Friday, September 20, 2013

Change that changes nothing

My favorite History examination question was change in government is a change that changes nothing,discuss. 
At the time, Nigeria was 2 years into Obasanjo’s  civilian government and I think my teacher was already disillusioned by  the lack of the expected positive change Citizens anticipated in 1999.
This question has resonated  because it captures the essence of our governance issues in Africa. The difference between the  forms of governments we have is six and half a dozen 
In the century where  gov 2.0, collaborative government is gaining momentum and Countries have climbed higher in Maslow"Hierarchy of needs", Africa still grapples with failed leadership and its consequences (both physical and psychological) enabled by people who are afraid of change and willingly succumb to these leaders . It is like neighbours planting trees, whilst others have planted, watered and tended their trees, we are battling with planting ours.
I think we have a gene that accepts incompetent, authoritarian leadership. The oligarchic and/or hereditary nature of Africa’s leadership has impacted our development from Togo,Nigeria,  Zimbabwe and Egypt. The situation where certain people feel entitled to rule and access the common wealth without systems that allow other leaders to emerge has caused many conflicts across the continent. 
The events in Egypt could be the story of any African country. Egypt has been ruled by its military oligarchy since 1952.  All Egypt’s rulers (Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak)  and the current government emerged from the Military. For Egyptians, it has been the hand of Esau but the voice of Jacob.
The emergence of Mohammed Morsi was a welcome development to the extent that it brought a semblance of change. However, Morsi’s lack of political management skills and his fall into the absolute power corrupts absolutely trap led to his downfall. Egypt is back to square one with  political instability, deaths, high unemployment rates and disrespect for human and women rights.
The challenge of addressing our leadership  issues now is that it widens the existing development gap between Africa and  other continents. Africa is projected as the beautiful bride due to our increasing population (read as: potential market for services). For instance, UN reports state Nigeria  would be the new China in terms of population - 1 billion- in 87 years.Yet, rather than plan on how to leverage the powers that would accrue to us ( we get to have our say on issues, we become ( and already are) the go-to market for investors, the wealth-creation potentials if we (Africans) come up with services that meet our needs). Multinationals have seen the light and are investing here,  acquiring water rights,meanwhile,our leaders cannot provide electricity, good roads, healthcare, guarantee property rights, justice, fairness or ease the costs of starting new business.
We cannot afford to continue like this. We lost 400 years to slave trade and we are lagging behind in this phase of advancement. Creating the conditions that would bring about development and create value for citizens is not rocket science for any government. As Africans we need to get our values and politics right, then  we can sort out our economic problems. The government in power may not be able to give us the lifestyle we want but it can make life miserable for us through its actions and inactions. 
Let change count for something


Monday, September 16, 2013

The Nigerian "system"

As mentioned in an earlier post, Nigerians distrust their government. In addition to the stated reasons, Nigerians distrust the government because it allows the “system” have its way with citizens. Two cases illustrate this.
In 2011, the Federal government of Nigeria changed the license plates for vehicles and rolled out a new drivers license scheme. The reason for the change is the new plates  and driver's license have biometric features (data and fingerprints) of owners making it easier to fight crimes and terrorism. I am still trying to understand that logic. However, the issue is not whether or not the policy is justified or necessary.  The issue is the costs in terms of money and time in obtaining these items. According to FRSC, the new plates cost 7500 naira to produce but are distributed to State Licensing Offices for sale at N10,000 (replacement) and N12,500 (new) for the regular plates numbers. In 2012,the Senate slashed the cost to N8,400. One year later, the story is different. I am not aware of anyone (including me) who has obtained the plates at the official rate. Prices have ranged from N15,000 to 25,000. As the September 2013 deadline draws near, the prices are sure to increase.
Obtaining the new Driver's license is also tedious. I know people who have been issued temporary cards since November 2012 and are yet to get their licenses. It took two colleagues three months to write the test and have their biometrics captured. Yet, the government expects all drivers to have new plates and licenses by the 1st of October, 2013 without putting in place internet connection and systems to capture biometrics and transfer to their central database. 
Getting a passport is another exhausting exercise thanks to the system. The official rate for a Nigerian Passport is N8,750. However,with N20,000 and prayers you can get your passport in 2 hours to 5 days (this may or may not include the facilitation fees you pay if you go with incomplete documents). Like the driver's license, there is no stated timeline for processing a passport.  
Our colleagues at the Customs also charge unreceipted duties as they please when you arrive at the airport with your luggage. They are quick to show you the act that says you must pay for new items valued above N50,000 (tip: if your luggage truly has personal not-for-sale items, keep your receipts and show the custom officials, bring out your phone and calculate exchange rates, be very firm and polite). The lack of transparency at government institutions promote this idea that a "system"is responsible for all our ills. The same immigration official that sits on your passport application because you refuse to play ball, complains about the deplorable state of our Country.
Yet, the system continues to survive because citizens allow it to. Why do we allow this rip-off?  To my mind, i think we bear it because we can afford to, it is convenient and it is the way the system works so we just go with the flow. No one takes on the system because the higher-ups are aware of what is going and just watch. Unfortunately, the one who does is either stingy or a trouble maker.
It is easy to throw our hands up in the air and surrender but for how long? The “system” we blame for everything wrong  comprises  friends, neighbours, relatives and church members. The extra cost of the number plate goes into someone’s pocket. Pushing back on  little things  it sends the message that we are truly tired of being cheated. Imagine if all the Nigerians went to the passport office with all the required documents and refused to bribe any immigration officer. The government on its part needs to create clear and precise service charters on the expectations of its agencies, consequences of not adhering to the charter and empowering  SERVICOM carry out its duties. Again, the government has to walk its talk.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

On Trust

It is known that Nigerians do not believe in their government. There is the we- against them mentality that even the government recognizes. As Dr Okonjo- Iweala said "I really agree on the issue of mistrust; I think it is part of the problems governments faced over the years. Nigerians have not seen their governments fulfilling promises". 
The ASUU strike is deadlocked because ASUU does not believe the Federal Government would keep its word. One of the causes of this strike is that the Federal Government has not kept to the 2009 negotiations.The growing mistrust of government begs the question why don't we believe in our government? We elected them. 
I have pondered on this and I think that we mistrust the government because:

  • The government has a proven track record of going back on its word. Government after government promised electricity, good roads, good education, health care,free and fair elections and failed to do as promised.Electricity  should have stabilized in 2000. It did not. Then, President Jonathan said it would by 2012. It has not. When I was in primary school, we used to sing "education for all by the year 2000".The magical year 2000 passed and recent UN statistics show that there are 10.5 million kids out of school.  
  • The government does not care about the people and its policies show so. The 2012 removal of fuel subsidy exemplifies this.The sources of the fuel subsidy leakage was known to the government. The president publicly said there was a cabal.It was clear that public funds were wasted through payments to marketers that failed to deliver fuel they were supposed to. Rather than penalize the government officials and marketers involved in this scam,the government punished Nigerians that rely on fuel for movement and electricity by removing the subsidy of fuel.The effects of this abrupt removal of the subsidy included; loss of lives,loss of productivity,rise in transport costs and food prices. When the price of fuel was reduced to N97, the change did not reflect in the cost of food items and services. Another example was the ban of motorcycles on major routes by Lagos State government. This ban is good policy on safety grounds but a caring government would make other sources of transportation available before implementing such a policy. Also,law enforcement officers would not indiscriminately destroy and burn motorcycles- siezure of motorcycles or hefty fines is deterrence enough for offenders. The effects of this ban is seen in long queues for inadequate BRT buses.
  •     There is no enforcement and lawlessness pays: Nigeria is one country where you can get away with anything if you have  the right connections but would be punished severely for the minutest of misdemeanors if you do not. To rub it in, you pay for your legitimate rights. There are no consequences for running the red light, tax evasion (except you are large organization and LIRS- [Lagos Inland Revenue Service] wakes up one morning to bill x4 of what you should have paid and then you complain that the government is fraudulent), cheating, theft of public and private funds. For instance, EFCC ( Economic and Financial Crimes Commission)  and and ICPC (Independent Corrupt Practices Commission) were set up to curtail corruption that is now entrenched in our society. Apart from the inconsequential cases that have been prosecuted, these organizations have been used as tools to punish erring political office holders. I can commit murder and go scot free. A sad example is the "ABSU rape" where the husband of the victim and the victim know the perpetrators and these people still live free in that community. Another incident that depicts the state of lawlessness in this country was  the case of a Personal Assistant whose driver stole $100,000 from him. When the driver was about to be arrested, he reminded his boss of his wrongs and the evidence available to him. The driver was released and the $100,000 was returned to the PA. Stories like these embolden people to do as they wish because there are no consequences. Thus, when the government claims it wants to fight corruption and lawlessness,  citizens take it with a pinch of salt.
  •    Nigerians mistrust the government because we mistrust ourselves.The people that make up the space called Nigeria have become untrustworthy-maybe that is why we find acts of honesty surprising-. The social capital of trust  in our country has been destroyed and the effects are seen in the way we relate with one another. We believe that everyone has an ulterior motive and that altruism no longer exists.Lack of trust causes us to inflate prices. For instance if a trader tells me an item costs N50, my Nigerian mind tells me the cost is N20 and the trader wants to rip me off. T Even the trader that wants to make an honest profit would price items at N40 because she knows that buyers would bring it down to N20. Also,the artisan who tells you he would come at 2 pm but shows up at 7pm builds in your mind the conception that artisans lack integrity.Our lack of faith in each other makes us disbelieve the government because the government comprises people like us!
The lack of trust in our country  feeds into the tribalism that has gained strength in recent times. The present government and successive governments need to build their credibility. The social cost of trust is becoming unbearable because as someone recently remarked, the Nigerian society appears to be one that everyone wants to grab what they can while they can at the expense of others. The result of this is a downward spiral that would do us no good. Whilst it would take deliberate efforts on the part of the people to trust each other,the government should lead the way by walking its talk.