Wednesday, March 31, 2010

God Help Nigeria? Running a Country on Prayers, Club Rules, Bow and Go without any Accountability

“You have our prayers; we also hope that when you get there as you represent us, you represent us well. There are traditions that we follow, and if you belong to this club, you must also obey the rules and regulations of this club. You can take a bow and go.”
–Senate President David Mark

I was stunned when I read the above quote made by Nigeria senate president David Mark during the ministerial screening of Senator Sanusi Daggash. Much of what we have in Nigeria as governance is often a smokescreen for “old boys club.” There is no transparency in the governance of the country. Decisions are made perfunctorily; administrators and politicians are often reactive instead of proactive. Little or no attempt is made to engage in forward-looking, rational decision making. Accountability counts for nothing, it is all about membership in an exclusive governing class called PDP!

Public policies in Nigeria are not grounded in sound decision making. Someone once said that public policy is a type of decision, a decision not about what is, but about what ought to be and what ought to be done to get us there. When analytical thought process are not involved in public policy decision making, the result is the current “mess” the whole country has found itself. Lewis Irwin defined public policy analysis as “the systematic consideration and selection of logical alternatives in light of carefully applied evaluative criteria.”

In Nigeria, the acting president nominated ministers to serve in the federal cabinet, one of whom had accused the National Assembly of financial mismanagement, specifically he alleged that some senators “inflated budgets for personal gains.” Before the hearing the senators had threatened to grill Senator Daggash. He in turn simply deflated their over bloated ego by throwing down an olive branch, saying he was misled in making such accusations. He then appealed to the senators’ sense of camaraderie. Following which they all kissed up and make up, all is forgiven, all is well. Nothing was said about the initial allegations other than the claim that he was misled. No attempt was made to get to the root of the allegation. And this is happening in a government avowed to root out corruption and mismanagement.

Larry Luton defined policy analysis as “an attempt to bring into policy making, good reasons, better information, thoughtful consideration, conscientious framing of the problem, informative/persuasive evidence, plausible consequences.” No one forced this regime and their political party, Peoples Democratic Party, to make anti-corruption and energy generation, the fundamental plank of their party platform and public policy. But having adopted that platform, the citizens of Nigeria at least do deserve that they put serious thought to tackling the hydra headed problem of corruption and energy generation in Nigeria.

The acting president also re-nominated Architect Nuhu Somo Way, former Minister of State for Power. The Yar’Adua regime abysmally failed to meet the 6,000 MW set by the government. You would expect the senate to take the re-nominated minister to task for this monumental failure, here is what the minister said at the screening, “I met a program of 6000 megawatts project and we were assigned to pursue this program to ensure that it is executed. By the grace of God, we were able to improve the power situation in the country to a level which is not commensurable to the mandate.” This is an admission of failure, but what did the senate do, they reward the minister with another mandate. The question is to go do what?

Here is the minister excuse for failure “We were faced with a challenge of what we could not control, that is the source of fuel and this source of fuel is gas. I am not trying to put a blame to anybody, I am just trying to say that we did rehabilitate our plants and got up to 5200 available generation capacity as at the end of December, last year. But we had stranded facility of 1500 megawatts due to inadequacy of gas. This inadequacy of gas cannot be blamed on a single source. We know the challenges we went through, they are challenges of security, vandalism, challenges of inadequate funding contributed to some of the issues that militated against our achievement of 6000 megawatts.”

My beef with the minister’s explanation is this, “how in the world can you claim with a bold face that you did not know that you will face the challenges of security, vandalism and funding when you rolled out the energy policy?” Where is the requisite policy analysis expected from such an exalted office of the minister of federal republic of Nigeria? We are not talking of “force majeur” or an act of God for crying out loud! Before the announcement of the policy, everyone in Nigeria knew about the problem of vandalism, inadequacy of gas and security except the minister!
This to me is the real problem with Nigeria, the problem of values-based directionality! Ideas are bandied around, public policy are announced with fanfare, with no one putting any thought to a serious analysis of the public policy just announced. Our journalists are often “participe criminis” in this enterprise. No one called out anyone? As long as palms are greased, things go on. Like the National Assembly, it is all bow and go!

The most disgusting part of the charade is watching this government officials put everything down to prayer. Sometimes I feel like screaming at my television, pray for what? God gave you brain and intelligence for a reason. God had already performed his part by blessing Nigeria with unlimited resources in minerals and some of the best brains out of Africa! Just put to use what you have! Analyse your policy and look at all alternatives, think before you roll out the next drum and for crying out loud, sack ministers who failed and stop rewarding them with new appointment!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Understanding Focus Group Emotional Roller Coaster

On July 20, 2009, John Berry, Director of the Federal Office of Personnel Management decried the way government workers have been "denigrated and disparaged" in recent decades, and was delighted that President Obama understands the value of service and will not be throwing around 'bureaucrat' as a slur towards our workers." (, July, 2009 ¶1).

Few days after his laudatory statement, Mr. Obama was quoted as follows: “If you have health insurance, we will make sure that no insurance company or government bureaucrat gets between you and the care you need." In an instant retort, Mr. Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service, deplore the use of the word bureaucrats for the federal workforce, because it is derogatory. He cited a 2004 study, which found that the term “federal government workers” receives a favorable response from 71 percent of those surveyed, but the term “federal government bureaucrats” receives only 20 percent -- a drop of 51 percent with one word (, August, 2009).

This is the news story that came to mind as I finished the required reading for this week. In the first study, Garrett, Thuber, Fritschler & Rosenbloom (2006), explores how senior federal managers like John Berry above, perceive campaign bureaucracy bashing using focus group data conducted by them. They found that senior government managers “do internalize negative messages about themselves and their agencies” and that this environment hampers recruitment, retention, training and important working relationships with political appointees that may end up affecting effective program management and policy implementation (p.237).
They used qualitative research methodology to explore the impact of bureaucracy bashing on relationship between senior managers and political appointees. The flexibility of focus group methodology enables them to ask open-ended questions (Creswell, 2009); compare to quantitative methods such as surveys and questionnaires which would have restrict them to asking participants identical close-ended questions. However, qualitative methodology is only as useful and as strong as its link to the underlying research questions and the rigor with which it is applied (p.201). As we found in the news story cited earlier, focus group research is a poor choice for predicting future action in settings yet to emerge since focus group discussants will articulate their views in terms of their own present experiences, e.g John Berry view of Obama. Participants are also often emotional in answering open-ended qualitative focus group questions and thus bring their value judgment to bear on the questions.

In the second reading, Robin Jarrett (1994) used a focus group, qualitative research to corroborate existing ethnographic studies of the impact of structural and cultural dynamic among never married African-American women. She underscores the importance of qualitative and ethnographic data, over quantitative census and survey data, for understanding family processes and dynamics (p.45). She suggested 3 directions for future research on the same topic and concluded that focus group data not only expand the structural explanation of poverty, but also highlight the humanity of the people who are too starkly described by statistical profiles and policy regulations (p.46). This writer tends to agree with this conclusion given my on personal experience.

In early 2001, a national poll conducted by National Public Radio (NPR), the Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University's Kennedy School asked nearly 2,000 Americans 18 or older, "Which is the bigger cause of poverty today: that people are not doing enough to help themselves out of poverty, or that circumstances beyond their control cause them to be poor?" Respondents were roughly equally divided between "people not doing enough" (48 percent) and "circumstances" (45 percent). About 50 percent of the more affluent people polled believed that the poor were not doing enough to help themselves, but so did about 39 percent of the poor. The poor were more likely to blame "circumstances" than themselves for their financial hardship (, 2001). The Study by NPR is a quantitative study with generic close-ended questions; one could only wish that they had asked the poor themselves open-ended questions like Jarret did in her study. They would have found answers like that of Lois: “I got three kids and not married, that don’t mean I’m running the streets all the time. I’m at home helping my children” (Jarrett, 1994, p.44)

The advantages of qualitative focus group research should not however close our eyes to its obvious limitations. Focus groups are generally a poor choice when quantitative information is desired. The small size of focus groups makes any estimates of quantitative proportions unreliable, even if the members of the focus group are representative of the target population (Neuman, 2007). By the same token, focus group research is a poor choice for multivariate research, where one again needs the stability of large random samples to disaggregate the effects of explanatory variables through statistical techniques (Lichter & Crowley, 2002).

In conclusion, it is evident that the primary reason mixed methodological research approach is gaining wide acceptance in recent years (Creswell, 2009 p.203) is because of the strengths and limitations of both quantitative and qualitative research approaches.