Re-inventing Governance: Notes From An Ibadan Conference | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Re-inventing Governance: Notes From An Ibadan Conference

Posted: Feb 5, 2016 at 5:26 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Ayo Oluokun

“Nigerian political parties, for the most part are neither democratic nor developmental. Their emphasis regrettably, is on the acquisition and retention of power for consumption and for sharing the rewards of victory”

–Adebayo Olukoshi, Feburary 2, 2016

The opening quote is taken from the presentation made by the Regional Director of the Institute for Development and Electoral Assistance, Prof. Adebayo Olukoshi, to the inaugural conference of the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy, held on Monday and Tuesday at the University of Ibadan. The calibre of speakers at the conference, matched its ambitious theme, namely, “Getting Government to Work for Development and Democracy in Nigeria: Agenda for Change.” At the commencement of the event on Monday, there were among others, a former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, a former Secretary General of the Commonwealth; Professor Akin Mabogunje, distinguished academic and Chairman of the Board of the School; Guest Speaker and the John Evans Professor of International History and Politics at Northwestern University, Professor Richard Joseph; Executive Director of the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation, Dr. Tokunbo Awolowo-Dosunmu; a former Governor of Ekiti State and Minister of Solid Minerals, Dr. Kayode Fayemi; Nigeria’s former Ambassador to Ethiopia, Nkoyo Toyo; Vice-Chancellor, University of Ibadan, Prof. Abel Olayinka, the Executive Vice-Chairman, ISGPP and renowned public intellectual, Dr. Tunji Olaopa.

Expectedly, the social science community cutting across generations was in full display as illustrated by the presence of Profs Tade Aina, Adele Jinadu, Akinjide Osuntokun, Adeoye Akinsanya, Jide Owoeye, Amadu Sesay, Jibrin Ibrahim, John Ayoade, William Fawole, Hassan Saliu, Ademola Oyejide, Alaba Ogunsanwo, Adigun Agbaje, Remi Aiyede among several others. There were rich conversations around topics such as, The Nigerian Economy; Infrastructure and National Asset Management; Education, Health and Social Policy; Political Parties; Civil Society; and Intergenerational discourse. Obasanjo, in his speech, took the governors to task for behaving like “emperors”, and for reducing local governments to little more than appendages of the ministries of local governments. The real reason for this sad state of affairs emerged at one of the sessions, where the rubber stamp status of the state houses of assembly which should have restrained the powers of the governors was identified.

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According to Prof. Jibrin Ibrahim, while the legislature at the national level has been able to assert its independence at various times, the state assemblies, are usually a caricature of what legislative independence should be, as they are totally in the pockets of the state governors. Radical views about restructuring the country came from Anyaoku, who advocated the replacement of the 36 states structure by six geopolitical zones with the states turned into development centres. Anyaoku buttressed his argument by referring to the hegemonic power of the centre which fuels the competition for national political offices; and the fact that many of the states hover on the brink of bankruptcy. Most participants, identified with Anyaoku’s submissions, although several would not go as far as supporting the abolition of the current state structure.

Some of the fundamental enigmas, which the conference wrestled with, revolve around the question: Why is it that several governance models which have worked elsewhere have not worked in Nigeria? And why is it that despite a harvest of conferences and policy documents, such as Vision 20/20, there is little, if any improvement in the working of the Nigerian government? Those puzzles were elaborated in a thought-provoking address, entitled: State, Governance, and Democratic Development: the Nigerian Challenge, given by Joseph. This is how Joseph formulated the riddle of the abundance of human talent amidst the under-performance of public institutions: “Artistic production by Nigerians is often world class. Why, we should then ask, are optimisation and innovation infrequently transferred to the work of public organisations?” The same question also raised by Joseph and others is why Nigerian professionals excel in the United States, Europe and elsewhere, but regress into mediocrity and lethargy when they get back home?

The questions may sound academic, until you factor, to give an anecdotal example, that Olaopa, Executive Vice- Chairman, and moving spirit of the School had just been retired from the public service where he rose to become a federal Permanent Secretary. The irony is that Olaopa was decorated last year for outstanding productivity, and had several accolades showered on him at the conference by Obasanjo, who considers him to have been a role-model civil servant. There are of course, bigger factors at work here, such as, the lack of congruence between productivity and the reward system, the way in which federal character has been twisted into, as Sam Oyovbaire famously observed, federal discrimination. There also is the hangover of military culture of firing public servants without due process and “with immediate effect”. It was generally agreed that if Nigeria must make progress, beyond prebendalism as Joseph termed it, it must renew its malfunctioning institutions, get citizens to buy more into democracy, fix its limping economy, broken down infrastructure, and create inclusive growth and governance.

The session on political parties chaired by Jinadu, proved to be rewarding because it extensively X-rayed the weaknesses of the current party system, afflicted by money politics, godfatherism, frequent switching of parties and the lack of ideological focus. These manifestations were contrasted with an earlier phase of our political history, when party members were readily identified and often levied themselves to support party growth and election campaigns. To recreate the party structure, it is not enough to simply lament the woes; party members must be determined to wrest control of the parties from the stranglehold of the godfathers, and of money politics. In the same connection, the electoral empire must do more than being a standby referee; it must enforce existing rules, and nudge the parties in the direction of internal democracy, and ideological orientation. To illustrate, is it not amazing given the high and growing level of inequality in Nigeria, that there is no equivalent of the Bernie Sanders phenomenon in the country? In the current presidential campaign in the US, Sanders by bringing to the table, issues of widening inequality has given Hillary Clinton a good run for her money in the keen jostle for the presidential ticket of the Democratic Party. In other words, the underdevelopment of Nigerian democracy is best reflected in the flabbiness of the parties, and their opaque sources of funding.

Interesting too, was the session on taxation, which acknowledged the importance of taxation in a context of declining revenues from oil. Many of the speakers, including Prof. Pat Utomi, warned however, that government should not tax businesses and citizens to death, more so in a situation where efficient service delivery remains an aspiration. That is another way of saying that for citizens to willingly pay taxes, government at the federal, state and local levels, must show that these taxes are not going down into a bottomless pit, forcing citizens to continue to provide services at their own expense.

All in all, the conversations at the conference were must enriching, stimulating and topical. One can only hope that the reflections and policy recommendations will not end up like so many other Nigerian talk-shops; admired and adored, but never put to use.