There will be a turnaround, Nigeria will prosper
What I like to discuss is the governance infrastructure, the fundamental, attitudinal and character imperatives that must undergird development. We are confronted today possibly with the most challenging economic times in the history of our country, and what we need to do in this time is the sort of leadership and the character of the leadership…Obviously we must take our time to reflect over the type and character of leadership, the types of values that this time calls for.
Let me say categorically that governments in Nigeria have never been short of ideas, good intentions or even good plans.
But one of the key difficulties that we always seem to have is that ability to stick to the plan through day-by-day and just that ability to get things done. We have innovative ideas but somehow we start, we are not able to finish and sometimes we don’t even get started at all. I think that the times we are in call for building that capacity to perform, insisting that plans must have some performance indicators and that public officers must be held to account for their performance.
But state capacity itself, the capacity of the state to do things, requires government to hire well qualified people and constant relevant training. Time and resources are saved when the best quality people are hired, when people are well trained for what they do, (the benefits are endless). Just take an example of the National Communication Commission. The Commission was established in 2001 (via an Act repealing Decree 75 of 1992) to regulate the telecoms industry, and of course it’s completely peopled by Nigerians, staffed by Nigerians, if you look at the excellent work done by the people, it is an excellent regulator, it’s done so well in regulating the telecoms industry over the years.
There will be hiccups sometimes but because of the quality of the individuals who have served in that commission, we have seen that it is possible to be an excellent regulator. We’ve seen the same kind of performance at various times also in the Central Bank of Nigeria and I think that it is very important that we bear in mind that the quality of state capacity or the ability of the state’s agencies and institutions to deliver services fully depends on the quality of those that were hired and it’s always critical to economic development.
Some have said that what we need is strong institutions and I agreed completely that we need very strong institutions because with all the great plans that we have, without strong institutions, institutions that know what to do and that are able to deliver, we are always going to have difficulties and I will just take one example of how weak institutions can affect economic development.
I served in Lagos as the Attorney-General for eight years, one of the key things discovered in our first term in Office was that all of a sudden, the stock of houses, the middle level type houses, was just dropping and we discovered that actually fewer and fewer poor people were building middle level houses for rent. People were investing in other things but they weren’t investing in housing. In the past people built houses to be able to rely on those houses in their retirement but that was changing.
But we discovered that a major reason why that was happening was because, it was possible for you to rent a house and after one or two years of renting, thereafter you don’t pay anymore, you wait for the landlord to take you to the Magistrate court and while in the Magistrate court you don’t pay anything and you can hold the landlord up in the Magistrate court for years and when the court manages and forces you out of the place, you still don’t pay anything.
I discovered that an average person got discouraged in building houses but resorted to buying shares and stocks. So because of the slow pace of delivery of justice in the Magistrate court, it affected the stock of houses, so people were simply not building houses especially for rent because of slow pace in that particular institution. And so we had to go through a whole reform, not just of the Magistrate sector, but also in the Justice sector.
The truth of the matter is that without very strong institutions, the economic delivery would just not get done. And that’s the same for law and order, there is a huge dividend when you are able to maintain law and order in the society.
So we need to strengthen our institutions, (but) the times we are in also call for character in the leadership that we have.
If the people cannot trust the leadership, trust deficit creates a problem and we have seen that the trust deficit has increased because by and large, the politicians in government have enabled people to believe that whenever a politician or someone in government speaks, he must be telling a lie.
At the moment, looking at what went on at the military procurement for Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East, when we came into office we found that funds voted for the upkeep of soldiers were embezzled by their superiors and senior members of the government of the day (then).Many men of the armed forces died due to fake Armoured Personnel Carriers, and fake bullet-proof vests.
When you create those kind of troops that cannot rely on the integrity of their leadership, there is something wrong with that and there is no excuse whatsoever for that kind of conduct.
No one should be able to give any form of excuse for the kind of things that were done in those military procurement at the time. It led to an insurgency that could have ended sooner. More lives were lost. When you create those kind of trust deficits, it is extremely difficult to galvanize people behind the ideas or vision of governments and I think that it is truly important that our leadership at the federal and at the state levels should understand that we must build the trust of the people. And we can only build the trust by ensuring that we are trustworthy ourselves.
Francis Fukuyama, the well respected social scientist, explored the idea that even the economic prosperity of states and sub-national communities and even business success depends a lot on trust. Business moves faster when parties can trust each other. Credit is priced and given to countries and businesses even on trust.
The reason why we do better in football, for instance than in running of public resources and institutions, is because in football, you don’t tell the coach that this geo-political zone is represented. You can’t say unless you have someone from the South-South, South-West, North-West or from the North-East you cannot constitute a football team. But when it comes to government, and government is what determines how well our lives are run, we insist that unless every zone is represented, you can’t run it properly. But the truth is that you and I know that, that has nothing to do with merit.
So if we want to run our country right, our first priority must be merit and afterwards as in other countries of the world that have multi-ethnic, multi- religious societies we then introduce quotas, so the quota comes after merit. But not for quotas to take priority…chose merit first and then you deal with the quotas and the few political things, religion if you like and other matters but you must start with merit.
Relevant education is probably the most important catalyst for growth, not natural resources. But knowledge is the key to prosperity. I believe very strongly that one of the critical things for us is that we must have faith in our abilities to make this country truly great and I can tell you there is a dedication and honesty in the leadership of this nation today.
It is possible for us to do things that can make this country truly a great nation, if the leadership are not concerned about making money for themselves but their concern is to turn this country around and to do well. I believe that we have the best opportunity to ensure that this country is a great one.
Thank you very much!
* Osinbajo is Nigeria’s Vice President. This is excerpted from his speech at the Delta State Economic Summit.