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Absence of originality: Fulcrum of our national crisis and underdevelopment

In one of the numerous cases he handled, Niki Tobi, one of our good legal minds and scholar, a former Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria stated as follows: “English is English; Nigerian is Nigerian. The English are English; so also, the Nigerians are Nigerians. Theirs are theirs. Ours are ours. Theirs are not ours; ours are not theirs”. While I will return to this germane perception of our society, it is important to note that before Niki Tobi was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2002, he was Deputy Vice Chancellor and previously, Dean Faculty of Law, University of Maiduguri. Without doubt, he was a man of immense knowledge and experience.

Intrigued by Niki Tobi’s views and deeply troubled by our inherent national crisis and underdevelopment, I have over these years examined the root causes of our problems and all the findings point to one direction– absence of originality in every sphere of national and formal governance system (our inability to discern and learn from Niki Tobi). Almost every aspect of our life particularly governance and regulatory mechanisms are copied from somewhere without proper concern on the suitability and amenability to our contextual peculiarities.

While our formal legal system that dictate almost all aspects of our life was adopted from United Kingdom, our presidential system of governance is from United States of America. It is the same challenge with our economic development plans such as visions 2010, 2020 and ERGP that are all heavily influenced from Malaysia and other countries. In our education sector, there seems to be an inherent confusion with most schools bragging that they run a British curriculum. It is even said that the Hate Speech bill like many other bills was copied from somewhere. If we are not begging China to build airports, we are either asking Russia to revive Ajaokuta and USA or Canada to help with our power sector. With such lack of originality, that sense of patriotic ownership and responsibility required to move the country forward will be lacking or limited.

Of all the adoptions that we have been doing, the ones with the highest negative impacts on our socio-economic and political development are the formal legal system and the presidential governance approach. While some people will argue that there is nothing wrong with our formal legal system or its adoption, the best way to check if it is working is from key governance indicators such as rule of law, regulatory quality and government effectiveness.


With the highest score that can be achieved being positive (+) 2.5 and the lowest negative (-) 2.5, Nigeria has since 1996 when the measurements started consistently achieved an average of negative (-) 1.2 for rule of law. It the same bad outcome for regulatory quality and government effectiveness. While we scored on average about negative (-)0.80 for regulatory quality, it is about negative (-) 1.20 for government effectiveness. To buttress our bad performance, it might be helpful to better understand the meaning of rule of law, regulatory quality and government effectiveness.


According to World Bank, while, Rule of law reflects perceptions of the extent to which agents have confidence in and abide by the rules of society, and in particular the quality of contract enforcement, property rights, the police, and the courts, as well as the likelihood of crime and violence; Regulatory quality reflects perceptions of the ability of the government to formulate and implement sound policies and regulations that permit and promote private sector development.

Of all the adoptions that we have been doing, the ones with the highest negative impacts on our socio-economic and political development are the formal legal system and the presidential governance approach

For government effectiveness, it reflects perceptions of the quality of public services, the quality of the civil service and the degree of its independence from political pressures, the quality of policy formulation and implementation, and the credibility of the government’s commitment to such policies. It the same poor outcomes for other indicators of good governance such as Voice and Accountability, Political Stability and Absence of Violence, and Control of Corruption.


If our poor outcomes have been consistent for over 23 years when the ranking started, there is no doubt that something is fundamentally wrong with our legal system which is central to all the indicators. It is also the reason why insurance and mortgage penetrations are less than 2 percent respectively, our capital market shallow and only about 34 million Nigerians using the formal banking sector in a country of about 200 million people. As the effectiveness of a legal system can be ascertained from the extent to which the legal system is understood, accepted and internalized to engender compliance, our performance in the above key governance variables clearly shows that our adopted formal legal system is fundamentally flawed and unsuitable for our context.


As we are projected to have exponential population growth reaching about 410million people by 2050, it is imperative that we rethink some fundamental factors if we are serious to contend the emerging economic and social crisis. Moving 100 million Nigerians out of extreme poverty as PMB promises to pursue will not be achieved if key fundamental reforms are not urgently pursued. First is the imperative to clearly define our national priorities and carefully map out home grown strategies that can be used to pursue and achieve them. It will include a detailed economic development plan thoroughly developed by Nigerians and suitable for Nigeria.


Second is the need for urgent legal reforms that will ensure that the contents, structure and administration of our justice system is in line with our norms and values as Nigerians and not that of United Kingdom. Third is the unavoidable imperative for devolution of powers from the federal government to the sub-nationals (states and local governments). This will allow the sub-national to rethink the kind of society they want and craft their respective sub-national development agendas. Fourth is to carefully rethink our nursery to university educational systems and formulate Nigerian curriculums that are suitable for national and sub-national development aspirations.


Dr. Ngwu is a Senior Lecturer in Strategy, Finance and Risk Management, Lagos Business School and a Member, Expert Network, World Economic Forum. E-mail-


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