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 May 29 and onward: Towards Nigeria’s rebirth and transformation

By Tunji Olaopa
30 May 2023   |   1:26 am
Six concerns will constitute the focus of my discussion today. First, I would like to place May 29 within the context of Nigeria’s political history, and why it is crucial at this juncture. Second, I will be situating this 2023 transition within the context of the critical crises...

Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu taking oath of office in Abuja on Monday, May 29, 2023.

Six concerns will constitute the focus of my discussion today. First, I would like to place May 29 within the context of Nigeria’s political history, and why it is crucial at this juncture. Second, I will be situating this 2023 transition within the context of the critical crises the new administration will be inheriting. Third, I will be highlighting the leadership deficit confronting Nigeria, and locating it within a broader and global search for a good, humane, strategic and managerial leader for the Nigerian state.

Fourth, and as a corollary, I will attempt to benchmark Nigeria’s capacity for transformation with the transformational potential exhibited by global comparators like the Asian Tigers. Fifth, I will then contextualise this benchmark within the African continent by examining the Mo Ibrahim African Governance Index, which will help bring into sharp relief the issues limiting leadership performance in Nigeria especially. And sixth, I will then draw on significant lessons that the Tinubu administration could benchmark to commence and make a success of its governance objectives, strategies and methodologies.
Many Nigerians have varying expectations about today, May 29. For the cynics and the pessimists, it is a transition that leads nowhere, except the manifestation of a fresh spectacle of musical chairs—a familiar but tragic drama involving politicians with a high leadership deficit whose lack of governance vision and low level of development performance spell ultimately another possible four years of intense frustration for Nigerians.
For chronic optimists like me, this might just be a May 29 transition with a difference; a day that might as well signal the threshold of a revolutionary moment in governance transformation. Reform optimists, like me, look out for an elected political class that displays evidence of leadership competence and development performance. This simply implies that leadership goes beyond a mere title; rather, it references the capacity of a leader or a group of dedicated crops of leaders to redirect a state like Nigeria away from the precipice and towards an envisioned future.
Inevitably, such leadership action will necessarily involve making sound and sometimes difficult decisions, creating and articulating clear visions, and establishing achievable goals. And the decisional dynamics will often entail playing high politics, which is bound to be rough and tough, but which will eventually contribute to increasing the quality of life of Nigerians.
Why is May 29 critical to Nigeria’s current crisis? The uniqueness of May 29 in Nigeria’s political history is essentially constituted by the metaphor of transition that it signifies. The day represents the culmination of all electoral processes that had earlier produced political leaders at the federal and state levels. More fundamentally, transition represents an optimistic movement away from the old to the new.
Roy Cooper, the current governor of North Carolina in the U.S. captures my sense of the weightiness of the idea of transition: “Transitions are a time for reflection, and a time for looking forward.” So, this moment in history affords us, as Nigerians, the opportunity of weighing our present circumstances and predicaments side by side the possibilities we again have the privilege of unraveling in order to be able to undermine the stranglehold of history. Remember the maxim about those who have failed to learn from history.
What is the starting point for our reflection today? It is straightforward: Nigeria is in a tragic crisis situation. And we arrived at this point as a result of an almost inexorable political and historical trajectory of the inauguration of the Nigerian state through the amalgamation in 1914 till her independence in 1960. Current socio political and economic realities—debt crisis, insecurity, underdevelopment, bureaucratic pathologies, etc.—are simply the morbid symptoms of deeply entrenched dysfunctions that successive Nigerian governments, since independence, have been grappling with.
And the outgoing administration seems to have mediated the sliding of the Nigerian state to its low ebb in years. In terms of human development, Nigeria’s status is quite dismal and discouraging. In terms of human poverty, Nigeria’s own poverty index shows that 63 per cent (approximately 133 million) of Nigerians are multidimensionally poor. In the Ease of Doing Business Index, Nigeria is ranked 131 out of 191 countries. And finally, in the Chandler Good Government Index for 2022, Nigeria ranks 102 out of 104, only better than Zimbabwe and Venezuela.
This brief articulation of Nigeria’s current predicament provides a summary of the daunting implication of this May 29 transition from the old administration to the new one, and the enormous burden of history that is already placed on the shoulder of the new government. I am, however, suitably situated to believe that from our present position, the Nigerian state can only achieve an upward trend away from its crippling circumstances to a better condition.
And my optimism is not recumbent on the usual hope that attends transitions such as this. My status as a scholar-practitioner and an institutional reformer provides me with more pedestal from which to categorically enunciate my firm belief in Nigeria’s capacity to climb out of her development and governance abyss. As I have narrated in numerous public discourses, I am an unrelenting student of politics and Nigerian governmental processes and procedure. My status as a scholar-practitioner enables me to bring to bear on political and administrative dynamics in Nigeria a practitioner’s angle that leverages deep theoretical and practical knowledge that enable me to interrogate the nexus of leadership, governance and public policy in outlining the imperatives of national transformation and development management.

Africa’s leadership deficit and Nigeria’s challenge. This makes the issue of leadership a key matter in the fashioning of a developmental state around which institutional reform becomes a matter for crafting infrastructural and economic development. And in the Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance for 2021, Nigeria ranks 30 out of 54 African countries. And in a 10-year classification trend, from 2012 to 2021, Nigeria is placed in the category of “increasing deterioration”.
And this explains why no Nigerian leader has ever won the prize; or why the Foundation skipped the award for 10 years (2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2018, 2019, 2021 and 2022) because there were no worthy African leaders. And this is why Anthony “Lee” Iacocca is right to wonder where all the leaders have gone to in his bestselling book of the same title. Africa’s leadership deficit is complicated by two factors— one, the thorny issue of political selection and succession (how political leadership is put into office); and two, the critical issue of how these leaders perform when they eventually get to office and begin to deploy political power.
The leadership problem in Nigeria is measured against the background of successive governments since independence to inaugurate a developmental state in Nigeria. The developmental state demands the deployment of a competency model to harness talents that will enable the government to build durable institutions to articulate a productivity paradigm that will instigate a democratic service delivery framework for the citizens.
But we need to be careful not to benchmark our leaders against standards that would keep crippling them and their performance, especially in contexts that would be incompatible with the standards they are benchmarked against.
Nigeria, the Asian Tigers and African Comparators. The closest governance context to the African experience is Asia, and so we can start by benchmarking the new administration to the experience of the Asian Tigers, like Singapore. How did Singapore, through Lee Kuan Yew, make that fundamental jump from third to first world? Six critical readjustments are key to that transformation we can learn from. First, there was a rejection of import substitution for a pursuit of a bold and aggressive export-oriented development strategy. The second, and corollary, development framework is the discipline that export strategy imposes on the cultivation of local consumption and local industries in a way that enables steady growth.
Third, this cultivation of local consumption is geared towards the improvement of national productivity. This therefore makes it necessary to invest aggressively in education and training that inevitably leads to increase in per capita productivity in the national economy. Fourth, a corollary of this investment in training and education has to do with investments in research and development (R&D). Developmental states are states that immediately see 5 the significance of industrialization as the marker of progress. And this requires a dynamical relationship, for instance, between industries and higher education that enables action research to fuel industrial breakthroughs which in turn become research projects.
Fifth, developmental states cannot afford to become profligate with national finance. This automatically calls attention to transparency and accountability in the management of the national account. A by-product of this is the setting up of solid anti-corruption strategies and structures that can bark and bite! Lastly, and most significantly, developmental states take their public service institutions seriously in terms of reforming them into becoming world class performance structures operating on meritocracy and competency-based human resource management.
To be continued tomorrow
 Olaopa is a Retired Federal Permanent Secretary, and Professor of Public Administration & Executive Vice-Chairman, ISGPP, Bodija, Ibadan. Oyo State. (Being Distinguished Virtual Public Lecture of the Abuja Leadership Centre of the University of Abuja to herald the inauguration of a new President and Governments in Nigeria Delivered on Monday, May 29, 2023.)