The Business of Government

Most of the poverty and misery in the world is due to bad government, lack of democracy, weak states, internal strife, and so on. - George Soros. (Billionaire Fund Manager and Philanthropist, famous for giving away millions of dollars to charity every year) So what is the business of Government? What does governance entail? What should those in elected and sometimes forcefully assumed governmental positions do? By whose standards should we benchmark what those in government do and what they do not do? The standards of peers? For example comparing the government of developed countries with those of other developed countries or should we compare across the board? Comparing the governments of developed countries with those of developing countries.

The argument and therefore likely resultant questions stretches further down a long continuum, but by which ever standard we may use, or from whichever school of thought we may belong - Machiavellian, Marxist, Capitalist or the home grown Africanist and more recently Nigerianist, One salient theme would be reoccurring - that of the business of government being to manage our common wealth and resources, this assumes then that those trusted (?) with the management of these wealth and resources use their discretion in doing so.

What is then unclear or unresolved is how the wealth and resources should be distributed and if it should at all be distributed; this is where the different schools of thought differ and constantly clash, I chose therefore not to dive in further in this murky waters or area.

The paradox of life teaches that things may not be completely as they seem, everything depends on circumstances and also on who is doing the judgement and interpretation; it also depends on the motives and objectives of the individuals.

Several articles have been written concerning what the Nigerian government is doing and also what they have failed to do in the different areas of our national life. We are all right to frame, laugh at, critique, judge, condemn, abuse, insult, praise, praise-sing, poke fun at, cajole and scrutinise our government being that willingly or unwillingly, directly or indirectly we have appointed them custodians and trustees of our national wealth.

What then is unclear is to what extent our various views are being listened to or taken into consideration in the business of governance by our ‘leaders.' Are we making any meaningful impact or are we all engaged in a phantom dance at the market place? Are we truly the faces behind the mirrors or are we all hiding behind a mask? If as professionals we have not been able to influence in the most little of ways what our government is doing, then that on its own becomes another collective shame and failure, we should then join our government at the podium to collect our gongs and be inducted into the Nigerian National Hall of Shame.

So what is the problem? Can the falcon not hear the falconer? Is the dancer not listening to the rhythm of the drumbeats? Why is change an elusive concept in our society? Why was it possible for the brave and under- resourced Nigerian Press to make a difference in the days of the military? An era of draconian decrees, intimidation, murders, imprisonment, flogging of journalists, media closures and bans. Also a period that saw only a few brave men standing, while the rest went into hiding abroad. There were not yet widespread Internet access, neither were there so many newspapers and magazines as we have today, fear ruled the land then, websites dedicated to the Nigerian cause were not yet aplenty, so limited were also the number of social commentators and writers, factors and resources we now have in great numbers, Why have we not yet been able to effect the desired change in Nigeria, especially in the new democratic dispensation, when our freedom of expression and assembly has been guaranteed and further enshrined in the constitution?

Why was it possible for Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, two Washington Post journalists to bring down the government of Richard Nixon in the famous Watergate scandal of 1972? How many scandals have we all thus exposed? Is anything happening? Is the government listening? Are they bothered? Is it still not business as usual for our government?

Some writers have written that every society deserves the kind of government it gets; our society is not any different, as a result The Nigerian nation have always been saddled with a recycled and ‘paddy paddy' government, a government of gerontocracy, governed by the same old people which Fela, the late Afro beat musician chided in his music... …the same old politicians, wey rule Nigeria before, the same old politicians wey
rule Nigeria before, all of them dey there now…the young Africans dem get two
ears for head dem get two eyes too… dem dey see the things wey dey happen dem
dey hear am too…few people dey chop the big money and the rest dey hungry…Na
wayo government we get o! e gba mi o…
To discuss the business of government in Nigeria further, I am taking a stand which may or may not agree with prevailing world views, I start on the premise that our government should be custodians and trustees of our national wealth, if they can not preserve our oil wells and reserves, guard our waters and farmlands from the polluting activities of big businesses, likewise our other resources including the highly abundant and talented human capital, then they have failed in their most basic duty. Wealth harnessed on our collective behalf should also one way or the other not end up in their private bank accounts, either in Nigeria or abroad, else our federation accounts will cease to be relevant.

To do their job effectively, the government can resort to the use of any constitutional means which do not necessary include the use of force and intimidation. In a complex society such as ours, these tasks become more challenging, this is because our fragmented country is built on distrust, our unity and loyalty remains very suspect, fragile and doubtful, we think in terms of our own ethnicity first before we think of Nigeria, can such a partnership work? Maybe now but can it be sustained in the long term? Is it ever possible to crush a bone with an artificial tooth? Of course our leaders know all these before electing to be ‘elected', therefore we shall judge them by what they have done and not by the problems they encountered, they can not want to eat the carrot without getting some of the stick as well.

Dealing with the myriad of ethnic problems and yearnings that threaten our nationhood should not be done selectively; doing so creates a further feeling of alienation amongst the neglected groups, if our government sets a dangerous precedent by only negotiating with armed militias to the neglect of the other groups, this may hunt them in the future, as the others may begin to see the use of force and guerrilla tactics as the only way to be heard, it also does not help matters when some sectional leaders can ride in presidential jets and have meetings with the president and some others are expected to travel in commercial planes on one way tickets to have chats with the president's men.

What does the government of Nigeria owe the present and future generations? They owe us an account of our wealth which we have entrusted to them to look after, so though the price of a barrel of oil may be rising in the world market, we expect at some point to find out from them how much extra we made from the windfall. Also we expect them to harness our other resources and create alternative sources of revenue; this is in readiness for a bust and glut whenever that happens.

How should the government distribute our wealth in their custody? Is the current revenue sharing formula between the federal government and the states working effectively? Should we continue to rely on the counsel of a few Ciceros, the likes of Shagari, Gowon, Buhari, and Babangida and the various state governors? All, men of tainted characters and personalities, men that came, saw and could not conquer, men that posterity will continue to judge for failing to utilise the opportunities of the moment during their rule, these same men now constitute the National Council of States and have in their recent meeting agreed on a formula for Obasanjo to use in sharing our oil windfall, bearing in mind that it is election year in 2007 and knowing how much it costs to win an election in Nigeria, how very convenient and fortunate for them all.

We, the people are being short-changed; we are not experiencing any government impact in our lives. Our major cities are still what they are - third world country cities, there have not been sustained government investment in infrastructures to drive future growth, the conditions of the roads are still appalling because contracts for the construction of roads are still being awarded to party charlatans who are dishonest, incompetent and careless. Education continues to be neglected, our schools, colleges and Universities are in epileptic states, buildings are falling down, roofs leaking, books and other resources in the libraries are not regularly updated, the internet is still a strange concept in some of the schools, teachers and lectures are not well paid and have therefore departed for other trades, In the Health sector, anguish and pain best describe the fate of both practitioners and patients, our doctors are all queuing up to leave for America or Europe, our Nurses too, little wonder then that there is so much death in the Land, an apocalyptic fulfilment of Fela's ‘shuffering and shmiling'.All the other sectors are also in frighteningly alarming states of decay: Public enterprises, social welfare (non-existent), the judiciary and so on.

Government and governance therefore should rise above the mediocrity it currently finds itself in our society, it should transcend the agbada wearing personae of the politicians, the Jimmy swaggert swagger, the smooth talks and silky handshakes, the half-truths and lies, the paraphernalia of office – blaring sirens, license to kill, squander, womanise, steal and loot, the recurring ambition to rule and rule again, the winner grabs all mentality, it should be a career rather than a game for rich generals and their band of court jesters, we want more honourable men and women of substance, the business of government should be that of selfless service, a desire and commitment to serve and work for the people, an overriding ambition to protect the weak and defend the less fortunate in our society, the down trodden, children, pensioners, the disabled, widows, the unemployed, minorities and all others who desperately need safety and a social security net to be cast around them.

Government therefore should concentrate in doing what it knows it can do best and that is to provide the institutional and infrastructural framework that will move the people and the economy forward, it should also provide the regulatory framework for businesses to operate with.

Recent experiences in Nigeria (Nigeria Airways, Nitel, NEPA, Ajaokuta Steel, Daily Times etc) have taught us that this model of government participation in business have been tried, tested and failed to work in our society, the common reasons are usually incompetency, bureaucracy, lack of work ethics, lack of competitiveness and finally the feeling by political appointees that such appointments are opportunities to grab their own share of the national cake baked by the blood and sweat of Nigerians who continue to toil and live in poverty, such mentality incite these charlatans and their staff to loot and plunder, a precedent already set by their political masters at the top.

In the wider context, it is also a model that even the developed countries are receding back from; the governments of these major industrialised nations are now beginning to focus on their core areas of competence – governance and the provision of social services and infrastructures.

At graduate school at the University of Nigeria, Enugu campus, It was interesting listening to the views of the erudite Professor Ukwu .I Ukwu, the then Director of the Institute of Development Studies, his lecture series on Government and Business became our weekly motivational tonic, an intellectual elixir that also provided us with freiheit and escape from the harsh economic realities of the time, an opportunity for us to look at the historical and current dimensions of government's participation in business, a journey into the past, present and future with doom and failure signposted along the way. One memorable quote from the professor stuck with me all through the years which is that Government has no business in business.

What then is our role as professionals in the society to birth this new way of thinking and renaissance? What else can we do as social commentators, the custodians and peddlers of the unheard but wider views of Nigerians with divergent views and limited media access?

Should we carry on with our social crusade and campaigns of exposing and probing? Is that enough to sensitise our leaders? As I earlier pointed out, it appears that it may not be, our government still carries on with business as usual, so what other strategies should all concerned Nigerian professionals adopt in this struggle?

This is our chance; there is no better time than now, when the barrel of the gun is no longer directly pointed toward us? A time that we are all well resourced and flourishing in different fields and in different nations. Are there other result - oriented models and approaches we can follow to bring about the desired change in our society? All these will form the theme of my next piece on the roles of professionals in the society, if you have any ideas that you may want to share, you are welcome to email them to me.
Uche Nworah

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