Technocratic Vacuity: Time For Change

Nigerians by now are tired of empty sloganeering, promises that are never kept and experts who have failed to deliver in their areas of expertise. We have been inundated with all kinds of mantras and development stories, from the Millennium Development Goals to National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy, Vision 2020 and now the Transformation Agenda. Instead of going forward to improve lives and livelihoods, the implementation of these plans and strategies by our experts has put the nation, instead, in the reverse gear. Like the reggae musician, Ras Kimono, sang, these are empty promises to the masses which are a legacy of our colonial masters!

From the days of the Obasanjo administration till the present time, it has become fashionable for the President to constitute an economic team. Members of this team are supposed to manage the economy in such a way that meets the constitutional requirement of harnessing the resources of the nation, promoting national prosperity and an efficient and dynamic self-reliant economy. Many of the members and the leadership of the team are supposedly technocrats. Beyond the economic team, a good deal of the ministers, aides to the President and other appointees claim to be technocrats.

A technocrat, according to Wikipedia, is defined and regarded as a technical expert, especially one in a managerial or administrative position; an expert who is a member of a highly skilled elite group – a group or class of persons enjoying superior intellectual or social or economic status, persons with special knowledge or ability and who perform skillfully. But, can the various group of persons who have been in charge of our economy in the last decade qualify as technocrats? Do they qualify to earn that appellation based on their performance? If yes, how many new jobs have they created? How many Nigerians have they rescued from poverty? How many new roads, bridges, airports, power stations and megawatts of electricity have they delivered to Nigerians? Have they been able to maintain existing infrastructure? The scorecard of these technocrats has been poor in major aspects of our national life.

Make no mistakes about it; there is a huge difference between having a first class in a university and performance in the field after graduation. There is also a wide gulf between academic theorising and management of men and materials to produce improvements in the living conditions of people. In many universities around the world, the ability to memorise the lectures and textbooks and pour it out to the lecturer during examination earns students a good degree. Thus, the student will simply be replicating existing knowledge and adding nothing new. But in the real world, the first class graduate will be tasked with finding solutions to real life problems which will then task his creativity and ability to adapt received knowledge to the practical world filled with challenges. This is the difference between science and technology, backward and progressive nations. Yes, we have many men who have read and memorized the basic and complex principles of science but we have very few men and women who can use these science principles to solve our existential problems in Nigeria – to build washing machines, electrical gadgets, cars, trains, areoplanes, power stations, etc.

Clearly, we have a demonstrated case of technocratic vacuity on our hands. A few examples will suffice. The Jonathan administration promised to build refineries but lacks direction and seriousness of purpose to think outside the box on how to proceed. The administration is fixated with the pump price of fuel and sees nothing wrong with wasting over N1.5tn every year in fuel imports. And the leadership of the economic team keeps recycling 18th – 19th Century economic orthodoxy on fuel pricing as a strategy for running modern Nigeria. The foreign exchange to be saved and the new jobs to be created from local refining are not issues for the administration. Over 10 years of power sector reforms including new policies, laws, a road map and over $15bn investment, we are still regaled with stories of gas powered generating stations built without thinking through their source of gas. We cannot afford to supply meters to electricity consumers so that the business-as-usual estimated billing system will continue. Nigeria has achieved the magical feat of having a procurement regime that has no policy council driving it and procurement in Nigeria, despite the pronouncements on paper, have not been directed towards building local capacity and creating jobs. 45,000 ghosts drew over N100bn from the treasury and our technocrats have no answer to the fraud, no one is being investigated and no one will be prosecuted.

Year after year, our technocrats receive all manner of rave reviews and dubious awards; from Man of the Year, Central Banker of the Year and all kinds of accolades which, in saner climes should be reserved for those who have contributed substantially to the economic development of their nations. Yet, the economy they preside over here is not working and they even admit that much and still fail to disqualify themselves from such awards. The fallacy of mistaking the form for the substance and the first term for the conclusion is so self-evident in the way these so-called technocrats carry out their functions. It should be clear to all who are discerning that the word “reforms” has been abused and there is nothing like reforms for the sake of reforms. Reforms must be tied to some higher ideals which improves society. We have even reached the stage when individuals who contribute to the economic stagnation of the state have been honoured as reformers while individuals who can make critical contributions are yanked off the stage.

It is possible for Nigeria to run a government where key officers are tasked with not only proposing sectoral targets but held to account for the methodology of achievement. The “how” needs to be rigorously interrogated since everyone agrees on broad developmental goals and targets. Can we have a Minister of Industries or Trade who will give us a blow-by-blow account of how to deliver a truly Made in Nigeria car or increase the local content of available products? We need a procurement regime that will increase the patronage of suitable locally made products. We need ministers who will not raise their hands in the air in despair pleading lack of funds for infrastructure projects when public private partnerships have not been explored. The Nigerian who receives less than five per cent interest rate from his money in a typical bank account may prefer to invest in infrastructure projects. We need leaders who see opportunity in every challenge, with a robust and rigorous “can do spirit”, who can think outside the box and able and willing to carry the populace along the contours of true reforms.

It appears from the way our technocrats carry on, they may have good and noble intentions and objectives. But the knowledge and experience available to them can only produce the extant reverse gear scorecard. The experiment has gone on for too long. It is not working and has no proven capacity to have worked elsewhere. We need a change in the hands that manage our economy.

– Eze Onyekpere (censoj@gmail.com)

Article culled from Punch and first published on April 8th, 2013

Comments for this post are closed.