We may not be able to go from where we are to where we want to be as a country in a short period, but simple decisions can be made to improve the lives of citizens in the interim.
By Tunde Leye @tundeleye
My first few attempts at writing this piece ended in frustration. Each time I attempted to think of simple decisions the Nigerian state can make to solve complex problems, within two minutes, each solution that started simply quickly escalated into complexity as I pondered them further.
But what writing a piece like this forces you to do is to focus and truly answer the question – are there things a government can quickly do that within a few months or even weeks of implementation, to begin to improve the lives of Nigerians? And this is important because a single government action can resolve problems at a scale that individual or non-governmental efforts cannot. At the heart is this – what is the purpose of government?
I witnessed one such example in Lagos. Mobolaji Bank Anthony (MBA) Way leads directly to the domestic airport and is notorious for traffic. A key cause of this was the U-turn right after Sheraton, where cars coming from Allen merged with those on MBA Way. Try as citizens may, to behave properly while driving there, the road devolved into chaos in no time and left many people hopping on bikes so they would not miss their flights.
One day, the government simply blocked this U-turn and compelled people to only make the turn further down the road. Like magic, most of the congestion cleared up, until recently when new issues of the condition of the road have created another traffic nightmare. This is the crux of this piece, how making simple decisions like closing off a U-turn can solve a complex problem like perennial traffic on a major road.
One of the most complex problems Nigeria faces is that of poverty. The World Poverty Clock says that Nigeria surpassed India as the world’s poverty capital this year, and Per Capita GDP dropped by 40% between 2014 and 2017 as per the National Bureau of Statistics. Poverty forms the driver and/or exacerbator of many other problems like out of school children and violence, amongst others.
The government of today has instituted Social Intervention Schemes to attempt to deal with this issue, but the number of desperately poor keeps growing. I believe that this is because the government has failed to run its more far-reaching decisions through the prism of whether they will make Nigerians poorer either by constricting their income, and in many cases simultaneously increasing the cost of essentials like food, transport, clothing, and healthcare.
A recent example is the Vice President’s celebration of a banana producer selling their products at 300% what they would have sold in Europe to Nigerians. Would it have been cheaper for the Nigerian people to buy imported bananas for example?
This is the first simple decision government must make – run new and existing policies through one criterion above all – does this make Nigerians poorer? Does this ban, this tariff increase or decrease, this protectionist license make more Nigerians poorer? It’s amazing the clarity that doing this seemingly simple exercise will bring to policy making and government action.
A second simple thing the government can do is how it measures its interfaces with Nigerians. Key areas Nigerians interact with the state, including law enforcement, obtaining licenses and other identification documents, import and export points like air and seaports and emergency services. Almost across all these interface points, through which Nigerians form their impression of the state, the performance indicators that the government measures and celebrates, are at variance with what will make Nigerian lives better.
Take for example the ports – government routinely announces revenue numbers as the key metric of Nigerian seaports. All around the world, and even in our West African neighbors, it is two measures that are tracked – the time it takes to clear goods and the cost efficiency of the ports. Revenues growing are incidental to these measures, due to the increase in trade volumes it will bring, as opposed to being the end goal.
The Nigerian government needs to review how it measures these things and publish them for citizens, setting goals that can be tracked on these new measures. Simple, but powerful incentive to fix the issues around these interface points and make Nigerian lives better.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in The Spark Magazine. Find the magazine here to read other articles.