By Omoh Gabriel

The current debate on the profligacy of public office holders, size and cost of governance in Nigeria is interesting and very healthy for the economy. The argument itself gives credence to the need to ensure that government performs only those duties that are of public interest. What should be the right size of government has been a long drawn debate.

In political environment where policies are developed along ideological persuasion, it is either policy is developed along capitalist ideology or a socialist/welfare one. In some, they take the mixed economy approach. Today in the United States, the Obama administration is being accused of moving the economy toward a socialist state out of the free economy concept because of his policies aimed at bailing out the economy from the sub-prime mortgage crisis and the eventual financial melt down that followed.

Funny enough, the current debate in Nigeria is not based on any ideological persuasion but largely on emotions. Politicians in Nigeria have no ideological persuasion. Their interest is just to get to the position of power for self enrichment and not for service. Otherwise, those who lose nomination in PDP will not be cross-carpeting to ACN, CPC or any other party which is not based on their ideology.

Politicians with strong ideological base grow their economies through fiscal and monetary policies. In the early 1980s, the belief in less government and more of the private sector led to the issue of privatisation and commercialisation which were made popular by the then British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Regan, the US President.

The idea of privatisation was like a wild fire and many developing countries including Nigeria, queued behind to implement the policy. Privatisation is based on an ideological conviction that government should provide public goods and services and leave private goods and services in the hands of the private sector of the economy. But Nigerian politicians both in uniform and those in agbada, have not been able to carry this through because they are not persuaded by the argument of a private sector-led economy.

Economists have attempted to assist politicians to resolve the big question of the size of government and what activities government should engage in. This is what brought about Paul Samuelson, a Nobel laureate in economics – the theory of Public and Private Goods. Goods are private because we cannot get them without paying for them. Other goods are public because we can get them without paying for them. The demands for goods are different depending on whether they are public or private.

If I want a bottle of soft drink, I have to pay for it. The vendor can easily exclude non-payers. And if I drink it, I alone benefit from the consumption. That same bottle would not be available for anyone else. These characteristics of excludability and rivalry are typical of “private goods.”  But I can listen to public radio without paying. And my listening to Morning Edition does not reduce what is available to other paying or non-paying listeners. So non-excludability and non-rivalry is typical of “public goods.”

Public goods refer to the nature of the goods and should not be confused with how they are funded. A tax-funded good may not be a “public good” if it is excludable and rivalrous in nature. For example, public schools are not public goods since the market can just as easily provide excludable and rivalrous private education. Today in Nigeria, public schools are such that many prefer private schools as alternative.

Roads which used to be one of the public services are so deplorable that both the federal and state governments are concessioning roads that will be tolled. So long as you cannot pay the toll, you will be excluded from using such roads. The only service being provided by the governments in the country today that qualify for public good that no matter what, you cannot be excluded from in Nigeria of today, is peace and security.

That again has gone to the dogs. Many individuals, estates and institutions hire private securities. Peace in the country is shaking as Boko Haram is visiting mayhem on the citizenry without let or hindrance.  The sect has killed at least 935 people since it launched an uprising in 2009, including more than 250 in the first weeks of this year, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.

Boko Haram, which means ‘Western education is sinful’ in the Hausa language spoken in northern Nigeria, is loosely modelled after Afghanistan’s Taliban. It has claimed responsibility for bombing churches, police stations, military facilities, banks and beer parlours in the mainly Muslim north of Nigeria. Bomb attacks and gun battles in Nigeria’s second largest city, Kano, killed 186 people on January 20, in Boko Haram’s most deadly attack to date.

Gunfire was heard in Kano early on Tuesday. The report said 550 people were killed in 115 separate attacks by Boko Haram last year, mostly in the far northeastern state of Borno, where the sect was founded in 2002. Boko Haram has moved from drive-by shootings and petrol bombs to suicide attacks using large and increasingly sophisticated explosives. A suicide car bomb last year killed 25 people at the United Nations headquarters in the capital, Abuja.

The state of insecurity in the country does support arguments that the country has failed to provide a peaceful environment for its citizens. Given the fact that Nigerians do not trust their leaders who come to office without any political ideology on how to manage the economy, it is important that all Nigerians unite and get government to hands off in all areas that the private sector can manage better.

Government should concern itself with providing an enabling environment. One of such area is the oil sector. Government must deregulate both the upstream and downstream sectors. The era of using national resources as political patronage should be done away with, period!

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