Are We Ready for Genuine Reform and Change?
By Abdulwarees Solanke
My question as the title of my reflection of whisper today, is borne from a series of other questions I will be raising immediately. First, what aspect of our public life is not challenged? Secondly, which sector do we not complain about? Third, which institution of state, in our reckoning, rates as perfect in its processes and services? Finally, which group of players or actors in the public sector gets our applause or pass mark in their dealings with citizens or the public they are paid to serve as public servants?
In virtually every country of the developing world, there is little or no aspect of public life that is not challenged or not begging for serious government intervention, even exorcism of certain endemic infections that cheapen human life or existence. So, in what is commonly denoted as dividends of democracy in those countries operating democracy as a system of government, there are great expectations from the citizenry on what their governments must do to assuage these crippling challenges they grapple with or what they endure as existential problems. These expectations are in terms of friendly policies and redeeming initiatives and programs usually defined as palliatives, incentives, or mitigation measures and they are in legion.
From education to health, public transportation, housing, and safety of life and property summed together, the citizens just want a better quality of life. The citizens’ cry for change and quest for reform concerned pains of poverty the suffer, poor access to social infrastructure that should give them ease, ravaging unemployment, unequal opportunities for empowerment, deteriorating physical public infrastructural facilities, urban decay, environmental pollution and under-representation in the governance process in which they feel excluded in the decision making on issues that affect them directly.
These issues are the dominant content of the mass and social media which are also often exaggerated or mischievously presented in many instances, thus promoting the phenomenon of fake news and hate speech that indeed fan embers of violence and destruction of public assets, including loss of election and military intervention in many of these countries.
Therefore, during seasons or cycles of the election that political parties jostle for power, these realities of cause form the crux of campaign promises and pledges, party manifestoes reform agenda and commitments on the improvement of public welfare by candidates seeking the electoral mandates of their constituents to various levels political representation or offices, from counselors at ward levels to the presidency at the federal level. Nigeria is no exception in this culture of electioneering.
Different appeasing slogans, appealing radio and television jingles, and creative messages are abundantly crafted and produced to reach the hearts of the electorate either to sway them to vote in a particular direction, continue in office, or return to power. So, immediately after the elections, the citizens expect from the government they invested their franchise in voting them to power some magic in the redemption of the electoral campaign promises and sharing or distribution of dividends of democracy as a return on investment.
This is dividends understandable because elections in these countries can be likened to a contract or a transaction between the led and the leaders. After all, what motivated them in the first instance to vote for a particular party or candidate or in a particular direction is their faith that their fate of pain, misery, and misfortune will come to an end in the new order that promises change and a better life for all.
Their expectation or assumption is that governance is simple. Come to power, give orders or instructions, roll out measures promised during campaigns, and act with dispatch to bid farewell to poverty. The ordinary citizen cannot appreciate the complexity of the governance and reform process. They cannot understand what it entails to initiate public policies to address the existential issues or tackle so many endemic structural challenges that confront the government when deciding what to do to ensure a restoration of a better quality of life.
Rationally, the path of reform is a very narrow and difficult one. It is a path encumbered by realities of pain, apathy from would-be beneficiaries, lethargy on the part of implementing officials, compromises by corrupt officials, abuses by overzealous street-level bureaucrats, misconceptions and insincerity on the part of some agents and actors in the policy process.
Also, because of certain political realities, there may be a semblance of a lack of political will on the part of those expected to support the reform process or assist in its implementation. Certain social and economic realities also render implementation of reform policies unattainable while experience in some climes confirms that reform initiatives can suffer process fatigue.
Similarly, all reform policies produce unintended outcomes in what is described in policy language as externalities. It is OK if the attendant externalities are positive. But what is often apparent as the products of reform policies are negative externalities. These negative externalities or unintended outcomes that affect powerful interests are often the cause of the fall of regimes, loss of election, political mayhem, and, social upheavals that bring untold hardship on the citizenry.
I consider vision crafting, mission enunciation, manifesto production, agenda setting, and issues mainstreaming as purely academic exercises, even rhetorical preoccupations that do not pragmatically address critical existential concerns of the electorate or the citizenry. We are even talking about a citizenry that is not concerned about its future, a citizenry that has been wired to see only what polities of the Western world described as developed countries enjoy without understanding the pains they had to bear, the investments and sacrifices they made and the cost they bore before arriving at the Eldorado for which they are celebrated as developed.
We are talking about a citizenry that only thinks of revolutionary changes or a citizenry that suffers from the tragedy of evolutionary impatience. We are talking about a citizenry that hates to begin from the beginning, that hates to swallow the bitter pills of genuine reform for the land to come back to life. We are talking about a citizenry, indeed a polity that is ignorant of the nature and realities of reform and change.
In its real essence, reform implies the dislodgment of a prevailing order, a popular culture, and a habitual preference. The first condition for a successful reform is preparing the public for what reform entails. Reform is a cultural shift. It is a form of suicide, like class suicide when you have to jettison your bourgeoise class and join the league of the proletariats, becoming a plain and ordinary worker as you descend the aristocratic class ladder. Reform is not a cake and coke affair but a thorny and bloody journey to Eldorado. It is also a long journey to Canaan those who began it may not land in the land of Promise but a new generation born in the middle or near the end of the journey are the eventual beneficiaries.
In genuine reform, you cannot eat your cake and still have it. You just need to go the whole hog. Are we prepared for genuine reform and change in Nigeria? We require patience to endure the pains of reform, not palliatives as mere cakes that cannot holistically and pragmatically address our enduring existential challenges, or satisfy our hunger for real development. So, I return to a germane question on the realities of reform: Which institution of state is preparing us for the difficult journey of reform? What truth are they telling? What orientation are they giving?
Abdulwarees, the 2007 Commonwealth Broadcasting Association scholar in Public Policy at the Universiti Brunei Darussalam is Deputy Director and Head of, Strategic Planning and Corporate Development Department, Voice of Nigeria. email@example.com