With the efforts at the executive arm of government to inspire CHANGE in all ramifications in Nigeria, there is a silver lining of a breakthrough in the country. The notion of a breakthrough is reaching the desired destination from a torturous journey, not by magic or miracle but by a definitive and systematic process that requires careful planning and patience. This is the gist of President Muhammadu Buhari’s thesis on Process Reform instead of restructuring obsession while addressing the nation on Monday. So, in what way must we reform our processes or must we act to achieve that systematic breakthrough?
There is no doubt that every responsible government acts in the interest of the public, as whatever the government chooses to do or not is the open definition of public policy. Today, we blame our government and the leadership for every ill that plagues our land, expecting it to act with dispatch in public interest. Yet, if government must act with the urgency and intensity we expect, it must necessarily abridge the diverse and often conflicting vested interests that have limited our ability to reach our full national potential. Therefore, it must step not only on the mighty cancerous toes causing extreme pains in our body polity, but also crush the feeble viral fingers of criminal toddlers.
The problem with our nation is the erosion of a national culture built on integrity. Integrity is defined as an unimpaired character that stands public scrutiny, demonstrated by a well-ordered private and public life devoid of moral or material corruptibility. When integrity is asphyxiated in any polity, the essence of public service is lost as hedonism and pursuit of vested interests take over the instinct of virtually every stakeholder. We all lament that our constitution is deficient in certain areas and advocate that our nation must be guided by the rule of law, yet we are not united around the core value of integrity that needs to be addressed for the protection of our collective national interest. We all cry for national rebirth or reform without appreciating the depth of the integrity deficit in our polity.
There are three dimensions to the compromise of this core value in Nigeria: Abdication of public service, professionalization and desecration of politics and celebration of corruption. The sin of abdication of public service is a product of the desecration of the noble art of politics and condoning of corruption in public and private life in the country. Mahatma Gandhi, the man Indians deify as father of the nation, in 1925 illustrated these vices as politics without principle, wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity and worship without sacrifice. Our nation rates very high in all these disturbing indices, needing serious and collective intervention. In discreet and practical terms, our government must make fundamental decisions that would produce radical changes in our culture of disdain and corruption. This, of course, is the fulcrum of the president’s idea of process reform.
There is optimism that the various reform initiatives of the government will manifestly address these issues. At the street level however, the understanding of reform is withdrawal of rights and privileges and curtailment of freedoms. Therefore, it induces trepidation and rejection.
Yes, reform may seem punitive (and of course would ‘block’ some vested interests), its longer term goals and objectives are to ensure equilibrium in the society by expanding access to national wealth, ensuring provision of public goods and services and guaranteeing protection of life and properties of all citizens.
The urgency with which we want the government to address the accumulated challenges of the nation demands the initiation and pursuit of radical reform policies that must definitely inconvenience many interest groups during the process of implementation. Such reform process will manifest in rigid state control, seeming over-regulation of public life with strong monitoring, compliance and deterrence strategies of enforcement that are punitive in outlook. But we cannot in a world of democracy and human rights afford official high-handedness and return to a police state. Without being overly prescriptive, what our nation needs at this difficult moment is the regulation of our public life in a manner that does not cause extreme dislocation, or induce shock and glut.
Since our first sin in Nigeria is the abdication of public service, we need a restoration of pride in public service through consolidation and alignment of the public sector with recognition, empowerment and reward of bureaucrats and technocrats who are invaluable to national growth and development but have suffered a high degree of de-motivation and insecurity in the recent past. The pursuit of our national reform project must be real and tangible in its criminalization of corruption in all its ramifications. It must of course seek to de-professionalize political offices, but ensure that only citizens with impeccable record in public and private sector management are attracted into politics to continue “to serve with integrity”.
The seed of our national reform should be sown in benchmarking our national core value on this vital index of good governance. Our reform agenda should be capable of exorcising the nation of the cardinal sins illustrated by Mahatma Gandhi. In assuming public office and conducting public affairs, we must adhere to the Seven Principles of Public Life, the Nolan Principles: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. Reforming Nigeria is a hydra-headed challenge, demanding a 360 Degree attention to reach our Canaan. We must acknowledge and respect the genuine agitations of many Nigerians on the future of our country but such agitations and expressions will be meaningless if the fundamental issue of evolving a national culture built on integrity is not addressed. This should be our beacon as we engage ourselves in the subject of National Rebirth, Restructuring or Reform.
Happily, President Muhammadu Buhari has in his national broadcast given an insight into what a New Nigeria will look like with the definitive actions he has outlined to cleanse the rot in our country. The President believes we should pay special attention to process, beyond obsession with restructuring. I seem to agree with him. Most of our processes of ensuring distributive justice are fundamentally flawed. They are the reason for the agitation for restructuring. So, when the processes are fixed, it will even be easier to achieve restructuring without controversy or threat to our corporate existence.
The critical and urgent nature of the reform process, however, demands a correct appreciation from players in the mass media as providers of public service, through the style and content of our mediation or moderation of issues in the public sphere, by setting the agenda for reform in the way and manner we frame issues and problems. The existence of trust between the government, the citizens and the press, and involvement at every stage of policy making process through public deliberation or participation, will smoothen our ride along the difficult path of reform and inspire our preparedness for change.
This is the essence of Change, afterall, Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.
Abdulwarees, an Assistant Director with Voice of Nigeria (VON) writes from Lagos, via [email protected]