I am persuaded (appearances notwithstanding, and despite the seeming exertions of key personnel) that the incumbent administration at the federal level has not succeeded along as many dimensions of our national life, as I would have liked. Even against its own promises, I think it a stretch to suggest that this administration’s performance passes muster. To begin with, there are the security issues, which speak fluently to this fact. Most times, under the rubric “security”, talk concentrates on the low-intensity war in key parts of the North, especially on the new national bête noire — Boko Haram. But, truth be told, the broader security issues to which serious stewardship of this nation must advert its considerable resources, increasingly include our inability to stem the unprecedented theft from our oil infrastructure (and the huge costs associated therewith), the burden imposed on us by our new national crime industry (kidnapping), etc.
And in spite of the sundry evidence of macroeconomic consolidation — strong external reserves, growing balances on the two rainy-day funds, stable (?) exchange rates, “lower” inflation count, etc. — regularly marched out in support of government’s “efforts”, there are other less comforting (and arguably more tactile) economic statistics. Unemployment: at abysmal, insomnia inducing, levels. Poverty: very high and worsening daily. Our ranking on any measure of human development: shameful. Our ranking on “ease of doing business” indices: in breach of trade and commerce. Transparency International’s ranking of how corrupt we are as a people. All of these talk about innumerable failed possibilities over the last four to six years. On the streets, the upshot is misery spread thick as baking fat on a very thin slice of bread.
This is not to suggest that sub-national governments have performed any better. Indeed, the fact that a useful number of them are run by parties currently organising in opposition to the party in power at the federal level is sufficient cause for worry. The old saw about looking up a man’s accoutrements, who has promised a bequeath to my wardrobe is so relevant when dwelling on the opposition’s current promises regarding their bid for federal power (vis-à-vis their governance of the states they control), it is clichéd. Local governments? Failure here is recognisable by the screaming absence of any form of governance. Feeder roads, primary health care facilities, basic needs at the “local level”. All of these are decrepit-to-nonexistent.
Unfortunately, a quirk in the way we have interpreted the concept “federal government” has meant that in discussing our quandary as a people, we only look to the failings of (and at) the centre. Undoubtedly, governments at the federal level have not helped the proper evolution of our federal structure. Successive military interventions in the polity may carry some of the blame for this. The military’s “command-and-control” instincts evidently do not conduce to the “separation of powers” that is essential, first to a properly functioning democracy, and thereafter to a federal structure in any such democracy. Still, the approach of our non-military leaders to their work has favoured command-and-control policies, to the detriment of all that we could (potentially) hold dear.
Burdened by all these, and at the point, very recently, of throwing up my hands in surrender, I run into compatriots who are just as persuaded that the country ought not to progress faster than the current government’s pace. Although in conversation with folk who subscribe to my sense of our national underperformance, the tendency is to dismiss this category of nationals as “driven by ethnic, religious, and selfish interests”, I have come across partisans of the current measured pace of development whose honesty is unquestionable. Moreover, in some, their belief in the goodness of this country is as strong as (and often, stronger than mine).
So, why do we defer so fundamentally on matters so fundamental? I’m still working hard at a workable answer to this question. However, in the interim, a certain tendency runs through their arguments: the constant need to point to worse (previous) performers in mitigation of the current administration’s pathetic performance. Think through this position, and you’d end up gasping for fresh air. How is it an argument that my failure is admissible because my predecessors in office were no less competent?
Alternatively, which is another argument in their repertoire that we may well meet with evidence of similar underperformance in other climes? My worry is that (as an interlocutor recently put it) “50 years of walking this road hasn’t taken us very far, has it?”