Governance: We are merely servants By Oseloka H. Obaze


In Kahlil Gibran’s seminal book, The Prophet, a most apposite question relative to good governance was asked of the protagonist, who provided an illuminating answer; “But what of our laws, master? And he answered: You delight in laying down laws. Yet you delight more in breaking them.”  Gibran might have well presaged present-day Nigeria, where governance, suddenly seems all too humongous a task, as those charged with upholding the laws are the very ones who truncate them.

Reframing the governance principles in this country, including cutting the cost of governance, should perhaps, start with reframing the mindset of those elected or appointed to serve Nigeria.  This is pertinently more so, with the ongoing national orientation mantra, “change begins with me”.  For starters, our leaders should adopt the doctrinal imperative; “We are merely servants: we have done no more than our duty.”  True leaders must consider the impact of their conduct and actions and account for what they have done, or failed to do.

Marking Nigeria’s fifty-sixth year of independence, was certainly less boisterous and the celebration discernibly muted and benign.  Even joy and celebration in Nigeria have been hit by the recession. The vision of our founding fathers for Nigeria to be egalitarian is yet to manifest, because we choose our leaders very poorly; and they lead dismally.  But that long term vision, which will come, is for now, a dream deferred. In a doctrinal sense, Nigeria’s ascendancy vision “is for its own time only: eager for its own fulfillment, it does not deceive; if it comes slowly, wait, for come it will, without fail.”  If attaining the vision lingers awhile, which is likely, it is because governance has become a matter of deceit with a resultant widening distrust gap. Simply, Nigerians no longer trust their leaders. How can any reasonable person trust a leadership that routinely engages in doublespeak, policy obfuscation and half-truths?  No serious leader can resort to billboards and newspaper advertorials or paid-for-awards to tell his people of his accomplishments. Benchmarked services and projects delivered timeously are sufficiently credible criteria for measuring good governance.

Nigeria is not a poor country in the real sense of the word poor; we are simply a poorly managed country. Every facet of our nationhood, bar none, has been mismanaged.  The fact that we got ourselves into a recession can be traced to certain realities; scarcity of foreign exchange, paucity of funds, and people being unable to buy and sell since the money in circulation has simply dried up, courtesy of the Single Treasury Account (TSA).  The average Nigerian, despite the biting recession wants the TSA to remain in place, at least they know the money is not being frittered away.  Recently, an Abuja-based female lawyer, who deviated from the legal profession to become a successful food delivery service entrepreneur, echoed similar sentiments. The distrust of the governance establishment is deep-seated.

Unquestionably, the cost of governance in Nigeria is exceedingly high. Hence, there is a clear nexus between the present recession and the 2016 budget having a N2. 2 trillion deficit. Bluntly, it was unrealistic to articulate a deficit-laden budget while confronting depleted foreign reserves and declining revenue and without first broadening the revenue generating base.  No true public servant can wrought such a fantastically unrealistic policy option!  It is doubly ironic, that today Nigeria is resorting to the African Development Bank (ADB), for a bail out.  Perhaps we are capitalizing of the head of the bank being a Nigerian.  Yet it is worth recalling that Nigeria set up the Nigeria Trust Fund (NTF) at the bank in 1976, with a view to assisting needy, distressed and financially troubled African nations.  Today, Nigeria is in reverse role; no longer a benefactor of the bank, but a beneficiary. Such a development is sad and painful  and speaks volumes about the state of affairs in Nigeria.

This brings me to the most celebrated singular event of the fifty-sixth independence anniversary, the Peter Obi “cutting cost of governance” exposé.  It’s hardly surprising that former Gov. Obi’s Platform speech went viral.  Inconvenient truths tend to.  The governance challenges and limitations Obi pointed to are all too pervasive at the federal, states and local government levels.  Governance has become habitually wasteful and bereft of checks and balances.  Establishment codes exist only in name.  Circumspection in governance and public spending is almost absent at all levels.  Government Panels and Statutory Boards are convened and members who are absent from meetings still collect sitting allowances, all with a wink, even when its clear to all that they were absent. Such complicity is all encompassing.  Recruitment and vacancy quotas are exceeded without any repercussions. Worse still, vacancies are traded for payments. People cheat governments, believing that they are not cheating anyone in the same way people who defraud insurance companies believe they are not hurting any individual.

Nigeria has long been bedeviled by political and economic structural challenges.  Such challenges are fifty-six years old or even older. Changing the governance and service-delivery mindset could hardly be about leadership precepts.   So long as we fail to embrace ethics and frugality in governance; so long as our leaders fail to internalize that good governance is about self-sacrifice and exemplary leadership, our orientation will not change.  A good servant by obligation knows to conserve food resources and only eats when the guests are all fed and gone.  To do otherwise is foolhardy and not an appreciated conduct.

It’s delusional to think that governance precepts can replace good governance practicalities, when our leaders “delight in laying down laws” and “yet delight more in breaking them.” As conventional wisdom advice, “unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes but no plans; keep every promise you make and only make promises you can keep.” Consequently, every servant-leader must be able to defend publicly, his tenure and actions and assume full responsibility for them. Nothing short is acceptable.


Obaze is MD/CEO of Selonnes Consult Ltd.



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