A new hope for policy development in Nigeria
For Prof. Akin Mabogunje, the quantum of political and socio-economic challenges facing Nigeria cannot be left for government alone to solve. Rather, eggheads in the country should get involved in scrutinising the quality of policies being formulated and ensuring their implementation within realistic time frame.
To the eminent scholar, blaming government and lamenting won’t solve the problems. He believes the time has come for in-depth research into some of the problems and proffering practicable solutions to identified knotty issues, militating against sustainable development and economic growth in Nigeria.
Developed countries thrive on the knowledge of their scholars, who serve as think-tank to the government and public institutions to deliver on set objectives. For instance, there are over 1,000 such think-tank in the U.S., with its presidency empowered with over 120 think tank groups that provide intellectual support for policies formulation and execution.
The current precarious political and socio-economic situations in the country attest to the fact that Nigeria is in short supply of think tank groups that should help government and public institutions with in-depth research and critical analysis of various policies, which have remained incapable of transforming citizens’ lives for the better.
How do we explain the various policy somersault and campaign promises that remain unfulfilled? Or the economic recession that is already leading to depression, the alarming rate of youth unemployment and its attendant social problems, as well as the uncertainty that characterised the political space, 17 years after uninterrupted democratic governance in Nigeria.
A bold step to providing practical solutions to some of these challenges necessitated the recent inauguration of the Public Policy Group (PPG) of the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP), for which Prof. Mabogunje serves as the Chairman of the governing board.
The elder statesman said the group will, among others, “visit the seeming dissonance between policy to stimulate growth and expansion of the real economy through a low-interest rate policy and the prevailing policy of the Central Bank to concentrate on price stability, curbing inflation through persistent high-interest rate.
“For a country to advance to a creditable level of development, however, policy concerns must go beyond the immediate and urgent to longer term and strategic,” he said. “I want to emphasise one area of considerable interest to me. This is the policy direction for propelling the creative, innovative and technological capabilities of our citizens. I have always been dismayed at the tendency to align science and technology only with education in this country, without emphasising their critical dimension for the enhancement of our productive activities and the possibilities of growing a self-reliant and resilient economy through a robust generation of inventions and other intellectual properties
“For instance, given the abundant hours of sunshine and solar insolation in Nigeria, I would want that we can articulate policies that would gradually serve to put Nigeria in the forefront of countries engaged in the production of innovative and creative products in the area of renewable solar energy, rather than just being consumers of what other countries produce. Similarly, we must harness the computer software development capabilities emerging in the information technology field among youths in different parts of the country. We must develop policies, which would assist us in articulating, collating, organising and prioritising all of these activities going on in different parts of the country to see which of them have the potential of serious commercialisation and exportability to further grow our economy.”
According to Dr. Tunji Olaopa, the Executive Vice-Chairman of ISGPP, the group is the multi-disciplinary core of the ISGPP, comprising distinguished intellectuals and highly experienced professionals from various academic fields and vocations. The PPG is poised to provide leadership in terms of determining both the broad areas and the specific policy issues that should attract research attention of the ISGPP in the short, medium and long run. This will in turn feed into the ISGPP’s aim of using research and executive education as instruments for enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of equitable public policy in Nigeria and other African countries. The group is expected to play a major role in the reconfiguration of the policy architecture in Nigeria, through its high calibre policy interventions and discourses”
The think tank will function under the Chairmanship of an Emeritus Professor of Economics, University of Ibadan and Chairman, Centre for Trade and Development Initiatives (CTDI) Prof. Ademola Oyejide. Other members of the group include Prof. John Ayoade, Prof. Bayo Okunade, Prof. Pai Obanya, Prof. Isaac Olawale Albert, the Nigerian Poet, Odia Ofeimun, Dr. Funke Fayeun, Prof. Mike Adeyeye, Ambassador Ayo Olukanni, Dr. Wumi Akin-Onigbinde, Chief Bayo Alugbin and Mr. Edmund Obilo.
Others are Prof. Ayo Olukotun, Elder Ayo Ojebode, Mr. Eze Onyekpere, Dr. Babatunde Oyedeji, Mr. Felix Adenaike, Engr. John Ayodele, Prof. Femi Omololu, Prof. Gabriel Ogunmola, Prof. Abiodun Bankole, Prof. Olawale Ogunkola, Prof. Alaba Ogunsanwo, Prof. (Mrs.) J. Para-Mallam of NIPSS, Prof. M. K. Yahaya, Prof. Charles Uwadia, Dr. Chris Nwannenna, Prof. CBN Ogbogbo, Dr. Nathaniel Danjibo, Prof. Willie Siyanbola, Prof. Vincent Akinyosoye and Amb. (Dr.) Yemi Farounbi, among others.
The group that set to work immediately after its inauguration, according to Prof Oyejide, will begin research into some areas, which include, but not limited to: “Governance, Politics and Public Integrity; Economic Development and Growth; Management of Economic Fluctuations; Social Development; Fiscal Federalism; Exploitation of Natural Resources; National Security and Defence; Education and Human Capital Development, Science, Technology and Innovation; Climate and Environment and International Affairs”.
He explained that the group is aimed at “generating policy-oriented research, analysis, and advice on national, regional, continental and global public issues to enable policy makers and the public make informed and carefully considered decisions about public policies. The principal dividend that can be derived from informed debate on major public issues is the development of efficient and effective public policy”.
Also speaking on the core objectives of the intellectual group, Olaopa, a Political Scientist and author of many books on public service reforms, who just retired as a Permanent Secretary from the Federal Civil Service said, “the PPG will serve as the concretisation of the evolution of the ISGPP as a Think Tank, in the mould of the Brookings Institutions, Lee Kwan Yew School of Public Policy, Adam Smith Institute, to mention a few. Its main objective is to be a problem-solving think tank that interjects regularly in Nigeria’s policy and development predicament.
“If public policy is the soul of development, then it becomes difficult to see it solely as the preserve of the government and its officials. In the 21st century, governance has become so significant that it has drawn critical attention to the nature and efficiency of policy-making dynamics. Countries all over the world are now, more than ever before, concerned with the need to modernise their policy architecture to enhance their decision-making quotient and hence increase their development capabilities. Modernisation efforts often include designing policies around outcomes; making sure policies are inclusive, fair and evidence-based; avoiding unnecessary burdens on businesses; involving others in policy-making; making the decision making dynamics more forward and outward-looking; and learning from experience. The fourth modernising element is more worthwhile than it seems.
“Traditionally, government used to be the sole agent of governance. It determined the policy and its implementation dynamics. But then, we know that many of government policies do fail. And one good reason is because the policies government make have been enclosed within a tight political cocoon that is subject to corruption and to a political economy that is rooted in structural and political injustice and political power play that together stifle development and innovation. The modern administrative revolution, however, demands the enlargement of the governance space in a way that makes the government only a regulator of both the state and non-state actors concerned with policy articulation, promulgation and implementation. One of these non-state actors are the policy networks, policy institutes and policy Think tanks that assist government efforts all over the globe to formulate good policies that can backstop democratic governance. For instance, the United States is suffused with sufficient think tanks and policy institutes, more than 150 in all categories, to justify its rating as one of the full democracies in the world. The Brookings Institution is not only one of the famous and oldest, but certainly one of the best in the world. It sets the policy pace for the United States in terms of governance, public policy, global economy, foreign policy and development”.
Nigeria is said to have no fewer than 10 Think tank groups. So, what makes this new group unique and different?
Olaopa said: “The last time Nigeria had something close to this kind of group was when the Centre for Democratic Studies (CDS), headed by Prof. Omo Omoruyi got started. Unfortunately, however, it did not last for long. But what will make this group different is that we shall invest heavily on research and in doing so, we are going to draw on partnership with other research institutes or think tank groups, locally and internationally. Besides, we are going to have conversations with development partners and most importantly, our findings will form the basis of our executive education programmes, seminar series and policy dialogues, to be organised for those implementing these policies and development workers.
“Our research findings will not be allowed to gather dust, because it will be marketed and be readily available for the government and public institutions. At every point in time, monitoring and evaluation generates data, but some people need to relate those data to the best practice, to theories and all that. This is where we bring experts from research, from the industry, from consultancy, and international people in our network and create an interface that will create solutions in a seamless flow and integration.
“We shall also conduct hi-tech research. I had been in public service, so we shall sit with those that are making the public policy to say this is what we observe and after listening to them, we use their inputs to revise what we are doing, through that we create seminars and platforms for policy dialogue. For example, we are planning to have a seminar with top policy makers on critical landmine to look at managing in the time of scarcity. By this, you create a level playing field of information, and then different experts will now go into different sectors and see how that can be cascaded, in terms of being able to move from vision and strategy to outcome.
Speaking on his personal experience that motivated him to start ISGPP, Olaopa said, “The first defining professional challenge I had, as a young person, who started from research, was that as a columnist, I was invited into the government by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida to be a Policy Analyst and Speech Writer in his office at the Presidency. When I started to do policy work, I realised why things are not working. You have an environment that is not receptive to knowledge and deep thinking that are rooted in research, a chronic anti-intellectualism. I didn’t want to make a career in that kind of environment, but I was fortunate to have a mentor, the late Prof. Ojetunde Aboyade, who was Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee. He heard about me and called me. He sat me down and said that is what they called nation building. I spent 27 years in the public service, but it was a struggle.
“When I retired, the first thing that struck me as a Political Scientist, researching policy science and later as an institutional reform specialist was why the brilliant past development plans and administrative reforms have not been working in Nigeria: the whole question of why we are where we are, as a nation so endowed, yet under the yoke of a ‘resource curse’? Even when I became Permanent Secretary, I discovered there is a whole lot of support you need to perform, in terms of ideas and designs that are not there. There are lots of challenges touching on policy, process, capacity, performance and resource gaps that are begging for resolution. For instance, look at the recent face-off between NCC and MTN, which touched on serious gaps in regulatory function and the need to look again at the Telecom regulations, which raises a lot of issues that require interrogation for critical shifts that are fundamental.
“When I was technical lead in the design of 2003 national Public Service Reform Strategy development, some of the designs and frameworks that we needed to change the face of the civil service were not there, they were obsolete, as they were done last in the early ‘70s during the Udoji Commission. The question then was: who could help us to take it from there? We started looking for experts from public services all around the world with the Commonwealth Secretariat, World Bank, DFID, eventually helping out.
This is the kind of inspiration that is driving what we are doing at ISGPP.”
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