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Politics, Policy, and Change in Nigeria Essay

Volumes have been written on the subject of politics, policy, and social change. In this section, I will offer nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and ‘common sense. I will emphasize the important roles of leadership and group cohesiveness to effect change. Because the direction of change in a society depends on the manner in which resources are mobilized by the leader, and the attitude of the people toward change. The ruler must be concerned with the needs of the ruled, and must strive to gain their support. But with long-standing ethnic prejudice in a multi-ethnic society such as Nigeria, this has not been very easy.

The concept of politics is diverse. Aristotle and Plato defined politics as a concern with general issues affecting the whole community. This involves the pursuit of the public interest, the operation of the state, and the formulation and execution of public policy. Contrasting public concern with private matters, they viewed the public concern as morally superior. Thus, political leaders have the responsibility to conform to constructive ideas and actions with “perfect goodness” (Andrain 1975, pp.12-20).

In addition, It is the art or science concerned with winning and holding control over a government. It involves competition between various interest groups (parties) or individuals for power and leadership in a government or other group. The winning party guides or influences policies, and the distribution of resources in that polity (Dike (forthcoming) August 1999). In other words, politics does involve the struggle for power and wealth – that is, the production, distribution, and use of scarce resources. Historically, some leaders have sought the common good and others a private good. But without the ‘politics of virtue’ (that is, doing what is right), a leader may not bring about the necessary changes that would benefit the general public. How does one differentiate actions that are for common from those that are for private? The effects of a particular policy decision are the determining factors.

The process of making and implementing decisions involves cooperation and competition, both of which may lead to social change. As many writers have noted, many factors are involved in social change; no single factor can adequately account for it (Lauer 1982, p. 37). And as a society, our needs can be fulfilled only through the cooperative efforts of everyone. Change or social change is defined as “significant alteration of social structures.” And social structures here mean the “patterns of social action and interaction,” which include norms, values, and cultural phenomena (Moore 1967, p.3). Others have defined change as “variations or modifications in any aspect of social process, pattern, or form;” it is also “any modification in established patterns of inter-human relationships and standards of conducts” (Fairchild, ed. 1955, p.277, as cited in Lauer 1982, p.4).

As we have seen, change can start anywhere. In fact every system is to some extent altered by changes in any of its parts. Given our leaders’ penchant for corruption, Nigerians are cautiously optimistic about the positive changes that are presently taking place in Nigeria. And since what has been on the minds of the world is that Nigeria is bad, we have to get our act together. After that we can say to the world, ‘You held me in contempt, now look at me. Am I so contemptible?’ (Allport 1979).

Can the present political leadership maintain the tempo of positive social re-engineering going on in the nation? For any intended change to occur in a society the people must be convinced by the leaders that such a change is both possible and desirable. Hence the need for systematic set of ideology that reflects the feasibility and desirability of particular change. Ideology interprets the past, make meaningful the present, and portray an ideal future.

Lack of political ideology is a serious problem in Nigerian politics. Strangely, some politicians are known to have discounted the importance of ideology in politics. And since some of them are not committed to politics or democracy ideologically, they tend to waffle on issues. Consequently, nobody is held responsible for any policy failure in the society. For our politicians to behave, we should device means to hold them responsible for their actions or in-actions.

In an educated and politically mature society the vote is the ultimate weapon of the people. But we must positively change our personal attitudes to be able to change the social structure. “For in part, at least, the structure is the product of the attitudes of many single people” (Allport 1979, p.507). Why is good value and virtue essential for the survival of a polity such as Nigeria? Can a leader successfully govern a vibrant society without an ideological compass?

Policies and decisions constitute a crucial part of political leadership. Usually when the majority of a population refuse to accept certain policies as binding, this would move committed leaders to make changes in the various parts of the system: the content of the policies, the ruling personnel, the governing structures, or even the society over which the policies have jurisdiction. This is a democratic process that Nigeria should strive to adopt, if it needs to survive as a democratic nation. In a democracy there is no room for arbitrariness. Policies must be debated, and exhaustively too before implementation. To underscore the feelings of many well-meaning Nigerians, we cannot afford to fail this time around.

Policy represents a set of decisions taken in response to specific problem. Some good examples are the recent actions of President Obasanjo: the setting up of a panel to probe the human rights abuses since 1993; to probe abandoned projects since the mid-1970’s; the termination of the contracts and the major appointments made by the Abubakar military regime. Justice Chukwudifu Oputa is the chairman of the human rights panel, while Alhaji Iguda Inuwa is the chairman of the committee on abandoned projects. Let’s not neglect the present favorable and inviting period in Nigeria. Instead of gazing at each other with ‘suspicious or doubtful curiosity,’ let’s unite and expose those who have dragged us to the mud.

The civil rights panel will identify the persons involved in the various abuses, the nature of the abuses, and the policy responsible. It will also recommend measures to ameliorate the problems and formulate strategies to forestall incidence of human rights abuses in the society in future. All these policy actions have drawn praises from within and outside Nigeria. However, all these probes will not have the desired effects if their recommendations are not implemented. Legal action, proper reparation, and exposure in the press may be the better ways to curb corruption, and moderate social discontent. Perhaps nothing frightens politicians more than chastisement in the press.

President Obasanjo’s boldest policy decision so far has been the retirement of 149 political-senior military and police officers – an apparent purge of those who participated in the autocratic and atrocious regimes of Generals Babangida and Abacha. His spoke person, Doyin Okupe, was quoted as saying that “In future, all officers of our armed forces must recognize that the ultimate reward for participating or benefiting from coups will be premature or forced retirement from service in the minimum” (Cindy Shiner, June 16, 1999).

Nevertheless, I would recommend death sentence as the minimum punishment for benefiting or participating in military coups in future, and for the politicians who should conspire with other government officials to loot the national treasury. There should be no sacred cows here. Any person found guilty after a due process should be given the stated punishment. The consistency and enforceability of this consequence will ensure discipline and professionalism in the Armed Forces. It will also guard against the excesses of our civilian politicians – many of whom are in office to acquire wealth illegally, and not to serve the public. In particular, this will ensure the survival of democracy, and an antidote to corruption in Nigeria. For the actions to be legitimate, the Congress should haste and insert the appropriate provisions in our constitution.

Corruption is widely known as the bane of Nigeria. This construct, corruption, has been defined as “…a behavior which deviates from the formal duties of a public role because of private [gains] – regarding (personal, close family, private clique [cohorts], pecuniary or status gains; or violates rules against the exercise of certain types of [duties] for private [gains] – regarding influence…” (Nye 1967, p.419). In fact, many writers have noted that it is probably the only viable industry in the society (Dike, forthcoming, August 1999). This covers “grand” corruption, at senior levels, and “petty” corruption, when junior officials take facilitation payments. The abysmal failure of military rule and our previous civilian administrations is associated with huge corruption in the state and the economy. Like other problems in the society, this essay cannot fully address the problem of corruption because of its limited focus.

As Kofo Awosika pointed out in his recent piece “A President’s responsibilities”: “People are poor because they are being denied access to opportunities. People steal because they are hungry and destitute. People are hungry and destitute because they cannot earn wages. They have no wages because they have no work. They have no work because they have been retrenched. They have been retrenched because industries cannot cope with their wage bills. Industries can not cope with their wage bills because production costs have increased. Production costs have increased because our infrastructures have died. [The infrastructures have died because the funds meant for their upgrading, repairs, maintenance and installations of others meant for the common good end (up) in private pockets]” (The Guardian, June 17, 1999).

President Olusegun Obasanjo must not stop at his first salvo. The people’s enthusiasm and interest in the administration should not be allowed to die down. He should establish a forum for people to voice out dissent on controversial issues in the society, and procedures under which ordinary citizens can sue for any infringement on their civil rights. More importantly, a general public sector reform is apropos. Reform here refers to large-scale and comprehensive change in the role, structure, values, staffing, or size of the public sector. This should also involve privatizing our ill-managed government corporations, and contracting out services in the domain of inefficient and corrupt corporations to the private sector for greater efficiency and accountability. International blueprint in the process could be adopted, but it should be adjusted to meet local conditions.

The struggle for survival

As psychology has noted, to redouble one’s efforts is a healthy response to an obstacle. For Nigeria to survive as a nation, we have to remain vigilant and intensify our efforts in areas of deficiency. And our ‘value-violators’ should be punished. In addition, our negative frame of references (e.g. the advance fee fraud – “419”) that are anchored in our social environment should be dismantled. We should be realistic in our struggle for survival, because the world is watching.

President Obasanjo should wage war on ethnicity and nepotism, which are inimical to the unity of this great nation. This does not mean that groups would not retain their identity and work for their progress. But this should not be carried out in a manner that would undermine the unity and stability of the nation. And in future politicians who are pandering to ethnic interests should be rejected at the polling boot. It is imperative that Nigeria is re-structured into a mobile society; a nation where one could live in any state of his choice, secure employment at the state and local levels without limitations, and participate meaningfully in the affairs of the community of his abode (see Umez June 11, 1999).

And ‘hard work, good skills and intelligence’ should be rewarded strictly on merits, without regard to ethnicity and religion. This will help to tame the dangerous trend of ‘brain-drain’ in the nation. It will also motivate people to give their undivided loyalty to the central government. At last, this will mean unity and the establishment of a common identity for Nigeria. But given Nigeria’s cultural diversity, this may not be an easy undertaking.

Instead of setting up programs to encourage national unity, our leaders are dismantling or weakening the few programs that are in place. For instance, the recent reduction of the age group for prospective ‘youth service members’ from 30 years to 25 years by General Abubakar is a step toward scrapping the program. The National Youth Service Corps program was designed by General Yakubu Gowon after the civil war to foster national integration and reconciliation (The Post Express, June 11, 1999). One problem with our leaders is policy instability. We need more programs like the NYSC to facilitate and encourage inter-cultural interaction in the nation. President Obasanjo and his civilian administration should not allow this program to die. However, the program could be redesigned if it has not been achieving its purpose.

The problem of secret cults or youth gangs in our tertiary institutions is a serious threat to the survival of Nigeria. Our universities have been turned into killing fields, instead of places of learning. The most recent incident was the killing of the principal assistant registrar at the Delta State University, Abraka (The Guardian of June 13, 1999). The congress should institute appropriate and enforceable laws against cult activities on university campuses.

It is recognized that there are laws around to this effect. But these laws have either not been enforced, or they have not been effective. Unenforceable laws are only good on the book. The leader who can only give orders but cannot enforce them is not a leader by the standard of many societies. And to restore quality education in our educational institutions, the Congress and Prof. Tunde Adeniran (the recently appointed education minister), should increase funding for education and institute policies that will improve the low moral and motivation of professors and the support staff.

Sound economic policies should also be instituted to diversify the nation’s mono-product economy. The diversification of the economy would help reduce Nigeria’s dependence on the outside world for her basic needs (food, etc), and lend credibility to claims that the country could someday join the ranks of superpowers. In particular, it will create employment for our burgeoning population. Among other measures to stimulate employment in the society is to give aid to state and local governments and accelerate public works. Our social problems (poverty, diseases, illiteracy, prostitution, crime, etc), are in one way or another related to the sour state of the economy.

These things can all be done with proper leadership in Abuja. Economic development or growth (increase in an economy’s capacity to generate more goods and services) requires changes in human skills, attitudes, values – and people have to be formally educated; construct an economic infrastructure – basic transportation, communication, irrigation, and other power facilities; maximize agricultural productivity; increase capital accumulation – that is, tangible physical goods that will serve as means of production. These include machinery, technological innovations, buildings and equipment (Andrain 1975, pp.284-288).

Therefore to survive, we need a strong ethic – to save and invest, not simply to consume; to develop sophisticated skills, with an educated and a highly motivated work force. As John Stuart Mill has said: “What a country wants to make it richer is never consumption, but production. Where there is the latter, we may be sure that there is no want of the former…”(Mill, as cited in Bartlett 1981, pp.1-2). A democratic political system seems best suited to achieve this.

Nigeria has been doing poorly in these areas, despite her enormous oil wealth. For our economic revival efforts to be successful, the civilian administration should axe those corrupt and inefficient managers of our public utilities and facilities – NEPA, NNPC, NIPOST, NITEL, the Refineries, the Ports, and other establishments that are the hub of our economy. How does one justify the payment of monthly salaries to the executives of these corporations that are not performing? No serious society can afford to do that. The salaries of our executives should be tied to their productivity – that is, the effectiveness of their policies.

It is imperative to understand that the “underdevelopment of a country is the result of its deficient value system and economic structure” (Chirot 1977, pp.2-3). It is equally important to understand that the key social forces that have fostered democracy in the United States and other stable democratic nations are not yet in Nigeria. Our deficiencies are many; but we must have to give democracy a chance to survive in the society. For this, the present socioeconomic re-structuring in Nigeria should be pursued with speed and sincerity.

Summary

Leadership commitment is essential to the survival and progress of Nigeria. The people have an important role to play too. But the people’s commitment would be difficult to secure if the leaders who are calling on them for sacrifice do not themselves make any sacrifices. To stamp out corruption in the country, Nigerians should always elect or appoint people of probity to manage the affairs of the nation. This group must analyze each situation in the society critically, in order to determine appropriate target of change, who should be involve in the effort, and what method will most likely lead to the desired outcome.

The majority of Nigerians are pleased with the initial policy actions of the civilian administration. Nevertheless, we should keep an eagle’s eye on the legislature, because some of them are corrupt. Nigeria still lives in the history of the future. The way our history will be written depends upon the extent to which and the manner in which we – leaders and the people – strive to shape our future. There is a lot of unknown in the society. But since we cannot foresee what the remote future has in store for us, we can only hope for a better tomorrow. Nigeria, the world is still watching!

References

Achebe, Chinua (1983);The Trouble with Nigeria, Enugu, Fourth Dimension Publishers, 1983, p.1. Akintoye, Seth, et al (June 13, 1999); “Cultists At Work Again In Varsities;” the Guardian, June 13, 1999. Allport, Gordon W. (1979); The Nature of Prejudice; 25th Anniversary Edition, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, p.507 Andrain, Charles F. (1975); Political Life and Social Change: An Introduction to Political Science, 2nd Edition, Duxbury Press, Belmont, California (1975); pp.284-288. Apter, David (1960); “The Role of Traditionalism in the Political Modernization of Ghana and Uganda,” World Politics, XII. Awosika, Kofo (June 17, 1999); “A president’s
responsibilities;” the Guardian, June 17, 1999. Bienen, Henry (1993) “Leaders, Violence, and the Absence of Change in Africa” Political Science Quarterly Bartlett, Bruce (1981); Reaganomics: Supply Side Economics in Action. Arlington House Pub., 1981, pp.1-2. Bretton, Henry L. (1967); The Rise and Fall of Kwame Nkrumah. London: Pall Mall Press. Chirot, Daniel (1977); Social Change in the Twentieth Cenry; Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., New York, pp.2-3. Dike, Enwere (1990); “Nigeria: The Political Economy of Buhari Regime,” Nigeria Journal Of International Affairs, Vol. 16, No.2, pp.94-95. Dike, Victor (Forthcoming, August 1999); Leadership, Democracy, and the Nigerian Economy: Lessons from the Past and Directions for the Future.(Forthcoming) August 1999.


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