Last week, the President-Elect, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, issued a signed statement titled, “Nigeria: At the Cusp of Renewed Hope”, that was captured in the media by various headlines. In the I, 346-word treatise, it was the part that mentioned, “There has been talk of a government of national unity. My aim is higher than that. I seek a government of national competence. In selecting my government, I shall not be weighed down by considerations extraneous to ability and performance”,that invoked various headlines.
While some said the president-elect would place more priority on national competence than national unity in selecting political office holders in his government, others captioned it as national competence and not national unity will determine the selection. The debates that followed the reports on mainstream media, social media, private and public spaces made the reports worse. Expectedly, while some supported the plan, others did not.
But reading the whole document, the president-elect says that his incoming administration would place more priority to national competence and character than national unity in the selection of political appointees including women and youth to build a safer, more prosperous and just Nigeria. This indicates the time of gaining sympathy or entitlement into political positions through propaganda and gamesmanship is long gone. Based on our nation’s history, past wrongs, and the principles and practices of peacebuilding, this write-up explains how competence can actually foster unity as against some of the opinions generated in the debates in a country earnestly yearning for unity and harmony.
Comparatively, Tinubu’s competence-centric plan can be likened to Professor Kishore Mahbubani’s description of the secret formula behind Singapore’s transition from a poor developing country to a first world country. According to the former dean of Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, MPH (meritocracy, pragmatism and honesty) is the formula. The best are selected to run the country. He attributed the downfall of Third World countries to the leaders’ penchant for appointing relatives and friends instead of the best people to positions of responsibility. Pragmatism portends adopting ideology once it is effective in accomplishing expected results regardless of where it comes from, while honesty is just the opposite of corruption. Whoever in government position found to be dishonest should go to jail no matter whose ox is gored. This will send a deterrent message to others. The combination of the formula is at the heart of nationbuilding.
In Nigeria, part of the problems of nationbuilding has been the inability to adhere to the Singapore’s formula. Putting capable and efficient persons (meritocracy excluding mediocrity) to govern public institutions with relevant approach (pragmatism) and discipline (honesty and patriotism) will nurture cordial relationships among ethnic groups. Leaders will be able to harness groups’ competencies to promote fairness, social justice and peaceful co-existence. Appointees who do not have understanding of the specialized knowledge needed for a particular field and the discipline are bound to encounter challenges inimical to Nigeria’s interests and values. Nigeria must be re-invented into a society governed by people selected according to merit, and not by wealth or birth.
It suffices to reflect back. The prevailing conflict and violence can be attributed to the inability of the democratic dispensation since 1999 to address decades of marginalization, rights abuses, political alienation, and subversion of public institutions witnessed during the decades of military dictatorship. Initiatives to build a strong, virile democracy are thwarted mainly due to mediocrity and unpatriotic motives. For example, the report of the Human Rights Violations Investigations Commission (Oputa Panel) set up in June 1999 by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration to heal the wounds of the past, assuage the aggrieved individuals and ethnic groups and rebuild relationship through love, forgiveness, reconciliation and reparation did not see the light of the day.
In his inauguration, President Obasanjo charged Nigerians on the task ahead while giving a glimpse of what to expect (Selected Speeches of President Obasanjo, Federal Ministry of Information, 2001, p.18):
I shall end this address by stressing again that we must change our ways of governance and of doing business on this eve of the coming millennium. This we must do to ensure progress, justice, harmony and unity and above all, to rekindle confidence amongst our people. Confidence that their conditions will rapidly improve and that Nigeria will be great and will become a major world player in the near future.
Instead of peace, the democracy began to generate inter and intra-communal conflicts as grudges, frustrations and grievances over past misgovernment led to violent agitations like the Niger Delta militancy, Odu’a People’s Congress, Arewa Peoples’ Congress, Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), and other ethnic militias and religious bigots. Nigerians became angry, bitter and intolerant of one another. The mistrust among groups escalated to tensions and violence in many communities as Jos, Kaduna, Sagamu, Ijaw-Itsekiri, and Ife-Modakeke. Some saw imbalance and injustice in the federating units, political appointments, federal allocations, resource control, and other related issues. The resurgent violence, kidnapping, banditry and terrorism that followed years after have consumed several lives and property including displacement from homes and livelihoods. The report of thee 2014 National Conference is also lying fallow.
The inability of institutional mechanisms to manage the transition through public policies and programmes could also be attributed to incompetence and politicization. Meeting the hopes and aspirations of Nigerians demands meritocracy, pragmatism and honesty. In fact, Tinubu is elected because of the past. The past is so important to the incoming administration in its promise to build national unity. “The ills of the past” mentioned in his statement can be healed by good governance in which the competent appointees will promote.
Thus, the incoming administration should extend its hand of fellowship and friendship to all Nigerians. All the ethnic groups have competence. Talents, education and ability abound in Nigeria especially given their exploits in developed countries. For instance, Nigerians are appointed into Biden and UK governments. They are in legislative houses in Europe and Canada. What is most needed is patriotism and discipline, which must be exhibited by both the leaders and the led.
Path to peace and unity is assured when the cabinet’s top down demonstrates competence in regular monitoring and assessment across political and administrative positions. Otherwise, corruption, injustice and impunity that incompetence brews would further fuel the deep-seated hostilities among the over 250 tribal groups. Competence and truth in governance should advance historical dialogue, nurture trust, confidence, openness and transparency capable to reconcile those who feel excluded by the past political appointments, aggrieved at elections’ outcomes and restore harmony in our country.
That is, I will like to see more focus on monitoring of competent people. Highlighting competence and deliver its success largely depends on follow up. If our institutions are to serve equality and justice, we need to monitor the appointees. Competent officials can seize the opportunity presented by weak leadership to polarise the polity through conflicts and insensitivity to other groups’ values, interests and needs. The president-elect must be ready to take on this demanding task by mobilizing and extending the knowledge, experience and resources of past responsibilities. Mobilizing the knowledge on a national scale will build national unity. Competent administration will provide governance and direction to encourage national consciousness and patriotism needed for development and harmony.
In other words, Nigerians expect un-politicized competence from the incoming administration. Those who worked for its success are stakeholders who when appointed to run affairs of the state should be conflict sensitive in development programming. Indeed, this is the core area where national competence will be brought to bear. Bridges and roads should not only to be built in the corners and crannies of the country, but also in the minds and hearts of the people who are often suspicious of one another over their backgrounds and orientations.
National unity is the intersection of truth, equality, justice, good governance, and inclusion in which competent officials can bring to bear. Putting right peg in the right hole, that is, positioning capable and efficient persons to govern public institutions will maximize the influence, benefit and impact of the next government. We need new ways and skilled technocrats of promoting national cohesion and inclusive government. Competence will help to mitigate the socio-cultural and political divisions. There would be an all-round development that will rebuild trust among the tribal groups and foster national unity. The key element is this scenario is good governance. To deepen the root of democracy and build a virile and united Nigeria, political appointees should see their calling as national obligations to salvage a country on the cusp of renewed change.
Babatunde, PhD, is a fellow and peacebuilding strategist at the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Abuja; writes via [email protected]