Who are we?
It has been nearly a year since I was invited to contribute my thoughts on Law & Governance on this page. In that time, I have attempted to show that law & governance are issues that must be settled in the philosophical, before there can be coherence in the manifestations we see of any actions and plans of government. Where there is no common thread or footing across what government is doing or says it is doing, at least two things are likely. The first is that the state has not resolved its ideological identity. The second is that there is unlikely to be much progress or development.
Governance is action for the people, following on from ideas. It is thinking in action. People that aspire to govern must first be thinkers. Thinkers whose ideas can stand rigor and scrutiny from their peers. Thinkers whose ideas after surviving the crucible of criticism become the yarn with which the tapestry of society is woven. If there is a frustration with the way our leadership yanks us one way for a few years and then another, it is because there is no ideology driving our common journey.
Why is ideology important? They are the map for the road ahead – the blueprint for the edifice we are building. Different drivers or project managers may have different approaches for the tasks at hand, but the goal will be the same. What can Nigerians honestly say is the goal that the ruling class has articulated for them? What are the priorities of our politicians? In the developed countries that we frequently point to, opposition politics is normal and robust, and having different parties (and philosophies and approaches) at the helm, does not result in the stop-start-rest dynamic we seem to have here. In Europe, governments of the day announce policies that will kick in 20 years’ time, stopping petrol cars by 2040 for example, yet there is an assurance that the target will be kept to regardless of which party is in power. Things that are good for the country are accepted as such across the political divide.
What is the quality of thinking we have at the level of our leadership? A new government comes in and overturns everything the previous government did. One Governor declares a public holiday to celebrate the return of the President from Great Britain after 104 days (and a prior 57) away on treatment for an unknown illness with an unknown prognosis. Another seeks to defraud pensioners of their entitlement, forcing them to sign half of it away. Yet, another clears an ecological treasure trove to make way for a mega-superhighway leading nowhere in particular. And there is another who revels in demolitions and gentrification. Some governors only exist to distribute the Abuja largesse, doing next to nothing in the intervening periods. Meanwhile, poverty rates have not reduced over the last 10-15 years. With 10.5 million children of primary school age out of school, Nigeria has the highest number of this category of children in the world. I’m almost 40 and the country has been stuck on the exact same issues (electricity, education, basic healthcare, poverty reduction) for all my sentient life.
So, what exactly has our government prioritised? What can we as a people look forward to in the next 20 years? ‘Restructuring’ is the rave of the moment but with Nigerian politicians as unlikely to vote themselves out of power as a turkey is to vote for Christmas, it will probably be only superficial. The Federal Government’s idea of devolution is handing over the Lagos Airport road to the Lagos State government, yet watching the lifeblood that is the Tin Can – Apapa – Oshodi route remain a crater cluster. The Sultan’s palace appears to be more deserving of a N700m expenditure than education or healthcare in Sokoto State. The National Assembly is still looking for concessionary foreign exchange rates for people going on religious pilgrimages (not manufacturers or business people). This is in addition to the shiny new cars the House of Representatives just approved for itself. Government agencies are denouncing empirical studies on the corruption in their offices because raw, vainglorious pride still trumps data.
The next 5 to 10 years are probably already wasted. The last 2 to 5 years have more than made sure of that. To salvage the years following them, the business of real thinking has to start now. Actions (or inactions) have consequences and there is no amount of national prayers or fasting or night vigils that can change this. Look at the last 25 years and tell me I’m wrong. Who are we and what are our priorities?
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