The strong positive correlation between high performing economies and robust economic and political institutions is undisputed. Through its decisive influence on investment management, revenue generation, resource allocation and the rule of law, financial and other public institutions determine the level of well-being that is achievable by any country. Effective management of any economy is indirectly dependent on the robustness of the governance of its institutions. The palpable absence of this accounts primarily for the failure of our institutions to propel us to the much-desired prosperity and strong economic performance. There are other factors, though. How do we reverse this trend and consequently strengthen them? It is vital to recognise that many factors beyond the well-known contributions of corruption are responsible for the emasculation of our institutions. The emphasis here will be more on public institutions. The first, which appears to be one of the most important is the leadership of these bodies. The concerns here are not limited to the selection process and the ultimate quality of those allowed to lead. The second cause of the problem is deliberate institutional dilutions and the eventual metamorphosis to extractive establishments. The third factor is the defective accountability and performance management process that has come to define the prevailing culture in most of our institutions. Lastly is the inadequate funding of many of some of these public institutions.
Among other factors, motivation is the most critical factor in determining how well a leader performs in any of the economic and political institutions in Nigeria. Motivation is usually of two categories: the primary and secondary. Primary motivation underly and shapes how a leader defines his or her goals and goes about their actualisation. In the latter, the supposed leader submerges his aspirations to those of his paymasters and consequently accepts to be puppeteered by them. The elevated levels of anticipated and actual illicit puppeteering of leaders of our public institutions are the main reason behind the faulty recruitment and selection process of those who head most of these government bodies. There is, on the one hand, heads of institutions that are outrightly not qualified to be there in the first place but are defended by the governments in power through varieties of deft constitutional manoeuvring. On the other hand, are those selected on account of their political and ethnic affiliations and not necessarily based on their capacity to deliver on the mandates of the institution. Only a small fraction meets the square peg and square hole criteria for candidate onboarding.
Given the shameful pattern of miserable failures in the performance of most of our economic and political institutions, one would have expected that the selection process for their leadership would have been more objective. There is absolutely no reason why advertisements for attracting those to occupy management positions (including political appointments) in 80% or more of these institutions should not be put out in the global media. That way, the job descriptions and expectations would have been spelt out while attracting applications from the best candidates of Nigerian citizenship all over the world. Similarly, the handling of such assignments should ideally be by reputable recruitment firms based on well spelt out mandates which should be made well known to the public. Let us consider, for instance, the headship of the central bank of Nigeria. The former and current governors of the central bank were both hand-picked from the commercial banks. These are banks that they, in turn, would regulate as governors of the Bank. Such recruitment which is commonplace is replete with severe bias planned in favour of the banks from where they were selected. It also destroys the supposed level playing ground necessary for fair competition among the banks in the industry.
It is equally not debatable that when the leadership of an institution becomes a marionette that its capacity to perform diminishes. The first step in institutional dilution is the hijack of its leadership. When done successfully, not only is the fraudulent and corrupt intents of the paymasters granted unquestionable priority, the institution itself becomes extractive. Consequently, there is a deliberate sacrificing of the natural inclusiveness that should characterise such institutions. Many of our government institutions today are heavily extractive. Excellent examples include the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) as well as the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS). In these institutions, the Hausa/Fulani language appears to be the officially approved lingua franca and valid evidence of the unbalanced representation of other ethnic groups in the engaged workforce. In effect, they point to a severely defective hiring policy as well as indicate a conscious affirmation that ethnic groups apart from those in the Northern parts of the country may not have equal levels of belongingness in those organisations. The same trend is easily observable in very many other federal government agencies, departments and ministries across the country.
In addition to this evident exclusion is the well-orchestrated political dilutions of our public institutions. Where for instance the head of an institution is known to be subterraneously partisan, other team members who do not share the same ideas, knowing well that partisan undertones might be behind it, often fold their hands and keep their mouths shut to keep their jobs. That way, they are equally excluded from the institution while the institution’s capacity to perform remains weakened. The diminution of institutional performance capacity succeeds through the conscious shadowing of such organisations. Consider, for instance, the array of institutional platforms for advising the president of our country on economic matters. We have the National Planning Commission (NPC), the National Economic Management Team (NEMT), the National Economic Intelligence Committee, the office of the adviser to the president on economic matters, the Central Bank of Nigeria, the Federal Ministry of Finance and so forth. In recent times, it appears as if the roles of the statutorily set up the National Planning Commission (NPC) and the National Economic Intelligence Committee is usurped or shadowed by the economic management team. Just a few weeks ago, it also appeared as if the Economic Advisory Committee set up by the president now shadows the latter, i.e. NEMT. Each shadowing event technically waters down the relevance of the shadowed institution.
There is no need to emphasise that without a motivation to perform in line with the expectations of the taxpayers that there will not be any incentive for a performance management process. That is why our institutions are replete with poor accountability and feeble performance. The choice of many of the leaders of these institutions to act as puppets in effect robs them of the needed understanding and desire to perform meritoriously. Their energies feed into their corrupt self-enrichment plans as well as in the actualisation of the intentions of their paymasters. Again, that explains why our institutions are cesspools of corruption. Even the commercially focused institutions end up as a loss-making organisation. The expectation that such an institution should be self-sustaining gets very little attention because as they would smartly retort, government institutions are not primarily set up for profits or revenue generation. This logic accounts for the failures of our aviation, railways and health institutions, and so on.
The twin problems of the meagre allocation and the misappropriation of the provided funds are the sad realities that combine to emasculate the capacity of our public institutions to deliver on their mandates. On the one side of the divide is the perennial issue of the poor budgetary provision made for critical institutions. In some instances, it appears – from the paltriness of budgetary allocations – as if they no longer consider such institution as relevant. Sometimes, financial apportionments to them can only cover salary payments. On the other extreme is the allocation devouring vampire cults which tread all the institutions of government. The summary is that most institutions receive almost little or nothing to consummate their statutory functions. And that is why our policemen dress like glorified local hunters in uniform. That is also why many of our governments’ hospitals are death clinics as they are bereft of essential medications and equipment for diagnosis. That is why our military resorts to prayers and spiritual warfare to engage the insurgents that are invincible. That is why we rely more on data from the World Bank and IMF than the ones from the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics. And very important, that is why most of our public institutions find it difficult to comply with the Freedom of information expectations. The list of the deplorable consequences is endless.
Again, it is essential to reflect on the quality of the workforce that is available in our public institutions. Unarguably, every institution is as good as the quality of its human resources which includes the leadership. There is no need to rehash the well-known fact that recruitment into the Nigerian public services is replete with lots of underhand deals. Many of the employees found their way into the civil service either by paying for them or handed over to them from the questionable job slots of senior members of the political class. In effect, virtually nobody pays regard to the quality of human resources that currently or should in the future govern our public institutions. Apart from the deliberate marginalisation of those who should occupy those positions by merits, there is also the other issue of the retention of the hired workforce. Over the years, the weak pay packets in government institutions have caused significant disincentives to attract brilliant and well-skilled candidates to those institutions. That also discourages even more of those who ought to remain after gaining intense experiences.
Finally, we can never flourish unless we consciously develop and implement healthy initiatives for strengthening our economic and political institutions. If our institutions remain vulnerable to manipulation and use by those in power, their relevance will continue to wane. If our judiciary, for example, does not live up to its mandates what is the hope for investors and businesspeople who depend upon a safe and stable socio-economic environment to operate profitably?