A couple of years ago, I read a very fascinating book by George Ayittey, a Ghanaian economist and author. The book is titled “Defeating Dictators: Fighting Tyrants in Africa and Around the World”. This was my second encounter with the intellectual; I had earlier read his 1998 book, “Africa in Chaos”. Given my experience with…
A couple of years ago, I read a very fascinating book by George Ayittey, a Ghanaian economist and author. The book is titled
“Defeating Dictators: Fighting Tyrants in Africa and Around the World”. This was my second encounter with the intellectual; I had earlier read his 1998 book, “Africa in Chaos”. Given my experience with the latter, I approached the former with enthusiasm, eager to soak up every bit of profound wisdom I could find between its covers.
This is not a paid advertisement by the Ghanaian, so I’d jump straight into it. However, a lot of the ideas in this post are gleaned from that fascinating book and I feel that they are very relevant to the context of the Nigerian state in 2016.
Interestingly, it does seem like some Nigerian politicians had taken a peep into the book ahead of the 2015 general elections. Ayittey said in his book and I quote “No single individual or group itself can effect political change. It takes a united opposition or an alliance of democratic forces”. He then went on to say “To defeat a tyrant electorally, a coalition of opposition parties must field only one presidential candidate”. I mean the merger of the then main opposition parties (ACN, CPC, ANPP & the so called New PDP) into the APC, paved the way for its electoral victory that excused the PDP out of government after 16 long and perhaps tortuous (depends on who you ask) years.
However, as with what we all know about Nigeria, what works in the text books don’t always work in Nigeria, at least for the most part. In any case the students left out a major part of the Ayittey advice, “The alliance presidential candidate should not be a leader of any of the constituent groups”.
In Nigeria, the APC presented a candidate that was a leader of one of the blocs (CPC) that made up the coalition. The ACN bloc wanted to have control of the legislature by getting its men elected as principal officers. The men from the so called new PDP however had other ideas. The latter had its way, the legitimacy or otherwise of its method are before the courts. I guess we let history and the courts pass its judgment on that.
Further to the above, we have a country that is in a gridlock. A nation that is practically in a recession, inflation is jumping to levels last seen more than a decade ago and businesses are declaring lower earnings (even losses). To these we add an executive arm of government that is seeking to invent another word for less than slow – dithering for over a year before deciding on a devaluation (it’s so called float) and removal of subsidy on PMS. In the midst of these, the government “mistakenly” announced an extra day of national holiday.
The simple act of passing an appropriation bill took months of back and forth between the executives and the legislators, from allegations of padding to missing documents or omitted projects. Before these, the simple task of appointing cabinet members took forever (this in contrast with the British PM whose cabinet was formed in less than 24 hours). In any case, we have a head of parliament that has perhaps spent more hours in the court houses than in the red chambers of the national assembly. We are left with a national assembly that hasn’t passed any proper legislation in over 1 year of its existence.
Fellow Nigerians as we begin to ask ourselves, is this the change we voted for? The truth is ‘change’ is still far out in the deep. Change isn’t going to happen just because we have a new president (whether he had no shoes or wore military boots). According to George Ayittey, “If the vehicle is kaput, just changing the driver won’t solve the problem. Arguing over who will be the best driver is even more pointless.” As we all know, the issues with our country are deep and are institutional.
We have a country built on the foundations of extractive institutions we inherited from our colonial masters. This revolves around taking resources out of the ground and using same to build there grand castles and empire. The Nigerian state has basically been structured around sharing oil wealth. Extractive institutions that do not create the incentive for people to invest and innovate will not lead us to the creative destruction needed for ‘change’.
Think about it, even if this current government is able fix the economy, develop our infrastructure, tackle insecurity and defeat corruption, what happens when this current leader no longer has his feet under the desk at the Aso Villa? What happens if the next president is a ‘rogue president’? Wouldn’t we be back where we started, which has been the case since independence, one step forward, three steps backwards.
According to Ayittey, “Real reform begins with intellectual freedom; continues with political; constitutional and institutional reforms; and concludes with economic liberalization”. Breaking this down, he opined that, intellectual freedom is freedom of expression assembly and movement, as well as freedom of religion. Political reforms involve opening up the political space and establishing some form of democratic pluralism and accountability. Constitutional reform requires redefining the roles of the executive and the structure of the state. Institutional reform also involves the establishment of a more independent judiciary to uphold the rule of law and instilling professionalism into civil service and the police, military and security forces. While, Economic liberalization requires removal of state controls on the economy, greater reliance on the private sector and a move towards a market economy
In our quest for true and lasting change, we must evolve our institutions and ensure that they can enforce property rights, promote the rule of law, encourage investments and create a level playing field for all.
However, I hope that unlike the lesson one, we won’t cherry pick but follow the book and follow the sequence. As the intellectual put it, piecemeal reform is worse than no reform at all because reform in only one area of the political economy creates stress in the other areas.
Given all that I have seen of this government, it doesn’t seem like we are headed anywhere along this path. And I hope that politicians and policy makers would make the needed changes ASAP.
God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.