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Class of distinction presents +Improving Governance in Government

By Mazi Odera
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The discourse on “Transformation Ethics and Security –The Challenge of National Development” is timely and most appropriate, because it captures the main challenges we face as a people, as a state and as a nation; and reflects our shared aspirations and as well as requirements for achieving our collective goal, namely, national development and transformation.

Grasping the imperatives of transformational development requires a mindset that led Abraham Lincoln to once pronounce, “I plucked a weed and planted a flower”. That declaration in real terms, as action and even figuratively, should be the guide for public policymakers and those charged for executing public policies, if indeed, they aim at improving governance in government. It reflects in a nutshell, the essence of decision-making.

As I have often postulated, there is nothing like a bad public policy, since all public policies are supposedly well-intended. Often, what we confront are badly conceptualized policies; poorly articulated public policies and badly implemented public policies. When a desirable policy does not come to fruition, it becomes a failed or bad policy. In reality, however, quite often good public policies are undermined due to poor work or moral ethics.

A case in point; presently, Anambra State is shortchanged whenever good and well-intended policies are upturned and made self-serving. It has been observed that there is a clear dichotomy between the values and vision of H.E. Gov. Peter Obi, and the values of some of those serving under him. Why so?

In the nation and the 36 States, the Civil Service, once the conscience of the government is now riddled with pockets recidivists, who systematically apply in-house knowledge to swindle the government and people. Some political appointees fixated on turning every aspect of governance into transactions are equally culpable. It is this high level of greed and impunity that is destroying Nigeria.

Ironically, those in governance are constantly watched and assessed. Just as observers decry pockets of recidivism in government, they also make bold to acknowledge pockets of professionalism, excellence, and proven values of good governance.

Normatively, it is now widely accepted that national development can only take place in the context of collective public security, individual safety and where ethics is the foundation of public policy. If the idea that a country needs security of lives, property and contracts to develop is obvious; the related notion that ethics in governance is fundamental to development would appear abstract. But it is not. Clearly, there is a nexus between security and ethics as pre-requisites of national development.

Every government --- more so any government that seeks to offer purposeful government or purposeful leadership to its people --- must perform three core functions: ensuring the security and safety of the people; providing for their basic social needs, including meeting their needs in times of natural disasters; and creating an enabling environment for the people to undertake normal social, cultural and economic activities for the improvement of their wellbeing. Pulled together, these strands lead to empowerment, more so, since POWER both in its economic and political sense has been defined as “People Organized and Working for Economic Rebirth”.

Hence, improving governance in government or in business must rest on several core principles: transparency, predictability, accountability, responsiveness and involvement of relevant stakeholders. What sets “governance in government” apart from “governance in business” are the norms of ethical conduct, the expectations of the people, the instruments of discipline and the perception of credibility.

As a nation, we bedeviled by the dilemma of conflicting popular expectations. Peoples expectations play a significant role in public governance than it is often realized. Yet, conflicting popular expectations of those in political power are obstacles to improving governance in government. Indeed, conflicting popular expectations are a major source of unethical conduct in government and an important reason why poor governance persists in many aspects and facets of government.

These challenges manifest themselves in various ways. People expect the government to deliver basic services, yet they do not want to meet their civic obligation of paying taxes for funding such services. It is commonplace that some of those charged with internally generated revenue (IGR) sidetrack due process and devise disingenuous means of diverting public funds into private coffers. Some public officials engage in outright grand larceny, as in the case of the fuel subsidy and pension scheme scams. How then is the government expected to pay for those basic services that are its statutory responsibility?

It is a paradox that Nigerians seemingly abhor rigging of elections, yet they believe that those campaigning for elective offices should offer "financial incentives or inducements" before they cast their votes for the candidates. Nigerians have the expectations that those in high positions in government should be honest, while, on the other hand, hoping that highly-placed government officials have unlimited financial resources to offer at every imaginable social occasions. Where are these honest government leaders expected to get these financial resources from beyond their salaries? Can we not deduce that unreasonable popular expectations just as unfettered greed can be a source of corruption?

Indubitably, there is a correlation between conflicting popular expectations and bad governance. While it would be fallacious to conclude that all the problems of poor governance emanate mainly from conflicting popular expectations --- conflicted expectations are symptomatic of deeper problems. The purpose of government -- and of those in its employ, whether elected, appointed or recruited as civil servants, is to serve the people. That is why they are called public servants. Public Servants are required to have and exhibit the ethics of humility, integrity and impartiality in the management and conduct of public affairs.

However, the decline in these attributes has resulted in a growing confidence gap between the people and the leaders. The end result is dismal professionalism and dearth of excellence in the public service. It may seem anecdotal and rhetorical; but humility, integrity or impartiality is like a full pregnancy – both are very visible.

The ongoing discourse on transformational agenda (as well as the controversial and self-serving good governance tour), underlines the need for a new approach or orientation to public service. Indeed, there are ways in which purposeful governance can be enhanced and the greater purpose of government achieved.

At the risk of sounding periphrastic, no one should seek to govern or articulate governance policies if they do not have or share in an identifiable vision. Indeed, the quest for purposeful governance should be a philosophy aimed at the common good. Presently, Anambra State continues to witness the constructive and salutary impact of such visionary inclination through the execution Gov. Peter Obi's Anambra Integrated Development Strategy (ANIDS). The few Nigerian states currently evaluated as doing well, are states where the Governors have demonstrable policies linked to their personal vision.

In governance, policymaking should enjoy priority while the faithful implementation of public policies should seek to retain their primal kick at all times. Consequently, in seeking to achieve policy goals, due process will always be imperative, but should not become a pretext or an impediment to achieving purposeful governance.

Ultimately, the challenge we face as a nation and particularly in Anambra State -- and I say this from my vantage position -- is how to change the prevailing institutional inertia and governance dysfunction. The synoptic answer is by instituting good governance mindset, by ensuring coherence, coordination and synergy in policymaking, execution and in the broader context, in our problem solving methods. Throwing huge sums of money at any problem without a proper diagnosis and a grasp of the required process for achieving the goal will always come to naught or at best, dissonance in policy.

Finally, public sector performance must have ownership that derives from accountability and dedication. The continued diminution of these values in our governing circles, must give us pause. Those of us involved in governance must have a mission based on personal realism. For my part, I am involved in governance for the sake of our posterity- and because my children and grandchildren deserve a far better Nigeria than the one handed down to my generation. Only such a transformational mindset, largely individualist, will lead to improving governance in government. Our earnest and collective aspiration, therefore, should be to serve like Abraham Lincoln, and before leaving public office to have “plucked some weeds and planted some flowers”.

Oseloka Henry Obaze is Secretary to the Anambra State Government. This op-ed piece is adapted from his remarks at the 2013 NIPR (Anambra) State Convention in Awka.