Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai And The People He Must Reform, By Adejoh Idoko Momoh
Having lived through Nigeria’s miserable attempts at change, I now know beyond a doubt that true and enduring change only happens when the structures behind the systems are strengthened.
Consider these two scenarios: On January 19th, 2015 as President Muhammadu Buhari visited Kaduna for his campaign rally, I saw a few APC supporters haul stones at the PDP campaign office in a bid to convey their dismay for all its years of impunity and mismanagement. On the 28th of May the Executive Governor of Kaduna State during his Inaugural lecture made a commitment to focus on the serious business of governance and not have his government distracted by probes and mindless witch hunting.
From the first scenario, it is easy to conclude that our moral values have changed and are degraded in the sense that we express dislike for ourselves in very hurtful, unapologetic ways and this is true. Also true is the fact that the citizen is not wholly to blame for his willingness to be unruly. The government is the major culprit in this and I will explain why.
It is easier and lazier to blame individual unruliness on degraded morals and appeal to a person’s conscience when you demand that he does right. The more practical and realistic approach the government must take is acknowledge responsibility for a largely failed system, understand the underlying issues that created the problem and then change the structure to encourage the kind of behavior or obedience it deems appropriate.
The sense in this is that behavior is mostly shaped by the individuals dominating environment and this environment is mostly in the control of government. It takes a lot more discipline to succeed if all a child is exposed to from birth is failure and indiscipline, than it does for a government to create an enabling environment where the citizen thrives.
The good news is that every social system has influence points through which behaviors of the system can be changed and finding these points and fixing them is mid way to achieving deep and enduring change in that system.
The problem with Kaduna can very easily be blamed on its citizens. They are after all the ones who litter, block drainages and commit traffic offences, but how do you blame a people for doing the only things they know? The solution must be to create alternatives; show them there are proper ways and these ways work.
This article doesn’t argue that only Kaduna citizens are unruly, it argues the opposite. It says that everyone has the tendency to break laws and it is instinctive to explore this tendency. The only way this can be checked is if the instrument and structures of state which enforce orderliness are in place.
Preaching citizens reorientation or reformation will hardly amount to anything if the relevant government structures are not put in place. Take Lagos State as example, it was the accepted practice to drive against traffic, beat traffic lights and park recklessly, the government tried orientation severally but not until the Lagos State Transport Management Authority (LASTMA) was established and given powers to enforce strict penalties for these offences did Lagosians finally start obeying existing regulations. On an international scale, the only difference between a law breaking Nigerian and a law abiding American is the fact that there is a penalty for every untoward act.
If El-Rufai is to succeed, he must stop the usual government practice where scapegoats are sought as soon as something goes wrong: we must punish those who inflate contract prices but focus on why contracts can be inflated in the first place and plug such lapses that encourage the practice. We must recover funds from the thieves who loot our treasury but we must focus more on the reasons why this looting is possible and block those leakages.
The practice of seeking scapegoats can be justified by the fact that we all represent the system and quite honestly it gives the posture of an effective government, but he must first start with reforming the people and this does not necessarily center on the people themselves. It centers on rebuilding state institutions and checking systemic failure.
If people are simply oriented without fixing the systems, the underlying issues which encourage negative behavior will still linger and any change achieved under such circumstances will be temporal at best.
What the Kaduna State Governor and all others who contribute to governance at similar levels must do is ensure that systems that lead to attitudinal change are fully operational. This is the only sure way to check collective indiscipline and all other ills that plague society. They must know that obedience is most effectively enforced if perpetrators know that there are grave consequences for their actions.
This brings me to the second scenario and I disagree with the Governors stance to not allow probes distract his government. Yes, our leaders must concentrate on the serious business of governance which is after all the essence of government. However, they must also recover every penny of state funds stolen.
Whatever resources stolen from state coffers must matter, if not for the fact that government needs these funds for development, but for the fact that the probes and public humiliation that come with such recovery sends a bold message to future treasury looters that pilfering will no longer be condoned and actions surely will have consequences.