Governance is about engaging societal challenges, seeking the resolution of complex problems and multi-tasking. The leader of the team receives advice and reports and takes decisions on so many issues. He literally fights on so many fronts at the same time. This informs the need for the leader to be assisted by so many hands at the levels of ministers, special assistants and all manner of aides. He also has at his disposal the knowledge, strength and technicalities of the civil service and bureaucracy. The bureaucracy has expertise in diverse fields and has the largest reservoir of professionals in every field. Apart from the foregoing expertise, an array of consultants is available to help the leader do justice to the grave and great national assignments that dot his table on a daily basis. This is not limited to Nigeria but this is the norm in virtually all modern and civilised societies.
In matters of day to day governance and decision-making, the leader has options to choose from. He is supposed to be forward-looking, proactive and learn from the mistakes of the past. He is also entitled to look back to correct mistakes, punish offenders and restore a sense of sanity in the system. But there has to be a right mix between taking care of the challenges of yesterday and attending to problems that confront the citizens on a daily basis. How is this narrative relevant in the Nigeria of today? The country is like a moving speed vehicle which has changed its driver. The driver needs to be forward-looking to be able to accelerate and get to the destination on time, avoid other road users and obey traffic rules. However, he still needs his side and rear mirrors to get a good idea of what is happening around him. But if the vehicle driver is overtly fixated on his rear mirror, he cannot focus on the task ahead. This seems to be the situation of the current Nigerian leadership; focusing on yesterday in its avowed anti-corruption fight whilst refusing to give good attention to the front view which allows acceleration.
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The economy is a great part of the extant challenges for which no amount of focus on the back mirrors can solve. The Buhari administration has not given adequate attention to the economy. If half of the energy, passion and energy dedicated to the anti-corruption has been channelled to the economy, we would not have been in a recession. If this government had spent 365 days in governance, the economy has not received up to 20 clear days’ attention whilst the anti-corruption and security drive might have received not less than 100 days each. This disproportionate attention to anti-corruption particularly is almost positioning it to lose support among a good proportion of the population who are finding it difficult to survive the harsh times. This brings forward the poser; is it that the presidential aides entrusted with the economy have not worked as hard as those entrusted with the anti-corruption drive? Is it that they lack the experience and qualifications to turn around their sectors? Or, is it that the President is refusing to listen to advice? Or, is he micromanaging the economy?
It is imperative to remember that the President and his deputy are the only elected officials in the executive arm, others are appointed. The credit or blame will eventually be that of the President if he succeeds or fails. Therefore, the circumstances demand that President Muhammadu Buhari needs to dedicate more time, human and material resources to the management of the economy. Again, he does not seem to be using every available human resource to turn the economy around. For the last one and half years, Nigerians have been suffused with declarations of intent with little or no accompanying action. This creates the image of the administration still thinking that campaigns are still on at a time implementation of promises should have been long ongoing.
Is there the presence of mind between the executive and legislature to itemise the body of laws required to move Nigeria out of recession? New bills may need to be enacted to become laws whilst existing laws may need to be amended. The relevance of looking back becomes embedded in identifying the mischief in existing laws and using the powers of the legislature to cure the mischief, plug the existing gaps and set the ship of state in the right direction. Looking back here becomes relevant to the future and not simply a fixation with crime and punishment and its fair deserts.
A deeper appreciation of the war against corruption shows that it has been mainly fought as the war of yesterday, the side and rear mirror options. The forward-looking and proactive components of this war have been largely ignored. The war does not seem to be evidence-led and the institutionalisation of principles, frameworks and policies that will allow Nigeria to say, never again, seems to have been ignored. There are clear measures which if taken will insert the lessons of yesterday into the design of a new architecture against corruption. For instance, the administration has yet to see the window of opportunity in declaration of assets and the Freedom of Information law. Making public the assets declared by public officers will be a proactive measure against public officials who intend to loot the treasury. By the time the concluding declaration is made, the public will be in a position to intervene to show the corruptly gained assets which may not have been declared. By the time, Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government make public all the documentation required by the Freedom of Information Act, there will be more transparency in governance. This will guarantee that opportunities for corrupt enrichment decrease and the need for future prosecutions will also decrease.
Again, in the current attempt to engage the judiciary with the anti-corruption cleanser, the actual causes and immediate and remote facts leading to judicial corruption have been ignored. Is there anyone out there thinking of reforming the procedure for appointing judges? Reforms are also needed in the area of court rules, technological equipment especially information technology to aid the administration of justice and case law management. If judges are overwhelmed with the number of cases they handle, can we not create more courts and appoint more judges? Knee jerk reactions will never solve any of the sectoral challenges facing the nation. Moving a sector in the right direction requires hours of critical thinking and articulation of plans and policies followed up with implementation of recommendations. This is the forward-looking approach.
It is imperative for Mr. President to share his time and attention adequately to the competing needs of state. The economic challenges facing Nigeria can no longer afford to take a back seat; they should be in the front burner of the administration’s scale of preference. He should get more competent hands who are ready and willing to burn the midnight lamp; listen to the advice of his team and implement recommendations to the letter. If the economic prescriptions offered by his aides are not working, he has the right to try a new set of aides. We need solutions to the economic debacle and not apologies.
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