In a month from now, the four year tenure of President Muhammadu Buhari will expire for a fresh term to commence in consolidation of the achievements of the government since 2015. If the first term was a bit turbulentbecause of the contradictions of our polity, despite a resolve to clean the Augean stable of our nation, now is the time to demonstrate greater willpower in leading a responsible government. After all, every responsible government acts in the interest of the public, as whatever a government chooses to do or not is the open definition of public policy. So, what policies must guide the government performance in the next four years for it to occupy a prime place in the history of our nation?
Today, we blame our government and the leadership for every ill that plagues our land, expecting it to act with dispatch in public interest. Yet, if government must act with the urgency and intensity we expect, it must necessarily abridge the diverse and often conflicting vested interests that have limited our ability to reach our full national potentials. Therefore, it most step not only on the mighty cancerous toes causing extreme pains in our body polity, but also crush the feeble viral fingers of susceptible criminal toddlers. The problem with our nation is the erosion of a national culture built on INTEGRITY, defined as an unimpaired character that stands public scrutiny demonstrated by a well-ordered private and public life devoid moral or material corruptibility.When integrity is asphyxiated in any polity, the essence of public service is lost as hedonism and pursuit of vested interests take over the instinct of virtually every stakeholder.
We all lament that our constitution is deficient in certain areas and advocate that our nation must be guided by the rule of law, yet we are not united around the core value of integrity that needs to be addressed for the protection of our collective national interest. We all cry for national rebirth or reform without appreciating the depth integrity deficit in our national polity. There are three dimensions to the compromise of this core value in Nigeria: Abdication of public service, professionalization and desecration of politics and celebration of corruption.The sin of abdication of public service is a product of desecration of the noble art of politics and condoning of corruption in public and private life in the country. Mahatma Gandhi, the man Indian deify as father of the nation, in 1925 illustrated these vices as politics without principle, wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity and worship without sacrifice. Our nation rates very high in all these disturbing indices, needing serious and collective intervention.
In discreet and practical terms, our government must make fundamental decisions that would produce radical changes in our culture of disdain. There is optimism that the various reform initiatives of the government will manifestly address these issues.At the street level however, the understanding of reform is withdrawal of rights and privileges and curtailment of freedoms. Therefore, it induces trepidation and rejection. Yes, reform may seem punitive (and of course would ‘block’ some vested interests), its longer term goals and objectives are to ensure equilibrium in the society by expanding access to national wealth, ensuring provision of public goods and services and guaranteeing protection of life and properties of all citizens.
The kind of urgency we want the government to address the accumulated challenges demands the initiation and pursuit of radical reform policies that must definitely inconvenience many interest groups in implementation. They will manifest in rigid state control, seeming over-regulation of public life with strong monitoring, compliance and deterrence strategies of enforcement that may be punitive in outlook. But we cannot in a world of democracy and human rights afford official high-handedness and return to a police-state.
Without being overly prescriptive, what our nation needs in this difficult moment is the regulation our public life in a manner that does not cause extreme dislocation, neither does it induce extreme shock and glut or bottlenecks. Since our first sin in Nigeria is the abdication of public service, we need a restoration of pride in public service through consolidation and alignment of the public sector with recognition, empowerment and reward of bureaucrats and technocrats who are invaluable to national growth and development but have suffered a high degree of de-motivation and insecurity in the recent past.The pursuit of our national reform project must be real and tangible in its criminalization of corruption in all its ramifications.
It must of cause seek to de-professionalize political offices, but ensure that only citizens with impeccable record in public and private sector management are attracted into politics and public office “TO SERVE WITH INTEGRITY”. The seed of our national reform should be sown in benchmarking our national core value on this vital index of good governance. Our reform agenda should the capable of exorcising the nation of the cardinal sins illustrated by Mahatma Gandhi. In assuming public office and conducting public affairs, we must adhere to the Seven Principles of Public Life, the Nolan Principles: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.
Reforming Nigeria is a hydra-headed challenge, demanding a 360 Degree attention to reach our Canaan. We must acknowledge and respect the genuine agitations of many Nigerians on the future of our country but such agitations and expressions will be meaningless if the fundamental issue of evolving a national culture built on INTEGRITY. This should be our beacon as we engage ourselves in the subject of National Rebirth or Reform. Happily, Mr President has in his recent public pronouncements given an insight into what a New Nigeria will look like with the definitive actions he has outlined to cleanse the rot in our economy. It’s gonna be “No business as usual.
The critical and urgent nature of Nigerian the reform however demands a correct appreciation of the role of the mass media in Nigeria as providing public service. The existence of trust between the government and the press, and its involvement at every stage of the policy process will smoothen our ride along the difficult path of reform and inspire our preparedness for change. After all, Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.
*Abdulwarees is Assistant Director, Strategic Planning & Corporate Development
at VOICE OF NIGERIA and volunteers as Director of Media & Strategic Communications, Muslim Public Affairs Centre, MPAC Nigeria