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Promise makers, promise breakers


Nigeria’s Vice President Yemi Osinbajo

It is not surprising that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s outcry over the country’s current socio-political situation is a matter of interest to Nigerians who, believing in the promise of change, put their hope in Muhammadu Buhari to bring about the Nigeria of their dreams.

It is of so much interest especially because, for the Vice President, this socio-political situation consisting, among other things, of social inequality, a weak justice system and the absence of the rule of law, is what accounts for the inability of the government to deliver on its promises.

Osinbajo aired these views at a public lecture titled “How to Make Democracy Work for Africa,” organised in Abuja the other day by The Kukah Centre.

Ever the cerebral and eloquent speaker, the high point of Osinbajo’s submission, however, was where he stated that “the capacity of the state to deliver on its most important role of security, justice and the rule of law is often threatened because we have not invested enough in institutions that make it possible.”

Against the background of his standing as perhaps the best face of the Muhammadu Buhari administration, it is important to raise a few salient points for Osinbajo and his principal to reflect upon.

First, it seems the Federal Government of Nigeria, often ably represented by this eloquent man, has developed an inclination towards lamentation of the very things it was elected to fix.

This latest hand-wringing surfaced barely a week after Osinbajo’s public wailing over the condition of Nigeria’s prisons. And of course there is the now familiar ululation over the “empty treasury” that was left by the immediate past administration.

The second point is that the Vice President’s submissions, especially at the Kukah Centre that day is nothing but a rationalisation of leadership failure.

This is not acceptable at all. Promises, especially in the Nigerian political context, are to be deemed sacred for both moral and practical reasons.

It is necessary to note, on the moral level, that the personages of this government rode to political power on the high tide of the frustration of citizens with the situation of the country at the time of the last elections.

They must not now think that a simple gesture of “sincerity” or “humility” such as an admission of failure absolves them of the firm responsibility of keeping the promises they made to Nigerians.

Practical consideration also dictates that when political parties or aspirants categorically make promises (or publish them as manifestoes) to a populace, they must, upon assumption of office, make sure to deliver on their promises.

This is so that one of the fundamental elements of the democratic existence of nations—elections based on the visions of alternative parties—is not rubbished and the very fabric of civilised society ruptured by the randomisation of electoral choices.

In the less than twenty years of her return to democratic rule, Nigeria has already been mired in the mud of failed (or utterly discarded) electoral promises. The country needs to break out of this vicious cycle, not entrench it.

But even if the Vice President were to be obliged his bitter complaints, it is still not likely that any form of absolution will be found in favour of the government on behalf of which he speaks. Osinbajo, for example, laments the general weakness of institutions.

The query that immediately comes to mind is: whose responsibility is it to strengthen these institutions? It is obvious that the Presidency, the most powerful arm of the Nigerian government, has at least a shared responsibility for the strengthening of the nation’s democratic and political institutions.

Instead of holding this responsibility to heart, however, there have been many occasions when the Presidency has undermined the very institutions and processes it is supposed to uphold.

A case in point is the inexplicable delay in the naming of a cabinet after the administration was sworn into office. This amounted to a needless waste of the country’s time.

Worse, it set the unwholesome precedent of administering the nation without the placement of key officers. And in the few cases where it appointed people, the narrow horizon and short reach of the President were in glaring display.

It is very tiresome, if not downright insulting, to hear a government that has taken more than two years to constitute boards for important federal agencies complain about the weakness of the country’s institutions.

A basic rule of management is to report results rather than, or at least ahead of, constraints. This government needs to shed its now yellowing cloak of lamentation and get down to the business of delivering on its electoral promises.

It must begin to straightforwardly and consistently solve the problems of Nigeria, instead of creating more out of delay and sheer incompetence, and deflecting the blame away from itself to socio-political difficulties which are, in the first place, part of its mandate (and promise) to address.

It is a good thing that these bottlenecks have been identified, but the serious and mature step to take is, not to complain about them, but to find pragmatic solutions to them.

The country’s weak justice system can be revamped with political will, by allowing true autonomy for the judiciary and choosing to not impose the candidacy of one man on the National Assembly whose duty it is to vet (and then accept or reject) candidates for national assignments.

A lot can also be achieved in this regard through a body such as the National Law Reforms Commission.

The delivery of security can be improved with the adoption of state and local policing; for then, things would, being smaller, be much easier to manage.

The Commander-in-Chief would be doing a better job of protecting lives and property when the terrorism of herdsmen is met with the necessary force and condemnation.

Finally this government needs to get rid of the incompetence within its ranks. In appointing key officers, the President needs to extend his reach and widen his horizon, so that there will no longer be so many square pegs being forced to fit into round holes.

The administration also needs to effect a broad alignment of its purposes, so that it can get rid of the entropy that seems to characterise it.

Instead of operating in staccato turns, there should be a general vision of Nigeria that governance aims at, and by which its progress can be measured.

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