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State of the Nigerian Polity: The Way Forward by Joe Abah


Wednesday, December 27, 2017 3.30PM / Proshare WebTV 

Dr. Joe Abah is a seasoned Nigerian administrator and erstwhile Director-General of the Bureau of Public Sector Reforms, a critical  parastatal in the federal civil service of Nigeria. 

For four years of his service (2013-2017), he led the transformation process for the Nigerian public sector and has left a legacy of excellence and innovation in the BPSR. He retired this year. 

On Decmber 24, 2017, Dr. Joe Abah shared his wealth of experience and insight into governance and administration on Twitter via his handle @DrJoeAbah to address the current state of the Nigerian polity and chart a pathway for progress. 

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Dr. Abah begins by pointing out that during election campaigns, politicians promise a better life. better health, better education, more jobs, less taxes, etc. among others to woo voters. He is of the opinion that Experienced politicians are very careful about quantifying these. According to him They don’t say “We’ll create 3 million jobs annually. 

Looking at the last 2015  general elections, Abah  believed that in order to dislodge the PDP Government, the APC managed successfully to paint a picture of Eldorado, which will be achieved overnight by May 30th 2015, after they are sworn in on May 29th. “Many of the young believed it. Those who studied Governance knew it was just politics”, he said. 

As a governance expert Dr Joe Abah identified three areas where the current administration needs to address immediately. 

Inability to manage expectations
The former DG, BPSR noted that having got into power then, the job of the government was to manage expectations. He said communication with the citizens, would have carried words like  “Look, we know we said this, but we didn’t know things were as bad as this. We will still try our best to do it but it will take us much longer than we thought.” 

He said “You see, when you are outside government, you think everyone in government must be complete idiots. You can’t understand why “simple and straightforward” things cannot just be done. You bring a private sector mindset and preach about KPIs, discipline and the supremacy of markets”. 

Giving further insight into this, Abah stresses that apart from President Buhari, he is not aware of any senior FEC member with FEDERAL experience. For him it matters so much and  most had zero.

Speaking further he raises the concern that at state level, governors are virtually emperors. While at the Federal level, the  President isn’t. He further notes that at State level, “The Governor will just call the Speaker of the State House Of Assembly and say “You know that Budget I gave you, bring it and collect a different one.” Stressing that this cannot happen at the Federal level, because NASS is unlike State Houses of Assembly. 

Apart from lack of Federal level experience, Dr Abah believed  the other aspect of Underestimation was automatically assuming that EVERYTHING that happened before you came was wrong. This according to him leads to time wasting and reinventing the wheel. The Learning curve is steeper  and there was no need for it. 

He makes a strong case for intellectualism in leadership, stating that “A week before the government took power, it also held an APC Policy Dialogue where some deep thinking happened about what should be done in all key sectors. I am not aware that much of this thinking has been taken forward. It is what I referred to as a disdain for Intellectualism”. 

Dr. Abah observes that it takes way too long for the current administration to take decisions. He says “Governance is full of wicked problems. That don’t go away, but only get worse the longer you don’t act”. You won’t get it right all the time and I know you must be careful to do no harm”.

“However, when you don’t take prompt action on even the little things, the buzz in the environment dissipates. Everybody starts waiting for every single thing. Nobody wants to do something that may run counter to a decision that has still not been taken. Lethargy sets in”.

He warns against  underestimating the bureaucracy, or the virulence of Boko Haram, or the corruption in the Security sector, particularly the armed forces, or how bad the Education system is or how disillusioned the Youth are. “Don’t underestimate ANYTHING at all. It’ll come back to bite you”. 

Underscoring the value of Intellectualism in the nation, he asserts that “Intellectuals can often be annoying but no nation has developed without them. Research is the bedrock of development. Populism wins elections, Intellectualism develops nations. It is very vital to bring together clusters of intellectuals and challenge them with wicked problems”. 

Way Forward 
Dr. Abah wants the The APC Policy Dialogue of May 2015 to be revisited. In his words “It is the approach the PDP used with great success on issues such as Agriculture, Integrated Transportation, and Sports”. “Successes in these areas did not happen by accident. Thoughts matter!

He also calls for a pragmatic step in decision making, which should be done urgently and relentlessly. According to him “Public Servants must feel that they have the freedom & authority to implement agreed approaches without seeking yet another approval. Not having it brings lethargy”. 

In conclusion Abah a strategist by all measures alludes to the perception that some things in this government are working well, just as some things in the previous government worked well. For him the most important thing that is missing is the sense of a “Movement” to a better place. A feeling that the thing is greater than the sum of its parts. 

He believes that It is still doable by the current administration.   

Proshare Nigeria Pvt. Ltd.

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