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Government, Private Sector & Civil Society: How Can We Change Together?

By Otive Igbuzor

A keynote address delivered at 19th annual conference of the Nigeria Network of NGOs in Lagos on 20th November, 2019


The challenge of development is arguably one of the greatest challenges that has dominated world history. Human beings have always been concerned about how to improve their condition of living and better confront the forces of nature and the environment. Over the years, a lot of progress has been made on how to deal with the challenges of development and improve the standard and condition of living of human beings. 

Development theorists and practitioners are agreed that partnership among government, private sector and civil society is the most effective way to achieve sustainable economic and social benefits and achieve the sustainable development goals. In this keynote address, we argue that the development of society requires the partnership between government, private sector and civil society and show how this can be done.  But first, we look at the development of society and the trisector model. 

  • The author, Mr. Otive Igbuzor


Human beings have always been concerned about how to improve their condition of living and better confront the forces of nature and the environment. Over the years, a lot of progress has been made on how to deal with the challenges of development and improve the standard and condition of living of human beings. It has been well established that every society has the capacity to develop and all societies strive for development. But the concept of development is a very controversial one. We have argued elsewhere that the definitions and interpretations of development are influenced by history, discipline, ideological orientation and training. Chambers defines development as “good change”. This definition envisages that development is synonymous with progress. This progress should entail an all-encompassing improvement, a process that builds on itself and involve both individuals and social change. Kamghampati argues that development requires growth and structural change, some measure of distributive equity, modernization in social and cultural attitudes, a degree of political transformation and stability, an improvement in health and education so that population growth stabilizes, and an increase in urban living and employment. In our view, development always involves change that affects various facets of life including economic, social and political spheres. Sustainable development means that development is achieved without excess environmental degradation, in a way that both protects the rights and opportunities of coming generations and contributes to compatible approaches. 

The past five decades have witnessed monumental changes in the world. Global economic wealth has increased sevenfold and average incomes have tripled. Yet, poverty has increased to record high levels. The major problem is that wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few people while majority of the people live in abject poverty. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in its 1998 report documented that the three richest people in the world had assets that exceed the combined Gross Domestic Product of the 48 least developed countries.  According to Oxfam, 

As at the start of 2014, Oxfam calculated that the richest 85 people on planet earth owned as much as the poorest half of humanity. Between March, 2013 and March, 2014, these 85 people grew $668 million richer each day. If Bill Gates were to spend $1 million every single day, it will take him 218 years to spend it all. In reality though, he would never run out of money: even at a modest return of just 2 percent would make him $4.2 million each day in interest alone.

By 2015, the number has decreased to  80 richest people having the same wealth as the poorest 50 percent. By 2018, Oxfam showed that only 26 richest people on earth had the same net wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population (3.8 billion) people. The 2019 Oxfam report showed that billionaire fortunes increased by 12 percent in 2018- or $2.5 billion a day while the 3.8 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity saw their wealth decline by 11 percent. Meanwhile, the number of billionaires has almost doubled since the financial crisis, with a new billionaire created every two days between 2017 and 2018, yet wealthy individuals and corporations are paying lower rates of tax than they have in decades.

 In the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, income inequality is at its highest level in the last fifty years. The average income of the richest 10 percent of the population is about nine times that of the poorest 10 percent.  

Some scholars have advanced several reasons for the growing inequality in the world including globalization and technological progress. But experiences of different countries have shown that it is more of deliberate political and economic choices driven by market fundamentalism and the capture of power by economic elites.

It has been documented that there is a strong link between gender inequality and economic inequality. Studies show that in more economically unequal societies, fewer women complete higher education, fewer women are represented in the legislature and the pay gap between women and men is wider.

Meanwhile, it has been recognised that the three sectors: Government, private sector and civil society have great roles to play in the development of society and that this needs to be done in partnership. But it must be understood that the three sectors have different motivations, approaches and experiences. The motivation for government is provision of services to all citizens; the motivation of the private sector is profit while the motivation of civil society is the protection of specialised groups and the vulnerable (the poor, persons with disability, persons living with HIV/AIDS, women, children, trafficked persons etc). 

The approach of government is utilisation of bureaucracy with emphasis on the political rather than the economic and rational. Therefore, decision making is dominated by administrative or satisficing decision-making approaches rather than rational decision-making  approaches. The approach of the private sector is dominated by economics and market forces influenced by supply and demand. The approach of civil society is to target special groups such as the poor and advocate for grants and subsidies. 

The experiences of the three sectors are also different. In government, we have experienced inefficiency in providing services and poor performance of public enterprises even in sectors where the private sector is making huge profits. In the private sector, we have seen that the private sector has been unable to become the engine of growth in Africa. Instead, they have remained parasitic and dependent on government contracts. In the civil society, we have seen documented experiences of the poor and vulnerable; the commitment, knowledge and resilience of the poor with several good examples of pilots that are never scaled up. 


Over the years, various scholars, organizations and institutions have documented the challenges of development in Nigeria. The challenges include among other things poor leadership; bad followership; poor strategy for development; lack of capable and effective state and bureaucracy; lack of focus on sectors that will improve the condition of living of citizens such as education, health, agriculture and the building of infrastructure; corruption; undeveloped, irresponsible and parasitic private sector; weak civil society; emasculated labour and student movement and poor execution of policies and programmes. As a matter of fact, the lived experiences of many Nigerians have turned them to experts on the challenges of Development in Nigeria. From the challenges of development of Nigeria, it is clear that government, private sector and civil society have great roles to play to change the narrative. 

Government have great roles to play in planning for and accelerating the development process. In Nigeria, it has been documented that right from the colonial period, development planning was viewed as a major strategy for achieving economic development and social progress, particularly, in the spheres of socio-economic infrastructures, industralisation, modernization, high rates of economic growth, poverty reduction, and significant improvements in living standards.

Three plans featured in the pre-independence era for the periods 1946-1956, 1951-1955 and 1955-1962. Over the 1962-1995 period, three major phases in the planning experience emerged, namely, the fixed medium-term planning phase (1962-1985), policy-oriented planning (1986-1988), and three year rolling plan phase (1990 till date).

Scholars have pointed out that the golden period of planning on the African continent, 1960s and 1970s, could not be sustained from the 1980s because of two major factors: failure of development planning to meet the high expectations of rapid growth and development; and the resurgence of liberalism and the implementation of short-term stabilization and structural adjustment programmes which are predicated on liberalization and deregulation.

Meanwhile, these programmes that substituted for national development plans are counter plans which have failed to solve Africa’s myriad of economic problems. This is why some scholars have referred to the 1980s and 1990s as the “lost development decades” for Africa.

The challenge is that since return to civil rule in 1999, there has been a lot of sporadic and adhoc planning without adherence to long term planning. The National Economic Empowerment and National Development Strategy (NEEDS) and the Seven Point Agenda was abandoned after a few years. The Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) is a medium-term plan. It is worse at the sub-national levels. Between 2004 and 2007, all the states developed the State Economic Empowerment and Development Strategies (SEEDS).

But since 2007, most state governments do not have overarching development strategies.  In addition, there is no systematic planning framework for the country that ensures adequate data and research, good information system, monitoring and evaluation and tracking of results. The end result is abandonment of projects, poor plan implementation and poor service delivery.

Scholars are in agreement that strategies and policies are fundamental to progress and development of countries. But many Ministries, Departments and Agencies in Nigeria are without strategic plans. For many of them, policies have not been reviewed for over a decade. Even the implementation of the policies have been characterized by discontinuity, reversals and somersaults.

Meanwhile, there is no process or criteria or mechanism for filtering policy ideas in the country to capture citizens voices. Policy proposals are often not evidence based because ideas that enter into the policy agenda are based on the private interest behind them. The result is that the policy ideas are not strategic, and implementation do not give the desired result leading to wastage of resources due to duplication and failed programmes and projects.


The challenge of the trisector model is that the motivation, approaches and experiences of the three sectors are changing with time. Across the world, there is elite capture of government and the motivation is no longer primarily the provision of services to citizens. Similarly, there is increasing number of charlatans and criminals masquerading in the civil society sector thereby spoiling the good work of genuine CSOs.

The approach of government is changing with increasing partnership with the private sector known as Public-Private Partnership (PPP). The approach of civil society is changing with inclusion of economic models and private for-profit organisations engaging in core civil society work. 

The inefficiency experienced by government in providing services and poor performance of State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) is challenging the main focus of government. The experience with private sector with privatisation in Nigeria in asset striping and inability to invest and turn around privatised companies is challenging the role of private sector as engine of growth in Africa. In the civil society, we have seen resilience of committed organisations despite working in a challenging environment and constriction of the civic space. 


The President Muhammadu Buhari administration was inaugurated on 29th May, 2015, a time of monumental changes across the world. There are a lot of changes taking place with increasing uncertainty, growing ambiguity, increasing complexity, access to massive information and new technology. 

As argued above, there is growing inequality across the world.  In the last fifteen years, there has been a lot of changes in political leadership across the world. In 2008, the political leadership of the United States of America changed from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party and then back to Republican. In 2011, the political leadership in the United Kingdom changed from Labour Party to Conservative Party. In the last decade, there has been changes in many countries across the world including France, Italy, Greece, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Cote D’Voire, and Senegal. One slogan that has reverberated across the world is change. 


We have always argued that change will happen in any society when the conditions are ripe.   In our view, for change to occur in any society requires the presence of objective and subjective conditions. Objective conditions exist when situations are evidently abnormal with huge contradictions which can only be resolved by change. The subjective conditions are the organizational preparations required to bring about change. There is no doubt that the objective conditions for change has been existing in Nigeria for a very long time. There is high level of poverty in the midst of plenty. Corruption is widespread, endemic and stifling progress. The wealth of the country is concentrated in the hands of a few. There is social disintegration with high levels of promiscuity and divorce. Rape is on the increase. There are several cases of incest. There is high level of greed, selfishness and nepotism. The state of affairs is not sustainable. The challenge has been the absence of the subjective conditions with the requisite organization and platform to mobilize for social change. It was therefore easy for Nigerians to buy into the change agenda of the All Progressives Congress leading to the inauguration of the government on 29th May, 2015.  The challenge before the government and the Nigerian people is the nature of change and how to actualize the change. 


We have argued elsewhere that the kind of change required in Nigeria must be comprehensive affecting all facets of life.  The change must affect the five key areas of economy, politics, security, social and technological.  In the economic arena, there should be change in the structures and institutions of economic management; diversification of the economy; promotion of transparency and accountability and promotion of pro-poor policies. In politics, there should be change of the 1999 Constitution; institutions of horizontal accountability; the electoral system;  democratic culture; party financing, campaign finance and Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

In security, there should be change of the security architecture and the method of policing. In the socio-cultural arena, there should be re-orientation on social values; re-orientation on work ethics and corporate Social responsibility and investment. Finally, there should be focus on acquisition and utilization of new technology. In addition, there should be change in the way public administration is organized.

In any case, it must be recognised that to bring about change in any country is a process that must be meticulously thought out and implemented. It should start with accessing the need for change. This assessment should affect all aspects of life of the country including structure, culture, strategies, human resources, organisational processes and leadership. It is on the basis of this assessment that the government can decide on the change to make.

While deciding on the change to make, cognisance should be given to possible resistance. There are many reasons why people resist change. Some people are establishment or status-quo prone and will resist change. Others resist change because of self-interest or misunderstanding of the content or nature of change.  Studies have shown that globally, about 70 percent of all change efforts have failed. 


In our view, the Nigeria of our dream can be defined by three characteristics:

  1. A Changed Nigeria where people get reward for production of goods and services and not influence peddling with a diversified economy; pro-poor policies and politics dominated by competent and capable people of good character with ethical values that are noble and with technology and infrastructure that make citizens to live a good quality life.
  2. A Nigeria with dynamic, visionary and transformative leaders but not one that we are led by the worst among us.
  3. Enlightened and committed followership that will not follow people because of money or follow people sheepishly without considering their character and pedigree. 

The challenge before the government and people of Nigeria is to put in place a strategy for change and a model for managing resistance to change. A strategy for change should recognise the three basic stages of unfreezing, moving and refreezing in the change process. Unfreezing is the stage where you conduct a diagnosis and then unfreeze the old organisational culture. This involves clear communication on the negative consequences of old ways while developing new modes of operation.  Moving is when you produce a new strategy and initiate new ways of doing things to effect structural, cultural and individual change through effective leadership. Refreezing is a systematic way of strengthening new behaviours that support change and reinforcing the new behaviour continuously.

A model of managing resistance to change will include specific strategies to enlist co-operation of the people to support the change process. Several approaches can be used to enlist co-operation.  The citizens should be educated about upcoming changes before they occur. The nature and logic of the change should be clearly communicated. As the change process is going on, the government should listen to the people affected by the change. Training and resources should be provided to the people who need to carry out the change and perform their roles under the new circumstances. Incentives should be offered for co-operation and punishment should be applied to those who resist change. 

In addition, government should recruit change champions. These are people who are passionate about change, know the nature of change required and are prepared to lead the process of change. They should be able to develop a vision and strategy for the change process including a description of the state of affairs after the change has been implemented. The vision must be clearly communicated, and the people mobilised to support it. 

The trisector model is a good framework to show how we can change together. We must go back to the basics. Each of the sectors need to focus on its motivation, approach and experience to bring about the needed change. The government need to lead the process of developing a long-term development plan that will incorporate the change strategy. Luckily, President Muhammadu Buhari announced during the presentation of the 2020 budget to the National Assembly that Nigeria will develop a long-term strategy. It is important that the process of development of the strategy should be people centred and participatory to engender ownership.

The government should ensure proper regulation of the private sector and intervene decisively in the economy to ensure development of the private sector. In addition, there is the need for a renewed focus on provision of services, accountability and responsiveness by government. Furthermore, government need to give more attention to research and innovation.

Finally, government need to lead a process of political reform as part of the long-term development plan. Since return to civil rule in 1999, there has been no concerted and systematic approach to political reform. The vision 2020 had no political dimension or how to create the political condition for the vision to be actualised. The Economic Recovery and Growth Plan is a medium-term plan without significant focus on political reform. The report of previous national conferences was not implemented. 

There is a great need for change of orientation and regulation of the private sector with promotion of entrepreneurship. The private sector needs to be developed to focus on the production of goods and services rather than on influence peddling. The civil society need to continue to be resilient and focus on holding government accountable. It must improve its organisation to resist the constriction of the civic space or the promulgation of anti-people laws. But more importantly, it must develop and implement self-regulation to wade off onslaught by the state. 


Every society has the capacity to develop and all societies strive for development. The trisector model consisting of the government, private sector and civil society is crucial for the development of society and this should be done in partnership. The government needs to improve in policy making, transparency and accountability and citizens’ responsiveness for better service delivery. The private sector should focus on the production of goods and services while working to spur innovation, make long term investments in infrastructure and create more decent jobs and employment opportunities beyond narrow focus on profits. The civil society will need to make better decisions and hold government and leaders accountable for their actions. If this is done, then the trisector will help us to attain the change we need.

Otive Igbuzor, PhD is the founding Executive Director, African Centre for Leadership, Strategy & Development (Centre LSD), Abuja and Chief of Staff to the Deputy President of the Senate; E-mail: otiveigbuzor@yahoo.co.uk 

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