Below is the text of Book Review by Prof. BAC Obiefuna of “PRIME WITNESS: CHANGE AND POLICY CHAALLENGES IN BUHARI’S NIGERIA”, written by Mr. Oseloka Obaze during the book presentation today in Lagos.
REVIEW OF THE BOOK:
PRIME WITNESS: CHANGE AND POLICY CHAALLENGES IN BUHARI’S NIGERIA
AS PRESENTED BY
REV. FR. B. A. C. OBIEFUNA, Ph. D., mnipr, mnim, mcathan, fcai
Professor of Religion and Society/Human Relations
Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka.
May 3, 2018 at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA)
Victoria Island, Lagos.
On March 13, 2015, I had the singular honour of standing in Obosi Town Hall, Obosi, Anambra State to give a summary review of a book produced at the instance of Chief Emeka Anyoku on: History of Obosi: From the Earliest to the Present, a book of nearly the same size as what we have today and addressing nearly the same issues of knowing who we are, where we are coming from, where we are now, and where we are going.
In that occasion, I did say that “It is one thing to have inspiration. It is another thing to know it is an inspiration. And yet, it is another thing to make use of the inspiration. It is one thing to have a dream. It is another thing to make that dream a reality.
It is one thing to have ideas. It is another thing to translate those ideas into visible products. Creativity is not simply to have an inspiration, a dream or an idea. Creativity is putting an inspiration, a dream and an idea into action. It is a product of vision matched with mission.
It is making objective that which was subjective. It demands courage. It needs time. It needs finances. It is altruistic. It cannot but be shared. Inspiration, dream or idea not shared dies in one’s head. Any that is shared contributes to human empowerment and development.
One of the most powerful ways of being creative is in writing which could be undertaken by an individual, group of persons or in sponsorship. Any good piece that is written is a product of creativity and worth celebrating.”
Successes are celebrated. Failures are not. Careful articulation of failures and projections to avoiding them is equally success that should be celebrated.
Today, in this highly respected research engine for policy formulations and implementation and evaluation, we are gathered to celebrate the success of one who has the inspiration to use his diplomatic observatory lenses to give personal primary analysis of policy challenges in the administration of Nigeria’s sitting President, Muhammadu Buhari, for purposes of valued input for the growth of Nigeria.
We are gathered to celebrate a new arrival in the corpus of public policy with the title: Prime Witness: Change and Policy Challenges in Buhari’s Nigeria as authored by Oseloka H. Obaze who has proved himself extraordinarily creative in making his inspiration, dream and idea manifest creativity by writing this book.
In the words of Obaze, the book “is essentially a product of my observations, my exchanges with my various interlocutors in and out of government, and Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike, during the first year of the Buhari administration, 2015 – 2016.”
(This is without prejudice to information in the Foreword of the book that is in the second year of Buhari’s administration.)
He also sees the volume as “a child of necessity” since he did not go all out to write a book on Policy Challenges but had to pull together policy challenging public presentations he had made in one forum or the other. It is with every sense of humility and responsibility that I stand to present a brief review of the book which, in brief, I simply call Prime Witness.
STRUCTURE OF THE BOOK
The book is published in Ibadan by Safari Books Ltd in 2017. It has sixty two preliminary pages and four hundred and forty eight main pages. The preliminary pages contain the title pages, the publishing data page, the Dedication, the Reflection and Philosophy page, the Table of Contents, the Foreword, the Acknowledgements, and the Introduction.
The main pages are divided into Six Parts with their content chapters organized according to policy issues of discourse, four Appendixes, the Index, and a word on the Author.
It is not my intention to go into the details of each chapter of this undeniably vital book in today’s President Buhari’s Nigeria. That would make the review cumbersome and time consuming.
Be that as it may, Part A is on “Governance and Politics.” It has fifteen chapters (pp. 1 – 118). Part B is on “Foreign Policy” and has three chapters (pp. 119 – 144). Part C is on “Security Challenges” and equally has three chapters (pp. 145 – 172). While Part D is on “Constitutional Questions” with four chapters (pp. 173 – 204), Part E is on “Economic and Physical Policies” and has ten chapters (pp. 205 – 278). Part F is the final section on “Change Mantra in Retrospect” and has three chapters (pp. 279 – 384).
Typical of a work of this nature, the chapters are not evenly divided in the Parts. The Introduction and the final chapter (in Part F) are out of proportion to the rest of the chapters. Whereas most of the Chapters cover six to ten pages, the Introduction has forty two pages and the final chapter on “Retroview” has eighty six pages.
The reason could be that in as much as the chapters address specific issues, the Introduction and the Retroview address general issues on change and policy challenges especially in Buhari administration.
It also clearly shows some measure of independence of the chapters which is expressed in the confession of the author in these words:
“I did not set out to write this volume as a book. Rather, this project which is a collection of essays commenced with several random (emphasis added) public policy analysis, which I wrote with the advent of the Buhari administration on 29 May, 2015.”
This does not, however, rob the book under review of external coherence and internal consistence that add to the juicy nature of the masterpiece.
Appendix 1 gives “Buhari’s Campaign Manifesto” (pp. 387 – 406); Appendix 2 presents the “Inaugural speech by His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari following his swearing-in as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on 29th May, 2015” (pp. 407 – 413); Appendix 3 is “President Muhammadu Buhari’s “achievements” in the first 12 months” (pp. 415 – 425) (interestingly the “A” of achievements in the report is written in lower case and in inverted commas, possibly indicating doubts in the claims and much of the interrogation of policy issues in the book focus on the headings in the achievement claims); and Appendix 4 is the list of “President Muhammadu Buhari’s Federal Cabinet” (pp. 427 – 429).
The print is very clear and on point size that makes it readable. The language is simple with a few diplomatic and professional jargons. The index is very valuable. I noticed only two errors, one on spelling “one” instead of “on” (p. xlvii) and the other is misinformation: the Chapter on Rebooting Nigeria is Two instead of Four. The works cited are at the footnotes and properly acknowledged and there is no general Bibliography for the reason that it is collection of essays.
THE SETTING BEFORE BUHARI’S CIVILIAN ADMINISTRATION
As a seasoned diplomat and policy advisor of international repute, Oseloka H. Obaze (OHO) presented the realities on ground before Buhari, who had failed in his Presidency race three good times, clinched the seat at the fourth attempt in 2015. Nigeria’s political history is not holy and wholesome. Within both civilian and military regimes, the story of Nigeria continued to grow in negativity.
The military years were, to borrow from George Ehusani, “Years eaten by the locust.” Regime after regime blamed their predecessors of condoning ills in the country especially with regard to corruption. Regime after regime promised paradise on earth in ascending to power to legitimize that power which is seized either by the brute force of coups or by election, generally feared or believed obviously rigged.
The Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s administration was not different. The author is of the view that that administration under the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) had lost the fiber of leadership by 2015. He exercised the power of research objectivity to indicate that, the party had failed Nigerians who then clamoured for change.
According to him, “it was evident to all, that Nigeria was not enjoying the best form of governance and purposeful leadership. The strength of governance was absolutely lacking . . . . Governance had reached new depths of dysfunction. The nation was tethered close to its tipping point and the political alternatives were few. Military rule was totally discredited and hence no longer an option.”
There was therefore need for change. Even at that, he says that “desirable as it were, leadership change in Nigeria had always been a risky proposition. Yet the need for leadership change was keenly felt.” It was that political environment and the consolidation of the All Progressives Congress (APC) that “was fractious, unconsolidated and therefore weak” that brought Buhari to power.
But, it is not just leadership change; it is a change in the structure of governance in such a way that the gap between the government and the people would be bridged. That was the yearning of the people. It cannot be said with all boldness that it has been achieved by the APC government either. To achieve this is the function of public policy that is the major concern of our author.
THE NATURE OF PUBLIC POLICY
According to Obaze, public policy is made for what is generally called the common good, for protecting the interests of all in the polity; it serves public interest. As such, when well formulated and implemented, it projects good governance and is “vital for nation-building.”
That is why, in his opinion, “public policy and governance are intertwined inextricably.” It is so complex that it is not a function of one person or a single group in a country, especially as is as complex and pluralist as Nigeria.
Public policy calls for broad consultations and debates for policies that would establish connect between government and the governed. Obaze gives “certain realities and theoretical constructs” that remain unchanged in assessing the effectiveness of public policy in governance.
“First, the strength of government derives from its delivery of good governance and public services. Second, delivery of such governance dividends depended on the efficient formulation and implementation of public policies. Third, the sum total of good governance, has always hinged on the level of the bond of performance between the government of the day and the governed.”
This does not mean that the vision of the leader is not important even in the formulation and implementation of public policies. That is why the policy dividends of a political administrator, like President Muhammadu Buhari, could be analyzed within the framework of possible policy challenges.
This rests on the backdrop that our revered author is professionally convinced that “the best public policies derive from the vision of leaders based first, on their understanding of the needs of the people and second, on their interaction with people; but always with acute attention to the broad and oftentimes divergent views of pundits, policy experts and critics.”
In driving his vision, therefore, the leader is to take into cognizance the complex character of public policy and make effective use of resource persons (academics, politics, bureaucrats, theoreticians, pressure groups and so on) in a “groupthink syndrome.”
Obaze proposes this “groupthink syndrome” as the best way to make the leader to think out of the box to arrive at public policies that would bring about “pragmatic means to problem-solving.” At both the overt and covert dimensions, “public policy, by nature, represents a thought process or continuum rather than a time-bound event. It could, therefore, manifest as governmental action (explicit policy) or governmental inaction (implicit policy).”
Highly respected audience, it is with this high knowledge of the nature and function of public policy that OHO analyzes the Change Mantra and Policy Challenges in Buhari’s Nigeria.
BUHARI’S CHANGE MANTRA AND POLICY CHALLENGES
Change mantra is not new in Nigeria’s politics. Nearly every regime that comes to power promises change from the “ills” of the preceding administration. That may possibly explain why there are no sustainable viable policies in Nigeria: Change keeps changing! The highly respected Ionian philosophers especially Parmenides and Heraclitus accept and teach that the only thing that is constant is “Change.”
Promises from Nigerian leaders for Change often raise hopes for a better society. Yet, things keep getting worse by the day. In 1983, President Shehu Shagari and his political party, National Party of Nigeria (NPN) used the Change Mantra, “Change ‘83”, to sweep the polls. It did not take long before Shagari was ousted in a coup that brought Buhari to power as a military leader.
Our author says that “despite NPN’s promise of “change”, Buhari had justified the coup on the need to remove an ‘inept and corrupt administration that left Nigeria a beggar nation.’” Thirty two years after, President Buhari and the ruling party, APC, used the same mantra as Shagari who he ousted in a coup and forcefully became a ruler in Nigeria. The Change Mantra has changed administrations in Nigeria.
The question is: “Have those who use the Change Mantra effected any appreciable positive changes for Nigeria and Nigerians through policies that address the worries, interests and needs of those who reposed their hopes for a better country in the promised change? The answer is any person’s guess.
Oseloka Obaze is convinced that the “Change Mantra” and what follows when in power should be interrogated and constructive suggestions proffered for sustainable “change” for a better Nigeria on which that prosperity would build on. He does not believe that promises of “change” should return to “business as usual.” Change can only come through policies that are formulated to address social, political, economic, academic and religious concerns of the people. To do this, a driver of change is faced with some policy challenges.
Our author interrogates the “Change” as promised by Buhari on such policy challenges as Security, Fiscal Policy, Foreign Policy, Political Appointments, Judicial Processes, Due Process, Local Governments, Power Generation, Science and Technology, the Economy, and Restructuring, His “Prime Witness” on the issues raised is presented in the book with such clarity and objectivity and in such style that sustains interest in reading.
His position, advice and vexation on these realities that call for groupthink policy formulation and implementation are for personal assessments. Be that as it may, our author says: “Unfortunately, Buhari had tried to forge change, but change without a focus on nation-building, that act of creating a sense of national community among disparate peoples could hardly translate to sustainable transformation.
Hence his [Buhari’s] change modalities often met with reservations if not resistance.” Here, one can think of the so called modalities in tackling corruption which appear to be targeted at some people than others and therefore met with criticisms
Mr, Chairman and distinguished audience, I am afraid that before Oseloka Obaze’s “Prime Witness” gets to Mr. President a few continued worries arising from Mr. President’s action or inaction ought to be continually expressed. This is part of the interrogation since, “if you see something, say something.”
Some examples: The killings in Benue State are taking another dimension susceptible to any interpretation especially with the killing of two Catholic priests and tens of their parishioners and the inaction of the Federal Government; kidnappings are on the increase; there is complete loss of the sense of the sacred for which Africans are known: Sacred persons, places, times and objects; the introduction of the concept of Hate Speech into our pluralist polity without any clear definition of what it means as such has the possible “value” of trumping up sentiments of suspicion and apartness.
It is not clear whether the statement that “Nigerian youths are lazy” is hate or love speech; it is not clear whether the statement that “Herdsmen carry sticks and not guns” is a hate or love speech, just as it is not clear whether labeling a non-arm-carrying group in the country as “terrorist group” is hate or love speech.
It is any persons’ guess the assessment some in central government would give to the eleven “What ifs” in Chapter Nine of the work under review.
I just take two examples: “What if we had agreed on a common narrative about the Civil War, so that our children, regardless of ethnicity, can learn that their grandparents and parents made mistakes, which led to Nigerians going to war against each other?” and “What if a northern-dominated military had not ended the Shagari administration prematurely in 1983, thus truncating the possibility of an Igbo, namely Dr. Alex Ekwueme emerging as Shagari’s successor and Nigeria’s President on the completion of Shagari’s second tenure?”
Since our democracy is, unfortunately, a center-concentrated one, we appeal to the Federal Government to listen to Oseloka Obaze and have the political will to, as a matter of urgency, develop functional policies to ensure the security agents do the needful to save the country from the looming carnage. If Nigeria is one, then we should live as one. Restructuring has the promise of launching Nigeria with a better image in the global orbit.
The book, Prime Witness: Change and Policy Challenges in Buhari’s Nigeria, cannot come out at more auspicious time than now as 2019 approaches. Nigeria and the International community need it. Diplomats, politicians, administrators, academics, researchers, captains of industries will find the book indispensable in their various fields of endeavour.
President Buhari and his team should not only need many copies, they need them for a political retreat that would do this administration a world of good. I need this book. You need it. We need it. Our friends at home and abroad need it. Let us pick it; read it; digest it and use the knowledge from it to insist on groupthink formulation and implementation of workable policies to address the challenging realities in our dear country Nigeria.
To do this, we must be politically alert to put the right people in government at all levels: Local, State and Federal. In spite of the hunger in the country, money should not blur our political vision. Oseloka Henry Obaze, thank you for giving us this corpus of recipe for connect between government and the governed.
Mr. Chairman, the author of the book and his amiable wife, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for listening