Governance and institutional failure as recipe for mass poverty 1
I have further comments to make on the theme of this year’s Nigerian Economic Summit (NES). In the instalment of last week, which focused on the title of the summit, we pointed out that poverty has become fully entrenched in the country, and sooner than later we may begin to see it as normal. Its deadly effects on people may begin to have little impact on our psyche; just the way we now react to the killing of fellow Nigerians with a shrug. At best we condemn the killings, pay tribute to the dead and console the living, but continue whatever we are doing, often without much sense of loss. We also noted that Nigeria is not lacking in prosperity. What it lacks is the will and capacity to manage prosperity for the good of all. The rampant lack of justice and equity in the country has found eloquent expression in the lopsided distribution of national prosperity. As a result, most Nigerians continue to play the observer in issues of prosperity and happiness in their country.
Many years of consistently high rate of growth, which we experienced in the 2000s, did not benefit the majority of Nigerians. To move from poverty to prosperity, as the summit proposed, would require a paradigm shift in our management and distribution of national resources. These two elements of the summit theme – poverty and prosperity – formed the focus of our comment last week. It will be nice to know how the summit articulates, in its usual summit report, the solutions to what I called, in an earlier contribution in this column, the challenge of distributional equity in Nigeria.
We shall now make a few points on the issues of governance, which forms part of the other components of the said summit theme. The world is guided only by those who can sit down and think clearly; and these are not my words. It was the Vice President, my learned senior and professor, Yemi Osinbajo speaking recently. I think it is a point that needs to permeate the leadership strata of our country and a good input to the solution matrix of our problems if we accept that Nigeria needs people who wake up every morning thinking for her; planning for her future and not those of a section or group. Sectional champions always dominate our leadership landscape. Those who build the British Rail and such ground-breaking development engines did not focus on their clans and counties. They used national projects to guarantee national cohesion and unity. This ensures that prosperity is felt across the country.
The summit provided a fertile ground for useful conversation that could make a difference in the lives of people, assuming we prioritize implementation and feedback. Nonetheless, a discussion of the topical issue of governance could not have come at a better time, as Nigeria prepares for an election, which some say will decide whether the people will “change the change” or stay with the “change”. Unfortunately for politicians, Nigerians have come to realize, and correctly too, that their primary problem is failure of governance, which is essentially and almost invariably a leadership question. Sometimes we pass the buck to followership for not doing enough to get themselves out of the clutches of bad leaders. Try as we may, leadership does not come from the rear, unless the leader chooses to be a good shepherd, as Nelson Mandela would recommend, who stays at the rear to let all the sheep pass, beginning with the most nimble and followed by the rest. Even then, leaders must lead while at the rear, and followers must follow even if they are in front. Doing otherwise is indiscipline or disobedience or intransigence. It could actually come down to outright insurrection, because the present crop of leaders in most Extractive Societies like ours, as Profs Acemoglu and Robinson would say, are not shepherds talk less of good ones. It is therefore fitting that the summit focused on making governance work for Nigerians.
The concept of leadership from the rear has been promoted substantially at Harvard but simply relates to the changing relationship between employees and their employers. The quest for meaning and self-worth at work is driving employees to seek opportunity to contribute to policy. People want the opportunity to co-author their organization’s purpose and direction. We shall dwell on this subject sometime in the future but for now, we hold leaders, not followers, largely accountable for our failures.
In all economies where government controls the commanding heights of the economy, determines the flow and direction of financial resources; and often times decides who gets what share of the national patrimony, governance is everything. Until the interest of those who control government and those of the productive forces of such societies converge (or share commonality if convergence is utopian), prosperity will not be shared. Nigeria is one of such economies where the central government gets involved with virtually every aspect of life in every part of the country, thereby stifling initiative and completion. Leadership failure in such societies is usually disastrous. That is how countries become headquarters of such evil as poverty, drug addiction, prostitution and insecurity, to mention a few.
Governance, according to the World Peace Foundation, is the delivery of political goods, which begins with security of life and property. Good governance is in evidence when countries or nation-states provide high levels of critical political goods – security of life and property, infrastructure, education and other sources of well-being – in an effective manner to the people. It has long been established and documented by Rotberg and other respected writers in their collective works in the book “When States Fail: Causes and Consequences”, that the basic reason for the existence of nation-states is “to provide a decentralized method of delivering public goods to those living within designated parameters; namely; their borders. Accordingly, it is by their levels of effective delivery of these crucial political goods that strong states are distinguished from weak ones.
There are several governance measures and indicators, including Business Environment Risk Intelligence, Corruption Perception Index and Country Assessment in Accountability and Transparency, just to name a few. They all give indication of how nation-states perform in the delivery of the core responsibilities of government, including security, employment, transparency and accountability. Unfortunately, politicians do not want to hear anyone who makes an assessment of their work, because they are probably the only set of people in the world who are employed and remunerated without being held accountable for non-delivery or poor performance of their duties, at least in the developing world. This is more particularly so in countries where primordial sentiments, ethnicity and tribalism have helped to enthrone mediocrity and impunity. As a result most of them are still struggling to understand the elements of the first industrial revolution while the rest of the world are on the fourth industrial revolution. The failure of leadership is the cancer that has eaten up rich countries turning them to graveyards of the poor.
Next we shall look at poverty and institutions that don’t work.
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