In the July 2004 edition of Newsweek International Magazine, there was an interesting and very enlightening cover story by Jeffrey D. Sachs, titled, ‘The World’s Best Countries’. In the story, the world’s top 10 countries and their competitive advantages were revealed. The Nordic countries off course emerged in the study as the bastion of “a well-rounded, modern and well governed society.” What I find most telling about the study was the direct link between efficient governance and the stellar performance of the Nordic nations. Interestingly, over 14-years after the report, the Nordic countries still maintain their stranglehold on the Human Development Index (HDI). Therefore, what is it about their governance model that confers on them this consistent competitive advantage?
A few excerpts from the study states; “Consider just about any indicator – income per capita, health, democracy, economic competitiveness, environmental consciousness, honesty – and the Nordic world of Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland is sure to shine. These are small countries with homogenous populations. Their incredible successes are sometimes easily put aside as ‘special cases’. Yet they have much to tell bigger nations about paths to the good life.”
This is just a tip of the iceberg as the author continued further; “For years, the U.N. Development Programme has measured human progress by including measures of literacy and life expectancy alongside per capita income. On the combined Human Development Index, (HDI) Norway and Sweden ranked first and second in 2004 out of 175 countries, with the United States coming in eighth, and the larger countries of continental Europe ranked in the teens. Nordic health and wealth is built on high quality governance. The global corruption watchdog, Transparency International ranks Finland, Iceland and Denmark right at the top of the list of the world’s “cleanest” governments. France and Spain are tied for 23rd.”
Then he concluded thus; “Broadly speaking, the Nordic region took three basic decisions. First, it prioritized education, study and science. Second, it decided that it would leave no countryman behind. Social insurance – pensions, public health care, and public education – became a basic shared commitment in each of these countries. And third, the region built a vigorous private sector. Ericsson and Nokia are not government creations.”
I have had reasos to reflect over this report in the intervening years since its release as I ponder over the state of our socio-economic and political environment in Nigeria. In fact, I wrote a book, “God and Nigerians” © 2007, drawing inspiration from it. How have we fared in public governance as a society? I think the answer stares at us evidently without any doubts. How is it that in 20 years of unbroken democratic governance, every major indicator of measuring quality of life and human development has either stagnated or regressed substantially? Critically, why is it that in the same period, 1990 – 2018, that China eradicated poverty from its about 1.5 billion population, Nigeria instead produced tens of millions more extreme poor people taking the ignoble position from China and later India? The reasons are not farfetched.
Myth of Role of Government
There is a myth that government has no business in business. Well, it is indeed nothing more than that, a myth. It is actually worse; it is a great lie and a monumental disservice to Nigeria and Nigerians by those who champion this pernicious fallacy. As the country careens precariously from one disaster to another, their unpatriotic mindset is laid bare! Well, government does have a great role in business; it creates the enabling environment, it acts as an arbiter in disputes between players, critically, it lays a solid foundation for the private sector to thrive in their business activities and using the Chinese model, it actively promotes private sector venture funding! How do these happen?
The provision of strategic hard and soft infrastructure is the fundamental role of government and these cannot be outsourced to pseudo government entities that are capitalists or foreign powers. Critical Hard Infrastructure necessary and without which no meaningful, measurable and sustainable development can ever take place includes; power, bridges, transportation (air, roads, rail and water), waste management, mass housing, and security. The Soft Infrastructure includes; Quality and Affordable Education, healthcare for all citizens, and an independent justice system that guarantees the rights of all citizens. These are the inviolable platforms upon which the private sector thrives. I state boldly; without these two sets of infrastructure, No nation can succeed and compete admirably with others in the global arena!
Now, the mindset and belief that a government in any country can cede some or all of these wholly or partially to the private sector has been a major disincentive to the development of our economy. Yes I know and believe in private sector participation in infrastructure development through Public Private Partnership (PPP), Concessioning and other models but these must not be at the expense of our National Strategic Interest and Security. How do I mean? As I type this, the Chinese Government owned CCCEC is all over Nigeria, building roads, bridges, airports, and others! Note, and I repeat, this company is owned by the Chinese government! It is owned, funded and managed by the Chinese government and people.
In essence, after the Chinese achieved self-sufficiency on the home front, they are now engaged all over Africa developing critical infrastructure. So I ask; “What is our government doing exactly?” I mean, “what work does our president, governors, all other elected and appointed government officials do?” Yearly, colossal sums are incurred as recurrent expenditure, doing what exactly? All our governments at the three tiers do is spend, spend and spend on wastes and endemic corruption! Who bothers that our National Strategic Interest is being compromised by foreign powers. And how secure are we as a nation when foreigners preside over our strategic assets?
Existing Governance Template
I’ll tell you more what our elected and appointed officials do. They travel all over the world for seminars, conferences and symposia. Our government officials love to travel and see the world and earn estacode. And when they do decide to stay back in the country, they busy themselves with the same routines; local seminars, conferences, and symposia. The work day of a president or governor in Nigeria is usually spent receiving different stakeholders who come to visit for various reasons that have little no impact on development and growth of the economy; foreign dignitaries, local politicians, trade groups, religious bodies, market women, traditional rulers, and others. Thereafter, they move to firefighting the several issues challenging their areas of coverage; political opponents, insecurity, unemployment, crime, terrorism, ethnic crises, ecological crisis, labour crisis, and the list is long. Thus, just like that, four years has passed and we are still where we were before getting to office. And we keep repeating the same futile efforts and motions without progress.
What goes on in Nigeria at the different levels of the governance architecture is nothing but a charade. What elected officials and their appointed counterparts do is nothing more than grandstanding and showmanship. Little wonder then that we are now at the point of being classified as a failed state by every reputable global and local organization. Take insecurity. Why are we shocked that gangsters have practically overrun our society? Do we have effective and efficient governance in place at the three tiers of the governance architecture? The chickens have since come home to roost; governors are crying like babies now, and some are also demanding for a state of emergency. Consider the seemingly ordinary issue of mode of dressing of government officials. I am certain most foreign observers perceive us as being not better than mere jesters. Our politicians and appointed bureaucrats have reduced governance to a joke!
Desired Governance Model in Nigeria
What does High Quality Governance as is the case in the Scandinavian countries entail? First, the need to recruit patriots as against saboteurs in the public service. Second, the need for persons with proven and tested capacity, both intellectual and physical, in managing people and resources. Third, the administration of our public service on SMART Goals and Performance Management Standards (PMS). The era where public servants serve themselves and not the nation cannot continue if this country must develop, grow exponentially and join the comity of developed economies of the world. The era when public servants are held to no account in terms of actual performance outcomes on the job, must end.
Governance is serious work. Being in government is different from actual governance. The work of governance is arduous and rigorous. It involves capacity, some innate and most learned on the job. When has the federal government held policy sessions and retreat for all MDAs and their heads? Who monitors the ministers and heads of strategic agencies? Who sets targets and performance measurement standards? How are the activities of public servants generally evaluated in a verifiable and sustainable basis? How many state governments have annual retreats or strategy sessions where the plans and programs of the year are subjected to rigorous debates and examination? If we want a better nation than the current basket case, we have to do things differently. The way we have managed and administered this nation is unpatriotic and a criminal conduct deserving condemnation.