Prospecting Nigeria’s development post-2023: The critical success factors

Given the significance and enormity of the forthcoming elections for the future of the Nigerian state, my most recent contributions have been dedicated to unraveling what can be broadly called the leadership challenge Nigeria...

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Given the significance and enormity of the forthcoming elections for the future of the Nigerian state, my most recent contributions have been dedicated to unraveling what can be broadly called the leadership challenge Nigeria needs to confront and overcome, post-2023.
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No one can dare deny the idea of leadership as a fundament of development, and why the attention of the populace and the politicians need to be forcefully drawn to the elements of good government and good leadership that Nigeria critically needs from the incoming administration.
The reason for this is obvious: we can no longer afford to play the bad political game that tampers with the future of Nigerians. This is the business-as-usual politics that has rendered the Nigerian progress comatose for 62 years.

As we approach the elections—in about a matter of three weeks—my public education and advocacy pieces will now be focused on critical nuggets of development policies, ideas and think pieces that might be useful, as advisories, in aiding the reflections of those who will be eventually be entrusted with the affairs of this country, their advisers, public managers and development workers. I am hoping they will also be useful for management researchers and administrative, political, governance and development scholars in the country.

The first issue, and critical place to start, has to do with a fundamental and overarching question that cast a deep shadow over the country’s future, which is ingrained in the question: Is Nigeria a failing or a failed state? This is not an easy question to resolve, as political scientists and development experts now realise. However, whatever answer one assumes has enormous implications for the possible status of the Nigerian state as an enabling developmental and capable state that can fast track development.

And Nigeria’s developmental profile has a lot to do with the capacity of her leadership to convert the many development blueprint, programmes, plans and initiatives to concrete infrastructural tangibles. Nigeria’s arrested development profile speaks to a dysfunctional state that does not yet seem to have a calculated strategy for undermining those development constraints that have featured in Nigeria’s historical evolution. Three are cogent.
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The first issue that bedevils Nigeria’s development trajectory is the virulence of a rentier culture that underlies the elite bargain that keeps running this country aground. The second is the ubiquitous “Nigerian factor” that subordinates the critical good politics to the greedy whims of the political class who would deploy ethnicity and religion to sabotage development bargains. The Nigerian Factor is about corruption, and the promotion of mediocrity fueled by neopatrimonialism and nepotism. The last issue concerns Nigeria’s dependent status within the unequal framework provided by the structure of the global political economy.

It takes a determined and astute leadership to create the reflection space that enables a serious confrontation with the development malaise of the state. And that reflection commences with Albert Einstein’s admonition that “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” This then demands the determination not only to confront the stultifying narratives that have kept the Nigerian development framework problematic, but also the need to navigate the landmines that have made it very difficult to implement the development ideas, plans and strategies that Nigeria requires for her transformation.

The second issue that raises critical alarm in the development trajectory is Nigeria’s protracted inability to harness her comparative economic advantage into a productive capacity. This has unfortunately and dangerously initiated a process of de-industrialisation—or what Alfred Marshall calls “negative production”—in which the country consumes what it does not produce even when it has the capacity to do so.

A fundamental dimension of Nigeria’s economic woe derives from her inability—since independence—to diversify her economy and wean herself away from the albatross of the monocultural crude oil economy, despite her abundant natural resources, especially in mineral and agricultural resources. This negative production generates a weak production capacity that ensures that Nigeria is stuck on oil revenue while other non-oil sectors remain technically moribund and hence unable to instigate composite industrialisation and development.

Jumpstarting the economy to achieve a sound developmental impetus requires more than paying lip service to local content. It requires creating a shift from central planning to a mix of strategic planning and scenario planning that creates critical balance between short, medium and long-term planning. And one way to realise this is to achieve a gradual shift to manufacturing and industrialisation as structural frame for resource use.
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The third issue that complicates development planning and economic progress in Nigeria is the public service institutional dysfunction that underwrites Nigeria’s low capacity to generate and push the nation’s development agenda to a logical and transformative conclusion. This institutional anomaly is grounded by a workplace cultural and performance debilitation that ensures that an oversized system could not facilitate a productivity shift that signals Nigeria’s arrival in the development space.

The dysfunction in the professional gatekeeping and human resource function sees to it that the public service is burdened hypothetically, by the recruitment of 1000 mediocre non-experts to fill the space as a result of political patronage. The alternative is to put in place a reformed pay and compensation dynamic that could bring in just 200 high-end professionals, policy experts and administrative managers appropriately incentivized to deploy scarce competences for fundamental outlier performance that instigate productivity.

We must also not discountenance the crippling of the workplace performance and productivity framework by the unfortunate reality of an adversarial and militancy-propelled industrial relations and labour unionism that foreclose strategic thinking and prospecting in development management and technical rational options in collective bargaining and institutional reprofiling in the service of policy making cum service delivery to achieve world-class national development performance.
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The fourth issue, and closely related to the last, has to do with the fundamental imperative of navigating the Nigerian policy space with strategic intelligence and competences that are truly enabling for a developmental state and its noble objectives. There is a singular dilemma at the heart of enlarging the effectiveness and transforming the capacity of the policy space to make development happen.

And this is the dilemma: the policy space has become too significant to be left all alone to the whims and caprices of the bureaucrats; and yet that space is too unique and complex to be violated by non-bureaucrats without enough competences and expertise. This generates an acute tension between the public servants/bureaucrats on the one hand, and the technocratic team (technical advisers, policy experts, consultants and subject specialists) that are necessary to expand the policy space for efficient performance. While it is crucial to maintain policy processes and actions within the frame of technical rationalism, this also demands that the public servants must equally be kept within the bounds of administrative and democratic accountability.

The demand of democratic governance requires not only the introduction of non-governmental and non-state actors into the policy space, but also the opening up of government activities to the democratic scrutiny of the citizens in transparent open government. And yet, the public service remains a critical part of the underdevelopment equation with its injection of the bureaucratic culture into the policy space. Public servants aggressively guard the governance space in a fit of institutional close-mindedness that exclude technocrats who could add to the high-ended professional efficiency. And yet, the public service is regulated by a bureau-pathological framework of blind conformance that not only closes it to administrative innovation and strategic intelligence, but also compels officers to adhere only to rules and regulations as an end in themselves rather than means to the ends of performance and productivity.
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Nigeria’s capacity for global competitiveness is therefore jeopardized because her policy space is (a) bereft of the technical support that comes from policy experts, tested professionals, consulting firms and international development partners, and (b) the low level of MDAs’ organisational and strategic intelligence IQ to translate plans, policies and programmes to outcomes and transitions due to inordinately inchoate and low national learning infrastructure, inadequate kills and competences transfer institutionalized into strategic policy intelligence dynamic.

The economic and development renaissance in Nigeria, post-2023, depends on Nigeria arresting its national drift towards state and governance failure in ways that appropriate a policy space that is facilitated by a developmental leadership with the proactive capacity to generate transformative progress by switching from problem-thinking to solution-thinking. This can be done by seeking policy and development advisories that outline the cogent issues in Nigeria’s development and policy-making dynamics that can upturn institutional efficiency and economic productivity.

What I have provided in this piece are landmines that could prevent the emergence of a robust policy space that is a sine qua non for achieving development objectives. Nigeria’s post 2023 policy landscape must be one where the incoming administration must be willing to substitute elite for development bargain by gambling on development. Gambling on development implies that the administration will deliberately and consciously overlook or undermine any other non-developmental variables that could distract from that fundamental objectives of a competitive economy and national productivity. Gambling on development means the new administration will shun the temptation for primitive accumulation to ensure that Nigerians have a chance at a better future through transforming the policy space for efficient service delivery to Nigerians.
Olaopa, a retired Federal Permanent Secretary & Professor, National Institute For Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Jos tolaopa2003@gmail.com
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