Now that the elections are over, it is time for us to shift our focus towards governance. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement and drama of the election season but the real work and trajectory of governance in this administration has begun.
Governance is hard work, but democracy is even harder. It requires critical thinking with a clear vision and understanding of how people’s lives are framed. It is beyond an ideological political ritual of electing people to occupy political offices every four years. It is serious pragmatic work that requires making tough and seemingly impossible decisions critically needed to build sustainable institutions. Building sustainable institutions also require an efficient framework to manage the people that run those institutions in order to produce effective outcomes. Regardless of our democratic trajectory, each election cycle must prove a step forward to guarantee progressive outcomes in the interest of national prosperity.
In retrospect, Nigeria today arrived late and many decades behind global development conversations but we can catch up. For example, with our increasing population, our rail system should have been in place decades ago evolving at optimal capacity. By now we should boast of a robust and efficient multi-transport system to meet the demands of our growing population. Today in the year 2023, Nigeria with all its abundant natural resources and diversity of human resource has not attained energy sufficiency when the global conversation has progressively shifted to clean/renewable energy in support of climate change. The evolving technology of clean renewable energy can provide opportunities for developing countries like Nigeria to diversify and meet its needs if properly focused.
It is incomprehensible and economically maddening that we encouraged and still exhibit indifferences to decades of systemic corruption through petroleum subsidies even to the bewilderment of international onlookers. With each democratic dispensation, we consistently prioritized short term political gains over long term national sustainability, reflecting a collective mediocre political will to addresses the obvious economic drain in the oil sector. My fellow compatriots, however you examine the subsidy regime, it is a bitter pill to swallow and there is never going to be an appropriate time to remove petroleum subsidy. Ironically, it is unanimously agreed across political aisles that the subsidy regime is entrenched in corruption and must end. Nonetheless, we allowed and endured this systemic corruption as a sterile populist agenda for the opposition to discredit any government in power, against logical and economic facts. The result is that for many years our government has been servicing entrenched interests in the oil sector with trillions of our sovereign wealth which has put a huge strain on our economy and hindered our progress. If followed scrupulously, the removal of these subsidies will allow for more funds to be allocated towards critical infrastructure development, education, healthcare and other essential services. It will also encourage local production and entrepreneurship which will create more jobs and boost our economy. We must understand that for Nigeria to exude greatness at our desired pace, the subsidy regime must end. It is a difficult decision but it is necessary.
The road ahead of us to build an effective society would not be easy and we must be prepared to make hard decisions and strategic sacrifices. Perhaps it is relatable to indicate that Nigeria is critically sick and to heal our sickness we must endure bitter medications as a pathway to enduring relief and prosperity. When we work together towards a common goal, we create a sense of solidarity and purpose that can transcend our differences. Our collective sacrifices should strengthen our unity as a people.
Based on my own life experiences, I have learned that building anything worthwhile, meaningful and sustainable is never easy. It requires making disruptive choices and sacrifices that produce enduring outcomes. “Every dream has a process and a price tag. Those who embrace the process and pay the price, live the dream. Those who don’t, just dream” – Jeremy Riddle.
The foreign exchange regime is another enraging issue that have endured despite its glaring economic and fiscal burdens. Parallel exchange rates will only fuel inflation and create a system of corruption, but yet against facts and data, it brazenly endured. A critical examination our exchange policy indicates that corruption is not an abstract concept in Nigeria. Over time we have created a pattern of corruption through loopholes in our policies that makes exploitation incredibly attenable. Therefore, a fight against corruption is an inherent battle against ourselves, our values and ideals. Our monetary policy must be tested against economic realities and align with our fiscal policy to promote strong and sustainable growth and reduce poverty. To move ahead as a nation, poverty must first be addressed. No nation can actualize its full potentials when majority of its people are constantly on survival mode in an endemic environment of poverty and poor social infrastructure. A unified exchange rate regime is achievable.
The youth are obviously agitated and rightly so. Our educational institution is in shambles, with unprecedented unemployment levels and widespread poverty. We have created a system where majority of our youth wake up every day merely surviving and not thriving. For young people, this time in our democratic history calls for strategic thinking and indulgent in the critical work of evaluating the core issues at hand beyond sentiments and political slandering. Our frustration against all odds, must induce a growth temperament and strategic action that requires tremendous strength. This is the time to engage in constructive negotiations and engagements whether you agree with the outcome of the election or not. While a democratic election is a calculative game of numbers and figures, governance is a display of values and character.
For the past year I have been a master level student and a fellow at the prestigious Kennedy School of Government. Beyond myth and tales, Harvard Kennedy School has routinely ranked if not the best, certainly among the best government and public policy graduate schools in the world. It offers diverse socio-cultural and educational interaction of thoughts for a wide range of ideas with the finest thinkers and policy makers around the world. The depth of knowledge and scholarship on display at the Kennedy school is simply outstanding. You are exposed to the highest levels of policy and governance framework that propels you to lead and take risks. It is indeed an outstanding honor and privilege to have been opportune to study at the Kennedy School.
However, with the privilege of an outstanding education comes a higher calling of responsibility, courage and service. Beyond the technicality of an ivy league education, effective leadership must be adaptive. Adaptive leadership requires courage and the innate will to place the interest of the country above the narrow confines of individualistic or political concerns.
Democratic societies like the United States rely on technical and adaptive political processes to produce progressive outcomes upheld by the constitution. For democracy to work, we must be pragmatic in our resolve and collectively commit to putting in the hard work and sacrifices to patriotically build upstream. Americans are proudly some of the most patriotic people I have encountered. Whether you are a Democrat, Republican or Independent, America reigns supreme.
Early this year I had the privilege to travel on a student led policy trek to South-East Asia. Officially known as the Republic of Singapore, it is a sovereign island country and city-state in maritime southeast Asia.With no natural resource, the story of Singapore in a development context is worth understudying. For starters, Singapore, Nigeria and many African states got their independence from British rule about the same time in the 1960s. Notably, we share similarities in terms of history, religion and cultural diversity. I had the privilege of interacting with their leaders and experience the efficiency of a nation that works. Nigeria can also become an efficient country.
The trek was a combined policy trip to Singapore and Indonesia. Being the only African and Nigerian in the group of 55 students, unfortunately, I could not proceed to Indonesia because securing an Indonesian visa as a Nigerian is almost impossible. I led a similar trek to Nigeria during the elections with 60 students of the Kennedy school and other Harvard affiliates. I discovered that not only is it difficult for Nigerians to secure visas to other countries with multiple restrictions, it is also difficult for foreign nationals to expediently secure visas to Nigeria. This illustration is one of the multi-lateral, geo-political challenges encountered by Nigerians beholden a Nigerian passport. These inordinate challenges are some of the fundamental issues at stake that must be decisively and deliberately addressed as we continue to evolve in our democracy. However, the reason for our unending restrictions is not linear. It is a complex interplay of inept policy and actions of both government and the people of Nigeria. This must change and our foreign outlook must improve across board.
We cannot have an endearing foreign outlook or build the country we passionately desire if we are not strong domestically as a country and prosperous as a people. We must first develop internally and coordinate our affairs with an overarching sense of purpose.
I cannot overemphasize the impact Nigerians have made globally across a wide spectrum of disciplines. In the United States for example, Nigerian professionals are in all areas of life, medicine, health care, Engineering, Law, IT and Computing, the academia etc. Likewise in the area of Art and Culture and the Creativity sector. Across the world, Nigeria music is the flagship of Afrobeat genre. It no longer surprises me to attend gatherings or public spaces where Nigerian music is on full blast. Our students thrive academically and are synonymous with hard work and excellence in their chosen profession. Nigerians are indeed breaking grounds, working hard as embodiments of the American dream even as immigrants regardless of a few sore streaks.
My experiences in the United States and southeast Asia through interactions with peers and faculty at the Kennedy school and key policy stakeholders in both countries has left me enthralled and concurrently conflicted by their socio-political legacies juxtaposed with Nigeria. Simultaneously, it has also rekindled my hope for the transformative possibilities and resilience of any society that is determined to thrive and serve the collective interest of present and future generations of its people.
It is important to indicate that I am not under any illusion that Singapore, the United States or any country on earth are perfect states. I interacted with some Singaporeans that complained about restrictions in their country and some Americans with unending reasons for expansion of rights with a chuckle in my throat. If human needs remain insatiable, then no nation state has attained ideal perfection. All countries are on a democratic spectrum, and all continue to make effort to ensure sustainable democratic dividends, good governance and sound economic policies. Even the garden of Eden carefully curated by God could not meet the insatiable needs of Adam and Eve. However, as a people with collective interests and goals, we can try our very best to enshrine trust in our system and ensure that no community feels left behind.
In retrospect, our problems seem enormous but the solutions have always been within the ambits of courage, resilience and determination. In the streets of our cities, to villages and creeks, everyone seems to have an opinion on how to fix Nigeria but lack execution. Greatness requires courage to follow through on our dreams and aspirations against all odds. What we need at this point in our history is courage and a selfless political will to place long term rewards over short term benefits. Again, those who pay the price of the dream live it, and those who do not, continue to dream. Let’s live the dream.
My fellow compatriots, Nigeria critically demands our collective patriotism, to place national unity above self and partisan ideologies. Patriotism requires more than supporting a political candidate/party or waving a flag. It is about cherishing the values that our country was founded upon – unity and faith, peace and progress. It is about respecting the sacrifices made by our forefathers who fought for our independence and the brave men and women who continue to serve in our armed forces to protect our sovereignty. Hoping that our president fails in order to underscore a political point is hoping our country fails and wasting another four years of potential growth. We cannot afford to continue to play the role of opposition against any democratically elected government that does not reflect our individual ballot choice. Patriotism is a higher supreme service to the nation than the self. For some people, it is still difficult to accept the outcome of the election. Whether you voted for Bola Tinubu, the APC or not, this is the time we must play our part and walk our talk. This is the time to consolidate our duties as citizens, to be responsible with small things within our circle of influence. Let us ask ourselves, how do we respond to friends and neighbors when they need our help knowing they have nothing to offer in return? How do we encourage hard work and reward diligence at work place and society? Do we betray those who entrust us with their loyalty and service? Within the family, do we raise our children with values and accord our spouses the honor and dignity they deserve? Do we seek success and power as a tool for oppression or for positive impact? Do we pray for Nigeria in one breathe and by default curse in another when things go wrong? How do we portray the image of our country to those watching from a distance, or conduct ourselves as ambassadors in foreign territories? These and many more are some of our natural accountabilities as citizens devoid of government. Consistent diligence in small things by majority makes a nation great.
As Nigerians, we are privileged to be citizens of a country with so much diversity and rich heritage. Our country is not perfect. We have faced many challenges and struggles throughout our history but still we stand, the great giant of Africa. It is our diversity and resilience that makes us strong.
The stakes are really high and this administration has a lot of work in their hands. Against all odds, they must set an example in Africa and the world that democracy can indeed be creatively adapted to meet the needs and aspirations of the people.
We have the potential to be a great nation and this is the time to stand together in support of that dream, united in our love for this great country beyond our differences and challenges. Let us honor our flag, our constitution and the values that make us who we are. Let us continue to work towards a better future for all, where unity and faith, peace and progress reign supreme.
Adefemi Bucknor-Arigbede MPA Candidate ’23 Edward Mason Public Service Fellow Harvard Kennedy School of Government [email protected]