reform is self-evident—what with the steady decay of institutions, the capture of the institutions by powerful figures and vested interests, and the failure to implement People-oriented projects or provide services in a timely and cost-effective manner—only a few appear interested in replacing the status quo with something new. An aspirant to the office of president was so contemptuous of change he termed it “a dirty word”. He would sooner repackage and recycle old ideas than venture into a field where he would be required to fix what is plainly broken!
Reclaiming institutions and waging a credible war on corruption
Corruption in any form poses a clear and present danger to the survival of Nigeria and to its medium- to long-term development. Already, a combination of institution decay and corruption has left Nigeria at the mercy of hoodlums, bandits, kidnappers, ritual killers, and bona fide terrorists. The security deficit has also fueled separatist impulses in different parts of the country. Needless to add that none of the citizen-first initiatives canvassed in the earlier paragraphs will see the light of day for as long as corruption rules the waves. Corruption will remain a formidable opponent unless and until the culture of impunity is replaced with that of accountability.
The challenge in waging a war on corruption lies in ascertaining what type of animal it is. As a hydra-headed monster, corruption’s precise nature and defining attributes are yet to be established. Some analysts simply narrow it down to bribery and corruption. However, it goes far beyond the offer and acceptance of monetary gratifications. It is best viewed as the subversion of public will to feather private nests. At one time, it takes the form of institutional capture by a powerful clique, and at another, as betrayal of public trust. At yet another time, it emerges as collusion with foreign and local interests to shortchange Nigeria. It may manifest as nepotism or willful subversion of personnel rules, abuse of office, short-circuiting or violation of due process, budget padding and “project” fabrication, rigged bidding and procurement practices, divided loyalty, failure to recuse oneself when in conflict-of-interest situations, falsification or mutilation of official records, interference in police investigations and court processes, and exertion of undue influence on decision-makers with a view to persuading them to do what the rules forbid or dissuading them from doing what the law prescribes. If the decentralization policy earlier advocated is not to end up “decentralizing tyranny and maladministration”, corruption in any form must be viewed as a federal offence, an offence that state and local authorities cannot bury under the weight of impunity.
The war on corruption must naturally start with the recapture and sanitization of institutions that have been hijacked and corrupted by a loose coalition of favor seekers, influence peddlers, and crime syndicates. The effort cannot be deemed successful until institutions are seen to be credible within and viable across generations, that is, until they can be relied upon to fulfil current statutory objectives and to meet unforeseen challenges.
The first order of business in any institutional regeneration effort is the enactment of an omnibus law, one that defines corruption and outlines measures to subdue it. The law will not only survey corruption from all possible angles but will also be specific on the sanctions for various types of ethical violations. The law will, besides designating corruption as a federal offence, specify the role of various anti-corruption agencies and streamline the relationship between and among them. It will place on every citizen the obligation to report cases of corruption that comes to his attention, and to turn in monetary gratifications that may be offered by process manipulators. Incentives and rewards for ethical uprightness should be part of the law. While acknowledging Nigeria’s federal character, the law will regard systemic or institutional corruption as a federal offence. As part of its zero tolerance of corruption, the law will proscribe the practice of assigning “job slots” to the nation’s elite. It will, above all, prescribe stiff penalties for proven cases of nepotism and job racketeering. The onus for the observance of ethical codes will be on the political head of each government department. In other words, the first head to roll will be that of the chief executive whose agency is implicated in charges of corruption, howsoever defined. To restore public trust in the state, officials whose conduct brings the government into disrepute will be immediately separated.
In line with the new commitment to institution sanitization, the new law will contain provisions requiring the state to solicit the assistance of non-state actors in the war on corruption. Specifically, professional associations (such as the Nigerian Union of Journalists and the Guild of Editors, the Bar and the Medical Association of Nigeria, the Council of Registered Engineers of Nigeria, and the Chambers of Commerce) will be required to update, strengthen, and rigorously enforce their membership codes of conduct.
It is easy to write a law. Implementing and enforcing it is another matter entirely. To close the gap between appearance and verifiable fact–that is, between what is professed and what is practiced–government and public service leaders must move decisively against impunity, exceptionalism, and the sense of entitlement. The war on corruption (and insecurity) is lost the instant the state looks the other way while sacred cows make a mockery of the law and of due process.
One of the reviewers of this paper asked what may be termed the ‘mother of all questions’. Specifically, she asked, “if the people are as bad as their rulers, who will instigate the needed change?” The change canvassed in the preceding paragraphs can only be implemented successfully if visionary leaders move proactively to mobilize their followers and build a consensus around a new, citizen-centered, governance paradigm. These leaders, with the full participation of the masses, will redefine politics to mean serving the people, rather than an opportunity to apply methods fair or foul to acquire power, riches, and fame. Whoever succeeds in bringing about the sea change in politics and governance will leave a legacy that none can erase. The alternative is to continue taking politics as a “game of numbers”, a game that allows politicians of the Machiavellian type to view tribe, tongue, faith, and “geo-political” zones as pawns to be moved for short-term gain. Such a notion will unfailingly set Nigeria back and compound the woes of Nigerians. Human rights activists have a major role to play. They should step up their civic education campaign, paying special attention to how the average citizen can become increasingly aware of what is wrong with the current system as well as the change that everyone must make to ensure that the system works for ALL.
Umbrella organizations, like the Arewa Consultative Forum, are also well placed to bring sanity to Nigeria’s leadership recruitment process. Proceeding from its well-earned reputation for commitment to the advancement of good governance causes, the Forum should work with its counterparts in other parts of Nigeria to forge a consensus on the criteria to apply in vetting the candidature of aspirants to key offices, notably, those of President and Commander-in-Chief, State Governor, and Local Government Chairman. It needs not use this paper as its template, but it won’t harm in the least if if proceeds from the challenges highlighted therein to assess the preparedness of leadership aspirants. By the same token, legislative assemblies that are constitutionally empowered to vet the nominations of candidates must take their tasks seriously. Legislative hearings should no longer be viewed as a mere “bow-and-go”, formalistic, exercise, but as a substantive process of separating the fake from the real, that is, separating frivolous from meritorious candidatures.
 When Mr. Sunday Adeyemo Igboho, a Yoruba Nation agitator, was arrested in Benin Republic for violating the country’s immigration law, his Nigerian supporters expected that he would be freed immediately ‘big men’ like ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo interceded on his behalf. They were shocked to discover that the Nigerian contempt for the law had no place in Benin Republic.
 This is insignificant compared to the power given to a private family, the Gupta family, to determine who was appointed or removed as the country’s Minister of Finance (Judicial Commission of Inquiry into State Capture Report, Part I, 2021).