Public Institutions and the Paradox of Governance

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President Muhammadu Buhari

By Jerome-Mario Utomi –

From available records, it was the European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, responsible for proposing legislation, enforcing EU laws and directing the union’s administrative operations, that in 1995 defined Governance as the sum of the many ways individuals and institutions, public and private, manage their common affairs. It is a continuing process through which conflicting or diverse interests may be accommodated and a cooperative action may be taken. It includes formal institutions and regimes empowered to enforce compliance as well as informal arrangements that people and institutions either have agreed to or perceived to be in their interests.

Without a doubt, if that is the meaning of governance, then, it will be relevant for/that this piece to casts a glance at the meaning of Public institution.

Going by what Wikipedia, the world information search engine says, a public institution is a juristic person which is backed through public funds and controlled by the state.

This explanation/definition by Wiki in my views appears too academic, ambiguous and high sounding. Thus, let’s turn our gaze to  Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi,   Indian lawyer, anti-colonial nationalist and political ethicist who employed nonviolent resistance to lead the successful campaign for India’s independence from British rule and in turn inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world, as he offers a more pragmatic, simple, codified graspable meaning . Writing in his autobiography titled; The Story of My Experiment with Truth, he among other things stated that a public institution is an institution conducted with the approval, and from the funds of the public, of which whenever such an institution ceases to have public support, it forfeits its right to exist.

Gandhi said something else.

Institutions maintained on permanent funds, he noted, are often found to ignore public opinion, and are frequently responsible for acts contrary to it. India at every step experienced situations where public institutions instead of living like nature, from day to day, abandoned the ideals of public trust, he concluded.

Indeed, if such worry expressed about a century ago was a challenge, what is currently happening here in Nigeria is a crisis.Take as illustration, the news report that despite the overwhelming outcry against the plan to retrace and recover stock routes, popularly called grazing routes, President Muhammadu Buhari via Federal Government’s relevant institutions is not showing signs of relenting. Characterizing the development as a reality to worry about is that it is coming at a time when every other civilized nation has opted for Ranching. This is not only absurd but a paradox!

From this spiraling awareness, the question may be asked; why is it that public institutions in Nigeria have ‘successfully’ become non conformists and non adherents to public opinion?  How come the operations of our public institution have recently become reputed for non infusion of governance principles of participation, accountability, transparency and non-discrimination towards the attainment of equity and justice in development initiatives? Why is the actions, policies of public institutions in Nigeria devoid of the process that allows the realization of economic, social and cultural rights, as well as civil and political rights, and all fundamental freedoms?  Why are public institutions in the habit of not expanding the capabilities and choices of individuals/citizens?

Why is it that public institutions in the country are far away from the people even when governance as seen above encourages public institutions to get in constant touch with reality and open dialogues with well-informed and quietly influential citizens and organizations in order to benefit from their experience and expertise? How come what we have here is but a direct opposite- as the public institutions have against all known logic  become ‘famous’ for flagrant disregard of public opinions, advice and requests from well-meaning Nigerians and organizations; who ordinarily ought to be their partners in the business of moving the nation forward? Who will stop this progressive decay in our public institutions which like an unchained torrent of water has submerged our political and socioeconomic countryside?  Should we allow it to continue, leaving the nation to enjoy or suffer whatever fruit it bears in future?

To this piece, finding answers/solutions to this challenge is important but trumping the factors that fuel public institutions’ inefficiencies and disobedience to public opinion is essential.  Principally, this is the duty of the moment.

And I need not pause to know that the most pernicious of all these problems is the inevitable link between our public institution and bureaucracy which characterizes public administration. This challenge is not Nigeria-specific as most countries of the world are guilty of it.

Supporting this assertion about bureaucracy is the argument by Robert  Kiyosaki, a world acclaimed management consultant. He explained that the problem with the world is that many nations allow their institutions to be led by bureaucrats. And he went further to describe a bureaucrat as someone in a position of authority but takes no professional and financial risks; someone who loses a lot of money for his position/and the institution he represents but never loses his money or his job. He/she gets paid whether the job is done or not.

Another reason for non compliance with public opinion by these public institutions is the barefaced illusion by the occupants of such institutions that they are more nationalistic or patriotic than other citizens. This baffling disposition in effect prepares the ground for exercising power and responsibility, not as a trust for the public good, but as an opportunity for private gains and promotes nepotism, cronyism and corruption as consequences.

Looking ahead, If truly a people- purposed leadership is what we seek if the accelerated economy is our goal, if social and cultural development is our dreams, if promoting peace, supporting our industries and improving our energy sector forms our objectives, then, the solution lies in the government’s urgent recognition that those structures that created failures in those institutions will also prevent the implementation of incentives that will improve performance. Also, attempting to engineer prosperity without first confronting the root cause of the problem and the politics that kept them in place is a mere waste of time.

While calling for the restructuring of public institutions to deliver service, via adoption of a structural and managerial model globally recognized for curbing bureaucracy and corruption in public institutions and instilling public trust, this piece draws the attention of all to the global warning that governance manifests when societal members find they are interdependent and their actions impinge on each other.

This can lead to conflict or cooperation between the differing partners. Conflict, it argues, occurs when the efforts of actors to move toward their goals impinge or interfere with the efforts of others to pursue their own ends. Cooperation on the other hand can ensue when opportunities to increase social capital emerge by managing the relations and interactions of the group – essentially the sum is greater than the parts and actors can achieve their goals from cooperation.

Above all, as the nation prepares for the 2023 general election, Nigerians must come to the recognition of the fact that it takes good people to have good government. However good the system of government, bad leaders will bring harm to their people.

  • Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via;jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374.

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