In its basic sense, technocracy connotes a system of governance where premium is placed on skilled people exerting influence in their respective areas of specialization. Due to their expertise, they are usually courted and sought after to join politics as their input in governance would be highly invaluable.
I guess some reading the above will be wondering whether this writer is referring to Nigeria given the nuances of politics in this clime. Has Nigeria ever been in that category or in the exception list?
The popular sentiment pervading the Nigerian political space is that politics is not served a la carte. Anybody wishing to be part of it and contribute his meaningful quota must join the fray willingly and not by getting pleaded to or coerced into it. Politics in Nigeria has thus been seen as free for all and a somewhat zero sum game. The big poser always begging for answer remains: to what effect has this been? Has the country moved an inch through this boxed in mindset?
Doing the same thing every time and expecting a different and better kind of result is a classic case of mid-summer madness. The popular refrain about not courting technocrats in politics by political leaders is that the former usually come in with haughty disposition and unbridled arrogance. Some in this school of thought even posit that some of the technocrats that have either joined on their own volition or recruited by them have not actually distinguished themselves in service to merit the hullabaloo about their indispensability. They argue further that some of the technocrats in politics/governance sometimes end up been worse than the so called professional politicians that have recruited or goaded them into politics.
While there may be few instances in the past when technocrats have fallen short of expectations, do the benefits of having them in governance outweigh the costs of discarding or keeping them in the sidelines?
It is now an aphorism in the global space that political leaders of countries go into governance with their ‘first eleven’. This has been the norm rather than the exception in advanced economies and the emerging ones that have charted a deliberate path of growth and development. Nowhere was this aptly and amply demonstrated than in the recent constitution of his cabinet by President Joe Biden of the United States of America. He simply went for the best of the best regardless of colour, gender, age, economic/financial status et cetera.
Why what President Biden has recently accomplished in America cannot be replicated in many developing countries including Nigeria remains a mystery. The first impediment in overcoming that is for these leaders, especially in Africa (Nigeria very much prominent) to do away with primordial sentiments. Appointments to key and sensitive positions in most of these countries revolve along tribal, religious and other fault lines bedeviling these countries. Merit hardly plays any role in the consideration. Nowhere is this so pronounced than Nigeria of today!
Technocrats may have their baggage (haughtiness, arrogance etc) but sometimes these attitudes are exaggerated. A man that knows his onions is always jealous of his expertise and may not want his knowledge trampled upon. This may sometimes not go down well with the establishment and thus the charge of haughtiness comes in. Giving a man a job he’s well suited and qualified to perform and providing the latitude (add the cliché: “enabling environment”) to accomplish the task are not mutually exclusive. Bottom line: no room should be provided for mutual suspicion.
For the technocrats themselves, the time to stand aloof and allow political ‘miscreants’ and jobbers to reign supreme on the time honoured but misplaced notion that politics is bad should be over. If the advanced countries and the emerging ones making significant progress have had their professionals and technocrats at the helm of affairs, it is then high time Nigerian technocrats and professionals organized themselves and take control. As have been noted, politics is not served a la carte. Nobody makes an omelette without breaking egg. Waiting to be appointed into offices at the benevolence of professional politicians will be a great service to country and humanity. Getting elected into offices at both the executive and legislative levels is a veritable way of turning things around for the better. Who says technocrats cannot comingle with others to achieve sustainable results for Nigeria?
Dr. Okolo is a chartered stockbroker and management consultant based in Lagos.