Toward a progressive governance outcome

March 21, 2019
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Elections have consequences. Losers tend to their wounds as they wish. They may choose to whine and fret over lost opportunities. Or they may decide to go back to the drawing board in preparation for the next opportunity. Winners, on the other hand, secure a mandate to deliver on their promises to the electorate. In doing so, they must be mindful of the priorities, cognizant of the limitation of resources vis-a-vis the multiplicity of demands. It’s a tough balancing game.

This week, President Buhari inaugurated a committee to produce “a comprehensive document that will guide the incoming cabinet and enable them to implement the vision of the party and the administration for Nigeria while also highlighting lessons from the last 4 years.” The president is confident that the committee, led by Vice president Osinbajo, “will deliver a detailed implementation Plan for the Next Level.” It’s a tall order.

How should the committee proceed? What outcome should it desire? And what means to the desired outcome? Will the desired outcome of the committee be good enough for the nation as the President hopes?

Let us begin with the admission that, by INEC’s declaration, President Buhari and Vice President Osinbajo received the majority votes in the presidential election and won by over 4 million votes. What this should mean, ordinarily, is that most voters accepted the platform that they and their party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) presented. If this is right, then, by the same token, it follows that those electorates must expect the Buhari administration and the APC to stick as much as possible to the platform to avoid disappointment. It is the logic of democratic elections.

Following this reasoning, the point of departure for the committee must be the platform upon which the new administration is voted into power. What is it and how can it be successfully delivered?

The Vision and Mission statements of APC, as well as its guiding philosophy make plain to citizens what to expect from a progressive party that it claims to be. First, its ideal is to anchor democracy on “the principle that government derives its powers from the consent of the governed.” Furthermore, “power must be used in the interest of the people rather than in the interest of the public office holder.” From this alone, we infer that every public office holder, from the president to the lowest civil servant must not place his or her interest over and above the interest of citizens. It follows from this that it is wrong to make profit on the back of citizens. It is also wrong to defraud through excessive personal emoluments or outright corrupt practices.

Second, the APC manifesto pledges to construct “a progressive state anchored on social democracy where the welfare and security of the citizenry is paramount.” From this, it follows that the party and the administration in power through its instrumentality, will sniff out and destroy any impediments to the welfare and security of citizens. Such impediments could be as a result of the preexisting power relations between government officials and citizens which prevent the latter from having the resources they need to thrive. It is expected that keeping faith with its manifesto, the party will deal with such impediments.

Take a quick example. It is not too much to expect this new administration with a solid majority in both Houses of the National Assembly to get together at the onset to deal with the embarrassing issue of personal emoluments of public office holders from local government level to the National Assembly and the Executive at state and federal levels. If it takes a constitutional amendment to do it, so be it. But APC as a progressive party with a vision, a mission, and a guiding philosophy that prioritizes citizen welfare and security cannot shirk this responsibility for two fundamental reasons.

First, APC acknowledges that there must be a level playing field for all to thrive and achieve their maximum potentials. It is only when this is the case that we can have a country that is peaceful and prosperous. We deceive ourselves if we deny that the current environment of insecurity, including kidnapping, killing, and cultism have nothing to do with the inequality in the distribution of resources many of which cannot be traced to any manifest differences in the intelligence or ability of individuals. The inequality of resources that makes the majority paupers is due mainly to social injustice where some have undue advantage and they use it for their benefits to the detriment of the many. That is bound to build up resentment and, ultimately, violent social crisis.

Second, the attraction of public service to many citizens, leading to a ridiculous number of candidates vying for various offices, is directly tied to the perceived and real humongous returns to investment. And this accounts for why elections have become a do-or-die struggle. Look at the number of candidates for governorship and National Assembly positions in the various states. It should be clear that many of these candidates either have nothing else available to them to do or they see better avenues to prosperity in public service. This should not be encouraged. Public service should be reserved for those who are genuinely interested in service; those that are committed to sacrificing their time and intellect for the nation. Unfortunately, in the last 20 years, we have converted public service into self service.

APC describes itself as a change agent. To demonstrate this quality, however, it must be ready to make real and lasting changes for the good of the nation. It cannot be beholding to special interests. It cannot yield to blackmail from high places. It must not condemn itself to whitewash and cosmetic changes. And for this reason, it must not abandon its promise on the fundamental question of restructuring which it commits to clearly in its manifesto:

“To achieve this laudable programme APC government shall restructure the country, devolve power to the units, with the best practices of federalism and eliminate unintended paralysis of the center.” http://apc.com.ng/manifesto/  (accessed 5/2/19).

This is as clear a commitment as any can be. Justice, according to Thomas Hobbes, is keeping and fulfilling the terms of a contract, and injustice is failing in that respect. This manifesto item is a contract between the party and the people. Vote for us and we will restructure and devolve power. The people have delivered their side of the bargain. The party must not renege on its.

In terms of specific programmes, the party offered 7 (or 8 if it counts devolution as a programme). Understandably, given the President’s own declared concerns about its negative impact, war against corruption tops the list, followed by food security, accelerated power supply, integrated transport network, free education, devolution of power, accelerated economic growth, and affordable health care. The question that I am sure will be the central focus of the Osinbajo Committee is how to prioritize the items on the list. Thankfully, they are not mutually exclusive items; they are interdependent and a focus on one has multiplier effect on others.

The major issue here, however, is still the question of the elephant in the room: how is the responsibility to be shared between the center and the federating units, including the states and local governments. Take the question of education. While the manifesto identifies free education as one of its cardinal programmes, it doesn’t indicate at what level. Is it primary education, which is the responsibility of states? Is it secondary or tertiary, which are shared between federal and states? Moreover, according to the Next Level document, “10,000 schools per year will be remodeled and equipped.” How will this be done? Will the federal government give grants to states and have them identify which schools to be remodeled? Or will the federal government handle such remodeling by itself even when states own such schools?

To my mind, if it is handled with diligence, the Next Level document provides a unique opportunity for the party and the administration to start experimenting with devolution of power for the benefit of all stakeholders.

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