How can we get Nigeria working? Reboot, I argue

What does a working Nigeria mean to you?

What do we mean when we say the phrase: “A working Nigeria”?

Why reforms in Nigeria don’t work

Nigeria currently is heavily centralized; this means that the key decision-making powers are concentrated within the coffers of the central or in Nigeria’s case, the federal government; and to some extent, the respective state governments. This is an anomaly of what a federation should be. Think of our national security architecture, our electricity generation and supply architecture, our logistical infrastructure with the outside world, and our public works’ framework. This structure has prevailed regardless of whether colonial, civilian, or military governments have been in power. The model of governance in Nigeria promotes a system in which the federal government has overwhelming power in all areas of political, economic, and financial affairs, while the subordinate levels are tasked with implementing federal government policies and programs. This is a distortion of the usual practices of a conventional federal system in which the fundamental and distinguishing characteristic is that neither the central nor the regional governments are subordinate to each other. Rather, the two are coordinated and semi-independent. This model of overtly centralized governance has hindered Nigeria from working by disempowering bottom-to-top growth due to a dearth in local governance, limiting democratic participation to the mere casting of votes during elections, and incentivizing corruption in government. This governance model is largely why reforms do not succeed in Nigeria, as brilliantly thought-out and as effectively executed as they suffice. I’ll make an example — back in the day, I read Joseph Ishaku’s argument on medium on how things get done in Nigeria through SPEs (Special Purpose Entities that is). I agree wholeheartedly with his argument; for me, it is still one of the best pieces of public opinion that is concerned with Nigeria that I have ever read. He used the SPE framework which is largely finance and business management based to mirror Nigeria’s public administration practices. The crux of his argument is that Nigerian governments throughout history have deployed SPEs to deliver on key public service priorities. The problem however is that these SPEs get usurped by the overly centralized and heavily fractured model of governance that we adhere to at the federal & state levels. I end my synopsis of Joseph’s argument by quoting this bit from his article, and I quote “soon enough, these public SPEs become part of the government structure and embody the challenges that warranted their existence in the first place.” A topical example of Joseph’s SPE codification is that of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC). Prior to 2004, Nigeria had a public education crisis (I mean, it still does — mention the strike and the out-of-school children data). Primary school attendance was not compulsory, and on average, more than 70% of primary school pupils and secondary school students in Nigeria had to spend more than 30 minutes in transit from their homes to their schools (according to the 2003 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey conducted by the National Population Commission) — basically, our mean walking distance and time to school numbers were incredibly high even by African standards. Because accessible public education was a political priority of Obasanjo’s government, the Universal Basic Education act was passed quite easily and the Universal Basic Education Commission with its underlying state-level boards was set up in 2004. Did they fix these glaring problems? Absolutely. Did they manage the severity of the highlighted problems? Obviously, but like with a vast majority of reforms in Nigeria’s political history, the fractured socio-political structure and the centralized governance model don’t enable these reforms to actually make Nigeria work. Using the SPE example, we can say that SPEs in the Nigerian governance space are a thought unit of public reforms. These reforms however inevitably fail to make a long-lasting impact.

The Reboot Manifesto

I strongly believe that a non-violent total reboot of Nigeria’s socio-political foundation into one that is truly people-driven and builds inclusive public institutions would get Nigeria working. Here’s a pragmatic demonstration of how to execute this ambitious idea:

Conclusion

My arguments are simple and practical. Everything I have said here, all the examples I have shared here is proof that as a people (as Nigerians), we have at one point in our collective history attempted and/or deployed these methods. In 1945, we deployed mutual aid throughout the country, we have had people-power since the anti-tax protests of Calabar in 1915 et Women’s war in 1929, we have had unsuccessful attempts at third power electoralism, we have succeeded at class radicalization in Nigeria, especially in the 1940s, and since the 1960s we have seen forms of democratic and institutional alternatives deployed. I think the problem is that in this country of ours, watered by the Benue and the Niger, between the Gulf of Guinea, washed in salt by the Atlantic, and dusted in the north by the Sahara, we haven’t concurrently deployed these reboot methods with ruthless execution and synergy. The other core of my argument is that we can, and we must finally try to deploy them simultaneously in order to finally get Nigeria working.

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