Looking Back, Looking Forward.

The Independent National Electoral Commission has concluded elections to all elective positions for 2015. Winners have emerged and have been sworn in and are now occupying their rightful positions. In some instances, there are election petitions challenging the return of some governors and other elected officials. However, at the national level, there is no challenge to the return of President Muhammadu Buhari; rather he was congratulated by the loser, Goodluck Jonathan, before the official results were announced. The implication of this development is that we are now in the period of governance. We have long left politics and campaigns. It is now time to fulfil campaign promises, which formed the basis of preferring one candidate over and above others.

In governance, it is acceptable to look back and forward at the same time. In looking back, a new government seeks to correct the ills of the past, recover mismanaged or stolen money to the treasury, ensure deterrence for future misconduct and provide guarantees of non-repetition for misdeeds that violated the rights of Nigerians to be governed under a regime of good and value for money governance. In the extant regime of President Buhari, looking back is about correcting the ills of the past government considering that his presidential campaign was based on the poor performance of the last regime.

The second leg of governance is the forward-looking aspect. In view of the fact that the campaigns were based on the mantra of change, the new government is expected to unveil new policy initiatives and fresh ideas to replace the “stale ideas” that were in place before the election. In the alternative, where a particular policy direction of the last administration looks good enough, nothing stops the new administration from continuing with the same. However, nature abhors a vacuum. If it is taken for granted that the old ideas are discredited and nothing is brought forward on time to replace them, then a huge challenge and vacuum are created and this is just what may be termed policy uncertainty and a policy void. The replacement, beyond policies, includes the human beings manning the respective Ministries, Departments and Agencies and other sectors of governance. President Olusegun Obasanjo left with his National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy whilst Umaru Yar’Adua passed on with the Seven Point Agenda. President Jonathan is gone with his Transformation Agenda. So, what is next on the table?

In the light of the looking back and forward agenda of government, a number of posers arise: Should a new government invest more time in looking back or looking forward? Is it proper to continue the language of campaigns when the government is expected to begin to deliver on promises? How long should it take a President or governor to settle down and begin the task of governance? It is my position that in the early days of an administration, looking back and forward may be done in virtually equal measure so as to get a good grasp on what has been handed over to the government. But this should be done for the purpose of helping the administration to start implementing its new policy directives. As the days roll into weeks and weeks into months, the expectation is that the focus should be more on looking forward.

The scorecard of a government at the end of the day may not be determined by the non-performance of his predecessor but clearly on his own performance while in office. Thus, blaming the delays in taking positions or acting to solve a particular challenge on the past administration ( or clearing the mess) is like the campaigns are still ongoing when a winner has since emerged. It was because of this “mess” that a new government was elected. Considering that our new President had been running for the Presidency since 2003, it was expected that he must have had some concrete ideas especially in low hanging fruits which should not take long to be plucked and harnessed.

The very obvious low hanging fruit is the anti-corruption campaign. But this campaign needs to be anchored and institutionally driven to make it effective. Despite the new vigour of the anti-corruption agencies, nothing has changed in the judiciary to suggest that we may still not be bogged down by technicalities and the usual to and fro movement from the High Courts to the Supreme Court that delays cases until eternity. The chance of concluding some of the corruption trials and getting judgment, before the end of Buhari’s tenure, if we continue in the extant business as usual criminal justice system, will be remote. Obviously, we need a vibrant Attorney-General of the Federation to drive this campaign. But where is s/he?

In the forward-looking agenda, the All Progressives Congress is not lacking in men and women of intellect who can devise a costed plan, strategy and blueprint for governance based on their manifesto and electoral promises in the next one month. Should a policy framework for governance be devised before the elections and used as a campaign tool or when the candidate transforms into an elected officer? I dare say that the policy instrument should have been in place before the election. Being a living document based on iteration, it would have only needed fine-tuning as the exigencies of implementation unravel. The disturbing trend is not about the absence of policy positions but the fact that for now, there are no debates on the subject. The APC is also not lacking in men and women to run the MDAs and the boards and parastatals. So, what is the delay in getting the governance team together meant to achieve? Why should Buhari wait until September to appoint ministers? Who will be in charge for the next one and half months?

There is danger with this policy uncertainty and lack of clear governance structures. It leads to a standstill and stagnation. Big-ticket private sector investment decisions cannot be made without a policy direction. Even the public service can merely guess the general direction of government policy in the absence of clear directives. Today, the convergence of government policies, for instance monetary and fiscal policies to achieve developmental targets cannot take place. The Central Bank of Nigeria is busy rolling out directives on the restriction of the use of foreign exchange to manage the naira but this will work best if there is a finance minister in place who complements this with fiscal policy directives. Lack of clear governance structures also leads to the hijack of state apparatus by an illegitimate cabal. For instance, the constitution provides for an Attorney-General of the Federation and there is none in existence but someone still renders legal advice to government; someone is doing the task of coordination that should have been the duty of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation when there is no one officially appointed to the position.

In the final analysis, President Buhari should look back with a view to concentrating in the forward arena. The clock has started ticking and it is on a fast mode. He should constitute his team and get down to solving the challenges for which we chose him as leader.

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