Essays / The Pontifical Papers



Nigeria is a difficult country to run. The sheer logistics of its geographical size and population diversity already indicate that the colonially designed and military-perfected format (that seemed to work fairly enough for a fraction of Nigerians between 1914 and the late 1970s) is inefficient for a modern “progressive” society. Yet, since the era when the military was busy carving out artificial administrative branches (in the guise of “states”) from the British delineated regions, there has been no serious reform of the structure of Nigeria’s political geography.

Instead, most of the people who climb the podium of public campaign insist that they want to run Nigeria, and they somehow believe—and convince us to believe—that they have unlocked the secret to doing it far better than everyone who has put a hand on the wheel of government since October 1, 1960. This attitude of “I can run it better” is, naturally, supported and propelled by the oddity in the psyche of Nigerian politics and government that allows—or encourages—every administration to thrive—or fail—on the intensity of the Oga’sability to issue orders and directives.

Indeed, a significant criticism against the Jonathan government was its inefficient use of presidential authority in effecting “good government” thereby allowing the proliferation of “anyhowness” in his administration. To put this in other words, the previous administration had an insufficiency of operational orders from the presidency.

 It is therefore not surprising that, as though to make up for this sharp depreciation in governmental authority, President Buhari has, since taking up office, not spared the use of presidential orders and directives. Last year alone, I counted no less than 17 orders of the type I have in mind, including the president ordering: security chiefs to end insurgency in three months; the release of $21m to the Multi-national Joint Task Force; the withdrawal of unnecessary diplomatic passports from VIPs; a probe of weapons procurement since 2007; the Inspector General of Police to withdraw unnecessary orderlies from VIPs; the sale of 9 presidential jets; the removal of military checkpoints on highways; a probe into the issuance of a Nigerian visa to an ISIS terrorist; a probe of the $252m NITEL sale; the fast track of Ogoniland oil spills cleanup; all MDAs to run treasury single account; the reduction of recurrent expenditure in the preparation of the 2016 budget; the release of N5bn victims support fund; the harmonisation of biometric data; the audit of the NNPC, NPA, DPR and others; the Ministry of Special Duties to reunite Internally Displaced Persons with their families; the review of the Second Niger Bridge construction contract; and the ever-elusive RMAFC to review salaries of public officials.

This is an impressive list of orders that should delight any Nigerian that has consistently observed the Nigerian political scene and desires some change. But there are some other considerations worth noting before we jubilate, for example: who is keeping track of the implementation of these orders or their deadlines; by what constitutional authority have they all been issued by the president; how do they fit into overall policy direction of the party platform and; most importantly, why do all the relevant agencies have to wait for presidential orders before they act within the law?

This last question is critical: is there a deficiency in Nigeria’s political (or class) composition that prevents government agencies from following their enabling laws without a direct order “from above”? If the answer to this is “Yes”, then why do government officials think that the orders they issue now can have a permanent effect on politics and governance?

You see, modern democratic governments are—by definition—not based on a system of “orders”. Ideally, democracy is—shouldbe—government of the people through agreed laws that have been formulated through agreed processes. The template is very simple: that the executive, acting with the legislature (through the machinery of a political party), formulates policies that best reflects the wishes of the governed; the legislature (as direct representation of the governed) translates this policy aspiration into laws, and mandates the responsible agency of the government to execute those laws without requiring further instructions “from above”. If these or the process of their execution creates any uncertainty or conflict, then a judiciary should exist to ensure that these policies and laws or their execution do not contravene both constitutional principles and international norms.

True, there are other intricate sub-processes involving persuasion, negotiation and bargaining that shape the overall democratic template. These“behind the scenes” processesare what we call politics. And politics is to democracy what gas is to oil drilling: it is a by-product that can be flared and wasted or channelled and utilised positively.

On the other hand, consider the nature of autocratic systems, like your limited liability company:theyare runvia an established template of hierarchical orders and dictates. Officials are expected to make reference to supervisors and not to laws. Workers cannot take any step without proper “orders from above”. More importantly, orders can change erratically with each new administrationor even by the same administration.Worse, there is often little or no protection for the official who dares to implement the letter of the law—or claim a right in the law—without clear or direct authorisation. The only protection available is the presentation of evidence that there was “an order” from the Oga at the top. And, it is often immaterial whether this order is lawful or not.

And so, from the slew of presidential orders listed above to the arbitrariness of state governors who ban and unban okadas at will, this autocratic setup seems to be the favoured Nigerian method. Yet, it is difficult—and unfair—to accuse ordinary Nigerians of favouring an absolute zombie mentality. In private businesses (legal or illegal), Nigerians have displayed internationally recognised shrewdness and innovation. Still, the setup of our domestic bureaucracyhas focused more on the ability of civil servants to follow orders than on their ability to work with the laws.

To compound this anomaly, even the military still goes around issuing orders. A few months ago, the Army directly banned residents of Borno State from riding on horses and donkeys or risk being declared as insurgents. I’m not quite sure how the military derivescivilian rule-making powers under the 1999 Constitution—outside emergency powers expressly granted by the national legislature—but things like this are considered “normal” in Nigeria.This type of abnormal “normality”was the public psyche that the colonists handed to the Nationalists, and it is also what the interloping militaryhanded over to the neo-Democrats in charge today.It is almost no wonder that early colonial laws were, in fact, referred to as “Orders”.

And so, the Nigerian political administration is run on a series of orders and counter-orders and exemptions to orders. Our political legacy is the irrelevance of laws and the supremacy of “orders” as selectively enforced by our Oga.This is why we necessarily have to “pray” for good leaders because only an extraordinary person—a genius, really—can single-handedly identify, articulate and monitor all the relevant orders it will take to run this country efficiently at any given time. Of course, we could also demand a reform in the political system targeted at reducing the discretion and powers of individuals and increasing the strength of institutions but, as the musicians say, that is a long thing.

This is how Nigeria stands today: our political template is designed to mimic modern democratic principles, but our implementation is based on historically autocratic doctrine, a doctrine that considers it normal when the man who is mandated by law to secure an area is made to follow an (implied or expressed) order to get down and clean the Oga’s shoes. Like Atukwei Okai’s rhododendrons in donkeydom, we are merely denizens of an anocractic environment that has not necessarily been designed for our benefit.

But, what is an anocracy? Feel free to look that up.

Follow @ayosogunro on twitter for more engagement, buy his books, and—if you really like stimulating, if sometimes annoying thoughts on socio-legal philosophy—enter your email in the right sidebar to get notifications of fresh talk on this fine blog.




  2. Pingback: ON BUDGETS, SYSTEMS, AND OTHER BOTHERS | by Ayo Sogunro | Ayo Sogunro

What is your comment?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.