Friday, October 5, 2012

Jonathan’s Administration: Confronting Simple Problems with Drastic and Complex Solutions

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” ~Leonardo DaVinci

A good summary of Steve Job’s autobiography by Walter Isaacson could be aptly put: “simplicity”. Job committed his entire life to turning complex human technological problems into a simple easy to handle tech marvel anyone and everyone can use. No wonder people of all hue will readily pay any price to lay their hands on any Apple products. The current regime in Nigeria on the other hand could easily enter the Guinness Book of Record for turning simple problems into nightmares for everyone. The regime is well known for recommending complex palliatives to simple problems. Some of their recipes for what ails our land are often mostly “hit and miss” badly thought out proposals without a grand view of the impact on the society.

One can run through a gamut of the current government’s miscues since Jonathan’s election to the highest office in the land. For instance, when it found it was paying too much to oil barons who are exploiting the oil subsidy to make quick money. What did they recommend? Their first thought was not to apprehend the criminals but to abruptly remove oil subsidy. When the Central Banks discovers that the cost of printing notes is too much, the first thought was not to find out why foreigners own the patents to the notes in the first place, and how the cost of printing the notes could be reduced. They came up with an unconstitutional policy restricting how much notes Nigerians could withdraw from a bank, all in the name of cashless banking. And now the same Central Bank thinks that the new solution is not to address the systemic inflationary indices, but to print more notes in higher denominations.

The Central Bank imbroglio is atypical of Jonathan’s administration ineptness. The regime has never found a problem they can’t turn into a hydra-headed monster even if it comes to them with a simple solution wrapped in a manger! Their pronouncements on economic structures of the country are as firm and arrogant as some of the religious fanatics they are fighting in the northern part of the country. Whatever problems lurk on the horizon, be it economic, social or structural are imagined primarily as hydra headed political problems, orchestrated by the enemies of the regime and the only way out is to “settle” the opponent by throwing the poor and the dispossessed under the bus. It does not matter if such opponent is a terrorist. The victims of their nefarious acts must be made to pay the cost of transporting their abuser to Aso rock, where the killer will be feted and received with pomp and pageantry. Of course, what inevitably pass as governance in Nigeria is money changing hands between politicians and top civil servants of all hue. No thoughts on building infrastructures and systemic structures that can stand the test of time. Inevitably while the politicians and their accomplices in government shower money on themselves and their children the poor masses in our country pay dearly for the cost of such inept governance.

Sad as this may appear, this problem do not begin with the Jonathan’s administration. The genesis could be traced to his predecessors particularly the infamous Obasanjo regime. Obasanjo’s adventures in power could at best be termed the lost decade for the country, more because of the opportunity lost than any other factor. He had been in power in the 1970s and many thought his second coming would at least be a corrective one, albeit with lessons learned. Sadly, his eight years as a civilian president could serve as a public administration case study on the pitfalls of visionless leadership. What began with hope and pageantry with an unusual inclusion of many of Nigeria’s best technocrats’ home and abroad, mutated into corrupt, bloated and wasteful regime that left more Nigerians in poverty than any other civilian regime in the history of our country. Obasanjo’s neglect of the institutions and infrastructures that he inherited will take Nigeria at least another decade to repair and restore. For those who doubt this assertion just take a drive on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, or the eyesore called the Asaba-Onitsha bridge gateway.

The Jonathan’s regime is hell bound in outdoing Obasanjo record of nonperformance in office. At the height of Obasanjo’s debt repayment hypocrisy, he famously referred to the cell phone “GSM” revolution as perhaps his greatest achievement, an achievement for which his regime contributed nothing in terms of infrastructures and policy mechanism other than setting up proxy telephone companies owned by retired military officers. And now Jonathan’s is on the cusp of making such claims with power distribution in the country, even though all it did is to collect rent for foreign corporation who will gouge ordinary Nigerians in the guise of providing electricity.

“Why is our country in such a dire straits?” a friend of mine asked me casually on a recent trip back from the heartland. My first retort is to point to other countries in Africa undergoing the same pain, but realizing that my friend will not take such a pessimistic answer from me while we are on 15 hour flight together I decided to take my time to answer him. More so, when he knew that my knowledge on public administration in developing countries is well known. So I gather my thoughts and pointed out to him point blank that no developing countries will ever get out of doldrums if it spends 90% of its income on payment of salaries to politicians and public servants and less than 10% on infrastructural development. He immediately asked me what should we do, I told him what we need is a public will and constitutional amendment to force every government in Nigeria to raise taxes it will use to pay salaries for itself out of a general fund, while all income accruable from our natural resources and dedicated levies are paid directly into an enterprise account for building and maintenance of infrastructures, like hospitals, roads, educations etc. Politicians and their comrade in civil service salaries will only be paid by the people impacted by the structures they build. This may not be a perfect fix to the problems of leadership in our country but it is at best the best place to start. Of course, for this idea to work, we need to make governance a community affair. The closest government to the people is often the ones that impacted them most. The days of sitting in Abuja to preside over the cost of repairing water-works and drainage in Ilesa should be over.

The federal government as currently set up is over bloated and needless. If we need a legislature at all, we do not need a bicameral body, membership there should also be part time with a strict instruction to meet for three months to set policy direction for the executive, approve budgetary allocations unless there is a special session called by the executives. The executive arm should also be pruned; the federal and state governments should have no business managing sports and cultures. These are practical simple solutions to anemic problems, but our governments are used to chasing shadows.

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