Cosmetic policies and a decayed underlay
One of the challenges that managers face is that of maintaining strategic focus on all that the organization and stakeholders consider very critical to the achievement of set goals. There is a tendency to conveniently focus on a few objectives that deliver immediate visible results, while playing down other imperatives that deliver seeming intangible results, yet of no less importance.
This trend observably plays out in governance where priority is given to delivering infrastructural projects, while other critical areas such as human development suffer. Understandably, in developing countries such as Nigeria, the deficit of basic infrastructure cannot be overlooked. Therefore efforts to put such in place should be appreciated as enablers of socio-economic development and activities – though not necessarily as end deliverables. Those efforts must complement development in other sectors of governance. It therefore becomes a problem where such infrastructural development is the sole criterion for assessing the overall success of governance – an inadequate scorecard which isolates other key indicators of performance including human development indices.
It is discernable that some public leaders favor physical projects partly because of the spectacle that they make before a largely unaware citizenry who rely mainly on optics to determine the presence and success of governance but whose general appearance and substance as citizens reek of the absence or paucity of it. To such leaders, these optics are flashy tools for attracting electoral dividends from a naive electorate and also a smokescreen for the lapses and irregularities that occur at governmental quarters.
It is therefore not surprising that a state government for instance, in showcasing its achievements would parade mostly (if not only) constructed roads, flyovers, roundabouts, fountains and other such physical structures (some of which may be strategically misplaced, wasteful or unnecessary), with little or nothing to show over the years for learning and development, research, safety and security, healthcare, employment, industrialization, technology and innovation, sports and recreation, etc – all of which improve the socio-economic wellbeing of the people as well. Regrettably, just as the scope of governance is being reduced to infrastructural development, the scope of infrastructure is also being confined mainly to construction works which exclude agricultural, healthcare, energy and learning facilities, among others.
While infrastructural development could be the policy thrust of an administration, other sectors of governance must be up and running effectively to synergize development for comprehensive impact.
Perhaps in a comical attempt to widen the scope of infrastructural development, some leaders play to the gallery by delivering handouts such as food and petty cash to their citizens in a programme that has been informally christened ‘stomach infrastructure’ in Nigeria, without addressing the root causes of poverty in their governmental area. They understand that most of their people are impressed or influenced by the things that they see and touch. For this, some analysts have opined that poverty is a tool in the hands of some politicians to keep the people manipulable – right on the beggarly side of the bargain. Such people argue that sustainable development cannot come from handouts but through a deliberate and robust strategy aimed at concurrently developing all critical areas of governance, including its human component.
Those are instances of cosmetic policies and projects that cover up the decayed underlay of a society that harbors cankerworms in the form of poor education, unemployment, hunger, poor healthcare, injustice, hostile business environment, insecurity, etc. It is little wonder that despite these infrastructural optics, most states in Nigeria score poorly on human development indices such as poverty rate, illiteracy, number of out-of-school children, food sufficiency, level of social welfare, etc. While their governments polish the body of the polity, they fail to nourish its mind, because they do not place enough premium on the development of their people.
The recent release of Multi-dimensional Poverty Index by Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics, which was premised on health, living standard, education, security and employment, lends credence to deficiencies in human development across the country and calls for urgency in formulating and deploying more people-centric policies and programmes.
Perhaps there is a lot that people in government can learn from successful large business organizations (and some public institutions) where human capital and welfare are taken seriously as sine qua non for growth and development. Such institutions invest huge resources in learning and development, research, welfare, healthcare, providing a safe and conducive environment for their people to thrive, be productive and fulfilled. While the returns on these investments may be latent or minimal in the short term, in the long run they are appreciably huge and sustainable – a win-win for all parties!
The 21st century public leader should be an all-round developer, committing to effectively managing and developing all areas of governance, focusing primarily on the people not only as its target beneficiary but as a foremost resource, whose development is sacrosanct and central to the achievement of governmental goals, without which the overall essence of governance is defeated.