Last Monday, I was briefly “detained” by a group of Air Force officers manning a checkpoint at the International Airport in Lagos. I was in a “Lagos Metro” taxi, approaching the ramp that leads to the airport’s departure level, when we encountered the checkpoint. The men ordered the car to park and then proceeded to announce, in that uncouth fashion we have come to associate with men in uniform in these parts, that taxis were prohibited from going beyond that point. I would have to alight and walk the rest of the way.

Of course, I wasn’t going to have any of it, and so I challenged them. How does it even make sense to ban taxis from an airport? Not finding it funny to be challenged by a bloody civilian, they promptly informed me I would not be allowed to leave until their “Commandant” showed up. At least, one of them gleefully announced that I would miss my flight; that, I believe, was their primary goal. And since they had guns, they could enforce whatever they wanted.

I tweeted my encounter, made a few calls. After close to an hour of standing by the side of the road, a superior officer intervened – thanks to a connected friend. It turned out that it was only the conventional yellow taxis – the ones with horizontal black stripes – that had been disallowed from approaching the airport, not the newer ones like the Metro Taxis and the Red Cabs. The armed men didn’t know; someone had armed them with guns and sand bags, forgotten to provide them complete information, and then unleashed them to intimidate travellers and drivers. All of this in daylight, just outside the busiest airport in Africa’s largest economy. (Now imagine what’s happening in the more obscure parts of the country!)

Let’s even accept for a moment that an airport ban on taxis is justified (it’s not, of course; how do you, in the first place, even justify the wisdom in banning taxis – possibly the commonest means of airport transport – from an international airport? How does that even make sense?). There was nothing to suggest that the decision had been communicated to the taxi drivers. My taxi driver said he hadn’t heard; as did at least one yellow cab driver who was asked to disembark his passengers while I stood waiting by the side of the road. Surely, you’d have assumed that whoever is behind the ridiculous decision would at least have made the effort to communicate it to those it would affect. But this is Nigeria, of course; it would no longer be Nigeria if things were done properly.

This is merely one example of the way this country takes us for granted. In my case, I was fortunate I could contact people who could rescue me. I could easily have missed my flight, not because I had broken any laws, but simply because a group of uniformed men were eager to demonstrate the power of their guns.

There’s of course a larger issue at work here, that of government responsiveness. A question we should always ask is this: What measures have been instituted to provide citizens a way to seek redress in the event of mis-treatment or nonchalance by the state or its proxies? And how open are our governments to urgently and comprehensively addressing matters that affect the lives and business of citizens. Imagine if, instead of me having to make private phone calls, there was an official number to call to complain to the authorities that my rights were being violated in the name of the state. What if there had been a formal channel of protest to counterbalance the irrational force of the Air Force officers?

On that score of responsiveness, the outgoing administration performed badly. You will know by now that this column is obsessed with citing instances that demonstrate that nonchalance seemed to be one of the cardinal principles of the Jonathan government. President Goodluck Jonathan somehow never seemed to possess the capacity to be bothered by anything that really mattered. Regarding the Lamido Sanusi allegations against the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation – my feeling is that had the President taken seriously what started out as an internal government finance matter seriously, the former Central Bank Governor would have had no reason to escalate it in the damaging and embarrassing manner that followed. Similarly, had the abduction of the Chibok girls been treated seriously in the early days, it would not have hurt the standing of the government as much. With the NLNG-NIMASA controversy in the middle of 2013, it still baffles me how one government agency (NIMASA) managed to undermine another in such a flagrant manner as to cause it to lose – on behalf of Nigeria – more than half a billion dollars in revenues, let alone in reputational capital; all of this without a word from the President or his office. Also, look at the outcry that greeted Senator-elect Stella Oduah’s BMW scandal, and Interior Minister Abba Moro’s state-supervised murder of 15 job-seeking Nigerians. In Oduah’s case, it took weeks for the President to take any action; in Moro’s case, we’re still waiting.

In the months leading to the elections, there were several complaints from foreign journalists of visa denials. I imagined this situation was in part due to official anger and frustration with the sort of negative coverage Nigeria has got in the last one year over the kidnapping of the Chibok girls. But I also imagined that much of it was the effect of Nigeria’s trademark bureaucratic dysfunction; for several months (from late 2014 into 2015) Nigeria didn’t have a substantive Minister of Information, whose responsibility it should have been to handle any complaints relating to foreign journalists’ visas. The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, assigned to oversee Information, was running for office (Deputy Governor) in Jigawa State, and I imagine was spending most of his time campaigning, not attending to ministerial work. (It wasn’t until the middle of February that the President assigned another minister to again “oversee” the Information portfolio.

Then, there was the diplomatic incident involving Nigeria and Morocco; Prof. Wole Soyinka has said that President Jonathan had no idea Morocco had recalled its Ambassador to Nigeria until he (Soyinka) mentioned it to him in a conversation days later. “He (Jonathan) was not aware that for about five days the media had been absolutely hysterical with this embarrassing situation between the two,” Soyinka told the London Guardian a few weeks ago. “It was that very night that he made a public statement about it for the first time.”

It now seems to me that the outgoing government’s greatest achievement is this: It has written the most comprehensive “How Not To Run A Country” manual in the democratic history of Nigeria. That manual should now be studied “cover-to-cover” by the incoming Buhari-Osinbajo administration. There has to be a strong effort to create channels of communication and escalation for ordinary Nigerians, so that people can feel like they matter to the government. The government needs to demonstrate that it can put the well-being of its citizens over and above that of misbehaving government officials. It should quickly position itself as a government that listens to the wishes and complaints of citizens, and that, unlike its nonchalant predecessor, it can move mountains for the sake of an ordinary citizen. Nigeria is full of aggrieved citizens — at home and abroad — and any government that intends to succeed ought to make it a priority to attend to these grievances and channel them into its policy response pipeline.

It won’t be a convenient stance to adopt, and Nigerians can be a difficult lot to govern. But public service was never meant to be a state-funded vacation; and anyone unable to put in the hard, often thankless effort it demands should waste no time stepping aside and finding something else to do.

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