Power is shifting – from large, stable armies to loose bands of insurgents, from corporate leviathans to nimble start-ups and from presidential palaces to public squares. Power is also changing, becoming harder to use and easier to lose – Moises Naim, former Foreign Policy Editor.
From May 29, 2023, our nation’s eyes once again turned toward public leadership for a new direction and meaning. And so as most governments, especially in the last 24 years have appeared to us as unprepared for governance, we need to encourage the new administration in Abuja and 28 states to begin to manage priorities in the public sector as if it were in the organised private sector (OPS).
Let me quickly clarify this construct: it is important to adopt the private sector approach to governance and see citizens as customers to be satisfied. Marketers are always told in a customer-centric business that the customer is king. In this construct, the citizen should be seen by political leaders as a customer whose rebellion or boycott can destroy a business enterprise.
When political leaders begin to see the citizen as a customer whose patronage is necessary to survive, they will begin to treat the people as potential electorate they will depend on to win elections next time. For whatever it is worth, the 2023 election outcomes have shown the politician a yellow card of some sort: that the electorate should no longer be trifled with, after all.
When we talk of priority management in the organised private sector, it is straightforward. Let’s examine the fact file:
Management of Priorities is the practice of focusing time and resources towards work, projects, and tasks that affect high-value projects, accounts, and long-term goals. And so managing priorities is an essential part of time management and project management, where project managers adjust resources, schedules, and tasks to deliver projects on time and within scope.
Priority management can also mean organising your day according to the tasks you have and working out which are the most important to the least important. You can then see what your day looks like in terms of time management and how you can effectively get the high-priority tasks done in the time you have. Having good time and priority management is important during projects and for management in general. Being able to organise, prioritise and change priorities when needed is an effective tool that managers should try to help their teams with. Therefore, priority setting can be a painful and divisive process, but it is a necessary activity—particularly in times of resource scarcity.
Let’s examine this same issue – priority management from the perspective of planners in the public sector. Prioritisation can be a device for policy-makers to realise political ambitions, or to signal policy shifts. However, prioritisation is also typically embedded in policy processes, either in a routinised fashion, or as responses to triggering events.
Key challenges in this regard can be how to translate broad priorities into programmes and projects, how to govern the knowledge base, and how to handle organisational tensions during implementation. With limited resources and lower risk appetites, public sector organisations should put any available funds toward projects that will stimulate long-term growth, efficiency and stability.
Ahead of Monday, May 29, 2023 inauguration of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the 16th President of Nigeria, and Governors of 28 other subnational governments, experts and stakeholders in critical sectors had been setting agenda for the new Sheriff in Abuja and the 28 federating units. Specifically, across the country and beyond, Nigerians were awaiting the taking over by Tinubu, who has promised to address the myriad of challenges facing the country as encapsulated in his Renewed Hope agenda.
Top on the agenda is the issue of insecurity, which encompasses the raging banditry, kidnapping, insurgency, oil theft, secessionists’ agitations, cult clashes, farmers/herders,’ communal clashes/killings and internet fraud as key problems confronting the sector. The people would also have read about the need to address challenges of: Subsidy, power grid crashes in the energy sector, N77trn debt amid rising inflation, Health, Education, ASUU strike, uncompleted projects, $3.02bn Port Harcourt/Maiduguri rail line, Kaduna-Kano standard gauge rail line, etc.
For me, the ‘New Sheriff in Town’ should pay attention to the following issues as he puts finishing touches to appointments of what constitutes the presidential bureaucracy, the president’s men – and his cabinet. I think prioritising the following areas should help in stabilising the already deeply divided country he inherited from former President Muhammadu Buhari. The areas are:
• Nation Building
• Civil /Public Service Reforms (to deal with corruption, innovation, redundancies and mediocrity in the public sector)
• Parliamentary Reform/Cleansing
• Education, Health And Knowledge Development
This should be on top of the agenda of the administration by focusing on using existing institutions such as Federal Character clause in the constitution supported by the Federal Character Commission (FCC) and strong presidential/gubernatorial bureaucracy to share values, power, infrastructure, top positions fairly and equitably.
There shouldn’t be perception after the national assembly election this week or thereabouts that the five top positions in the country are occupied by people from one section or faith in the country. This can deepen the already ticklish national question. The Tinubu administration should also ask the security and intelligence chiefs if it is true that it had been impossible to find Leah Sharibu The Guardian calls the ‘goddess of resistance,’ in 2019 among other missing schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno State?
Public Service Reform:
Government can continue to deal with corruption with legal institutions of governance such as office of the Auditor-General of the Federation; Fiscal Responsibility Commission; National Procurement Council (yet to be inaugurated); Freedom of Information/Open Government Partnership; etc
If the above institutions of governance are made to be functional in the public service, there will be reduced attention to EFCC, ICPC and CCB to fight corruption. We need to prevent corruption through the civil service, not through anti-corruption agencies.
The Bureau of Public Service Reform (BPSR) can be revived to deal with audit of public servants and management of waste/redundancies and ghost workers. How much does the Federal Government spend monthly on civil servants and what percentage of that is Nigeria’s population? Can the presidency have the political will to merge ministries and scrap those ones that 21st century doesn’t need such as ministries of information, disaster management, police affairs and water resources? Do we need agriculture and Water Resources separately? Do we need Interior and Police Affairs Ministry separately? What about Transport and Aviation in two ministries? What do we do with the many expensive protocol SUVs in multi-dimensionally poor and deeply indebted country?
Therefore, government should tackle bureaucratic delays and reduce opportunities for corruption urgently as these are essential elements for setting the business environment for success. There is also a need to keep governance costs and overheads low and match ambition with pragmatism and growth will follow, as has been shown in the case of airlines such as Ethiopian and Emirates airlines. It is urgent that the critical reform initiatives begin now because it will be too late as a large population of young people with smartphones and high expectations have arrived in the cities too.
Ruling APC and Parliamentary Reform:
Doubtless, the parliament is the most important arm of government. Without it there is no democracy. This is where people are represented for the purpose of solving federal and federation problems. How much does each member earn monthly? Why is remuneration package of our parliaments opaque? Can we have independent national and state assemblies that won’t be rubberstamps of the executive arms?
When should we have assemblies that can curb executive excesses in the 36 states and Abuja? When should we have organic investigations in the legislatures that will shake tables of the executives? When do we have national and state assemblies that will equip good and world-class libraries where they can research for development? When do they use the parliament to dignify the majesty of democracy through debates on public policies that will attract attention of the people they represent – and the world? This is a responsibility for the leadership of the legislatures always of the ruling parties.
Education, Health and Knowledge Development
This should be on top priority. The Ministers of Education and Special Advisers of Education should not be just political figures. They should be resourceful enough to assist the president on more than mere audit of the quality of public education generally: Do we need more or better universities?
How do governments recruit and sustain first class brains to teach the STEM/STEAM subjects? This is the component of reform that will also affect medical science education and revival of health sector. What happened to Nigerian Teaching Hospitals? Why do our leaders fly over our hospitals to the U.K to see even their dentists?
It has been discovered that we talk so much about Singapore and South Korea without looking at the roots of their competitive advantage, which is education quality. Same for the United States where the quest for excellence and exceptionalism once led to discovery that there was once a ‘Genius Factory.’ This is through a 2005 ground breaking research by David Plotz, a professor who ‘unravels the mysteries of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank, which led to production of many geniuses and Nobel laureates in the United States.
In the main, our new leaders should develop their own tactics to put across the sense of urgency and prove that they are materially attentive to the needs of their citizens. President Alvaro Uribe’s performance in Colombia bears study, as he was instrumental in turning that country around within a decade from a failing to a functioning state.
Presented with a huge security challenge, he nonetheless refused to stay in Bogota, opting instead to go out every weekend to visit municipalities and talk to local people. He often gave them his personal phone number and encouraged them to call him if they had a security-related problem. Uribe used these visits to understand the challenges and drive change. Our leaders who aspire to lead the black race will have to give similar thought to what kinds of profiles they should adopt to change the prevailing political culture.
Mills, Herbst, Obasanjo and Davis in Making Africa Work (2017) posits that Central to the turnaround of many countries, enabling them to implement pro-growth policies was creating a sense of urgency, a realisation that business as usual would lead to disaster.
Several Asian countries, including case studies of Singapore, Indonesia, South Korea and Taiwan show that they were able to use their crises to create a narrative that allowed leaders to implement difficult policies and to explain why changes were needed. Leaders were able to show first that the state itself, protector of the current population, would be threatened if difficult decisions were not made immediately.
There has to be a focus on what the state must do and what it should not do. Case studies have revealed that there is a vital role for the state in setting up a business environment that promotes confidence and growth, and in developing robust institutions.
**This piece is an edited excerpt of my remark at the agenda-setting Seminar and Investiture of the new executive of the Commerce and Industry Correspondents Association of Nigeria (CICAN) on May 25, 2023 at MAN House, Awolowo Way, Ikeja.