How rational, feasible and realistic is our governance and policies especially, the ones that touch on our economy, finances and fiscal policy? Do we announce that we are heading west when all our activities indicate irreversibly that we are on our way to the east? Is the Nigerian public policy space led by evidence and new policies reflecting the empirical analysis of solutions to extant challenges? Is it reasonable to always believe that every new administration can re-invent the wheel? These and so many more questions should worry the minds of discerning Nigerians especially when the challenges of yesteryears have refused to go away and these challenges have been the subject of incredible analysis and recommendations.
Any commentator on Nigerian public affairs will find one recurring decimal; that comments and analysis made on challenges five to ten years ago are still valid and can still be published as hot comments in the Nigeria of today. It seems to me that the public policy space has lost some level of sanity. We have governments who perform an experiment with a fixation on a result it seeks and when the conditions and mixture of chemicals do not give us the expected answers, we tend to repeat the experiment. However, we fail to alter any of variables or change any of the conditions, chemicals or reagents and still expect a new result which we had anticipated earlier. Of course, the result will always be the same. And for me, this is the classical definition of insanity; to repeat an experiment without altering the conditions and variables and expect different results.
A few examples of the insanity of the public policy space will suffice. Every year, we go through the ritual of audits of the extractive industries and the verdict is always the same. The NNPC and the management of the extractive industry will always be indicted. Several reports and probes have been set up by the executive and legislature on the management of the extractive industry and the results are always mind boggling pictures of mismanagement. Once the results are released, everyone gets angry, a flurry of editorials, media analysis, nay leading to paralysis and everyone goes to sleep waiting for the next year. However, reforms in the extractive industry have been identified and articulated under the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) and this idea has been with us for over fifteen years. Yes, the executive sent the PIB to the legislature in the sixth and seventh National Assembly and they kept playing a game of chess with it, until NASS abandoned the PIB and dispersed. In the current eight NASS, the executive has not been able to get its acts together to present a new PIB. Rather, we have the two sitting Ministers of Petroleum pursuing unsustainable cosmetic reforms of the NPPC and this has failed to work and produce the right results. If this sector is important to our economic well being, why should the executive not define it as a priority and take steps in collaboration with the legislature to reform it under a PIB?
Still in the extractive sector, everyone knows that we need to refine crude oil at home to save foreign exchange used in the importation of refined products, create new jobs and build local capacity. This conclusion did not spring up yesterday. It has been with us for decades and yet, no step is taken by government to build new refines. The same government refuses to open up the policy space for private investors to build new refineries. Government keeps talking about diversifying the economy, sources of revenue and creating jobs. What else is insanity than when someone or an institution knows what to do, refuse to take steps towards it and still mouths that it is moving in the direction of solving the problem?
Nigeria enacted a Public Procurement Act (PPA) to reform public acquisition of goods, works and services. The PPA sets up institutions and processes to guarantee value for money, transparency and accountability. Indeed, our PPA is reputed to be one of the best laws in its class. Before the euphoria of the enactment would die down, late President Umaru Yar’adua and succeeding presidents refused to set up the National Council on Public Procurement which is the policy arm of procurement reform. The PPA provides that the Bureau of Public Procurement which is the technical arm should propose policies which would be approved by Council. Since 2007 when the PPA became law, it has been considered an anathema to set up the Council leading to situations where stricto sensu, all policies enacted by BPP without Council’s approval can be declared illegal, null and void. During the campaigns, President Muhammadu Buhari promised to set up the Council and one year down the line, no one knows whether that promise is not among all the promises than have been cancelled. Thus, we want due process and procurement reform but we do not want to follow the processes and the full provisions of the law. Any wonder that procurement fraud is still the order of the day.
The Fiscal Responsibility Act provides a schedule of how a budget is to be prepared, enacted and implemented in a manner that is timely, empirical and evidence based and responds to the developmental challenges of the nation. However, the fiscal authorities ignore the law; pretend it does not exist and do things according to the whims and caprices of whoever is occupying important seats in the fiscal policy space. For instance, the preparation of the medium term expenditure framework to anchor the budget is supposed to be concluded by the end of June every year. But at no time, including this year is any one talking about its preparation on time. No one is talking about the 2017 budget preparation process until it becomes a race to meet the December 31 deadline. May be, some persons in the Ministry of Budget and Planning will claim they are working on it. But the central poser is; are they working on the budget within the contemplation of the Fiscal Responsibility Act? We want fiscal responsibility without following the dictates of the Fiscal Responsibility Act. Indeed, at some point, the previous government contemplated scrapping the Fiscal Responsibility Act!
We cannot continue to ignore evidence and credibility in the public policy space and yet expect progress. We cannot continue to enthrone mediocrity and the race to the bottom as an art of governance and yet expect development and a climb to the heights. A country that wants to improve its educations sets the cut-off mark for admission into universities at 45 over 100 percent. Fellow Nigerians, a person is expected to anticipate the natural consequences of his or her act. Our inability to anticipate that wrong-headed policies will never lead to good results has been the bane of our governance. The lack of intellectual rigour, sometimes coupled with intellectual dishonesty of the leadership sets the pace for economic, social and political perdition. It is up to Nigerians to insist on good governance and refuse to allow the authorities to continue the guinea pig experimentation with lives and properties.