In the most important speech of his life, the moment that would launch a Titanic battle affecting the lives of ordinary citizens and the economy, that could define his presidency, restore badly eroded public faith in the political system ability to serve people, and redeem a promise more than forty nine years in the making to provide good economic policies.
President Goodluck Jonathan made a promised of change in political and economic system of our nation.
‘Wise men know that change is part of necessary process which societies must pass if they are to grow and survived in improved state. Wiser men know that change has other faces whose influence might well lead to the improvishment of the very society we wish to nourish’. Nigerians have learned from bitter experiences not to take their leaders at their word. The phrase ‘credibility gap’ entered into their language with Ibrahim Babangida (IBB), Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP); the phenomena grew with every successive presidents. From Vission 2010 of Sani Abacha, Olusegun Obasanjo privatisation, to Yar’adua seven point agenda, Nigerians have been disillusioned again and again and again.
I’d like to make two points to open the discussion, one is general and one is specific. The general point I want to make is that I think profound change has happened in societies when essentially people understand that the cost of staying with the present situations is greater than the cost of change. The specific point I want to make is we’ve always known where we are going, but we’ve don’t know how exactly how we would get there. This is a time for profound change, profound opportunity, and profound dislocation and uncertainty.
A lot of Nigerians are facing the future with fair. They don’t know if they can trust their government or the so called corporate Nigerians, and private institutions. Because, they are not just faced with poverty, but an extreme poverty which goes beyond the World Bank narrow definition to mean low income. Nigerians poverty is beyond that, is about too many people having little access to health care, basic literacy, to sanitary arrangements or clean water and spending their lives fighting morbidity often succumbing to premature mortality.
Since independence, Nigeria’s economic policies under different administration were seldom subjected to critical public discussion, an important ingredient of a good public policy. Most of our previous administration was under military regimes, which has no popular mandate.
Only the last eleven years held hope for democracy as a system of government in Nigeria. Dictionary.com (2010), defined democracy as the government by the people; in which the supreme power is vested on them and a society characterized by social justice, equity and fairness.
The forthcoming general elections in Nigeria will provide us opportunity for a new beginning, including; a fundamental shift of our economic policies, especially policies that affects our national cohesion and social harmony. However, Nigerians seems to be missing the essence of democracy. What we refer in Nigeria as dividends of democracy are constructing buildings without libraries, laboratories, quality teachers and more importantly student intake with adequate preparation or building hospitals without quality doctors, nurses, drugs, and equipment.
At the heart of democracy is the opportunity it provides for us to discuss publicly and openly, the government policy of our nation, especially the economic policy direction of the nation, which determines the question of social justice- the ultimate objective of all decent societies. Social justice cannot be achieved by concentrating our minds on power rotation or zoning, but only by reducing and eliminating poverty and inequality.
For a democracy, our reforms of the last eleven years and their implementation might as well have been dictated by the politburo of a communist party! It is formulated and executed through top down imposition by a group of few styling itself as a technocracy not constrained by politics because the teams are always answerable to the president and not the people. But in a democracy, policies that determine the future wellbeing- the social as political stability of our society should be in the realm of politics and be subjected to full public discussion.
The issue of public discussion and social participation is central to the making of a good policy within a democratic framework. We should begin this no, in the run-up to the next set of elections due in few months. It is for us all to determine the direction of the society we want to build and live in.
Societies and situations differ and the answers will be different in different countries, but, luckily, for us there is accumulated evidence of over quarter of a century of various reforms strategies conceived and implemented all over the world and from which we can learn some useful and practical lessons. These reforms have been implemented in the developed economies, developing economies, and transition economies.
Those involve in managing our economy cannot be unaware of the change of professional, academia and economist opinion from the orthodoxy of the Washington consensus. That free market economy alone will not solve all the problems. That challenge facing us in Nigeria today, is balancing the acts. To decide where to draw the line; how to balance public and private spheres: public good and private interest: visible hand of the government and regulators: the invisible hand of the market-the balance between the government and the market.
In view of this, our major task is to order our priorities. In the first instance, we have to build institution of state; a professional and independent judiciary: a professional an incorruptible force, and well trained and professional civil service. Every economy system requires an effective state for it’s to flourish. An effective state will then clearly stipulate the appropriate legal and regulatory regimes with a strong but equitable tax regime. We need an active effective state that will regulate the activities of the market to check the abuses of special interest corporate groups and financial interest. This is not to stifle private initiative but to ensure that the private sector does not escape regulation.
De-Colonise our colonised minds. The economic policies should be appropriately sequenced with objective of combining the pursuit of sustainable growth and human development strategy by devoting massive resources to education (educated society is prerequisite for prosperity), and healthcare in order to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality. In short, the government should put people at the centre of economic policies and development that would be about transforming the lives of people, not just transforming economies or sterile government statistics.
Growth should be about people and their lives and not statistical GDP growth figures. We should move from policies of trickle-down economies to a strategy based on a comprehensive development with equity.