By Tonnie Iredia
The survival of the United States of America after its recent rancorous presidential election was largely due to its strong institutions. If what President Donald Trump did to test the strength of his nation immediately after the election is emulated in some other societies such as Nigeria with strong leaders but weak institutions, the result would be total anarchy which may likely dismember the nation concerned.
It is therefore expedient for people to put their primordial sentiments apart and build a united nation of strong institutions. This is particularly relevant to Nigeria whose fabric of solidarity is always stretched to breaking point at the eve of every national election. Accordingly, all the new year resolutions flying across the country in the last two days of the new year 2021 ought to be articulately aggregated into a national development model.
For that to happen we need to take a retrospective discovery of what worked for us before with a view to using them to replace the things that are currently not working well for our people.
The weakening of Nigeria’s societal institutions has been discernible since 1999 when the country returned to democracy from military rule. The greatest blow our so-called democrats dealt on our nation was the politicization of all public policies thereby progressively weakening the processes and procedures for governance.
That no one cared about the consequences of the unfortunate trend explains the increasing failure of Nigeria to successfully implement any task. Again, on the basis of prescriptive criteria, unqualified and inexperienced hands have continued, to be appointed to head crucial institutions. As a result, competent hands on ground who are superseded are left to adopt the ‘Sidon-look’ approach while watching with helplessness, the decay of their organizations.
This has in turn eroded public confidence in Nigerian institutions accentuated by failed industries only to leave the nation in penury. Although many analysts raised several alarms over the situation, succeeding political office holders ignored such alarms while helping themselves to the vanishing wealth of the nation
The last few years witnessed the taking over of the management of organizations by politicians who in the past were restricted to only policy matters. It is now common-place for Ministers or Boards to constitute themselves into day to day executives only to share the proceeds of such organizations without bothering about the impact such behaviour has on the capacity of the organizations to perform the assignment for which they were established.
Some seven years ago, there was the unique allegation of how a Minister worked for the removal of the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Immigration Service only to hijack the process of recruiting personnel into the Service. The assignment was then handed over to a Consultant. Re-narrating the old story of how the recruitment exercise led to loss of lives of some Nigerians is probably unnecessary at this point.
But suffice it to ponder on how our Immigration service was constructively made incompetent of recruiting its own staff, an exercise it did with ease on a yearly basis for at least three decades earlier
Our politicians also developed the habit of passing mundane instructions to public organizations as if professional employees who were working in such places were incapable of performing their duties. Each time such instructions are passed they are presented as new discoveries in management styles whereas they always lacked depth in the planning and co-ordination of project implementation.
In my years as Chief Executive of NTA, I was always amused about the concept of news occasionally suggested from the office of the Information Minister. Honestly they were essentially weekly requests for the coverage of obituary or wedding ceremonies of friends and relations of officials of the Ministry.
Any DG in the sector who like this writer, objected to such unprofessional incursions would at the end of the year get a zero-budget allocation shared for the sector by the Ministry. For being uncooperative, I ‘enjoyed’ that treatment all through my tenure but I could hardly criticize those who were unable to withstand the blackmail because unlike my situation, their agencies were not revenue generating.
In the struggle by the political class to control everything in the nation, several incidents occurred of different groups seeking to be in charge of certain assignments. Even the legislature known everywhere as a law making body, seeks to execute projects in Nigeria. Under the threat of using oversight powers to frustrate many executive bodies, our legislators became contractors of constituency projects – a charge they have unconvincingly refuted over the years.
Indeed, the unending case between the National Assembly and Labour and Productivity Minister Festus Keyamo on the Special Public works Programme is a befitting example. Having approved funds for the project, we saw our legislators insisting on being part of the logistics and implementation strategies for the project. This only weakened the capacity of the National Directorate of Employment NDE which over the years successfully handled bigger projects.
The weakening of societal institutions is probably far less at federal than state level. Last week for instance, the Ebonyi State government issued a directive on promotions in the state public service. According to a government statement, Governor David Umahi reportedly approved promotions from 2021. As if that was the first promotion exercise in that state, the statement said the exercise would be done to fill vacancies asking “heads of different MDAs to immediately commence a compilation of all vacancies in their MDAs.”
Could it be that previous exercises were indiscriminate? However, to further direct the MDAs appropriately, the governor requested them to arrange “for a written promotion examination which will be the determinant of those to be promoted.” Does Ebonyi State have a public or civil service commission? If so, what quality of people constitute it? The Ebonyi example is typical of stories across many states where government appointees have become bereft of any initiative or discretion.
We must therefore introspect to identify where the nation derailed and from where to begin rebuilding. Our Customs service is one area where ample work has been done in the recent past yet we had a more tolerable level of border patrols. Whereas politically minded officials would initiate border closure, professionals would rather brainstorm to device means to prevent or fight porous borders.
It is also true of standards in our health and educational institutions as well as other sectors of national life. National security has been a major problem because institutions that would have taken care of segments such as food security are hiding behind military security. In 2021 therefore, our leaders must develop enough courage to separate development from partisan politics leaving politics to politicians and development to statesmen, professionals and technocrats.
But if tenured officials continue to usurp management functions in our institutions not much progress can be made. Thus, our institutions should be managed by trained officials who are properly imbibed with the knowledge of organizational culture which nourishes societal growth. Political appointees and other adhoc personnel on the other hand are not trained to have their eyes on the big picture and long term goals of organizations as theirs is to seek quick solutions through compromising processes which stagnate societal growth.