Thoughts about thinking outside the box

Thoughts about thinking outside the box

Last week, President Muhammadu Buhari urged the meeting of his senior government officials with economic experts to think outside the box, in trying to resolve the country’s economic catastrophe and swim out of the troubled waters. It must surely be a new day in the Presidency, if it has indeed come to terms with the calls made over the last few months by the citizens. The calls have been consistent: Fix the economy!

While we allow the officials and the experts to fashion out an exit from the extant recession, it is important to look at many more ways the government can and should be looking outside the box in delivering quality governance. This is because the government has apparently been thinking too much inside the box. And one thought thinking outside the box ought naturally to be the hallmark of a government that held out Change as its standard.

Thinking outside the box means looking for solutions from as far apart as possible, rather than expecting to get such solutions through the same old beaten tracks. One way to think outside the box is in the selection of personnel and officials to run an administration as well as the involvement of the citizens in decision-making. Unfortunately, we often find ourselves running public systems where the public officers carry on with a sense of superiority of wisdom and knowledge about how to resolve every issue. But thinking outside the box must entail expanding the frontier for bringing in every expertise required to turn around the economy, no matter where such may be found.

One noticeable inside-the-box thinking of this administration is the restrictive nature of President Buhari’s key appointments. From what I see, the President majorly appoints persons he has had personal knowledge of or those who were involved in his political platforms during his various electioneering from his days in the All Nigeria People’s Party, the Congress for Progressive Change and the present All Progressives Congress. It therefore means that the government is peopled and resourced by persons who are not only fully into the business of politics but more specifically members of the President’s political leaning. On the face of it, we may not argue so much against the President’s unfettered powers to appoint some of these persons. However, if the result of such appointments fail to pull the country up from the dungeon we are in currently, then, this will fail to be the change we expected.

Whenever a leader fails to look beyond his political associates in delivering governance, and it is often the norm in Nigeria, democracy gets redefined as government of the politicians by politicians and for political interests. The country therefore shoots itself in the leg by tactically excluding many of its teeming experts in different fields as long as those experts cannot find the pass code to the partisan politics table where the spoils of the political war are shared. It is the kind of democracy I have had cause to condemn in the past and the present government did not make efforts to think outside the box on this.

The government had for a long time refused to think outside the box in its management of the economy by the continuous exclusion of non-politicians and non-government officials in the economic management. The closest we saw was a one-day consultation held by the Economic Management Team with five experts on economics and finance namely, Bismarck Rewane, Akpan Ekpo, Ayo Teriba, Badeye Sani and Bode Augusto in early August. It is not clear what the outcome of the meeting was but it doesn’t seem that the meeting went beyond merely being a “consultation”.

From what I can observe, the President is too cautious in his approach to governance and this has robbed the administration of the ability to respond instantaneously to events. Take the case of the recession. From when the government acknowledged that we were in “technical recession” to when we officially slipped into recession, the government didn’t seem to have drawn up a clear plan on how to tackle the problem. And if it did, this was not communicated adequately to citizens. In several previous commentaries I made on this administration, I had expressed my worries about the dearth of communication.

This is disappointing, coming from a government that has perhaps the largest number of personnel whose job prescription covers information or communication. This communication gap often opens up room for speculations and befuddled interpretations of what is going on.  A clear case was the much celebrated travel of the President to China. The outcome of that trip remains a subject of speculation.

It runs contrary to the principle of thinking outside the box that the country slipped into recession on August 31 and three weeks after, all we hear of are promises or plans of what government is going to do to reflate the economy, not what has been done. Even more disturbing is the fact that the National Assembly remained on recess even after recession came upon us. My imagination tells me that a recession is the economic equivalent of war. So, it is difficult for me to understand why the legislators could not cut short their recess and meet to deliberate this calamity that has befallen the country.

I would want to know if the Executive arm has even considered it a priority to formally inform the Legislature of the recession, implications and effect on the economy and made proposals as to what needs to be done by both arms. A few weeks ago, we heard that the Presidency was considering a bill to the National Assembly for special emergency powers for the President as part of efforts to fast-track the recovery plan for the economy.  It is not clear if such a bill has yet been submitted to the National Assembly which earlier resumption date was further shifted from September 13 to September 20.

I do not see why the legislature could not have reconvened, had the Presidency submitted the bill to it during this time. And there is a precedent to show how the National Assembly had had cause to suspend its recess to address national emergencies like this. I recall that the House of Representatives once cut short its recess in January 2012 to reconvene on a Sunday afternoon to deliberate on the planned citizens’ protest against the petroleum subsidy removal of that year. So, it is clear that the National Assembly may have been ready to cut short its recess if only the Presidency had made the right move.

As it stands, the National Assembly is going to resume this week and will likely deliberate the issue. But it will be very embarrassing if the said bill is still not before them, four weeks after the recession.

In case the two arms of government don’t understand what is happening, let me stress again that an economic recession as we are in now is the economic equivalent of a war. The President must take that lead and exhibit the urgency involved. The parliamentarians have no business being on recess at this time. They must exhibit their power of oversight over the executive and together they must seek and bring in all the expertise needed to bring about a reversal.

One final word to President Buhari on thinking outside the box: Nigerians have heard enough about how we got to our present predicament. It no longer sounds nice for the President and his core team to remind us of that. I however find the President’s recent statement on that issue as shocking and beneath his office. The President said: “I want Nigerians to realise that what this government inherited after 16 years of PDP government was (sic) no savings, no infrastructure, no power, no rail, no road and no security.”

Wait a minute, did the President really mean those words in their ordinary and regular forms? It sounded too general, too dismissive and too cheeky a statement from a President. Government is a continuum and for all we know, the present government has built on a few of the infrastructure left by the previous governments. The railway is one of them.

Thinking outside the box means that the Buhari government must stop complaining of the past but focus on taking the country out of the woods. Fifteen months out of the 48 months for which the President was elected for have already rolled by. He must look ahead to where he wants to take the country to. The past may define our present but he must make sure our present defines our future more positively. I think the President needs to think both outside the box and think strategically ahead.

First published in The Punch newspaper on Monday September 19, 2016

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Written by
Obo Effanga
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