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Politics, governance and human development

Peter Obi

From its essentials, politics is about attaining and using power in public life to be able to influence decisions that affect society. In principle, that should be a worthy cause, but what we have experienced with most of our politicians in Africa and other third world countries is the crude politics of mediocrity, greed, insensitivity, hate, nepotism, and confusion. They base their campaigns on problems that are on ground, but when they get into office, they start complaining about those same problems they pledged to tackle and on which platform they were voted into office. What did they expect to meet? Indeed, we seem to have missed the road on how to use politics to better the lives of the people.

Leadership is the most crucial factor in development – be it for a small family unit, business enterprise, institution or geo-political entity like Nigeria or its constituent States. Leadership is not just an insignia for display, but all about performance – producing results and fulfilling a mission in the interest of the led. It is the responsibility of the leadership to harness our abundant human and material resources for the common good.

Across the world, good governance is ac knowledged as the basis for meaningful and sustainable development. Due to failure of real politics in Nigeria, the country has been inflicted with a battered economy, corruption, mismanagement, infrastructural decay, mass impoverishment, and worse of all, a palpable citizen apathy and mistrust of Government. Good Governance is about the people whose well-being is the primary responsibility of government. Good governance is common sense; not rocket science. It is part of this mis-governance that led the country into recession – our inability to save for the rainy day.

Some reports say that inflation in Nigeria is coming down, but that is not entirely correct because there is a strong link between inflation and demand. The current situation in our dear country is that majority of our people do not have money to purchase their basic needs. When people stay away from acquiring their basic necessities, they do not have “effective demand”. Responding to that situation, those with the stocks may be compelled to reduce their prices in order to stay in business. That also does not reflect effective demand. Using this scenario to claim that inflation is coming down is totally debatable.

Similarly, the public could be told that a country indebted to the tune of about 20 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product [GDP] is not under any financial threat. This may appear so if the money so borrowed is being effectively utilized for production or the real sector. Alas, if the borrowed funds are for consumption – like payment of salaries, overseas vacations and chartered flights — the country is not only under financial threats, but in serious crisis.
Flowing from this, how do we explain the situation where a country’s total external debt of US$32 billion was cancelled in 2008, but ten years later becomes freshly indebted to the tune of US$70 billion? It is mind-boggling, to say the least. The matter is further worsened by the fact that there is no tangible project to show where the funds so borrowed were invested or utilized. Such is the alarming trend that the International Monetary Fund [IMF] has cautioned Nigeria to watch it or end up in the path that Greece plunged unto a few years ago.

Largely due to gross infrastructural deficit, Nigeria has missed out being part of an association of major emerging economies. Formed in 2006 with the acronym ‘BRIC’ – comprising Brazil, Russia, India and China — the group was joined by South Africa in 2010 to make it ‘BRICS’.

The acronym was coined by the then Chief Economist of Goldman Sachs, Jim O’Neill, with the prediction that they would grow faster than the developed countries and play an increasingly important role in the world. Looking at the performance of those 5 countries, that prediction is being proved correct. It is also sad to note that Nigeria – by virtue of its large economy and huge consumption market – was the preferred potential African country to join the association. While we present potentials, South Africa boasts of such infrastructure as power, roads, railways and the like in good enough shape to be accepted.

Essentially, the treaty among BRICS – signed in 2014 – facilitates their co-operation for socio-economic development, mutual financial assistance, project support and international trade. Indeed, those with the knowledge of real international business should be able to estimate what Nigeria lost by missing such an opportunity. Meanwhile, some 8 years after its ‘Brother’ African country became a member, that esteemed status and tremendous benefits still elude Nigeria. One common thing about tthese countries is the progress they are making on all indicators of human development index.
The Human Development Index [HDI] refers to the quality of life enjoyed by citizens of any country in focus; and one of its measures is Per Capita Income. In a recent assessment by a UN agency, Nigeria was rated a lowly 152 out of 185 nations covered. Similarly, on an official invitation to Nigeria, the global philanthropist, Bill Gates, noted that the Government’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan [ERGP] did not accord human capital development a decent place.

He succinctly advised the nation’s political leadership to rise to the responsibility of promoting the welfare of the people, especially the grossly-neglected teeming youth population. But, rather than respond positively to the realities before us, we engage in unproductive retorts and distractions that do not add value to the economy or the citizenry.

One of the surest ways of rediscovering ourselves as a country is by telling the truth, acknowledging that we have not done very well, especially when juxtaposed with other countries. Every Nigerian – literarily-speaking – must be held responsible for the cumulative failures of our leadership over the years. The ‘rascality in governance’ is not only the fault of the leadership, but to a great extent that of the followership. While conveniently refusing to hold their leaders accountable, Nigerians tend to celebrate mediocrity and impunity in governance. The leader is a reflection of the led. Our leaders are thrown up through poorly distillation process.

The Chinese method of rating their leaders is simple – show us what you have done in the past before we entrust you with a bigger responsibility. If a man has not created anything, he cannot manage anything. We have to see those who want to lead us today and ask them questions on their pedigree and performance. We should no longer allow people to come from nowhere to assume leadership; else we will go back to the same mess.
Capacity in governance is not a function of age; and neither is integrity or even educational qualifications. One of the leading States in the USA is California; recently adjudged the fifth biggest economy in the world. The Governor, Jerry Brown will be 81 years old this May. He has the capacity and is doing very well. On the contrary, we have seen young leaders in Nigeria widely regarded as a calamitous failures.
Youths constitute a large proportion of our population and their future is in jeopardy. They have to take back their country, especially through active participation to elect good leaders. However, it is not just about “youths” taking over, but increasingly participating in choosing their leaders and the governance process.

We have to instil responsibility in governance. Why should a leader owing workers and pensioners spend millions of Naira decorating streets for Christmas when people are hungry and nobody is questioning the rationale behind that? How can people charter flights to social events with public funds when regular tickets will take them there conveniently, and yet the people that own the funds keep quiet?

What of people who owned practically nothing when they got into public office, transform into owners of palatial mansions and expensive cars, and a ‘Man of God’ goes to pray for him that his source of income will multiply when he knows the person has stolen public money? And worse still, the people will be chorusing ‘Amen’ to such prayers instead of informing the Police to arrest the thief.
We have no other country apart from Nigeria. You must rise up to the desired change. The society we abuse today will take revenge on us tomorrow.

There is no way we can lift our Human Development Index from its current low level of 152 out of 185 nations to any appreciable level if we continue to celebrate those that misappropriate public funds without asking them appropriate questions and holding them to account on good governance.

Given purposeful and committed leadership, the basic needs of majority of Nigerians – as elsewhere – are attainable. These needs include: peace, progress, security of life and property, decent healthcare and social services, affordable housing, equity and justice and operational infrastructure. They should be the raison d’être of governance.

Excerpts of a presentation by the former Governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi at an International Conference held at the Claretian Institute of Philosophy [CIP], Maryland-Nekede, Owerri.

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