POLITICS, PRIMORDIAL CONSIDERATIONS: AN ANTITHESIS TO BUILDING STRONG INSTITUTIONS IN NIGERIA
I am grateful to the leadership of the Public Administration and Management Development Institute( PAMDI) for the kind invitation to speak at this year's conference. These are 'political times' in our Nation and the subject for my intervention is germane. Nigerians must remain thankful to God for a long time to come for the peaceful elections and the smooth transfer of power from Dr Goodluck Jonathan to Muhammadu Buhari, from PDP to APC. It is a unique development in our Nation and perhaps signals that may be at long last our Democracy is maturing .
In matured Societies as you see in Europe and else where and to a great extent in the United States of America, people are evaluated for their fit for a particular Job or position based largely on identifiable and measurable criteria. They look at your education, experience, skills and other such issues in making a choice. They hardly will be interested in who your father was or were he came from or what is your mother tongue. In the truly sophiscated societies they would not care what the color of your skin is and these days they do not even care if you have physical disabilities, or your sexual orientation as long as it would not hamper the discharge of your responsibilities. In a number of these societies, they have come this far from the civil & cultural evolution of their societies and in others, they have been helped by legislations which stand against any form of primordial considerations in employment or political expression. We know that in the United States of America, the fight to abolish racial discrimination lasted centuries and we can still feel some of the vestiges. In nearby South Africa, the evil of apartheid was only recently defeated and the Nation is still struggling with it. But even in these two Countries they seem to have overcome primordial considerations in their Politics. Obama's two-term presidency in the United States and the African National Congress( ANC) black dominated Government in South Africa bear eloquent testimony to this.
In our Nigerian society and in many similar less developed countries especially in Africa, primordial considerations remain prominent in the allocation of employment opportunities and in the filling of political positions. Issues of Ethnicity, Tribe, State of Origin, Religion, language spoken and cultural affiliations remain significant in the choice of candidates for political offices and employment. In a multiethnic Nation or federation with diverse Nationalities, primordial considerations assume wider importance. In the Nigerian political environment, it is called Zoning and in employment it is called Federal character. To be sure, when properly applied, it could lead to inclusiveness, maintaining some balance of fairness in sharing political offices and hopefully engendering a General sense of ownership.
THE IMPACT ON INSTITUTIONS
The word is when properly applied. But in our recent history, there is little evidence that the use of primordial considerations has been helpful in maintaining institutional stability or advancing corporate growth. The impact has been detrimental to most National institutions. When a new President is sworn in or a new Governor is sworn as we have just done, changes in institutional leadership and management become imminent and prominent. In the best of cases, these changes happen supposedly to ensure fair spread of appointments. But in most cases they are undertaken to put the President's Men or the Governor's men in position. People are appointed seldomly because of competence or skills, but mostly because of relationships and affiliations. The governor appoints his inlaw as the chief of Staff and most of the advisers are either School mates, church members, people from the same town or fellow cult members. Very often political affiliations take primary consideration, even when the institutions to which they are appointed to lead are supposed to be apolitical or politically neutral.
Whether in the best or worst case, the often unwarranted changes create needless instability to the institutions. As positions change, so do policies and practices. The concept of "it is our turn"dislocates the existing systems and people are moved or removed to create way for 'our own loyal persons'. The newly appointed people, knowing often why they were appointed( not necessarily for competence or capability) place their allegiance not to the institution but to the person who appointed them. And with that the institution gets weakened, unable to meet its mandate or pursue its vision .
Soon the Governor finishes his term or he is impeached or the minister gets changed. The new incumbent starts the cycle afresh and the institution goes through another round of dislocation and convulsion. Institutional learning is abridged or thrown overboard and new experimentation starts which may also be prematurely terminated. Is it then little wonder that National institutions are perennially underperforming. Be it political, military, economic or social; be it regulatory, judicial, legislative or administrative.
IS REDEMPTION POSSIBLE?
Nigeria's political instability is traceable to the weakness of its political institutions. The chronic underperformance of our Nation is traceable to poor political leadership at different levels. A major hindrance to the emergence of quality leadership is the use of primordial considerations in selecting leadership in our Nation. Unfortunately, on many occasions, political leadership based on mundane primordial considerations have disappointed all including the promoters. Many god sons have turned against their god fathers, and many poor successors have rubbished the legacies of their predecessors. I believe therefore that it is about time, we began to jettison primordial considerations in selecting political and administrative leadership. Lessons from other climes have shown that when the qualified and the competent assume positions of leadership and authority, there is increased productivity, growth and development. Here everybody becomes a winner.
Even in our own Country Nigeria, we can learn from the Private sector which has made some significant advance in jettisoning mundane and primordial considerations in selecting Leadership and management. Focus has shifted to competence and skills and the shareholders are the better for it. Every sector where significant growth has been reported in the economy like Banking, Telecommunications, oil & Gas, Food & Beverages and ICT, a revolution is taking place,driven by the way human capital is recruited for these companies. Even in our limited experience in the Political arena, there is ample evidence that when Competences and skills are given preeminence, the result has been heartwarming. The stories of Akinwunmi Adesina in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Dora Akinyuli in the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration & Control(NAFDAC),Ernest Ndukwe in the Nigerian Communications Commission( NCC ), Ifueko Omogui-Okauru in the Federal Inland Revenue Service( FIRS) and M.K. Ahmad in the National Pension Commission( PENCOM),just to mention a few, are indicative of what is possible, when we jettison or minimize primordial considerations in political and administrative appointments.
Perhaps there is a lesson to be learnt here as our brand new President and the State Governors begin to make new appointments and cause dislocations in our state institutions. Good things can only give way to better things. Change for change sake is a dangerous proposition, but purposeful and positive change can only happen when the Expereienced, the competent and the skilled are carefully selected to run our institutions, with minimum attention to primordial considerations. I guess that is enough justification for holding this PAMDI conference at this auspicious time. I am however hoping that some one is listening.
Thank you for your attention. God bless
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR
( This is the text of a speech I delivered today at the 2015 Annual Conference of the Public Administration and Management Development Institute)