In a democracy, every citizen participates in policymaking through decentralised systems, periodic elections, feedback processes, referendums, legislative fiscal oversight and, importantly, uncomplicated impeachment and recall processes. But, as our continuing discussion on the Hierarchy of Nigerian Policy shows, the Nigerian policymaking template is more analogous to a business corporation than to a democratic entity.
Today, we discuss the Senior Staff of the Nigerian Plc: those Nigerians who, by luck or determination, have become individually relevant to the policymaking process. They are societal leaders or “influencers”. They include entertainment and sports celebrities, super-professionals, accomplished religious leaders, high-ranking civil servants, top CEOs and the high-end income earners of most industries. But these people don’t participate in policymaking. They merely act as a socio-cultural crowd control for less-privileged Nigerians.
The less satisfied—or more conscientious—members of the Senior Staff tend to self-exile and build their influence from outside the country. Or, they may craft ways of earning income outside the patronage system—a very difficult objective in Nigeria. Still, some seemingly rebellious Senior Staff may simply be waiting for a favourable opportunity to step into positions in the political system.
In any case, economic independence enables dissatisfied Senior Staff to “make noise” without risking a loss of livelihood or reputation. They may become the international face of social movements, advocacy campaigns, and constitutional change. But, so far, the political system has firmly fixed the extent of their relevance to Nigerian policymaking.
The rest of the Senior Staff tend to be silent during periods of mass disquiet, hibernating until the political climate is settled. They are, therefore, the friends of “any government in power”. They are the ones who pay for media adverts congratulating public officials and the system’s Shareholders; the ones who publicly praise the latest policy direction of government. And, as a reward for their loyalty to the political system, they attract political patronage and enjoy the ease of doing business in Nigeria.
As with most corporations, the members of Nigeria’s Management (that is, the unelected members of government) are recruited, almost exclusively, from members of the Senior Staff who have proved their loyalty to the political system—and to a class of its Shareholders—over time.
Nigeria’s Management includes the federal ministers, the state commissioners and all the “special advisers”. It encompasses the heads of policymaking or policy-enforcing ministries, departments, agencies and the hundreds of other statutory commissions and councils. The infamous “Oga at the top” interview aptly captures how policymaking differentiates Senior Staff from Management. The Oga can solely determine policy, sometimes in so arbitrary a manner that those at lower levels have to hesitate before speaking.
And so, as a legacy of colonial and military rule, being a part of Management is the first entry into policy participation as a Nigerian. Members of Management have both collective and individual capacity to determine policy, although to a limited, and often temporary, extent.
Because, like a company, their authority is derived from the Directors above—and not the people below—it is unsurprising that Nigeria’s Management has little concern for the Menial Workers, or even the Junior Staff. Managers are inclined to treat the underprivileged and ordinary Nigerians with contempt, sweeping them out of the way like common dirt. The Managers do not consider themselves as public servants, but as public masters—blessed with legal power by the graces of the country’s Directors and the Shareholders.
Corporate culture suggests that staff would reflect the values of the directors. This is true of the Nigerian corporation. Members of Management emulate the character of their appointing CEO. A nonchalant CEO will result in an inefficient and corrupt management. A no-nonsense CEO will stimulate Management into efficient action. And so, because the political system is designed to reflect the will of the Directors (and the Shareholders), there is often no institutional process in Management, just the current personality of the policymaker.
Of course, a managerial position is also a precarious one. It excludes the public official from the non-committal safety of the Senior Staff, and requires a commitment to a particular class of Directors and Shareholders. In case of a system refresh, only the skilfully loyal Managers that bounce back to power.
The danger of being thought disloyal means that Nigeria’s public officials tend to play safe. Innovation can be a dangerous sign of political ambition. And so, unless the President expressly gives an order, the people that constitute Nigeria’s Management prefer not to upset an existing protocol. There is, therefore, an abundance of insipid, public officials who lack the will or inclination to effect a necessary change to an aspect of the political system. Most members of Management prefer to lubricate the existing political templates and fade back into Senior Staff passivity when out of office.
True, there have been some really “great” Nigerian Managers, but even these cannot guarantee lasting change to the political system. No sooner are they gone than a less rebellious character replaces them and, deliberately or inadvertently, resets the template to “normal”.
And there lies the lesson for us, members of the lower ranks in the Nigerian Hierarchy. We have to look beyond the appointees to public office and examine the nature of the political system if we want change. Nigeria’s Management have been, and will continue to be, unable to develop the country principally because we operate a patronage political system. In the final analysis, public officials do not serve the people through institutionalised and participatory processes. They are, instead, merely glorified employees of the Directors and Shareholders of the Nigerian corporation.
Originally published in slightly different form here in my weekly column for Sunday Punch.
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