Change Builds on What Works

Rebecca Roberts

Osborne, Ikoyi

Osborne, Ikoyi

In Nigeria, the new government’s election campaign was centered on the idea of change as an event, as opposed to the reality of change as a process.

Three months into the APC led government, Boko Haram remains a challenge, the absence of a finance minister sees the Naira depreciating daily, suddenly,  its seems what change meant during the election campaign and what change means now are two different things.

By all indication, Nigeria is facing immense liquidity crisis and slowly heading the direction of Greece. The absence of a finance minister has seen the CBN governor whose should regulate the Nigerian banks run the Nigeria economy, leading it down the path of economic crisis. The lack of Finance minister has so far meant that, as a country, Nigeria lacks economic policy direction, and is at a highly vulnerable state economically.

Over the past decade when DFID embarked on looking at the drivers of change, the idea that changes are a structural process that pans out overtime to build on what works did not exist, but recent failures of African government to make lasting impact, shows exactly why changes is a process built on longer-term goals.

Nigerian Police

Nigerian Police

For Nigeria, the structural processes of how change happens seem very evasive in the current narratives of what is being portrayed.  Change is a process requiring systematic and structural approach for sustainability and development planning.  For us in Nigeria, every new government gets into office and uproots previous administration’s effort and creates new agenda to replace what was already working. The very nature of change as progressive requires strategic framework making the current approach unrealistic.

The challenge with this is that it has no long-term framework for continuity to build on and for tangible dividends to be yielded over time.  The failures of many African nations to make significant advancement in translating economic growth to real development highlights the disparities between actions(temporary plans)  and intended goals (change). The emergence of fragile states, poor service delivery and corruption raises questions; how African nations can lay the solid foundation for real change to occur.

The leading hypothesis proposes that the obstacle to change and leapfrogging development in Nigeria is primarily administrative, economic and technical, and that improvement can be made through every new government’s attempt to eradicate current approach and to start over. Hence, every new government tries to fight corruption as though corruption is something that can be held and tackled specifically. Such belief fails to acknowledge the fact that to fight corruption; government must not focus specifically on corruption, as corruption has no tangibility to it, but rather, concentrate on the components that aid corruption. In this regards, transparency and open governance is a good starting point, a point already visible in the Jonathan led administration. For example, openness to budget and expenditures alongside freedom of speech gave citizens, access and opportunity to question their government spending and demand explanations. This was not a common thing in Obasanjo, and late president Yar’Dua led administration.

It is important that this government remains open and not try to restrict or control information available to citizens. This feeds into next point; recent more that President Buhari is seeking the senate’s approval to head the petroleum ministry with the support of his chosen advisor. Such actions will pose a challenge for good governance and sustainability in the long run. Yes, the oil industry has been known to be raid with corruption, but such action only highlighted the failure of President Jonathan to use his power for greater good. It is imperative that this administration thinks long term, is a president also acting as a minister to a very vital ministry sustainable? Sustainability in this regard should ask two questions; will it last and how long do I want it to last? I believe a functional leaders should appoint ministers and ensure they perform or sacked.

Realistically evaluating what the new government is proposing as ‘change’ what becomes apparent,  is the disconnection between the rhetoric of ‘change’ and a realistic framework. The APC government’s structure appears to be centered on political reforms and stringent government interference without much attention given to the longer term view and how incentives could be coordinated to promote and build on longer term processes of how change actually happens to build on what works. While we await the president’s ministerial list, it’s noble that this process is being delayed by President Buhari, as this is where most African leaders fail by appointing unqualified ministers due to pressure. However, as it’s being insinuated, on a longer-term basis, there is no sustainability framework captured in a president being involved, overseeing or heading any particular sector. A functional leader should be able to oversees all sectors, appoints and remove any particular minister who is stealing or failing to do their job. President Buhari should think about what will happen to the oil-sector long after he leaves office. The idea of a president serving as petroleum minister alongside special advisers assumes that every president after Buhari will necessarily have Buhari’s values, leaving room for abuse of power and lack of transparency.

Why is this important?

There is a general agreement that change is gradual and revolutionary in nature and the key way to achieving any real change will be building on an existing platform of what works. What this means for us in Nigeria is that the foundation or building blocks  laid by the past administration is not just an obstacle to overcome in the process of ‘change’ but  rather a fundamental part of the way forward. For example, depending on what is analyzed by who and how, the outgoing administration made significant progress in economic growth, transparency, technological advancement and the attempt to reduce inequality, etc. and all of this was based on ability to build on what the administration before it laid a foundation for.

Although critics would argue that Nigeria was going to take off economically regardless of the past government, it pays to note that economic growth is not passive nor was it accidental in this case. And that inability to successfully tackle inequality is the reason inequality remains tangible in the midst of economic growth, but that by itself does not negate the facts and numbers do not lie.

This is important because the concept of ‘change’ from a concrete long-term perspective is vital to exploring the room for unorthodox improvement. Without the conviction that ‘changes’  builds on the existing platforms of what is currently working and understanding the dynamics of how to do so, the incoming administration may spend four years in an expensive trial and error process. Botswana, Ghana, and Senegal are brilliant examples of building on existing platforms of what work in the process of change.

The understanding of how change occurs is shaping governance processes to boost performance and service delivery. Therefore, Nigeria needs to pay attention to such processes. The global economic crisis is harder on developing economies, for us in Nigeria, we want more jobs, the past administration was on the right path, so rather than initiating an unsustainable approach by paying unemployed youth’s benefits, harnessing (building on what works) SMEs and the informal sector development makes more economic sense and is a more sustainable in longer term.

The implication for building on what works is based on a thorough understanding of how change happens and the specific processes involved. As a result, lending support to the successful framework of the past administration will make better sense and ensures time is not being wasted gloating on past failures to prove a point.

Although President Buhari is on a slow but very steady and necessary process to getting it right he must not become too carried away and dismantle things that worked so far. The new government should take cues from what has worked so far, how and why it works as the failures are quite obvious. For example, the past administration has by far in Nigeria’s history had the freest press, and internet penetration aided the freedom of citizens to oppose their government has shaped accountability and progressively improving transparency in Nigeria. The new government needs to stop obsessing with the idea of proving that they are the ‘messiah’ of Nigeria and the outgoing administration was the enemy of greater good, as evidentially,  that will prevent them from building on existing platform of what is working and in the process, spend four years trying to show Nigerians how bad Goodluck’s administration was.

The challenge however, remains, convincing the new government that the processes of change are as much about building on what is working right as well as tackling what is not working.

This approach to change has implication for where and how financial resources are allocated and spent.



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