• Tuesday, May 28, 2024
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Nigeria: In pursuit of credibility in government


You cannot pick up any newspaper in Nigeria today without evidence of the war of words between pro- and anti-Jonathan compatriots battling it out for supremacy of idea. Those who are in the anti-Jonathan camp call him clueless, non-performing and corrupt. And the pro-Jonathan people call him highly performing, intelligent, and list his achievements in office so far. Regardless of which camp you belong, one question should exercise your mind in this debate: How difficult is it to agree on what “performing” or “delivering” is? To me, some things are pretty obvious. If the mission is to travel from Lagos to Kano, and you reach Abuja, it is pretty straightforward to say that you are nearer Kano than Lagos. While admitting you are not yet in Kano, we should all be able to agree that you are closer to the destination than from where you started the journey.

With Nigerians so far apart on whether Jonathan is a performing president or not, it is clear one of the camps needs to take the reality check or take the truth serum. But which camp? The pro-Jonathan or anti-Jonathan camp?

The parameters to measure the performance of every government in the world fall into two broad categories: objective and subjective. The objective parameters are mainly statistical in nature. These are measurable. These tend not to be disputable, mainly. So if the unemployment rate was 30 percent when a president comes to office and it is now less at 20 percent, then you can objectively say fewer people are unemployed and things are better in that objective area. Everybody pro or anti tends to agree on such in a civilised political clime.

In the heat of the acrimonious and bitterly-fought US presidential campaign, even the strongest Obama supporters did not dispute the objective measures of rate of unemployment; the level of the economic deficit; or even the number of jobs created or lost every quarter in the US economy. They can dispute its impact or importance or effects, but the raw objective facts are never in dispute. So there is unity around the objective measure, even if its interpretation is argued. But it amazes me that in Nigeria, we cannot even agree on the objective data in the first place. This is partly due to general distrust in government and also a lack of credible and independent data collection or statistical agency. So the statistics you get depends on who you talk to?

With Lagos State having more secondary schools than ALL the core northern states put together, yet the national census figures say Kano alone has more population than Lagos, you can begin to see the origins of the distrust in government statistics in the country. Even when the CBN governor gives the national inflation rate figure, people wonder if he took his measurements only in Aso Rock as it does not reflect the realities of people’s personal economy. There is widespread distrust in any statistics in Nigeria, especially any that has government as its source.

So the first task for the Jonathan administration, in order to help itself and prove its performance claim, is to set up an independent and credible statistical agency (made up of credible non-political professionals) that will be run at arms’ length from government and its funding to avoid any political interference. This agency should then be tasked with producing for the nation key statistical measures every quarter that Nigerians can begin to trust. In the US, you have the Congressional Budget Office, for instance, which is seen as above politics. And its numbers are accepted by all political parties, regardless of who is in power. In the UK you have the Independent Office of Budget Responsibilities, whose figures are independent of government, chaired by a respected professional and not a civil servant. Every mature democracy sees the need for a reliable and trusted objective statistical agency. This will make it easier to at least agree (regardless of political affiliation) on the basic state of our economy, without political tint. The current statistical organisation in Nigeria is too wedded to the government of the day. There is also doubt as to its composition.

It will elevate our discourse and debate as a nation if we can at least agree on some basic facts and then discuss around them. Right now the pro- and anti-Jonathan camps speak as though they are talking about two separate countries. They both cannot be right. Every sport needs a referee; so a new credible statistical agency can begin to create some objective parameters to guide our debate.

Then you have the subjective measures and parameters. These are less tangible measures. They are dependent on individual perception. These tend to vary vastly in any country and depend on people’s personal experiences, media exposure and even personal preferences. It is consistent for people to disagree on subjective parameters because it is a product of people’s perceptions and proclivities. This is where politics can be allowed to have its way as every party supporter will see things differently from non-supporters.

Back to Jonathan. What needs to be done is for the pro- and anti-Jonathan camps to explain what they mean by “President Jonathan is performing or not performing”. Is that an objective statement or a subjective conclusion? My opinion is that many of the pro-Jonathan camp’s cases are based on mainly subjective measures. In a democracy, they are clearly entitled to their opinion. But these should not be presented as credible objective facts.

Finally, the only other explanation for the pro-Jonathan camp’s claim of his performance could be what I call the epidemic of implementation gap in the country. If the last government approved NX billion for low-cost loan to small businesses and President Jonathan now approves NX+5 billion for the same, his fans can claim he is performing. But the fact that the entire allocation was stolen by ten politicians and officials rather than given to the intended 10,000 small businesses is ignored. This is where the raw statistics have their limit. Corruption truncates any credible statistics.

In the end, I guess it will always be a combination of objective and subjective measures. Thus, the performance of this and any government will be judged by both a combination of credible statistical measures and how people feel in their pockets and personal circumstances. A hungry man does not give a damn about increased food supplies statistics.



Omole, a strategy consultant, is the managing partner at Prodel International.


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