President-elect and the Government of National Competence in Perspective
Part of the various emotional attempts to undermine the last electoral process that threw up Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the APC was the call for an interim government of national unity that is supposed to douse the tension associated with the elections and its processes before and after. To be charitable, those who are calling for the interim government are doing so, even if mischievously, as their own contribution to de-escalating the tension that characterized the announcement of Tinubu as the president-elect. Those familiar with Nigeria’s recent political history will immediately remember the infamous interim national government foisted on Nigeria by the Babangida administration in 1993, and what the consequences of that political decision was.
Fortunately for us all, the election threw up a winner, and we all—for the sake of Nigeria—need to rally round him and his administration to commence the task of governance come May 29. 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?
Such an intention has behind it the weight of a national governance practice that has kept Nigeria locked within the frame of underdevelopment since independence. 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 development 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 Nigeria, 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.
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 competences 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 competences in governance and administration. Competency management is the single most fundamental condition for the reform of governance and institution in any country that wants to succeed in achieving development. It is the core of change management, especially for the public service as the engine room for performance and productivity.
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. Public leadership refers generally to the leadership of public sector organizations; or specifically to those who have been saddled with the task of defining and generating public good for the benefit of their citizens. 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 underlie 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. Given the nature of Nigeria’s democratic and federal arrangement, President Tinubu will definitely not have much control over every democratically elected leader in Nigeria, especially at the state level. And yet, the new administration can determine the direction of development through a change management that is constituted around a change space powered by a carefully selected cabinet members (the first eleven team), as well as the backend technocratic, managerial and bureaucratic leadership that will see eye to eye, on an ongoing basis, with the President and his strategic vision for Nigeria and Nigerians, in what promises to be a transformational journey.
Structuring a change space for governance performance demands, as an imperative, a competency model—a framework of competencies and an instrument through which they are assessed and measured. The centrally developed competency model therefore outlines competency clusters that then cascade down to the operational dynamics of the MDAs as the units of performance and productivity Nigeria needs to enable democratic governance. And the first condition for achieving such a performance-motivated understanding of national development in Nigeria is a fully retrofitted public service. And one mistake that must be avoided involves tying the success of the reform to any single office holder, like the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) or the Head of Service of the Federation (HCSF). On the contrary, administrative reform history insists that reforms are often successful when reform dynamics are owned and galvanized by the direct support of someone—like the president—at the level of political authorization. The onus is therefore on President Tinubu to manufacture the political will that says inviolably, in spirit and in truth, that the codes guiding governance practice will no longer be business-as-usual.
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 enable the public service to model the appropriate competences by which the policy process and the MDAs can arrive at optimal performance and productivity. These competences are then fitted to performance metrics and contracts. This is 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 equally has the same objectives of transforming Nigeria’s policy architecture through giving adequate attention to the base fundamentals of governance and institutional reform that commences with instituting a change space, defining a change management framework around competency management, assembling a crop of leaders, professionals and technocrats in accordance with a competency model, and charging them with the binding force of performance agreement or contract drawn from a national performance cum productivity target. The government of national competence that will be instituted has as one of its immediate assignment the formulation of a policy that will facilitate a nation-wide framework of cultural adjustment programme that will pursue—through a reengineered, professionalized and competency-remodeled National Orientation Agency—the task of redefining a set of national values around which Nigerians can live together in civic harmony. One can immediately see how such a national value movement can be energized by a new educational philosophy that reconstitute the Nigerian educational system, from primary schools to the tertiary institutions, into context for ingraining moral rebirth into those who would constitute the fulcrum of future human capital development that Nigeria will eventually call upon to instigate development.
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 a 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.
Prof. Tunji Olaopa
Retired Federal Permanent Secretary
& Professor of Public Administration