Reconstructing Nigeria: Putting the Citizen First

In a previous article, I argued that the time spent wondering how to rebrand or restructure Nigeria ought to be devoted to transforming the state from the lord and master that it currently is to the service provider that the citizen expects it to be. This is a major paradigm shift. It is an enormous task that calls not only for a new mindset but also and more especially for the active involvement of all the stakeholders.

However, the fact that the task is beyond the capacity of an individual or a group does not necessarily imply that it cannot be performed unless and until we convoke another ‘national confab’. We do not need another talking shop to achieve the underlying state reconstruction objective, which is, putting the citizen first. What we need is a government that is committed to change, and a new set of leaders who are sworn to doing things differently.

The focus on the citizen immediately rules out the incumbent PDP government. As a party that is under the firm grip of a power-driven and self-serving cabal, the PDP cannot be counted upon to initiate measures which will rock the boat, talk less, measures that will tilt the balance from oligarchic rule towards popular sovereignty. After staying in power for sixteen consecutive years, the PDP will not suddenly embrace a new order that places the citizen at the centre of the governance gravity. So long as it remains in power, a thousand ‘national confabs’ and more will not change the status quo or improve the citizen’s living conditions.

If anyone entertains the illusion that the PDP would change and start caring for the people, that person ought to pause and reflect on “Chief Servant” Babangida Aliyu’s unwittingly candid words. As the out-going Niger State Governor absent-mindedly reckoned, none survives in Nigerian politics who is not skilled in lying. Revolting as this may sound, the Governor is speaking the mind of the PDP. He is preaching the gospel according to the ruling party. The PDP will “rebrand” anything to hoodwink Nigerians. It will say anything to stay in power in perpetuity. It will portray white as black or stoke ethno-religious discord if either ploy would guarantee its unbroken hold on power and unimpaired access to resources. Preferring a weak, docile, and submissive public, the PDP dynasty will veto any action likely ‘open the eyes’ of its obsequious subjects. Any ‘confab’ it convokes will only serve to rubber-stamp its elitist, anti-people, policies, not to place the state in the service of the people.

The alacrity with which the PDP raised a staggering sum in support of President Jonathan’s re-election bid is indicative of the ruling cabal’s determination to block the change which our country sorely needs. At a time when our military is short of the arms and ammunitions needed to end the Boko Haram insurgency, the PDP money bags took less than a month to raise a whopping N21billion to just to get one person back in Aso Rock! The party may brag about its resource mobilization prowess, but the war chest it had succeeded in putting up only confirmed one thing—its conspiracy to keep the People of Nigeria in perpetual bondage.

I can already sense some readers’ disquiet over my dismissal of the PDP, and my implied endorsement of the APC, as a credible change agent. I can hear the cynics wonder whether the APC is any different from the PDP, the party which the opposition is working day and night to dislodge. I can see the PDP apologists fuming, and asking whether this is not a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Specifically what credentials can the APC tender to back its readiness to implement change? Is it not true that many of the liars and looters who were once in the PDP have since migrated to the APC? How can we trust the APC to reconstruct the state and place the citizen first in its actions, especially, since it is made up of the same PDP’s cast of characters despised by the people?

These are all perfectly legitimate questions. Insofar as I am not the APC spokesperson, I do not consider myself competent and duly mandated to answer them. All the same, they are valid questions which I am not about to dodge. Fortunately, I have devoted a lot of time studying the ups and downs in the Nigerian public administration system. My own independent research enables me to answer many, if not all, of the questions frequently asked about the APC’s commitment to, and readiness, for change.

Does the APC have what it takes to take Nigeria in another but largely positive direction? My answer to this question is a categorical yes. The answer is ‘yes’ for the simple reason that the APC is the only party left standing to face the PDP. It is also the only party whose Presidential candidate is seriously addressing issues of concern to the average citizen—corruption, unemployment, personal insecurity, electricity power crisis, infrastructure decay, and loss of territory to Boko Haram. The APC is the only party that has bothered to identify a few areas where change must take place—the lackadaisical attitude to corruption and indiscipline, threat to life and property, massive policing failures, collapse of the infrastructure, impaired public access to quality education and basic health care. The APC is also the only party whose flag-bearer, General Muhammadu Buhari, has a track record in the fight against corruption and the revitalization of the public service. Even if a cynic wishes to question the APC’s other credentials, s/he cannot doubt the party’s determination to combat corruption—at least, not with General Muhammadu Buhari as its Presidential candidate, and Professor Yemi Osinbajo as his running mate!

The APC’s critics have made much of former PDP leaders’ decision to defect to the APC. Instead of pronouncing these individuals guilty by (their previous) association, the critics need to ask why they left the PDP in the first place. Have the critics ever considered the possibility that the former PDP stalwarts left the party on principle? The information in the public domain clearly indicates that individuals like Rotimi Amaechi and Rabiu Kwankwaso quit after it became clear that the President would not honour an agreement he duly entered into back in 2011. Both Amaechi and Kwankwaso as well as other defectors were also aggrieved by the lack of internal democracy in their party. It will thus be disingenuous to lump these defectors with the PDP’s liars and looters.

Even on the off chance that the former PDP members’ defection heightens the risk of the APC being infected by the PDP’s diseases, the change momentum within the APC and in contemporary Nigeria as a whole is enough antidote to revisionism. Besides, the former PDP members crossed over to the APC fully conscious of Nigeria’s yearning for change. They and other APC leaders know that if they pass up the opportunity to make meaningful change happen, another party, probably, the PDP which they loathe, is waiting the wings.

Should the APC convoke a national conference to appease suckers for dramatic but largely empty gestures? Honestly, I don’t think it should. Instead of squandering valuable time and resources organizing another in a litany of confabs, it should start by rebuilding the foundation for good governance and salvaging public institutions already destroyed by years of systematic politicization. It should get a grip on the key institutions and make sure that they engineer their processes sufficiently to address the citizen’s concerns. If nothing else, the APC should ensure that the institutions function as they are meant to—that is, as critical service delivery agents which, besides responding to the citizen’s concerns, are duly insulated from patrimonial, rent-seeking, partisan political, and ‘Big Man’ influences. For instance, the police should cease to be used as instruments of oppression and/or extortion. It should instead be transformed into a credible force in the war on crime, corruption, and lawlessness. By the same token, the DSS should cease to be an appendage of the ruling party.

Every arm of the public service should simplify its internal processes and eliminate cumbersome and time-consuming operations. Its primary objective should be serving the citizen promptly, impartially, fairly, transparently, efficiently, and courteously. Instead of allocating job slots to Senators, Ministers, and political godfathers, the public service must throw its vacancies open to genuine competition, and ensure that every Nigerian is given full and fair consideration. To do otherwise, is to devalue a Nigerian’s citizenship and act contrary to what the APC pledges to change.

The next (and last) in the series of articles will focus on the measures that need to be taken to place Nigeria on the path of peaceful and sustainable change.

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