The topic of this piece had been selected a week before Pastor Tunde Bakare fired what one might call a salvo at the Tinubu’s administration. A lot of political and other issues were raised by the fiery pastor, but the one that has semblance with the subject of our discussion is the issue of rolling out what the administration calls policies many of which are indeed decisions. One particular criticism that the pastor levelled against the administration is that the president put the cart before the horse with respect to the removal of fuel subsidy.
This criticism for us applies to many areas that the administration has so far intervened in the name of what it calls policies when in actual fact, they are just mere decisions. For want of better phrase, they can also be called policies without contents or flesh, i.e policies built on skeletons. They are called decisions here because even decisions are meant to derive from policies, decisions can be made in a policy vacuum. We can call these ‘policyless’ decisions.
One undeniable feature of some past administrations in Nigeria is that they were good at turning out excellent policies which unfortunately were eventually messed up at the implementation stage of the policy process. Generally, Nigeria is widely believed to have excellent policies on paper but which are terribly messed up at the implementation stage. Put differently, many past Nigerian governments were criticised for being good at policy making but not at policy implementation. But it appears that the style of Tinubu administration so far (for the past two months and half) lacks both. Many reasons appear to account for this.
First, the president was running a one-man-show with his long known yes men and women around him without critical input into the policy process (if ever there has been a process). Secondly, the president had no cabinet in place which could have seriously interrogated policy proposals (weighing their pros and cons) before final adoption. Thirdly, the president was in a hurry to rolling out ‘policies’ to celebrate his 100 days in office. (Just look at the TVC News background these days: the station is celebrating this race to 100 days already. It is such haste (supporters of the government call it hitting the ground running) that was (perhaps still is) directly and indirectly driving this whole idea of rolling out decisions as policies. There are billboards already in Abuja advertising such government ‘policies’ as achievements.
Lastly, we suspect that the president was (or is he still) interested in personalising his administration’s achievements than being interested in the positive impact such achievements would make on the people who are rightly the central focus of governance. Unfortunately, a-one-man show is not a democracy which involves many hands on desk. Autocracy is the word to describe a-one-man show. There is still much time to change this style of governance.
Now let us get to few specifics. The removal of fuel subsidy was not a policy but a mere decision within the broader framework of a well-known liberalisation policy. If removal of fuel subsidy were to be a well-thought out policy, all the options (or what policy scholars call alternatives) would have been considered exhaustively before the removal. For example, such exhaustive discussions would have developed a good palliative package to cushion the effects of the harshness of the subsidy removal. It would have also considered the nagging issue of salary increase to take care of rising cost of living. When you take a decision before a policy, you begin to work backward and sometimes in a very confused and awkward manner like the government experienced with some of its so-called policy measures. A good example is the reversal of the earlier policy decision to pay N8,000 as a palliative measure to some Nigerians. The news making the rounds as of August 17, 2023 was that the Federal Government has given N5bn to each state in addition to some other palliatives to distribute to their citizens. It is not yet known the modalities for distributing these to the citizens in a very transparent manner.
The second example of rolling out decisions as policies is the announcement of the establishment of the student loan board which one suspects was an expression of a policy statement rather than a full policy even though it was based on an existing student loan bill. The hastiness of the entire announcement created a chain of other policy problems. The first was the hurried announcement of the payment of tuition fees by federal universities. Such introduction and the high level of tuition fees announced generated more anxieties that parents (of diverse political persuasions) started making appeals to the government to arrest the situation. We have had couple of statements from the government which at best reflects ambivalence. Talking of parents with diverse political persuasion, economic hardship in the land does not insulate those supporting ruling party – they all buy fuel from the petrol stations and go to the market where inflation is the king making more noise than those at the helm of affairs. Secondly, there was confusion surrounding the modalities of securing the loans, those best qualified to get the loan, and how the loan will be repaid in an economy with high rate of unemployment, among others.
The third example of turning out decisions as policies is the case of merging of the official and non-official foreign exchange regimes which (though good) appears also not to have been exhaustively considered. Government is currently tinkering with the problems generated by the announcement.
There are many examples to demonstrate that the governance style of President Tinubu, is so far rooted in ‘adhocracy’. Now that the ministers have been appointed and assigned portfolio, one hopes that this style of governance will change. Governance is as good as the quality of policies that are made and implemented, as different from rolling out ‘policyless’ decisions, which is akin to policies without contents.
•Prof. Obasi can be reached via [email protected].