Clarifying our confusions for 2017
Recently, in response to an online request from a head of a government agency, a civil society organisation stated that by its reckoning, there were 268 Bills before the current National Assembly, seeking to establish new institutions. To reiterate, since May/June 2015, the legislative process has been put in motion to create a new institution, 268 times. At a time when government at all levels is grappling with existing salary and pension obligations, this is somewhat confusing.
It is also confusing when members of the Senate highlight certain other bills as potentially having the power to completely revolutionise the economy –like the Petroleum Industry Bill and the Competition and Consumer Rights Bill – but seem to be moving rather slowly on those fronts. Lip service is also constantly paid to improving the ease of doing business in Nigeria and the pace at which that is moving is also surprising, given that the World Bank (and several local professionals) have already identified the indices the country needs to improve.
It has also been confusing this year how the Governor of the Central Bank, apparently unperturbed by the monetary crisis on his hands, has gone around the country inspecting rice production. Confusing, also, that there are several exchange rates in operation and the government’s counter-measure has been to instruct the State Security Service to arrest parallel market dealers who sell above the government-approved rated. It was confusing when the industry regulator alleged that leaving market forces to determine the price of data plans would distort the market. It is confusing that following a “sting operation” on judges, the only convictions that have taken place remain in the realm of the acting EFCC Chairman’s hopes and aspirations.
It was confusing when the Sports minister, on separate occasions and without any consequence, sought to excuse the ministry’s poor handling of the Olympics and Women’s AFCON contingents, first by suggesting that the Olympians did not need more than winning spirits to prepare and second, that no one anticipated the Falcons’ success at the championships. Never mind that they are the runaway dominant force in African women’s football.
It was really befuddling how the head of a government communications agency had all his accounts frozen on the allegation of embezzlement, whose accounts remain frozen now, long after the ‘missing’ money was found untouched in the agency’s bank accounts.
It is confusing when one looks at a federal government, probably with a record number of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, show complete disregard for court orders, yet it promises us a society where peace and justice will reign. It certainly is very confusing when we read time and again that the President has quickly condoled with foreign leaders after a natural disaster or terrorist attack, but we hear nothing from his office on the domestic troubles taking place in the country, including the ongoing crisis in Southern Kaduna.
The government keeps asking for patience and time, to sort out the numerous domestic issues that confront it. However, I think that for 2017 and in order to make patience more forthcoming, the government needs to help the citizens understand it better. The first step would be for the government to stop contradicting itself. There is, of course, a type of contradiction that has frequently occurred this year, where a minister attempts to articulate government policy and a colleague contradicts him or her very shortly afterwards. However, the internal conflict referred to here is more philosophical than anything else.
Is the country a free market economy or not? Is the regime totalitarian or not? Are socialism and the destratification of society the underpinning beliefs of this administration? Are the presumption of innocence and the rule of law inalienable parts of our criminal justice system or not? Is the Southeastern region of the country under a state of emergency, such as to warrant the so-called Operation Python Dance or are soldiers now to be deployed and quasi-martial law imposed without reference to the conditional prerequisites for doing so?
These clarifications are important and will help the citizenry understand exactly under what parameters the government has chosen to deal with it. If the rules that everyone assumed to be in play are actually not so, this may explain why citizens, on the one hand, seem to be speaking an entirely different language from the government functionary, on the other. One side may be playing basketball, while the other is playing the similar, yet very different, sport of netball.
The government has huge challenges facing it in 2017 and one of the more important ones, given the past 18 months, is the adoption and articulation of clear and consistent policy (or rules). As long as they remain being seen to say one thing and mean or do another, and thereby creating uncertainty for both local and foreign businesses and investors, the bumpiness of the ride is likely to persist.