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Fundamental priorities for president-elect (1)

By Bolaji Ogunseye
18 May 2015   |   3:25 am
NEW President. New expectations. Perhaps a new Nigeria. But what the country has got right now is only an opportunity for change. To positively leverage on that opportunity, the priorities of governance must be fundamentally re-set.


NEW President. New expectations. Perhaps a new Nigeria. But what the country has got right now is only an opportunity for change. To positively leverage on that opportunity, the priorities of governance must be fundamentally re-set.

Frankly, some things must change fairly fast. The depth of leadership engagement and the ways in which priorities are harmonised policy-wise and administratively, will be crucial for the quality and speed of results.

Decades before Jonathan’s tenure, successive democratic (and even many military) governments have handled the task of good governance casually rather than with transformative determination. Can this be the start of that ‘heavy-lift’ task? How in-coming President Buhari chooses and implements his priorities will confirm if this is indeed the historic turn-around moment Nigerians have awaited for decades.

What then should be the priorities and their order of urgency? The economy, I must assume, is the undisputed first – especially that aspect which involves the highly-populous bottom segment of Nigerians, or, the Bottom of the Pyramind (BoP) economy.

The second priority should be the establishment of a strong capacity for effective transaction governance (ETG). ETG is a very powerful economic-governance enhancer.

Anyone technically familiar with how Nigeria’s socio-economy is deeply undermined at all levels by the bureaucracy’s use and abuse of otherwise well-intentioned micro-regulations, to stifle, delay and sometimes even destroy entrepreneurial initiatives by citizens and corporate entities, will understand what developmental benefits Nigeria stands to reap by instituting ETG.

Cost of governance should be new government’s third priority. I have made a repeated issue of this subject as an on-media policy analyst, and during campaign debates among Lagos State governorship candidates towards the 2015 elections. Some newly-elected executives are fortunately also now zeroing in on the subject.

Security is fourth. As the armed forces are now routing Boko Haram, even if with some foreign help, we can expect an end to that group’s security challenge in the short-to-medium term.

It is also safe to expect, especially given imaginative handling of the Amnesty Programme’s phase-out, that no significantly renewed militancy in the Niger Delta should blight the country’s security landscape. Of course, the ultimate sustainable-security guarantee comes from bringing millions of currently excluded people (the youth in particular) into the success loop as socio-economic stakeholders in ‘Project Nigeria’.

Needless to emphasise, in a four-year presidential term, these four priorities will prove rather more than a fistful to successfully handle, even for a team as high on the integrity scale as the Buhari-Osibajo duo.

But achieving a 40 to 55% success average across these four priorities is eminently do-able in four years, especially if the new president is determined to confront the political and ‘Nigerian-factor’ issues that dog all leaders across all tiers of Nigerian governance.

Economic development and nation-building have for far too long been held hostage to politics, corruption and institutional decay that even a modest percentage improvement in these four areas, especially with palpable impact on the bottom-of-the-pyramid (BoP) socio-economy, would easily translate into a huge breath of developmental (and existential) fresh air across the country. Power, right-priced infrastructure, oil and gas sector reform, economic diversification and human-asset development – all continue to be crucial, no doubt.

But this article intends to focus in some detail on the urgent BoP economic challenge facing the new administration. It also briefly addresses the centrality of putting in place a nation-wide ETG capacity, to fast-track and hold in place the socio-economic transformation that needs to urgently happen at society’s populous base. So, let’s look at the economic priority.

First, the existing context: much-reduced foreign reserve; about 50% less income from oil and gas, on which the budget relies heavily for overall governance funding; constitution and corruption-induced, over-bloated cost of governance; mass unemployment and poverty; poor workplace skills and attitudes; low labour productivity; relatively good, (though ‘enclave’) growth of the economy – roughly five per cent yearly in the last couple of years. With this background, the new government will literally have to do more with less – and in a relatively short period. It’s a resource-scarcity management challenge called optimization in the private sector.

Nigeria’s current growth is a narrow, low-employment and upper-end sectors’ growth (oil/gas; telecommunications; banking, import-oriented commerce) that excludes the majority, especially the youth. It happens alongside increasing unemployment, increasing poverty, decreasing opportunities for millions to earn income and to consume.

It is growth that does not fuel the fundamental interplay of demand-supply-employment-consumption – a cycle whose relentless repetition, given an efficient macro-policy regime, drives economic expansion at the most crucial point – the BoP.

New, society-wide wealth creation happens fastest when the BoP economy – or ‘the grassroots economy’, is expanding steadily every year, with increasing formalization of the ‘informal’ sector.

Since Nigeria’s current growth excludes the majority BoP economy, resulting in mass misery, unleashing that economy will be central to achieving society-wide modernization and sustainable nation-building.

Public-private funding of innovation and development of technical capacity aimed at the BoP economy is urgently needed, in the immediate term, to locally generate and deploy high-quality ‘intermediate-technologies’, needed to entrench and continually improve productivity of the BoP economy itself, and to supply and service the technical ‘nuts-and-bolts’ requirements of big industry, especially the top-end, export-oriented product manufacturers and investors.

For example, each of the six geo-economic zones should establish a world-class Technology and Industrial Park (TIP), which reflects its local competitive advantage and natural-endowment structure. Such ITPs should work closely with helpful foreign technical partners, industry, the SME sector, agricultural research entities, universities, polytechnics, vocational and regular secondary schools.

• To be continued.
• Ogunseye wrote via