In contrast to the limited focus of restructuring, systemic reform proceeds from the underlying assumption that a system is never “suddenly” corrupt, incompetent or broken, but must have taken its time to acquire, perfect, entrench, and implicitly legitimise, or at least, condone, bad habits. If this assumption is valid, it will take nothing short of a root-and-branch shakeup of a corrupt system to rid it of its debilitating maladies…
Logic and Nigeria’s experience to-date compel a rethinking of the confederal plan. First, if the Regions were as “strong” as the advocates of confederation argue, the fate of the old Western Region could not have been decided by the Federal Government. It took a mere resolution of the Federal House of Representatives, and the signature of the federal prime minister to declare a state of emergency in 1962, and to sack the regional government.
Besides, if the centre was “weak”, a brilliant and politically astute person like Chief Obafemi Awolowo would not have relinquished his position as premier of the Western Region to contest the 1959 federal elections. Awolowo knew from the get-go that power lay in the centre. That is why he made honest-to-goodness efforts to become prime minister, and later, to vie for the presidency of the Republic. Awolowo never once canvassed the dissolution of the Federal Republic. His Path to Nigerian Freedom did not lead to the Western or any other Region drawing apart from the rest. No, the advocates of confederation need to cite another authority besides Awolowo and provide a motive (other than re-living Awolowo’s dream) for their preference for a loose federation. They certainly could not have gotten their inspiration from Chief Awolowo whose name they are not tired of dropping.
Whether or not they succeed in citing Awolowo as their inspiration, the advocates of confederation need to ponder the implications of an unwieldy, multi-level, system for governance costs, and for institutional coherence. More puzzling than any other question for the advocates of a “loose federation” is how to convince the existing states to surrender fractions of their autonomy to the Regions and to the Federal Government.
The most powerful argument against restructuring along the old regional lines is, of course, the obstacle it erects to rational dialogue. Almost invariably pitched as an assertion of ethnic separatism, the call for the revival of the defunct regions frequently takes a dogmatic, take-it-or-leave-it form, and, by so doing, leaves no room for compromise or negotiation. Its intransigence of its proponents often backs its antagonists into a corner. This leaves both sides no option except to dig in, with neither willing to hear what the other is saying.
Of direct relevance to this article’s theme is the regionalist manifesto’s lack of plan to change plainly retrogressive and unjust practices in the soft and the hard environments. The state may be restructured into big and powerful “regions”, but the restrictions placed on individual liberty and on access to citizenship rights are likely to persist. So long as the constitutional clauses considered distasteful are repealed or amended, the sponsors of the regional-cum-confederal arrangement can stand laws, which either oppress a cross-section of the public or are enforced selectively and unjustly. As long as the “rules of the game” are changed sufficiently to accommodate the demands of restructuring-inclined communities, the police may continue to demand bribes in broad daylight, and other agencies of the state may remain incapacitated by red tape, graft and corruption. Since restructuring has no explicit anti-corruption strategy, the monster is likely to go on unchecked. In such circumstances, funds transferred to resource-producing communities are apt to end up in private coffers, thus wittingly or unwittingly cementing the “devolution of tyranny and corruption”.
The holistic approach to change aims at transforming a dysfunctional, neo-feudal, self-serving, rapacious, oppressive, rights-confiscating, basically unjust, and rent-seeking governance order (that has evolved since independence) into an open, people-centred, citizen-responsive, service-delivering, equity-based one.
Rather than champion a return to the old regional arrangement, the advocates of confederation would do well to give attention to streamlining and strengthening the existing state structure. This is where lies the merit of an alternative restructuring proposal backed by a group of Northern opinion leaders. In this counter proposal, the Northern leaders (Usman Bugaje, Jibrin Ibrahim, et al.) proceed on the assumption that if Nigeria must look to the past, attention must focus on a past that is sufficiently recent to be apposite and logically defensible. That past lies between the Regional era of the 1960s and the state creation extravaganza of the 1970s to the 1990s. That leaves us with the 12-state structure, which emerged in 1967. While appreciating the nostalgic fervour behind the tilt towards the old regional arrangement, the advocates of the alternative restructuring formula specify the criteria that any new structure must satisfy to be allowed to exist. Among these are viability, legitimacy, and ability to perform critical governing tasks. The new states must also be anchored on, and governed by, the principles of merit, inclusiveness, and equity.
Further muddling the conceptual waters (and posing challenges of a different kind) is the tendency to equate “restructuring”, not with the redrawing of power boundaries, but with the implementation of neo-liberal reforms. Privatisation, divestiture, deregulation and downsizing are the main attributes of these reforms. Sadly, the pay-offs that Nigerians recall from the implementation of these so-called reforms are the steady institutionalisation of mediocre and sub-optimal performance, job-less growth, mass unemployment, reduced budget allocation to human development, widening inequality, the elimination of the middle class, the transfer of the commanding heights of the economy to foreign and indigenous oligarchs, partial erosion of national sovereignty, and increasing social dislocations.
In contrast to the limited focus of restructuring, systemic reform proceeds from the underlying assumption that a system is never “suddenly” corrupt, incompetent or broken, but must have taken its time to acquire, perfect, entrench, and implicitly legitimise, or at least, condone, bad habits. If this assumption is valid, it will take nothing short of a root-and-branch shakeup of a corrupt system to rid it of its debilitating maladies and to place it on a trajectory of institutional wholesomeness.
The holistic approach to change aims at transforming a dysfunctional, neo-feudal, self-serving, rapacious, oppressive, rights-confiscating, basically unjust, and rent-seeking governance order (that has evolved since independence) into an open, people-centred, citizen-responsive, service-delivering, equity-based one. It targets not only the dysfunctional policies or the failed programmes, but also the doctrines underlying, as well as the modalities for the involvement of the people in the enactment, promulgation, application and/or amendment of the ground rules.
What are the indicators of success of systemic reform? This change ideal type can be said to be working if, and only if, its implementation leads to visible changes in the average citizen’s living conditions. With systemic reform, there are clear testimonies to positive change in the lives of the people. At the minimum, a credible change agenda must, over a period, translate into improved access to essential services (like safety and security, policing, fair and expeditious justice dispensation, health and medical care, environmental sanitation, traffic flow and decongestion, quality education), improved rural infrastructure, expanded job opportunities, rising per capita income, the number lifted from poverty, progressively high rankings on ease of doing business and international competitiveness, constantly low rankings on corruption league tables, howsoever compiled, and zero tolerance for corruption, impunity, and favouritism.
Change, however, is not a one-off event. It is an unending process. So it is that a government, which started with revolutionary zeal, risks turning into a reactionary regime unless it constantly keeps up with the demand for change. The NRM’s experience in Uganda is particularly illustrative.
A name other than “reform” needs to be found for a change which passes up opportunities to shorten the turnaround times for the prosecution of corruption cases and the adjudication of civil disputes. Systemic reform has not yet happened when public vacancies are turned into “slots” for the exclusive control of society’s Big Men (and Women), and where a candidate needs a powerful sponsor to get a job in the police force or in any arm of the public service. Systemic reform is still a pipe dream unless and until women and men can compete on a level playing field with neither relying on easily manipulated set-aside (or special “empowerment”) schemes, godfathers’ helping hands, personal contacts, faith-based pressure groups, and other informal networks. A system is not yet reforming if police constables can pull motorists over, not for the purpose of enforcing the law, but to extort money from them. Systemic reform becomes a reality when institutional avenues exist, allowing the citizen to demand quality service, and to evaluate the performance of service delivery agents on a regular basis.
A revolution or radical transformation becomes inevitable when practices have remained impervious to change for a fairly long time, while the practices’ opponents are unyielding in their demand for a new order. Revolution is the outcome where discontent with the status quo is at its peak, and demand for change has reached the boiling point. This was the fate of colonialism, apartheid, and institutionalised racism. It may yet spell the doom of systems founded on primitive accumulation, over-ripe or crony capitalism, nepotism, bureaucratic inbreeding and “self-succession”, favouritism, and neurotic dependence on ethnic ties and powerful connections.
The arrowheads of a revolution generally start by repudiating the existing system’s underlying values, doctrines, practices, totems and rituals. Like the military juntas which popped up like unwanted children in many African countries last century, revolutionary regimes subsequently proceed with the demolition of despised institutions and practices.
Change, however, is not a one-off event. It is an unending process. So it is that a government, which started with revolutionary zeal, risks turning into a reactionary regime unless it constantly keeps up with the demand for change. The NRM’s experience in Uganda is particularly illustrative. The Movement’s no-party option appeared attractive in the 1980s, more so, as it served as a panacea for the country’s ailments at the time, especially, sectarianism, ethnic animosity, political paralysis and instability. Over time, socio-economic change began to pose new questions which the no-party formula could not answer.
M.J. Balogun was, until recently, special adviser to the president of the United Nations General Assembly, New York.