Corruption and Economic Recession: the role of Political Scientists
Remarks By Mr. Oseloka Henry Obaze, MD/CEO Selonnes Consult Ltd. And Anambra State Governorship Aspirant At the 2017 Political Science Leadership Summit, Convened by the National Association of Political Science Students (NAPSS), Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University Wednesday, 10th May, 2017
I am delighted to be at the Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University, courtesy of the National Association of Political Science Students (NAPSS). I thank Mr. Richard Ngwu, President of NAPSS and Mr. Valentine Akajiofor, the Secretary of NAPSS for the kind invitation extended to me. Being a Political Scientist myself, I certainly could not resist the temptation to honour the invitation to present the keynote address at 2017 Political Science Leadership Summit. I consider the topic assigned to me, “Corruption and Economic Recession: the role of Political Scientists” as topical, considering our prevailing national circumstances.
Corruption and recession - two negatives with evident nexus - continue to task present day Nigeria. Some consider both an albatross that undermines good governance in our country. Tackling both also pose a great challenge to policymakers and by extension, to political scientists, whose role is to “evaluate the effects of policies and laws on government, businesses and people; and to monitor current events, policy decisions and other issues relevant to their work.” Beyond analyzing, evaluating and critiquing governance policies, political scientists belong to the cadre of Nigeria’s attentive public. Their role is thus, dual-tracked.
By the narrowest definition, corruption is “dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery.” But there are other variants of unethical conducts, such as double-dealing, budget padding, contract splitting, embezzlement, graft and general malfeasance. Corruption inevitably, “involves the abuse of entrusted power for personal gain.” Also in its narrowest definition, recession translates to an identifiable “period of temporary economic decline during which trade and industrial activity are reduced, generally identified by a fall in GDP in two successive quarters.” In the layman terms or the motor park economist’s jargon, recession is when disposable income dries up and purchasing power is diminished.
So what is the role of the political scientist in tackling these two governance and public service challenges? While political science is not an exact science with definitive conclusions, I believe that the solution to any problem is first to diagnose that problem correctly. In this context, political scientists within and outside the orbit of governance, retain the obligation to assess all public policies constructively and to offer advice appropriately. This may require ruffling some feathers, more so, when evaluating public policies requires speaking truth to power, with unvarnished comments and observations. Put simply, we have an obligation to call ‘a spade a spade’; but beyond that we must also recommend salutary and workable panaceas, not just solutions that are self-serving or those driven by transactional rather than public interests.
So what are our present corruption challenges? First, as a nation, our ranking on the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) remains embarrassingly high. “Nigeria is the 136 least corrupt nation out of 175 countries, according to the 2106 Corruption Perception Index.” The lowest we have ranked was 52 in 1997 and the highest 152 in 2005. We must begin to address the perception that Nigerians are collectively corrupt. Yet we must also not make the mistake of fighting corruption selectively. As I see it, fighting corruption is a matter of law and order. Still in a democracy like ours, constitutional dictates remain supreme and we must ensure that while fighting corruption, civil liberties and human rights are duly respected.
Respect for Ordered Liberties
Accordingly, we ought to be deeply concerned about the prevailing fixation with fighting corruption in Nigeria by any means possible, including the subjugation of the rule of law to such whims even when ordered liberties are violated. Such conducts, if unchecked are profoundly dangerous. The greater danger lies not in arbitrary raids, arrests or prosecutions, but in the implications of insinuating rogue precedents into our law enforcement modalities: precedents, which if unchallenged will certainly undermine ordered liberties. As I have said elsewhere, there’s a time to be silent, and a time to speak. It’s time for Nigerians speak up. Those who downplay the mishandling of anti-corruption cases; the disrespect for court orders, including bails and subpoenas, erode the rule of law and thus endanger our democracy. Rule of law is sacrosanct and all about upholding and deepening of democratic ethos. So as political scientists, we must be advocates, for the governed and the government. It is thus our individual and collective role to ensure and insist that every Nigerian citizen is protected from arbitrary arrests, unlawful search and seizure, has the right to counsel, enjoys presumption of innocence, as well as the right against self-incrimination.
We must also stand up against the arbitrary use of executive fiats and extra-judicial powers. we must insist on due process and join CSO and NGOs to challenges any governmental abuses in the name if fighting corruption. Such challenges, when they go unquestioned, tarnish the level of trust the public has for government and its institutions. We need to do thing properly and follow due process. Today, Nigeria is enforcing whistle blowing policies that are not backed by any legislation; the pertinent legislation was not passed by the 7th Senate and is still under consideration in the 8th Senate. Such public policy stance is extremely dangerous. The ethical implications of whistleblowing can be negative as well as positive. Nonetheless, the greatest danger to our nation, Constitution, law enforcement and the anti-corruption war, is to allow the entrenchment of rogue precedents and worse still, to allow such precedents to gain currency and assume validity. In sum, creating awareness remains an imperative.
Sustainable Development Is Required
And what are our present economic challenges and how do we as political scientists address them? It is common knowledge that well before crashing oil prices destabilized Nigeria's rebased economy; the economy was already distressed due to mismanagement, policy vacillations and intrusive partisan politics. Our nationally recorded growth in first quarter of 2016 was a stunted at 2.1 percent. We also experienced an arrested total growth of 2.8 percent in 2015 --the slowest and lowest since 1999. A sad corollary is that the earning and purchasing power of Nigerians continue to dwindle. So any meaningful “change” or economic revamp must start with addressing the plight of the national population.
Presently, Nigeria remains in a governance crisis mode; in arrested development and indeed, in economic recession. Our country is not working optimally – and the prevailing dysfunctionality can be discerned at the federal, state and local government levels. The State of the Nigerian Nation is not strong! I am aware that some analysts continue to point to discernible fiscal and economic progress made in 2016. At best, such progress represents a mixed bag with hardly any redeeming value. The reality is that Nigeria is not just in recession; we are in deep trouble. The nation is beset by hunger. The economy is still under performing in almost all sectors, despite efforts underway to revamp it through the Economic Growth and Recovery Plan (EGRP). Nigeria is presently ranked 152nd out of 188 countries in the UNDP Human Development Index (HDI). She thus retains a position she has held since 2014, which confirms that our country belongs to the Low Human Development (LDH) category.
Despite the promised change, economic reforms are not working and general direction remains ambiguous. We simply need to look at the prevailing subsets: with over 180 million people, a GDP of $413bn, foreign reserve of about $30bn, and market capitalization of about $30bn, we have a negative GDP growth, 19% inflation, 20% unemployment rate and two successive national budgets (2016 and 2017) each with a deficit overhang of N2.3 trillion. As a matter of reduction and deduction, the successive budgets presented by the Buhari administration in 2016 and 2017, are stark metaphors for how not to engender change. Both mirror the other for lackluster policy and bureaucratic foggy thinking and for not grasping how to streamline policies, so that they can be implemented “within available resources”. Granted that deficit budgeting is almost always involuntary, but a nation committed to turning around its wellbeing can’t willfully continue to wallow in deficit.
We must admit that Nigeria is a very lucky and richly endowed country hobbled by a succession of bad leaders. Once the African bellwether and the envisaged leader of the Concert of Medium Powers, today we have been relegated to the third cluster of global power brokers –the MINT (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey). Although our rebased economy remains the largest in Africa, we have been excluded from the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, China, and South Africa) economic category, simply because of uncertainties related to our economy, our poor infrastructure, and our poor governance record.
Focus on Human Capital
Let me digress and speak to an issue that is close to my heart – our youth. Human capital remains our greatest national asset; but we continue to undervalue, underestimate and underfund that sector. We lack demographic dividend – the freeing up of resources for a country’s economic development and future posterity. We have failed to empower our youth and to save for their future. Today, of the Nigerian youths that make up 70 million of Nigeria’s 180 million people, 54% are unemployed and 10.5 million are out of school. Thus as a nation, we encounter a critical mosaic represented by two unemployed sets: the educated, skilled and unemployed and the illiterate, unskilled and unemployed. The consequences are glaring; we are a nation with a huge youth population that is predisposed to violence, cultism, scams, kidnapping, and concerted revenge on society; regrettably our youth bulge has not translated to cheap labour as it ought to. The singular solution to youth unemployment is to engender policies that are youth focused and youth friendly. We must strengthen our institutions and policies that cater for the youth. What these realities signify, are concrete evidence of governance and policy failure and a subsisting deficit in policy coherence and coordination. Perhaps, they signify also our collective failure as political scientists to influence public policies and foster good governance. Are these challenges insurmountable? No!
Corruption and recession -two inextricable governance negatives- will not disappear from Nigeria merely because we so wish. It will take present leadership and perhaps many more future governments to rid our country of endemic corruption. The reality, however, is that government alone, political leadership alone cannot exorcise that cankerworm from our country, if the society at large does not change its mindset. The collective mindset of the national population -adults, youths, children, the literate and illiterate and the rich and the poor- must altered, to accept that while corruption will always yield some gratification, a lesser corrupt nation will always serve the greater good better and more efficiently.
On the recessionary challenges, it will take additional concerted efforts by the present leadership to pull the nation out of recession. As a nation, we have to do more than engage in perfunctory economic, fiscal and monetary policies in order to turn our laggardly economy towards being sustainable and robust. In that context, it is most gratifying that some within the Buhari Administration have acknowledged the need for Nigeria to revert to a holistic national development planning that takes into account, short, medium, and long-term needs of that nation. This will means to use the exact words of my friend, Dr. Yemi Dipeolu, the Special Adviser to President on Economic Matters: “We really must get back to the era of National Development Plan; we did that in the early 60s and 70s, we must get back to the era of treating national plans as national plans” (Vanguard May 1, 2107). If we are interested in governance, good policies ought to be our priority and this will be long-term because governance is about the people and sustainable development.
For our part, the onus is on us all as political scientists, social scientists, and members of the attentive public, to recalibrate and refocus and scale up our advocacy on the modalities that will best serve common cause and engender good governance and efficient service delivery. This role cannot be left to government bureaucrats alone. Even those in the academia and think tanks can still play a proactive role. That, my dear friends, is the way to contribute proactively towards getting our nation of our present morass.
Thank you and God bless.