Wednesday 27 May 2015

#MustRead: Goodbye To Good Luck, Welcome To Hard Work - by Uche Igwe

I was invited to Abuja last week to an elaborate policy summit organised by the All Progressives Congress. A respected friend, Dr. Otive Igbuzor, informed me about the meeting and Dr. Kayode Fayemi, a former governor of Ekiti State, graciously invited me to the event. It was a collection of experts of some sorts. However, as I pointed out to one of the participants, exactly 16 years ago as the civilian regime of President Olusegun Obasanjo was preparing to take over from the military government of Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar, a similar conference was held. I looked around and saw exactly (probably a majority) of the people who attended the conference in Abuja. They also offered the same nice proposals and suggestions that I heard last week. Now, the only difference is that some people who were participants 16 years ago, now have become presenters and vice versa. So, I came to the conclusion that we are not a country that lacks ideas or in short supply of experts. There must be something probably much more fundamental.

Is it the lack of doers? Is it the lack of political will? Is it the lack of sincerity? Or is it that we just enjoy to say these things seasonally even when we do not mean them or have an idea that they were not going to happen?

Nevertheless, there is something about having so many experts taking on policy issues. Experts hardly come to a consensus. As I moved from one parallel session to another, I encountered experts who had suggestions about how to practically turn around every sector of our economy including how to eradicate corruption. How ambitious! I momentarily felt that they were just pontificating and mistook me to be an APC stalwart who could potentially offer a job. I wish I was one!

But seriously, I think there is a need to develop some consensus about what constitutes the biggest problem to our national developmental aspiration and attainment and get a priority list of how to tackle them. I consider this the most urgent task before the incoming government. No doubt the problems are multifarious and complicated but it could be dangerous or even counterproductive to expect to solve all of them at the same time. I also think that it is wrong that the APC did not manage to pull off a less rancorous exercise with the Peoples Democratic Party. As a party that had not been in power at the national level before, the APC needs all the help it can get. There could be some landmines buried somewhere within the bureaucracy and robust interactions could help expose those.

I overheard the problem of corruption being mentioned conspicuously in all the sessions. As I said earlier, many suggestions about how to solve the problem were proposed, however, one thing was clear from the presentations: Even the problems do not appear to be well understood. While there is a general feeling that corruption is one of the biggest problems of our polity, there is not yet a shared understanding of what constitutes corruption. With both politicians, bureaucrats (the people we call civil servants), academics, journalists, private sector players, all gathered in the room, it will be difficult to develop a shared view of which act that is corrupt and which is not! Yet, that shared view is critical if we expect to tackle the problem collectively. Out of all the lot, the most important group of people are the politicians. We must avoid a situation where a right hand is seen to be fighting corruption while the left hand is promoting it. The APC can continue to express how far it is willing to go to fight the corruption virus but its members must look inwards and ensure that when they talk about corruption, they mean the same thing!

If after 16 years, we still gather to hear the same beautiful things from almost the same set of people, then it means we need to do more. The APC needs to do more and differently to bring the change it promised. It should not expect any luck. The outgoing administration relied on so much luck and it did not produce much. Was it a coincidence with the name of the outgoing President, Goodluck Jonathan? We have spent a lot of time criticising his style and how he took the country backwards and did not appear prepared for the leadership that was suddenly thrust on his shoulders. But it is evident that he did not quite get himself together until Nigerians gave him a notice to quit from the villa. However, I think we have spent so much time talking about the weaknesses of the outgoing administration and very little time scrutinising the activities of the incoming administration. That is unhelpful. We must pause to take a comprehensive review of what happened and see what we can learn from them. We must be vigilant not to allow a repeat because some of the enablers of what we blame the outgoing administration for could find their way into the incoming one.

We must begin to look at how to operationalise the promises made to Nigerians by the APC and begin to sieve out what is possible from what is not. We should be getting a feeling of timelines by now. We should also watch very carefully the calibre of people the incoming administration will choose as key public officials especially ministers. That is an important acid test to whether it means business and whether it understands the level of expectations of Nigerians. Given that the President-elect contested the position several times before he got it, one would expect that he prepared for it and have a clear picture of what he is coming to do. In a few days, he will have an opportunity to prove us right or wrong. For the Abraham Lincoln of Nigeria, no one is ready to accept excuses. No doubt, the problems are complicated but there must be a few low hanging fruits that he can harvest to set a tone of his style and send a signal to Nigerians. The initial steps do matter a lot. 

To Nigerians and to the world, all I can say is that the era of good luck is gone for good. This era is either hard work or nothing.

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