Government Policies Should Seek Legitimacy

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Government Policies Should Seek Legitimacy

 

By

 

Concerned Professionals

 

Commentary by Mobolaji Aluko

 

November 2, 2004

 

THE Concerned Professionals is alarmed by the deep divisions being introduced into the already fragmented polity. These cleavages are apparently being inflicted on the Nigerian society by the manner of implementation of economic reforms by the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo. More worrisome is the high cost to the economy of the strike action consequent upon people fighting back at what they believe to be anti-people policies of the government with the tool they know best - their right not to go to work.

 

These developments constitute imminent danger to the democracy we fought so hard for and to the prosperity we deserve, and rightly expect as a dividend of democracy, but which for now seems like a distant dream because of the approach of the government. The greater danger, in fact, is that the current approach to implementing reforms which has resulted in paralysis of economic activity in the country is capable of painting so negative an image of reforms that even when this government is gone and a regime with a more acceptable style is in place, reform which the people dearly need for their own good, may be difficult to introduce because the idea of reform may have suffered irreparable damage in the consciousness of the Nigerian Citizen. We must save our country from going down that path.

 

The Concerned Professionals note with great concern the much mistaken framing of the current problem by the Presidency in a way that suggests a contest between those for reform and those against it. The reality is that current social disputation is between those who believe that leaders are agents of the people and should consult the people and be accountable to them, as against the view that government knows best and the people demanding accountability are an irritation at best, and enemies, in the main. We think some reforms are imperative. The benefits of telecommunications and Airline deregulation are far too obvious not to make the need for reform obvious but we are convinced that the style of Petrol price adjustment and the tendency to ignore the impact on living standards, on the part of government, is at the heart of the standoff in which government comes out looking insensitive.

We believe that as Concerned Professionals our first duty is to alert the professionals around the president that they have an ethical duty to speak truth to power. Where they fail to help the same President, who at the launch of late General Joseph N Garba's book, Diplomatic Soldiering, called for "SAP with a human face" they may not only attract the scorn of their peers but also the wrath of history. While General Obasanjo made the remark about "SAP with a human face" to indicate that Gen. Babangida's adjustment policies were anti-people, common consensus suggests that his own reforms have forgotten the human being.

As Professionals we also note the scandal of the tendency to believe that the only good reform ideas come from the World Bank and the IMF and that praise from executives of those Bretton Woods Institutions is the most important ingredient for reform success. We want to note that in 1997, at the peak of the Asian financial crisis Malaysia turned away from the IMF. Its problems were quickly overcome and IMF officials would later acknowledge that the Malaysian approach was more efficacious than that of the Fund which did Indonesia less good.

 

Former World Bank Economists like Joseph Stigliz, the Nobel laureate and William Easterly in book after book have made strong points about inappropriate counsel from Washington. Yet we persist in the current reforms in losing the confidence of the people whose buy-in and consequent disposition is fundamental for success of any reform programme. Afterall the reform is for the people and the human being must be the centre of all development. The prosperity of the grave yard which comes after the people are all dead is an empty prosperity.

 

CP rejects such visions of prosperity and asks for a policy agenda which envisages engagement and true dialogue of respect between policy makers and the people. Nigeria must rein-in the President's Messiah complex or there may be no Nigeria after he is done with us. The Concerned Professionals commits to deploying its network of all Professional Associations to a contestation of the public space for a redefinition of reforms that will draw on abundant human capital that is locally available plentiful in the Nigerian diaspora, for a new people-centered approach to market economy-driven growth that will create jobs and wealth, much badly needed in our country today.

 

CP recognises the urgency demonstrated by a situation in which vast segments of the population voluntarily participate in a strike without any threats from Area boys. It is evidence of hardening of social tensions in a way that history provides frightening precedents. This highway to Somalia has to be avoided at all costs because professionals in Somalia, Liberia, Sierra Leone and elsewhere in Africa watched without acting in what they believed was a matter between politicians and a disconnected state until all who could talk were armed like Mujahadin Asari Dokubo.

 

The consequences were the extinction of many of the professional core group necessary for social progress and a descent into anarchy. CP is determined that Nigeria must not become a failed state in which Warlords hold sway. It recognises this as a possible end-result in the current path in which dialogue is sneered at and government warns all parties that this is not the time to get to the table. Nigeria belongs to all; those in government, those in civil society and the weak, the poor and powerless. Only in doing justice to all can social progress take place.

 

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Signed for: Concerned Professionals by Pat Utomi (Chairman), Tunde Akinleye, C. Don Adinuba, Njideka Anyadike, Tim Akano and John Onyeukwu (National Coordinator)
 

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ALUKO COMMENTARY

Great kudos to the CP for this wonderful diagnosis!  What a joy!

When CP writes that:

 

"The greater danger, in fact, is that the current approach to implementing reforms which has resulted in paralysis of economic activity in the country is capable of painting so negative an image of reforms that even when this government is gone and a regime with a more acceptable style is in place, reform which the people dearly need for their own good, may be difficult to introduce because the idea of reform may have suffered irreparable damage in the consciousness of the Nigerian Citizen....As Professionals we also note the scandal of the tendency to believe that the only good reform ideas come from the World Bank and the IMF and that praise from executives of those Bretton Woods Institutions is the most important ingredient for reform success."

 

these observations are AT THE VERY HEART of own present concerns:  not only are some of the present policies wrong-headed, but that a new regime, brought on either legitimately or illegitimately, and seeking instant popular support from a disenchanted polity,  will reflexively sweep away even the good reforms of the present government because it has not sought national consensus in its many dealings, and treats critics as enemies of progress.   This will then continue our condemnation into one-step-forward-two-steps-back national policies.

 

This Administration MUST be made to listen.  CP, LASCO, NLC and al other civil society organizations must be given maximum support in this putsch to make it listen.  President Obasanjo, presently in some foreign land again (Tokyo today, where next tomorrow?) and his coterie of "Messianic" advisers must be made to listen that Abuja and its Nigerian environs,  not Washington or London or Paris, not the Bretton Woods institutions, must be the center of gravity of our decision-making.  The National Assembly's ears must be pulled; the political parties, particularly the ones in opposition to the mammoth ruling party the PDP, must be made alive to their responsibilities - or all be swept aside.

 

We may be reaching a defining moment in our nascent democracy - yet again. As 2007 beckons, the battle cry from all the nooks and crannies of Nigeria must be "Electoral Reform",  lest we get a new set of "leaders" - presently really "executioners" of our hopes, a recyclable many of who are already baying in the wings - who are of the same stripe as these apparently deaf leaders that we currently have.

Let us organize, not just agonize.

 

Bolaji Aluko

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