“Wood already touched by fire is not hard to set alight”. African proverb
The year 2021 is very likely to be one with the dubious distinction of entirely carrying over the problems of the year before it, and doing so in considerably worse conditions. Its outlook is likely to disappoint millions who think the year 2020 was the modern world’s worst nightmare. It was the beginning of a nightmare, but 2021 is very likely to bear the major imprints and character of 2020.
If humanity is to make 2021 better than 2020, it will have to prepare well to deal with the impact of COVID-19 as it caught a completely unprepared world. The global community and all nations have to improve responses to the pandemic and adjust to its impact on social and economic relations, as well as prepare to deal with a phenomenon that will remain with mankind for the next few years. In addition, routine life has to be sustained, albeit in a new context that will show the normal in a substantially different form. The most successful strategy for all nations will be designed by an informed understanding of new challenges, identification of realistic priorities and mobilisation of resources to achieve them.
For Nigeria, the year will be difficult. The combination of a depressed economy, the impact of the virus on social relations, lives and livelihood; insecurity and governance challenges should demand a regime of disciplined and focused policy initiatives, management of resources and innovative approaches to dealing with major problems in familiar and new contexts. At all cost, the temptation to run the economy and basic governance policies along familiar lines should be avoided. Strong political will, fresh ideas and a sense of urgency and mission are needed by leaders to pull the country through a period that could worsen the precarious state of the nation’s political economy. These will be some of the issues that should be prioritised.
- Governance and administration
President Muhammadu Buhari’s disposition and approach to governance is central to the success or failure of the nation to avoid deeper crises. The quality of his administration particularly in the areas of security and economic management will need to be substantially improved. It cannot improve unless he assumes firmer control over the decision-making process, a willingness to address obvious challenges, replace personnel and policies that require changing to improve effectiveness and accountability, and an awareness of his place in history. He has two years to turn the tide of decline and hopelessness that are becoming the hallmarks of his administration. Legislators at the federal level will need to raise their levels of accountability to the people they represent and utilise their powers to improve the quality of governance.
State governors and legislators still have huge powers and resources to make real difference in the lives of citizens. They should lead with a new sense of purpose and re-order their priorities to address poverty, insecurity and development of social and economic infrastructure. All leaders should attach great emphasis on restoring the trust and faith of the people in governance institutions and authorities. The fight to limit the damage of the virus cannot be won unless citizens are involved in a context that makes them willing stakeholders. All governments must assume direct responsibility and deploy resources towards fighting this pandemic and mitigating its damaging consequences on the population.
- Public spending, managing the economy
The design of federal and state 2021 budgets does not suggest an awareness of the need to operate outside the old normal. Substantially, all budgets have followed traditional patterns, except for noticeable increases or reductions reflecting anticipated revenues. The federal budget in particular sustains its fiction around anticipated revenues and the crippling tendency to allocate resources in a manner that guarantees that they will not be released or used productively if released. All budgets need to be re-visited with the objectives of establishing priorities that are informed by current and future realities.
Key concerns should be sustaining basic economic activities, mitigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic (including the provision of preventive and curative support for all segments of the population), providing support to the most needy, building of social and economic infrastructure and payment of wages. Executing or supporting the fight against pervasive insecurity should be a national priority that should be supported with substantial resources. The federal budget, in particular, should substantially improve allocations to defence and security, education, poverty mitigation, fighting the scourge of the virus and funding vital infrastructure. The scope available to the private sector to contribute to the design of basic economic policy should be improved. Sustaining current employment levels and regular payment of wages is vital. Management of anti-poverty programmes needs to be made more transparent and accountable. Close attention should be paid to food security because of its relationship with insecurity.
The threats to state and citizen security have been increasing, and they will become worse in 2021 as armed criminals take up more space from the state. The leadership of defence, security and public safety institutions have proved incapable of stemming the tide, and the clamour for major changes at leadership levels of these institutions will intensify. President Buhari should accept to undertake large-scale changes in the management of security and public safety institutions not only because there are good reasons behind the demand, but because this is vital to re-engineer public faith and confidence in them. Funding and expansion in numbers and capabilities, as well as, reforms should be accorded the highest priority, and the current allocation in the 2021 budget should be improved. Policing has been made worse by the effects of the #EndSARS protests, and it is vital that its most important challenges are addressed with minimum delay. Constitutional amendments should be put in place to provide for regional and state police.
The fight against Boko Haram has taken another major casualty from Nigeria: its territorial integrity. Regional cooperation in this fight should be re-invented, and the administration should re-assess border security and the movement of persons and weapons into the country as a matter of great urgency. The single-track strategy of fighting the nation’s multiple threats needs an informed re-assessment. Options which exist in dealing with threats and conflicts should be explored. Banditry, in particular, has a potential for being productively engaged, and the insurgency itself needs to be re-assessed in terms of the degree to which it is amenable to a political resolution.
Federal government’s universities have gone through a routine, painful ritual during which a largely indifferent government and universities that are run by inept labour unionists rather than academics flex muscles over money. This edition of the ASUU strike is over, but universities are unlikely to resume full activities without substantially compromising the safety and health of their communities. Education as a whole requires huge investment in technology to prepare it to operate under the demanding conditions of the pandemic. Funding of universities also needs massive and sustained improvement, which should start from 2021. A critical segment of young Nigerians’ only access to an uncertain future is public university education. The nation must improve funding and quality of the education available to its young population if it is to reduce the rising tide of bitterness and alienation among its future generation.