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Groundhog day: What use is government?

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In the movie Groundhog Day, the protagonist is trapped in time and finds himself reliving the same day over and over again.

After cynically finding it fun, he inevitably grows bored and frustrated at not being able to move forward.

He eventually breaks out of the single day loop, but not until he acquires several key skills and starts to pursue a life of purpose.

The parallels with Nigeria’s election cycle are irresistible. We vote, a winner is announced, they take office, ‘wobble and fumble’ about for three and a half years with eyes only for the next election, nothing changes, they start campaigning and all of a sudden it is time to vote again. Nothing changes.

We are confronted with the same problems that our octogenarian leaders promised to deal half a lifetime ago.

More relevant to the current post-1999 dispensation, the problems that the winners of next month’s elections are promising to solve haven’t changed much.

Electricity, fuel, education, security, healthcare and virtually every index of decent living standards have barely improved.

Indeed, some are now worse. There is virtually no development.

The result is a palpable cynicism and deep frustration with our seeming inability to break out of our own loop of repetition. One genuinely has to ask, what really is the point of government? If the people in charge of us cannot solve the issues that affect us the most, ‘What really is their use’? Why have they reduced the essence of governance to commissioning garishly “ultra-modern” buildings and roads that half a decent rainfall – acid rain, if you believe some governors – will sweep away?

This particular Groundhog Day has worsened by the economy growing slower than at any other time since 1999.

The current administration likes to make a song and dance of having done more with less but regardless of what the President would like to think, the figures simply do not bear out his facts.

Indeed, that a President who demonstrates such little understanding of the nuances of development or even his own government’s policies can stand such a strong probability of re-election tells its own story.

We will no doubt be shown pictures of new rail lines and freshly poured tar and, to be clear, these are not necessarily bad things.

However, we have been here before. Even the incumbent president at the last elections had those pictures.

Presidents and governors before them have all sought to demonstrate fidelity with these largely token things.

To borrow a phrase from the clergical-sounding media aide to the President, these things usually prove ephemeral, as scant regard is paid to the manpower training and maintenance culture that should ensure that they endure.

And what about the governors and legislators? State legislatures have been about as useful as chocolate teapots, virtually all of them being mere ‘governatorial’ rubber stamps.

Many governors have also shown an astonishing lack of vision or determination to be problem solvers and problem-solving would be my personal answer to the question on the use or role of government.

Yes, we want rail and good roads but we need to be able to travel them in safety from bandits and without harassment from the numerous law enforcement agencies.

Otherwise both traditional commerce and tourism won’t thrive.

More modern markets are a good thing but probably more important are hospitals, updated equipment and the personnel to make sure we do not die from diseases for which cures have long-since existed.

Yes, it’s great that it now costs less to register businesses but let us also have level playing fields (no government favourites), clear tax obligations and regulators that are far less trigger-happy.

How are we getting more children enrolled in school? How do we fix education so that Nigerian students graduate prepared to compete with their counterparts from the rest of the world? How do we decongest Lagos and open up further cities to commerce? The availability of portable water in each home, 21st century urban planning, cleaner air?

These are types of problems our leaders need to fix to stop others from referring to us a ‘s&*thole’ country. The solutions are the kind that will end our groundhog day. This is the kind of governance we desperately need.

We are tired of the groundhog day but it clearly favours our ruling class.

For them, the less they change, the more likely it is that they will be stuck at the top of our food chain. But the country cannot carry on like this for much longer and we must demand infinitely more from whoever the winners of February’s elections are than we are getting now. Government should be and must become useful to ordinary people.


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