The Presidency is an institution, an institution granted executive powers by our (dysfunctional) constitution. The duty of the necessary bureaucracy of government is to serve that institution as the institution serves the public and to ensure that certain aspects of the institution cannot be abused by the occupier of the office. Whilst the doctrine of separation of powers in a democracy exists as a “check and balance” measure that aims to prevent one branch of government from abusing its powers, the effectiveness of this doctrine can only be as strong as the quality of the members of the various branches of government. However, what can other branches of government do when the constitution of a country grants the Presidency outsized powers relative to other public executive offices? How will the Presidency check itself from abusing others?
For example, should Nigeria continue to fuse the office of Attorney General of the federation with that of the Minister of Justice? With the Ministerial part of the fused portfolio being a political appointment, can they really operate independently of the Presidency in its mandate as AG to pursue fairness of justice for all? Can a fused office provide both legal advices to the Presidency whilst also making decisions that are binding on the same government as AG? More recently, a separate Attorney General will be defending the CJN and other judicial officers in the Presidency’s DSS onslaught on judicial officers but with our approach being a fused one, the office is conflicted and neutralises the checks and balance offered by separation of powers!
In this article, I mentioned the need for us to create a profile for the Presidency and hence a job description for prospective Presidents. I argued that by creating this profile, some candidacies will become non-starters as the profile will readily rule them out of the running leaving us to get on with the serious duty of electing a fitting President by only considering high quality candidates. I also argued that the Presidency profile should be broadly based on inclusion under three overarching categories: political, economic and social. Subsets of these three categories can then become the basis of the President’s job description. We could potentially apply this vetting framework to any public executive office.
What do I mean by economic, political and social inclusion?
A lot of inhumane atrocities and discrimination passed off as ‘culture’ has been committed in our country over the years. Even if it is indeed culture, this is the 21st century and culture by nature is evolutionary so some practices like female genital mutilation, child marriages, inadequate support for disabled persons, gender inequality are all social imbalances that the Presidency should be concerned about on an ongoing basis until appropriate mitigating laws are passed, policies implemented and desired outcome observed and a new more-socially-aware culture becomes mainstream. In vetting Presidential candidates, we should seek to ensure that candidates have a sound grasp of the gaps in our laws; have clear understanding of required policy changes but importantly also have demonstrable history of advocating for a socially aware society and experience of successfully implementing same in their area of career expertise.
As has been written several times by a plethora of political commentators, Nigeria is suffering from a political crisis – a crisis that dates back to pre-independence and has afflicted both civilian and military administrations. With hindsight, we now know that the way the British divided Nigeria and handed it over on independence was a ticking political time bomb. As surely as night follows day, the country has been in one form of political crisis after another ever since the first coup in 1966. We know that we cannot continue to pay lip service to federalism. We need the Presidency to pursue and fully implement all aspects of federalism. The President must realise and act like s/he is the President of all of Nigeria and not just their party or those that voted them into office. Candidates for President must be able to articulate what our fault lines are and have a clear strategy of reducing the fault lines in an equitable, fair and just manner. Candidates for President should have demonstrable and independently verifiable history of being bridge builders, promoters of one Nigeria whilst restructuring the nation in a manner that gets every division to buy into the vision of actualising a Nigerian dream. Candidates for President should be able to enunciate the imbalances in our political institutions, structure and establishment. Candidates should have clear and implementable ideas for dealing with our imbalances with the aim of reducing it, allowing for dissenting views and the need for political opposition whilst appreciating historical grievances and their relevance to moving our nation forward.
We need to clarify the default ideological views of candidates on the rule of law. Is it sacrosanct to them? Will they respect it? What demonstrable history do they have of respecting the rule of law? What is the candidate’s ideological position on corruption? How do they believe it should be tackled? Who do they believe should be tackling it? What are their views on using the carrot or stick approach to tackling corruption – more stick than carrot or vice versa? What does the candidate know about our political history? What is their default ideological view on how we should be politically structured? Why do they believe this is better for us as a nation? What in their history demonstrates consistency with this view? If there have been ideological changes to their view over time, what instigated the change in view? Have they read the various Confab Reports and what is their view of it? Do they intend to reinvent some wheels? How do they intend to go about implementing their ideological views on our political structure? What is their view of security and policing structure? What is their view on establishing state police? If they believe in it, what implementation timeline will they commit to? What hindrances do they foresee and how do they hope to navigate these? What issues have candidates identified with our Constitution? Why are they issues? What are the solutions to these issues? Are their solutions visionary and ideological or practical and only provides short term respite? Can the solutions be implemented within a reasonable time frame? What is their view on the cost of governance? What changes would they propose and at what level? How would they go about securing universal buy-in from all arms of government and the public? Do they have demonstrable and independently verifiable history of implementing structural and strategic change?
Typically, citizens in a country practising the democratic system of governance reward political parties that meet their needs for jobs, earnings, security and a decent living standard with more tenure in public office. This implies that the point of political power should be to improve the living standards of citizens as well as their aspiration for growth and development. Political power becomes unstable in an environment of declining economy. The foundation for our country’s recent recession was laid year’s prior to President Buhari’s tenure. No matter what the current government says, this recession was not inevitable – slower growth and development were, but the recession could and should have been avoided with better policy reaction. Besides being in recessionary environment, the level of human development, income & economic inequality in Nigeria is at crisis level. UNDP, World Bank, Ease of Doing Business and our own official Statistical data show that the trends are getting more worrisome. The Presidency as an institution must make economic inclusion a key and permanent policy focus. Our economic challenges require that those in leadership positions need to have excellent knowledge of economics and investing for growth and development. To this end we must ensure that candidates for Presidents have the required level of economic knowledge that will be useful in this regard. Candidates must clarify their view of markets and the role of the financial market. Where on the economic spectrum is their belief system? Are they philosophically inclined to free-markets or have preference for a planned economy? What is their view of the role of monetary authority and policy in the economy and its independence? What is their view of the role of fiscal policy and what policies do they intend to pursue in that regard? What is their view on currencies and what role will the exchange rate play in their overall policy strategy? What is the candidate’s opinion on sources of government revenue in relation to taxes and extracting resource rent? What sort of economic growth do they want to pursue – export led or more emphasis will be on import substitution? How does this fit in with fiscal policy? Do candidates have demonstrable business experience that shows appreciation for issues facing businesses in Nigeria? What sort of economic or business relationships have candidates cultivated over the years? Are these relationships aligned to proposed manifesto promises? Can we observe philosophical alignment between the candidate and their network of connections? Does the candidate have demonstrable experience of creating and managing a team of experts and have delivered positive/desired outcome? Has the candidate’s ideology on economic system been longstanding? Have there been any changes? When did this occur? Is there an empirical, intellectual and rigorous basis for this change or was it just politically convenient?
What am I getting at?
We need Security Reform, Judicial Reform, Education Reform, Healthcare Reform, Gender Reform, Industrial Reform, Political Reform, Governance Reform, Economic Reform, Technology Reform, Census, Welfare Reform basically there’s so much to do and the rest of the world isn’t waiting for us that we run the risk of being permanently left behind. We cannot afford to be distracted by partisan considerations that perpetuate the sorry state we’ve found ourselves and that keeps the worst of us in the corridors of power or make it impossible for the best of us to deliver when they find themselves near power. The solutions to most of our challenges exist in the world, we just need to copy and implement right. We need to elect those that understand complex political and economic models with the empathy and resolve to apply it successfully.