By Oscarline Onwuemenyi
Governance is arguably the pursuit of a stated mantra or policy and, more often than not, it ends up being defined by such a policy. And as is common practice all over the world, new governments normally announce the policy thrust that they intend to pursue and upon which their subsequent actions and inactions can be based and interpreted.
Oftentimes, and for good reason, many of such government policies have been heavily panned by critics or received with little or no enthusiasm among the populace. One of such policies in the country was the “7-Point Agenda” of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. This has quickly metamorphosed into the “Transformation Agenda” championed by Yar’adua’s successor, President Goodluck Jonathan.
Interestingly, another agenda, the Vision 20:2020, which seems to run through most of the recent ‘agendas’ was enunciated by the Economic Team of another former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.
Many observers have been quick to criticize such political posturing as mere sloganeering, lacking in soul and merit. They claim that sloganeering is not policy and it is not governance. According to them, the Transformation Agenda as advocated by the present administration would amount to naught if it does not provide a visible symbol for the transformational ideal, and if given the legendary aversion to change the authors do not help the people understand, and buy into, why the transition or journey is necessary.
Speakers and participants at a recent seminar entitled The Transformation Agenda: An Instrument for Promoting Democratic Culture in Nigeria, organized on behalf of participants of the Executive Intelligence Management Course (EIMC) 4, of the Institute of Security Studies, ISS, in Abuja, were all in agreement that the success of the policy and subsequent enhancement of the nation’s democratic culture would require courage and poise on the part of the leadership in the face of adversity, as well as creativity and steadfastness to persevere through disappointing troughs.
Kicking off the session, the Director of the Institute of Security Studies, Mr. Lekan Odugbemi, noted that to the understanding of most people, transformation represents a process that alters the culture of institutions and businesses by changing the underlying assumptions and overt institutional behaviours, processes and structures.
“It is usually purposeful, deep, comprehensive and integrated. President Jonathan’s idea of transformation is to propel Nigeria from its present status of a developing to a developed country. This is akin to what President Lee Kuan Yew did for Singapore,” Odugbemi stated.
He explained that since the return to democratic rule in 1999, democratic practices and culture have been gradually gaining ground. “At the beginning it was a little difficult to adjust, as the whole country was still used to autocratic rule. Gradually, this has been changing, and it is hoped that Nigeria wll as soon as possible attain the democratic heights of countries like India, South Korea, the United States and France.”
Odugbemi said the purpose of the seminar was to address questions about how the Transformation Agenda could be used to make the country more democratic. “In other words, how can the Transformation Agenda ensure the rule of law, free and fair elections, multi-party democracy, freedom of expression, justice for all, and other principles of democracy,” he observed.
In his submission, former Military President, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (rtd) remarked that as a past leader, the newly espoused policy thrust of the present administration as encapsulated in the transformation agenda has a familiar ring to it.
He stated that, “While many Nigerians are yet to fully come to terms with the fundamental objectives of the policy thrust, those of us that are in privileged positions cannot possibly feign ignorance of the dynamics of government and its direction.”
Among several others, the core objectives of President Jonathan’s Transformation Agenda is underlined by the desire of the present administration to promote social and economic changes through the optimization of economic growth; develop a knowledge-based economy and enhance security of lives and property; accelerate growth, provide employment and reduce youth restiveness as accentuated by the spiraling wave of violence and criminality all over the country.
According to Babangida, “There is little doubt that our biggest challenge as a nation in this decade and perhaps beyond remains how best to expand the scope of our wealth in order to meet the ever expanding needs of our growing population, projected to more than double its present size in less than three decades from now. Increasing the size of our commonwealth will no doubt require an annual GDP double-digit growth if we are to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015 and the objectives of the Vision 20:2020 on schedule.
“In this regard, the Transformation Agenda must widen the scope and capacity of the present administration to generate wealth by providing useful incentives to local and foreign investors,” he added.
The former military ruler further posited that a paradigm shift in Nigeria, as envisaged by the new policy direction of government, obviously requires a change in beliefs, values and reference, something of a fundamental alteration of attitudes by the citizenry. According to him, “The role and place of education and attitudinal re-orientation in this regard cannot be over-emphasised. It is however doubtful if current trends in our educational system can effectively support such radical turn-around in fortunes.”
Babangida remained adamant that for any policy thrust anchored on change such as the Transformation Agenda to achieve its desired objectives, especially in the long run, strategic investment in education and the development and empowerment of the youth must, as a matter of necessity, receive priority attention.
As a starting point, he noted, government at the state levels may choose to make education free and compulsory up to the Junior Secondary school level. “There is also the urgent need for a comprehensive review of our education curricula to match our current aspirations as a nation,” he said.
He added that, “Beyond the underlying quest for social justice and economic prosperity in Nigeria, the Transformation Agenda must not only guarantee the independence of the various arms of government, the Judiciary in particular which has come under intense scrutiny in recent times for all the wrong reasons must be insulated from politics and corrupt tendencies. The Legislature, on its part, must enjoy financial autonomy to enable it properly function devoid of the current encumbrances by an overbearing Executive.”
In his paper, a former President of the Senate, Sen. Ken Nnamani, warned that care should be taken not to reduce the Transformation Agenda to mere sloganeering, noting that Nigerians were quick to join the latest fad and fashion. “Any bandwagon that passes we jump on it even before we know its destinations. No one wants to be left behind even if the wagon is going off a cliff; people prefer to be relevant than to be right,” Nnamani said.
He added, “We should not carelessly abuse the term as was done with servant-leadership and other such mantras. We better be careful to stop using words without catching the true meaning of the words. Transformational leadership is neither easy nor free of pain. It requires all of us to make fundamental changes in who we are and what we do. When coupled with this note of reality, transformation begins to lose its appeal on many us.”
According to him, transformational agenda “requires us to have the drive and commitment not only reform what we do and how we do it, but to accomplish this in such a substantial way that we, individually and collectively, are remade into better versions of ourselves. That we begin to believe, think and act differently in relation to one another and to our nation – this is the true essence of transformation.”