Nigeria is about to form a new Government. We are becoming quite adept at this business and our international handlers are still applauding how well we behaved at our elections. The last President has received his pat on the head for being such a good boy to let go of the reigns of power without rancour. In less than a week we must settle down to the business of governing. We have our ginormous public service machine already in place to help us so we surely are ready to go.
Except that there are some serious and palpable issues the new government must decide upon almost immediately, not least the issue of fuel subsidy and the perennial fuel crisis. The battle of Sambisa continues to rage and who knows what will happen when the boys from the south return to the creeks? Power has failed to drive industry in spite gulping down incalculable billions and employment created by Agriculture have turned out to be just numbers on the many miles of newsreel paid for by the last Minister. So how well does Nigeria make decisions and what is the quality of decisions made? These are questions we need now to answer before diving in head first into making more mistakes, mistakes that are costing livelihoods and lives. It is no longer a secret that we have been unable to manage implementation of government programmes and have kind of admitted as much by calling stridently for private sector involvement over the last decade. It does not matter that responders to this call were those who used to be in government and whose talent for amassing dubious wealth does not quite match up to our needs for managing investments. We after all made the decision not to let in too many foreign investors so that they do not recolonize us through our markets
Modern government is complex. It requires that thousands of decisions should be made every day. Literally everything in Nigeria is managed and controlled by a government at whatever level, even the local markets remain very firmly in grips of local councils and their levy collecting touts. Government in our country therefore is necessarily huge, moving from Federal to State to Local, government employs millions of people from all walks of life mostly to meet constitutional requirements for quota although some say it is to provide jobs and to ensure peace. That representation is a priority over ability and competence is a sensitive topic but I must say that against our better judgment we now let nepotism guide our choices for recruitment into key government positions. The one advantage of our brand of quota system is that our societies now reflect the very worst of its component cultures.
Government in Nigeria is centralised. Every attempt at subsidiarity since the creation of local governments in the 70s has been thwarted by administration after succeeding administration with actors refusing to relinquish control and attendant powers. The need to retain control and protect turf has meant that decision-making has also been centralised along with central management of government institutions and programmes ostensibly to reduce the cost of government, but which works instead to enrich individual public servants and their cronies.
Our new government should look as a priority at the real cost of centralised government decision-making and management. How have we fared since the establishment of big government and the revolving civilian-military and currently civilian administration. What have we learnt about cost to Nigerians of poor decisions that have been made for managing the country and its affairs literally since independence.
Major decisions that have been made in my lifetime, especially with regard to the economy, include indigenization under a military regime. Attempts were then made to counter the effects of that by a civilian administration with the same ruler through the privatization policy. The result each time has been grinding poverty for the masses and unimaginable wealth for those who walk the corridors of power. Communal assets very quickly passed on to private hands and helped to build dynasties. Decisions were taken about how we would manage the boom to our economy with the advent of oil. Most of these were overturned during the SAP years on the advise of the international community who urged us to make some drastic cuts to spending on agriculture and on manufacturing so that trade might be better balanced in their favour. While these decisions that resulted in the deindustrialisation of our not quite industrialised nation were widely discussed in the media, no real contributions were required or sought from the public or owners of private businesses. When it comes to making decisions that affect our lives, the Nigerian public are merely spectators who let professional public servants and expert repatriated political appointees get on with the business of government.
Government and its institutions have been making decisions on all our behalves in all aspects of our lives since before independence. We have come to rely on what government says and does without so much as a murmur beyond sporadic strikes and protests that soon fizzle out once a few individual interests are addressed behind the scenes.
With a new administration soon to arrive at Aso Rock with its U-Haul of miracles, it is evident that we have not learnt that this centralized authority will not cope with the challenges that we continue to face. Our challenges are far more complex than insecurity in parts of the country, perennial queues at filling stations, grinding poverty and entrenched corruption. Yet they are as simple as value conflicts, ambiguity and uncertainty over cause and effect, asymmetries of information about performance and the rippling effects of decisions were made with solutions provided for improperly defined problems. There are issues of skewed incentives and how it has become impossible for us to distinguish between systemic problems and genuine mistakes, between the trivial and the significant.
We are once again about to climb on the carousel that has been prepared and cushioned for us by a completely inept and rent seeking public service. The managers we pay to help us make good decisions but who lay in wait like hyenas to scavenge our collective ignorance in collusion with even more ignorant and self-serving politicians. Their unifying vision is a world where they have unfettered access to the country’s resources to do with what they like while the rest of us eke out our hellish existence.
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