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Nigeria needs reputable public policy agencies


In the past using this platform, one had made a strong case for a timeless and well-articulated national science and technology blue-print that has at its core, a setting up of a national science research center that would not only help in preparing the stage for cutting-edge technological feats, but would readily form an excellent platform for exchange of ideas and information between home and foreign-based Nigerian scientists and engineers.

Towing that same line of argument in this piece, one wants to highlight a serious and perhaps, under-commented impediment to our competitiveness and greatness as a nation – and that is the obvious dearth of reputable public policy organizations, where bright and experienced minds can educate, analyze and carry out research in the social sciences primarily in economics, national economy and development, foreign policy and domestic policy – essential for sound local, state, and federal government policy formulations. This anomaly is amply evident in our extremely shallow, non-sustainable, reactionary, and flawed public policies.

What is troubling is how for instance, we continue to rely on foreign public policy or international organizations such as the World Bank or UNICEF, to supply us with data and reports on the state of most crucial aspects of our nation – some of which contain studies that predict how close the Nigerian state is to disintegration – essentially the kind of thing one gets when one stands idly by and sublets the narrating of ones story to another.

The most frustrating aspect of such reports is that even when we are aware of some of their conspicuous flaws, we are handicapped in straightening the records since we do not have equivalent reputable organizations in our country that could produce well-researched and analyzed data. Obviously, reports from highly-respected foreign organizations can only be countered with quality data and not with some lousy, beer-parlor and incoherent rants. One refuses to understand why, for instance, a Local Government Council will have to wait on a Washington D.C-based think-tank for a study and report on issues that affect communities in the Council.

The truth is that this condition will persist to the extent that we continue to lack home-based public policy think-tanks that can supply us with well-researched and analyzed data on these sometimes, geographically unique issues. One does not see why we cannot at the minimum, come up with our own “Brookings Institution” – a place where our young, old and bright minds as well as individuals with invaluable public service and foreign policy experiences can research, analyze, educate, and develop sound public policies that could readily be adopted as blue-prints and implemented by various levels of our government.

It is an understatement to say that the presence of these think-tanks remains one of the geniuses of the developed world, and which is why they do not necessarily need to rely on any foreign body to update or supply them with actionable data on any aspect of their government and public policy. One does not see how we can make any measurable and sustainable progress in the area of governance and public policy if we continue to lack these crucial public policy organizations run by very bright minds that continuously analyze and research various aspects of public policy – from health-care to education, economics, economic development and foreign relations.

A critical aspect of these think-tanks is their ability to provide adept and highly knowledgeable man-power pool that could easily be tapped by the president, governors, senators, and representatives in the form of ministers, commissioners, heads of government departments and agencies, special assistants, and special advisers. Such bright and experienced minds surely have the expertise to provide sound practical advice and analyses necessary for sound public policy formulations and legislation. Ultimately, this will finally help in putting an end to the era of hiring motor park touts as public policy advisers.

The truth is that today’s modern and functional societies are never the result of any serendipity; rather, they are the careful crafts of men and women who have labored to not only research, analyze, and document their past public policies, but have also used the results of those analyses as templates and benchmarks for present and future policies. And as such, they hardly repeat the mistakes of the past. The reverse is the case for us and that is why we may continue on our southward trajectory since we do not have the necessary structures for such serious public policy research and analyses.

A good case study could be the massive failure of NECO examination by our secondary school students a few years ago, which made lot of news while the cameras were still rolling but faded into the wood works immediately the cameras went off. In serious societies, extensive research and analyses would have been carried out usually by an education policy think-tank with the aim of understanding the immediate and remote causes of the mass failure so as to forestall a re-occurrence and map out a way forward that could end up being adopted as policy by relevant levels of government.

These intellectual centers serve as formidable platforms for public policy analyses, research, and education – an absence of which is one of the banes of our public sector. Because of the lack of these centers, there are hardly avenues for former seasoned and honest public office holders, civil servants, special assistants, and diplomats, etcetera, to document their perspectives, experiences, and challenges as well as share them with their present and future replacements. As such, the default position now is that credible and honest Nigerians, after serving meritoriously in exalted and important positions in the public and even private sectors, end up rotting away in their villages or even sojourn abroad.

As a result, a well of experience and critical knowledge are never passed on to future generations or documented for improving future public policies. Cases abound where Nigerians that are perceived to have performed well in the Nigerian public service have been hired as scholars and research fellows in these think-tanks in foreign lands – a move most are forced to make against their preferences considering the very cold weather out there. But since there are no structures at home for them to document, research, educate, and share their knowledge and experiences, they are forced to relocate anyway, and contribute to the development of those societies.

It is strange and smacks of shoddiness and incompetence each time after some of these Federal Executive Council (EXCOF) meetings when one hears of tons of money being earmarked for projects execution, with no mention ever made at that point or thereafter of any projected number of jobs that will be added to the economy as a result of such sizeable amounts of government expenditure – an unfortunate situation that is not unconnected with the absence of think-tanks and public policy experts with advanced academic degrees who spend careers analyzing and researching public policies and as such, have the expertise to crunch the numbers and come up with naira and jobs tags on any government policy.

As a result of the absence of these thorough analyses, it becomes extremely difficult for the citizens to figure out the usefulness of any government policy or expenditure. No serious society on this planet operates on this our ridiculously insane model. The hard truth is that the need for us to come up with Nigerian versions of the Brookings Institutions of this world, can never be overstated since not doing so, will certainly amount to us groping in the dark, lacking that intellectual public policy depth, and proficient human capital pool necessary for researching, analyzing, crafting and in most cases, shaping sound, and sustainable public policies.

Dr. Ukah lives in the United States.

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