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Of institutions and Nigeria’s retarded development

THE plethora of conferences, workshops, seminars, all with the incontrovertible diagnosis of a failure to develop institutions as the major bane of Nigeria’s efforts at development, is the greatest advertisement of a nation long on ideas, but short on implementation.


THE plethora of conferences, workshops, seminars, all with the incontrovertible diagnosis of a failure to develop institutions as the major bane of Nigeria’s efforts at development, is the greatest advertisement of a nation long on ideas, but short on implementation.

After all, everybody knows that Nigeria’s retarded development could only be reversed with establishing and strengthening of institutions, instead of the present fixation on personalities, yet, little has been done to change tack.

As the Muhammadu Buhari administration takes off at the end of this month, this must change. The issue, again, came to the fore at Wema Bank’s 70th anniversary lecture titled, “Why Nations Succeed”.

In addition to the correct identification of a government’s power to set priorities with its control of the nation’s resources, the gathering seemed to have reached a consensus that strong institutions help build a nation.

It was observed that Nigeria’s present political and economic institutions have always given the advantage and opportunities to a few individuals such that power is wielded by and rotated within a cabal without any checks and balances.

After independence, military rule weakened the structures of the state, the civil society and all those institutions that should build a nation. Nigerians should know the ineffectiveness of military-style “task-force” approach and it must never be a preference to setting up enduring institutions for development.

In the 1980s for example, there was the Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure which duplicated the roles of existing ministries, departments and agencies that could have been strengthened. The graded rural roads have since been over-grown as bush all over the country.

Then, there was also the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) headed by General Buhari and which was constructing selected roads, building schools and hospitals nationwide.

Only recently, the outgoing government came up with the Subsidy Re-Investment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P) that distributes funds to states and local councils, while also funding infrastructure, even when there are existing agencies for these functions. Interventionist measures are good, but must never be to the detriment of institutions.

Nigeria is a nation in which the road transport mode is responsible for the movement of more than 90 per cent of people, goods and services as well as the defence forces.

Yet, government’s intention in 1970 by the Yakubu Gowon administration to set up a Federal Highways Authority has suffered from lack of political will, since the delegation recommended in 1972, that the road agency be established “without delay.” The contents of that report, however relevant, were confined to the shelf.

Every idea of infrastructural development in Nigeria has suffered same fate. In the last decade, institutions have been destroyed; especially by people occupying positions of trust. What has become of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission? Currently, it is being perceived that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is waxing stronger, but there is however, palpable fear as to who would next lead it after the highly commendable tenure of Attahiru Jega.

The watch phrase should be that a man might leave a position, but the institutions stays, having entrenched the right culture and ethos. There is also the problem of the average Nigerian’s definition and perception of political office.

Why do people seek political power? The culture of service to the nation, which appreciates that after politics comes governance, must take root. This will put an end to policy somersaults, in which a succeeding government fails to develop on the legacy of the predecessor and abandons projects mid-stream so as to commence what it considers own priorities.

The attitude of the average Nigerian must also change. There is the unstated, yet strong mindset, that the holder of a political office will only look after his interest and those of his family, friends and associates.

This has been accepted and there is hardly any protestation by Nigerians, except for some bold attempts by the media. Thus, career politicians, who live on the system instead of living for it, are determined to be in office at all costs with the attendant monumental corruption.

Over the years, it has been the penchant of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (The World Bank) and its arm, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), to prescribe uniform policies for uneven terrains. But experience has shown that the prescription had seldom succeeded.

There is, afterall, the ubiquitous human factor as well as the constraints of culture and religion. The solution to Nigeria’s retarded development must come from within taking into cognizance the peculiar needs of the people.

There are sufficient well-trained Nigerians to champion home-grown policies for the development of the country while not undermining societal nuances. And one incontrovertible key point is the need to develop strong institutions that would evolve and function efficiently, regardless of who controls political power.