In this piece, I want to reflect on one of the single most novel ideas from the president-elect, and one important condition indeed, that will facilitate the institutional and governance reforms and therefore the game changer for the Tinubu administration.
For me, what the administration needs, as a matter of imperative, is a government that operates according to the dictates of a competence model which the president-elect himself pronounced. The question, therefore, is: since President-elect Tinubu is committed to instituting a government of national competence, what does that intention suggest in practice?
I have traced the origin of Nigeria’s romance with institutional incompetence to the juncture when the political and administrative class made the fundamental decision to choose representativeness over meritocracy within the tension created by the Nigerianisation Policy that became necessary after independence. This became the origin of the federal character principle that was meant to enable diversity management in Nigeria’s plural condition. Unfortunately, the beautiful policy has degenerated into a framework not only for recycling mediocrity but its institutionalization in governance and administration.
One of the most tragic developments in Nigeria’s human development debacle is the terrible fact that while those who barely made it out of colleges and universities are in charge of affairs in the country, the brightest and the best Nigeria can produce are queuing up in their offices in search of existential props for their self-esteem. And while the scholars, geniuses and intellectuals are deep neck in existential struggles due to degraded skills pricing, the streetwise rogues are living in opulence. Thus, when the new generation says that education is a scam, it becomes the metaphor for undermining excellence and innovativeness that derives from human capital development grounded in sound higher education.
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And yet, this tragic development in Nigeria must be weighed side-by-side with the glaring lessons in development demonstrated by high-performing nations from the Asian Tigers to the OECD countries, and from India to China. There is a direct proportional relationship between the economic and developmental profiles of these countries, their enormous investment in human capital and the quality of (higher) education. It is from a sound educational philosophy underlying a formidable human capital development framework that a government can draw upon skills and competencies for national development. And this is what grounds the leadership competency model.
Without a formidable human capital policy and practices, then it is practically impossible for any government, no matter its intentions, to think of even managing competencies in governance and administration.
In today’s world, no one can any longer ignore the strategic relevance of China as a paradigm of public leadership founded on the competency model. Based on several significant elements of leadership development, mentorship, culture and education, China has transitioned from party/government leadership to competency-based public leadership praxis. And the competency model that underlies public governance leadership in China serves as the best explanation for understanding the incredible prosperity, infrastructural wonders, global technological leadership and economic growth the country represents today.
Good governance under President Tinubu must therefore be initiated by a paradigmatic shift to a competency cum performance-based leadership and public administration praxis founded on meritocracy. And the first condition for achieving such a performance-motivated understanding of national development in Nigeria is a fully retrofitted public service. The national competency model then establishes a competency management framework that seeks to undermine the limitations of the traditional public appointment and personnel management system, through a shift to a strategic human resources management that enables the public service to model the appropriate competencies by which the policy process and the MDAs can arrive at optimal performance and productivity. These competencies are then fitted to performance metrics and contracts.
This was the path taken by Japan in the aftermath of the Second World War when it was faced with the deep challenge of rebuilding a war-torn country. The Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) took a distinct path towards economic development by pursuing policies, program design and implementation not only extricated from external countervailing forces, but also inspired by TQM—total quality management—that served as the basis for reengineering a new service delivery model, and at that, under the intellectual leadership of the masters themselves namely, W. Edward Deming, Joseph M. Juran and Kaoru Ishikawa.
TQM was further complemented by a strict regime of action research that backstopped policy intelligence. When Japan linked its strategic policy architecture to its manufacturing and service delivery, the result was a country that became a leading industrialized nation, contrary to what its ill fortunes at Hiroshima and Nagasaki would have stipulated.
The Tinubu administration carries a heavy burden of responsibility. And the success of that administration depends not only on the will to act to achieve good democratic governance, but also to act decisively by first tackling the fundamental issues involved in governance and institutional reforms. There is no sense in jumping into shark-infested waters if one does not know how to swim.
The Tinubu administration will be able to make a significant dent on Nigeria’s dysfunctional governance praxis by first understanding and learning what it takes to succeed in reform terms. And there are countless global examples of states that have reformed their governance and administration. What Tinubu needs to do is to find those who can be trusted to reform the system through a competency model attached to national objectives of performance and productivity.
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