There is a need for Elite Consensus in Nigeria.
Nigerian Elites are selfish, self centred and self entitled. When they dont get what they want, they oppose every reform that will benefit the common man. – Elrufai
This is contained in a speech he delivered at First Public Lecture of Al-Hikmah University, Ilorin, on Wednesday 28th February 2018.
“Governing Justly: Perspectives from Near and Far with Lessons for Nigeria”, being a speech delivered by Malam Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai, at the First Public Lecture of Al-Hikmah University, Ilorin, on Wednesday 28th February 2018.
It is with a high sense of humility that some time back, I accepted the invitation to speak at this first public lecture of Al-Hikmah University. I am happy to be in this respected academic and professional community.
An institution like Al-Hickman must be encouraged in every way possible. I was a cabinet minister in President Obasanjo’s administration when the Federal Executive Council approved the license for this University. Seeing that distant idea of 2005 become a successful reality today is a source of great satisfaction to me.
Thank you for inviting me, and thereby enabling me to reconnect with old friends and professional colleagues like Arc Makanjuola (Makay), Murtala Orire and my Barewa classmate, Engr Mohammed Abdulkarim (Skido). It is a pleasure and honour to be in Ilorin once again, and enjoy the warm hospitality of my brother, Governor Abdul-Fatah Ahmed.
Let me extend my congratulations to the courageous and visionary founder of this University, Alhaji Abdurraheem Oladimeji, the Vice Chancellor and the management for hosting this maiden public lecture. Your choice of topic, which focuses on governance and justice, is highly commendable. May Allah Reward you all abundantly with Aljannah Firdaus, Amin.
In our religion of Islam and indeed in all the monotheistic faiths, Allah enjoins us to be fair and just to all human beings. Our Prophet, Muhammad (PBUH) enjoins us to love for our neighbour what we love for ourselves. Public leadership and justice are therefore so intimately connected in our religion and culture that it can be said that to govern well is to do justice.
Being a non-academic, I will try to share my thoughts and experiences on this subject in the hope that the conversation will continue beyond this lecture. I have no doubt in my mind that we need grounded discourse on multiple platforms to move our country closer to evolving the sort of strong elite consensus on which our national prospects depend.
The goal of a government is to advance the society:
Many human societies advanced towards state formation to handle the complex demands of upholding peace, and promoting prosperity and progress. Individually, human beings are capable of limited productive activity and limitless capacity for evil. In collaboration, much more can be produced, and collective action can do much to reduce violence and create social norms that engenders progress. It therefore made sense for citizens to surrender certain individual rights, in return for guarantees that the state (Thomas Hobbes called it leviathan) will provide security, preserve order and enable the conditions for people to make the most of their talents.
Meeting these legitimate expectations of citizens require the best efforts of those that run government. It places a high premium on leadership, that ability to harness authority, power and thought to achieve noble ends.
The literature and human experience sugggest that however it may have emerged, government has historically been expected to provide direction, mobilise human capital for nation-building and manage available resources for the general wellbeing of the people. The Old Testament describes how rulers were often confronted by prophets for perceived failures to uphold their side of the bargain. There is also the story of the Caliph (Umar in Madinah Al-Munawwarah) who went around town in disguise and heard a woman bitterly blame him for the hunger her children were suffering.
These centuries-old anecdotes just serve to indicate that even absolute rulers were not absolved of the expectation to govern justly. Oliver Cromwell’s overthrow of the British monarchy, and the attendant execution of King Charles, and the French Revolution, represent two of the most extreme manifestations of the kind of reactions that could attend a failure to govern justly.
The decision of colonial subjects in the American territories to reject British rule also stemmed from a conclusion by the Americans that the British Crown could neither govern them justly nor promote their rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Here in Nigeria, the founder of the Sokoto Caliphate observed that governance must be guided by Justice, not religion or any other affiliation. He famously observed that leadership may endure with unbelief but not with injustice. Our leader President Buhari consistently insists that ensuring social justice is the main purpose of government, and never stops reminding state governors, ministers and others that work with him.
Recently, a respected scholar of African governance, Professor Richard Joseph of North-Western University summarised the foregoing so perfectly that I will quote him in full:
“Improving governance is recognized as a priority concern of all societies. It is more the case today because of heightened economic competition and increased risks posed by the mismanagement of government revenues. A focus on governance includes government authorities, as well as those outside the state sphere. Governance concerns how public goals are established, how they are pursued, and how the power to accomplish them is acquired, utilized, and held accountable. The bundle of these practices, and the norms that frame them, we call institutions.” (Joseph, 2016).
But what does it actually mean to govern justly?
This matter is not as simple as it looks, because justice is sometimes viewed only from a partial prism. For instance, the Greek city states of antiquity are famed for introducing democracy as a governance norm. Yet these city states were mainly slave-owning. Thus, we have the paradox of democracy being introduced, practised and praised by societies that excluded and constrained the rights of many of their own residents. Thus, as we read Socrates we are inclined to wonder if the plight of the slaves, or their rights, ever occupied him.
Sometimes, people and governments do things that they know and intend to be unjust. Much of modern slavery, and the colonial enterprises launched by the European powers in the 19th Century were not intended to be in favour of their victims. Recall how many French citizens in Algeria in the 1960s bitterly resented their own government’s decision to concede the independence of Algeria, after a bloody war waged to expel French colonists.
There is also the important matter that many government policies produce winners and losers. The decision to privatise state-owned enterprises, sell-off government houses, prohibit certain imports, or support priority sectors with cheap credit, will create eager beneficiaries as well as sombre losers, each of whom will feel justly or unjustly treated, depending on the sense of gain or loss.
Commentators are referencing this differing notions of justice in relation to the burgeoning populist movements across the West. Moments of anxiety, where the pace of technological change is leaving many dazed and unable to cope, where new economic forces are weakening old safety nets, creative destruction is rewarding new industries and rendering old certainties obsolete, the winners are becoming increasingly wealthy, and the losers bitterly resentful.
History records that the introduction of modern weaving machines into the English textile industry met considerable resistance from workers who viewed the transition from the old methods of cotton spinning as a threat to their livelihoods. While the textile craftsmen of old lost out, the emergence of blue-collar workers earning even better wages while producing more at higher quality helped give Europe an edge over the rest of the planet.
The Industrial Revolution therefore created immense wealth, but governments in Europe tried with varying degrees of success to manage the downsides. The Germans created the prototype of the welfare state with Bismarck establishing the first-ever pension system. The United Kingdom imposed a regressive tax system to fund the establishment of the National Health Service (NHS). The NHS is a single-payer system guaranteeing healthcare for all, and removing the prospect of ill-health constituting an economic disaster for the victim’s family. These efforts at re-balancing and redistribution of costs and benefits in society are due to the continuous search for social justice on the part of governments and public leaders.
Examples from far and near
There is a deep-seated hunger for justice in the human soul. Notions of justice are tied to the concepts of fairness, equity and equality of opportunity. It is sometimes easy to forget how rigid hierarchies of race and class for centuries created the impression that some humans were superior to others. It is not for nothing that the American Declaration of Independence clearly stated that All Human Beings are Created Equal and imbued with certain rights, even though a footnote to this same declaration defined a non-white person as two-thirds of a human being, and it took more than a hundred years before persons of the female gender were given the right to vote in America, and even longer for blacks to enjoy full civil rights.
As will soon become obvious, the examples I will cite clearly indicate that I regard as governing justly those leaders that protect and raise living standards, create job opportunities, provide decent public education and affordable health, within a climate of security, rule of law and equal opportunity.
Countries like Singapore, Norway, and New Zealand have excelled in good governance and attained high literacy and employment rates. What they all have in common are strong institutions, seamless leadership succession and selection, low crime rates, consistently strong human right protections and predictable legal systems. They are among the most peaceful and highly developed countries of the world today, where citizens have equal opportunity to acquire education, and enjoy social services and justice.
Some of these countries are not resource-rich. But they all rank high on the Human Development Index, with high per capita incomes, egalitarian cultures, healthy, well-educated citizens and low crime rates. The Human Development Index is often published as an annual report by the United Nations, and it indicates average achievement in key dimensions of human development, including literacy, healthcare and a decent standard of living.
Singapore was transformed from a small backwater city-state to first world status within a generation. The leadership team of the country at independence from Britain, led by Lee Kuan Yew, chose to be pragmatic, and to actively attract foreign capital to create jobs for its diverse population and drive development. While some of its neighbours assailed imperialist and multinational conspiracies, Singapore quietly got on with creating for itself a place in the sun by courting the multinationals.
According to the Global Peace Index (GPI), the eight (8) main drivers for positive peace found in countries that are the most stable and highly developed in the world are:
Sound business environment,
Acceptance of the rights of others,
Good relations with neighbours,
Free flow of information,
High level of human capital,
Low level of corruption, and
Equitable distribution of income.
At this point, it is appropriate to reflect on these eight drivers and ask how we would honestly and objectively score Kwara State, Kaduna State and Nigeria thereon. The results of the reflection can answer many questions about where we are as sub-nationals and as a country.
Some African Examples
Seychelles and Mauritius are the two countries at the top of the human development and peace index in Africa. These countries have experienced rapid growth and have become the most stable economies in Africa owing to good governance and strong institutions. Seychelles became independent in 1976 and has since grown its nominal GDP by more than sevenfold. It is the only African country to be rated as having high HDI, ranked 63rd in the world and first in Africa. The country runs a free education system and had achieved 100% literacy as at 2014. The unemployment rate was 3% in 2015, while GDP per capita is US $28,000.
Mauritius was ranked first in good governance in Africa by the Mo Ibrahim African Governance Index 2015. The Economist Intelligence Unit that measures the state of democracy in 167 countries of the world rated Mauritius 18th worldwide and the only African country with “full democracy”. The country also runs a free education system from the primary to the tertiary level and has attained 89.8% adult literacy and 100% school enrolment.
Both Seychelles and Mauritius are nations dominated and governed by Indian settlers. Is there a purely Black nation capable of achieving rapid progress? South Africa is not the quintessential Black nation we can point to due to its unique history. Is good governance positively-correlated with race?
Botswana is a country that defeats the very racist explanations of lack of development and progress in most of Sub-Saharan Africa. Botswana is a sparsely populated country of some 2m people. At independence in 1966, Botswana was the world’s third poorest country and could only boast of 12km of paved roads. That country has moved from its per capita income from US $70 in the 1960s to US $18,825 by 2015. Botswana’s economy is based on diamond mining, cattle rearing and tourism, and the country has the highest HDI in sub-Saharan Africa.
This is tremendous transformation in a country where the fixation of some of its elite with tribal custom, and the racism of the British and the neighbouring apartheid government in South Africa, once prevented its leading prince from returning to the country because he had the audacity to marry a white English woman. Prince Seretse Khama, who subsequently renounced his right to the throne of his tribe, later emerged as Botswana’s founding president in 1966, presiding over the rapid development of the country. His successors in office have preserved the trend of progress, and power has changed hands without acrimony. His son, Ian Khama, a retired general, became the country’s fourth president in 2008.
Where is Nigeria? Dismal statistics on HDI
Nigeria has consistently been ranked 152nd in Human Development Index (HDI) since 2013, far behind other smaller African countries. The giant of Africa is Africa’s 20th in HDI ranking.
Countries such as Seychelles, Mauritius, Botswana and Tunisia, all of whom are much smaller than Nigeria consistent attain better rankings. Nigeria’s poor ranking is not surprising; our country is confronted by a legacy of high poverty, high illiteracy, and low standards of living, all stemming from accretions of bad governance.
In 2017, the National Bureau of Statistics revealed that Nigeria has some 29 million unemployed persons, and an unemployment rate of 18.8%. Youth unemployment was placed at 61.6%, meaning that the segment that constitutes the vast majority of our population is mainly not at work. About 65 million Nigerians are said to be illiterate and 10.5 million children of school age are out of school, according to UNESCO, most of them in Northern Nigeria.
Yet, we witnessed the squandering of nearly US $400billion of inherited savings and earned income in the eight-year Yar’Adua-Jonathan era alone. A culture of corruption, waste and mis-management has stymied our country and distorted perceptions of what is right and wrong.
We have at the federal and state levels governments that are striving to govern justly. But they cannot overturn the baleful legacy of benighted governments overnight. There is need to articulate a proper national consensus on what our national goals are and what standards a majority of citizens would subscribe to rank our Nigeria as a justly governed polity. And there must be a consistent, unwavering focus on delivering the security, peaceful coexistence and human development goals that would deliver justice to the vast majority of our people.
An Agenda for Governing Justly
Governments across Nigeria have to invest sustainably in developing human capital, growing the economy and providing social services that will reduce illiteracy, unemployment, inequality and poverty. The Federal Government has already published its Economic Development and Growth Strategy. It is my hope that as we consolidate our exit from recession, we would push to accelerate growth and create conditions to unleash the remarkable endowment and talents of our people.
Nigeria has for too long been a country of vast potential. The challenge before us is to quickly begin to realise these potentials through clear-headed policy, hard work, appropriate incentives-and-sanctions and consistency. With our vast arable land and body of rivers and lakes, we should be an agriculture powerhouse with a strong line-up of exports, domestic and sub-regional food self-sufficiency.
Nigeria has proven reserves of 34 solid minerals in commercial quantities, capable of generating billions of dollars in foreign exchange and accelerating our diversification from dependence on oil and gas. Nigeria’s most important but often under-utilised and ignored resources are the innovative and entrepreneurial youth population, with greater capacity to earn revenues far in excess of oil – in sports, music, movies, software development, etc. We must organise our affairs better to leverage on these natural endowments.
Many Nigerians wrongly expect and blame the Federal Government for the day to day challenges they face. The truth however is that apart from defence and security, monetary and fiscal policy, and international relations, most of the burden of governance that affects the people daily and directly rests on sub-national governments like Kwara and Kaduna States. Accordingly, a lot of the work to remake and reorient governance would have to be undertaken in our 36 states and the local governments they supervise, which have primary responsibility for Education, Healthcare, Agriculture, Roads and other infrastructure.
Governing in a Sub-National – The Kaduna Experience
In Kaduna State, we are trying to institute good governance and promote development, within serious constraints of limited finances and a legacy of selfish elite entitlement. In May 2015, we assumed responsibility for leading a state that was devoting 80% of its resources to payment of salaries. The state was therefore serving the needs of the less than 1% of the population that works for the government or is close to it. We said that this is unjust, as it neglects the rights of the 99% that do not work for the government to public goods like decent roads, schools and hospitals, and other services.
The Kaduna State we inherited was basically dependent on allocations from the Federation Account for most of its revenues, and most of its schools and hospitals were in poor shape. The roads were in a state of disrepair while our competitive advantages of social inclusion, and in sectors like agriculture, industrial production, military presence and higher education were rapidly eroding. In brief, the Kaduna State Government and the 23 local governments were in existence merely to pay salaries of public servants. The state had nearly collapsed.
We had campaigned in 2014 on a programme that promised the Equality of Opportunity, so that every child can be given a fair chance in the race of life, and that the circumstances of anyone’s birth do not necessarily limit their prospects. We therefore, promised to expand access to Public Education and Healthcare, and to encourage private investments to create jobs, boost our Internally Generated Revenue and promote inclusive development in our state.
As soon as we took office, we began a campaign against waste. For example, we pulled the government out of sponsoring religious pilgrimage, and stopped the practice of giving out public funds monthly to favoured organisations, and some big men and women that are today loud in attacking us. Then we tried to ascertain precisely how many people work for the government, who they are and how many are pensioners through repeated biometric verifications.
We also immediately implemented the pledge to make the first nine years of basic education truly and unconditionally free and compulsory. We abolished all fees in primary and junior secondary schools, saving parents about N3bn per year. We also commenced the renovation of schools, providing roofs, doors, windows, water and toilets where they did not exist. In our first week in office, we were told that at least 50% of our pupils sit on floors due to the absence of school furniture. Therefore, we have been producing, procuring and supplying massive quantities of school furniture. So bad was the situation that one school in Rigasa – a settlement in Kaduna Metropolis – had over 26,000 pupils. As a result of our policies, we have seen primary school enrolment rise from 1.1 million in 2015 to nearly 2 million today.
We then began addressing the problem of unqualified teachers. We have disengaged 21,780 failed teachers and are recruiting 25,000 new, tested and qualified teachers. We successfully faced down the hypocrisy of political opportunists and the resistance of trade unions, and the first batch of about 15,000 new teachers we are hiring are now undergoing final screening. Teachers in Kaduna State will be better paid than other public servants and they can rise to the coveted Grade Level 17, that is Permanent Secretary grade without having to stop being classroom teachers, headmasters or principals. We are also providing housing and transportation incentives to encourage rural teachers. We intend to restore the honour, dignity and pride which the teacher and the profession rightly deserve.
In secondary schools, we increased the feeding allowance for our boarders from N66 to N300 per student per day. We are doing a pilot programme using computer tablets as instructional materials, with partial support from NNPC/ExxonMobil. We started this in our girls’ secondary schools and will measure performance against schools without tablets to see if there is a marked difference.
In healthcare, we inherited a dire situation in which we lose too many pregnant women during childbirth, together with unacceptably high rates of infant mortality. We are therefore renovating and equipping 255 primary health centres, one in each ward, with modern equipment from General Electric and staffing them with adequate human resources so that we can reduce maternal and infant mortality. We have expanded coverage of our routine immunisation of children against preventable diseases. Some of our PHCs are being powered by solar panels all day and night. Pre-natal, ante-natal and post-natal care, as well as healthcare for children under 5, and senior citizens over 70 years is free in Kaduna State.
The health facilities modernisation programme also targets 23 secondary health centres which are also receiving equipment, staff and commodities for better treatment and safer surgeries. To reduce cultural barriers that prevent more women from accessing antenatal care, we have sponsored young females to study medicine not only in Nigeria but in Sudan, Uganda and Cuba.
Although we have created thousands of direct jobs within our public service, we are encouraging private investments that have greater capacity to hire more people. Last September, President Muhammadu Buhari commissioned the $150 million Olam Poultry and Feed Mill project in Kaduna. We have a host of investors like Tomato Jos in agriculture, Mahindra in tractor assembly and Blue Camel manufacturing PV solar panels.
But there are some of our young people who want to explore the challenges and rewards of being entrepreneurs rather than be in employment. To support them, we created the Kaduna Start-up Entrepreneurship Programme (KADSTEP), which trains graduate entrepreneurs in business skills over three months, and assists them to develop a business plan that can be financed through single digit interest loans jointly provided by the state government and the Bank of Industry.
In implementing policies to promote equality of opportunity, we try not to leave anyone behind. Therefore, we have various schemes to enhance the employability of non-graduates. We have renovated our Business Apprenticeship Training Centres in all 23 local government areas to provide vocational training. We also partnered with the construction industry and NOUN to operate the Kaduna Artisan Training Academy (KADAT) to train artisans for the construction trades. In the Kaduna Electronic, Electrical and Energy Academy (KADEEEA), we are transferring needed skills to willing young persons interested in electronics, and renewable energy careers.
We have already succeeded in doubling IGR, from N13bn in 2015 to N27bn in 2016 not by introducing new taxes or increasing the rates of subsisting taxes, but by getting more people into the tax base, abolishing cash collections and centralising the collection of all revenues in the Kaduna Internal Revenue Service.
Under our systematic land titling and registration system, our Kaduna Geographic Information Service (KADGIS) is offering everyone with landed property, whether buildings or bare land – especially our farmers a chance to secure valid title at the cost of only N5,000.
Conclusion – What We Must Do as Public Leaders
The Founder, Vice Chancellor, Principal Officers of the Al-Hikmah University, Ladies and Gentlemen, Nigeria is a potentially rich country with more than 120m poor people. Governing justly will appear to me to be to implement a steady and consistent programme to expand development, promote equal opportunity and roll back poverty. In substantive terms, it means to improve the lives of ordinary people within the means we can command and giving them the confidence to use their talents to become dynamos of growth.
We must set our sights on upholding for ordinary people distributive justice, which has been described as sharing resources, such as social goods, opportunities and power in a fair, equitable and impartial manner.
There is a consensus that entrenching justice, fairness and equity in governance often promotes sustainable human development, and delivers improved wellbeing. If we achieve it for most of our people, we would be achieving justice as “that which has the best consequences,” as John Stuart Mill elegantly put it.
Thank you for listening.
God Bless Al-Hikmah University, its founder and community.
God Bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai, OFR