Corruption vs Mismanagement?
My dear country Nigeria is in serious need of rationalisation – a rationalisation that goes beyond government or political class inanity. It appears every adult Nigerian needs to reappraise their value system and sense of humanity with the aim being to ascertain whether or not we are getting the basics right. Basics like common decency, sanctity of life, basic self-management, basic selflessness, basic health – personal and communal.
Much has been made of how corruption is the bane of our society, but I disagree with this. Our biggest challenge and bane in my opinion is mismanagement. As individuals and a society, it seems we are unable to manage most things right or appropriately. This issue of mismanagement isn’t new either. It has been a challenge prior to independence.
Our independence should have happened earlier than 1 October 1960 but mismanagement. When independence finally arrived, we mismanaged our expectations. The founding fathers mismanaged democracy by not committing to it fully. The fear of ethnic domination (read political class’ loss of influence) ensured they couldn’t see beyond their noses. In truth Chief Awolowo realised this and tried to warn his compatriots, but they ganged up on him (NPC and NCNC coalition). Chief Awolowo had his faults, no doubt, but any democracy without opposition or where the incumbent seeks to eliminate opposition is no democracy at all. If our democracy does not encourage an active opposition, then we’re mismanaging democracy.
We like to quote Singapore and Lee Kuan Yew as models Nigeria and its leaders should embrace, whilst LKY was ruthless (rightly or wrongly) at supressing communism in Singapore, what he did do was submit himself publicly (and at least annually) to opposition (televised) debate to encourage and support the right opposition as a replacement to communism. LKY didn’t just submit himself to local opposition but also to foreign ones. He never saw it as an irritation, but more as a way of putting his policies through opposition fire in order to distil it as you would liquor or purify as you would gold. But not us, we prefer to ridicule opposition by calling them “mushroom” parties, or eliminate them through our “winner takes all attitude”.
There’s no society on earth that does not suffer some form of corruption. Denmark has ranked top on Transparency International’s corruption perception index and even it has never achieved a score of 100. Its highest score of 92 in 2014 suggests there is still some 8% of corruption in the country. Whilst Denmark was the least corrupt country, it isn’t the country with the highest per capita income according to World Bank data. It came 7th on that metric in 2014, the year it scored its highest on the corruption index. Although Qatar is 22nd on the corruption index, it is 3rd on the per capita income table. Finland is 2nd on the corruption index but 16th on per capita. Kuwait is 55th on corruption index, but 24th on per capita table. Apologies for stating the obvious, but the implication is that more corrupt countries had better per capita income than less corrupt ones. The point is waging an anticorruption war shouldn’t be our main focus but our mismanagement of corruption as with everything else should be. Of course if we want to play with maths, I’m sure we’ll find a link, most likely an inverse one, between corruption and per capita income. What corruption does is undermine societal trust – trust in political, economic, judicial systems and other institutions necessary for reasonable development.
The best way to fight corruption sustainably is to institutionalise its management and be transparent about it. Let all of our laws be made easily accessible and in languages citizens can understand. We also should reform our judiciary, including the police and make them truly independent. The working condition of the Nigerian Police Force needs vast improvement. Their pay, equipment, training, quality of recruits, health and life insurance covers are all in need of professionalization. We cannot mismanage our security forces or the judiciary and not expect corruption to be a symptom or outcome of such dysfunction.
The Constitution makes the security and welfare of citizens the primary purpose of government. In order for this primary purpose to be met, basic welfare facilities such as primary healthcare, community policing, basic education – primary and junior secondary, basic promotion/support of business activity, basic dispute mediation and/or justice need to be provided by the government. Are our government, at any level, delivering excellence in any of these basic primary purposes? These primary purposes are the foundation that any society with developmental aims needs to excel at. If we are not excellent in any of these basic activities, how can we expect or hope to deliver on more complex socio-political and economic issues?
Are we managing our economy well? The short, medium and long-term outlook for our economy is painful. We’ve always mismanaged our economy right from pre-independence. Government’s role in our economy has been overbearing and more about rent-seeking and maintaining patronage of a select class. The public and civil services are mismanaged – a significant portion of the public service/servants are adding zero value to the government or society. The proof is all around us – or if you’re in doubt look at the budgets at all levels of government and the institutionalised “yam” process within it.
Is the private sector any better at management? There are various ways one can look at this. One obvious way is to look at how well the private sector can withstand economic shock or to what extent non-oil industries catch cold when the oil industry sneezes. To what extent is the private sector taking or seizing initiative? How well are they lobbying government especially the legislature to ensure enabling laws are passed or revised where necessary? To what extent is the private sector creating or taking advantages where service/products gaps exist? Is the banking sector especially taking any risk in the real sector and away from public sector? Is the banking or finance sector sufficiently lobbying the right arms of government to create a better business environment for providing capital/lending?
Since the oil price crash, newspaper headlines have been filled with one cabal or another seeking government protection, patronage or companies laying off staff. But more importantly, is there any company, industry or sector that we can refer to as a “centre of excellence” any where in Nigeria? This is a genuine question. Is there a company, industry or sector that delivers “excellence” at least two-thirds of the time in product and service quality, operational efficiency, staff welfare, website functionality etc? To be fair, I have observed pockets and instances of excellence, for example, BudgIT NG (God bless you guys), Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (Dr Kale and team – chop knuckle), Social Liga & TPL promo campaigns and I’m sure there are probably others. I am certain that if we ask most Nigerians now about their general life management (family, career, finance, citizenship, business/personal relationships etc), few to none will admit to being less than consistently excellent. This begs the question, if most are individually excellent, then why is the aggregate so deficient of it?
Several opinions have been posited on devaluation or the Naira’s current valuation and why the government should devalue the naira. Mr President said he remains unconvinced by these opinions. What he hasn’t done is provide us the reasons why he is convinced that his current stance is appropriate. Why or how will the short-term pain of his current stance turn into long-term gain? What is that long-term gain and why should Nigerians accept it? What will be the sign(s) of the inflection point for this long-term gain? That is, how long is this short-term pain expected to last?
Fellow Nigerians, take your time to consider every sector you can think of. Let’s for the sake of argument agree that consistency is defined as two-thirds of the time (this is even short of 70% normally needed to get an A in an exam). See if you can find consistent excellence, whether from the private sector in any industry or public service local, state or federal. And while we are at it lets also consider if we are managing being a citizen right. What liberties are we as citizens willing to give up for a better society? Did we give the liberties up or were they taken from us? Do we agree to the liberties our Constitution says we’ve given up to our government? How do we ensure that what we’ve given up is used judiciously? How are we ensuring that the process that produces those that want to offer to represent us in government meet our standards? We give up our liberties because through collective bargaining and bulk purchasing by our reps in government, we expect to get a better deal than if each citizen were to negotiate or provide their own security, hospital, road, rail, airplane or airport etc. Are we getting due or reasonable returns?
Delivering excellence on any endeavour, in any area of life is about management – efficient and effective management of time and resources. When management is inefficient – then we get symptoms like bad products, injustices, bad finances, inadequate infrastructure, inadequate strategy, low quality service, insecurity and of course corruption. It is time we ask ourselves and our representatives the (mis)management question.
The only way to finish up is to recite the second stanza of our national anthem:
O God of creation, direct our noble cause
Guide our leader’s right
Help our youths the truth to know
In love and honesty to grow
And living just and true
Great lofty heights attain
To build a nation where peace
And justice shall reign.