By Alade Fawole
Without a critical and positive attitudinal change towards the new global realities occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic, Nigeria and its people would no doubt be worse off after the Covid-19 pandemic.
Rather than being an apocalyptic prediction, everything in fact points in the direction of unprecedented changes across the globe from which no single country is immune or inoculated against.
It is no gainsaying the whole world is undergoing such deep-seated transformations whose impact will be around for generations.
Nigeria, like all other countries, is being and will be significantly impacted by the pandemic. Already, social life and lifestyles, the way we work and do business, how we provide education, have all been deeply affected; social and physical distancing, increasing reliance on ICT for work, business, education, healthcare, shopping, etc., have become the new way of life.
As individuals, we are all gradually adjusting to these irreversible changes, but how well is the nation as a corporate entity adjusting and preparing for future eventualities is entirely a different issue.
Can the Nigerian state continue doing things the same old way under vastly altered circumstances and still expect to survive and thrive? Certainly, and emphatically, not!
Those countries endowed with visionary leaders and strategic thinkers, having realized the impossibility of a post-Covid-19 business-as-usual lifestyle, are already proactively interrogating the future and designing, modelling and testing futuristic political and socio-economic templates for coping with the realities after Covid-19.
Other countries risk being left behind should they fail to creatively adapt to these unfolding and inexorable changes. Nigerians must understand this.
Recently, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo spoke about how Covid-19 will enable us reset the national economy. But may I add that we need more than mere economic reset.
The future of our country and its prosperity will depend on a deliberate and holistic attitudinal reset which will impact on overall development.
It is sheer stupidity to continue doing the same things over and again and expecting that results would be different.
First, our leaders need to reset their attitude to politics and governance to be able to positively influence the rest of society in the right direction by their worthy examples.
Leaders exists for influence and guidance. Society will fall in line if they can perceive honesty of purpose, focus and decisiveness in their leaders, but will be hesitant if leaders are seen to be hypocritical and not leading by worthy examples.
It is delusional for our governing elites to imagine they can continue with their pre-Covid-19 opulent lifestyles, public ostentation, in-your-face conspicuous consumption, and general sybaritic excesses at public expense, and expect that country will change for the better.
It requires sobriety and humility on the part of our government officials to curb wastefulness, large and needless vehicular convoys and escorts, the retinue of aides that add nothing to good governance; our senators and representatives cannot be taking home N14 million every month and still hope that things will change for the better.
Since mere cosmetic salary reductions alone will not address wastage, there must be a comprehensive downward review of the overall size and cost of governance at all levels; state governors and officials must do the same, and local governments must follow suit.
This is doable if we put our minds to it, but the government must lead by example. It is then that a meaningful national attitudinal reset can be commence.
Trust me, a comprehensive, holistic attitudinal overhaul is neither impossible nor difficult to do. Chief Obafemi Awolowo ran the most austere, lean, disciplined and efficient government as Premier of the Western Region from 1952 to 1959.
He led by example: lived in his personal house, rode his personal automobile, ensured that all government vehicles were back in the transport pool at the secretariat immediately after dropping off officials in their homes, etc.
Second Republic UPN governors like Alhaji Lateef Jakande (Lagos) and Chief Adekunle Ajasin (Ondo State) demonstrated the same disciplined and austere lifestyle by the force of personal examples even as the rest of the NPN-led federal and state governments wallowed in mindless plunder of the national patrimony, and they are still remembered with affection and venerated by their peoples.
Some past governments at the national level attempted their own versions of attitudinal reset (Murtala Mohammed’s ruthless anti-corruption drive, Shehu Shagari’s “Ethical Revolution’, Muhammadu Buhari’s WAI, Sani Abacha’s WAIC, but by far the most impactful in my view was General Olusegun Obasanjo’s “low-profile” policy of the late 1970s which, among other things, reduced government spending and made Peugeot 504, as opposed to the Mercedes Benz, the highest official car even for the head of state. Regrettably, none of these attitudinal reset measures outlived the regimes that introduced them.
Now is the time for real and lasting change. Nigeria must not squander the unique opportunity presented by Covid-19 to reset its political and socio-economic structures but also have a complete and thorough-going attitudinal overhaul for the post-Covid-19 era.
It will be sad if the opportunity to effect the necessary changes in all the required spheres of national life is missed.
If all we do is return to business as usual without complete change of attitude, the Covid-19 experience would have been a needless waste of human lives.
In order that this devastation might not have happened in vain, we must put to good use the painful lessons that this unfortunate era in human history has taught us.
At the end of this experience, nothing is going to remain the same. If so, then our individual and national attitudes must undergo a critical reorientation.
Let’s face it, oil-dependent economy will never fully recover in the next few years, which creates need to cut and streamline national expenditures with new realities, trim fats from budgets and get rid of excessive overheads, even for Aso Rock; discourage and punish budget-padding and unnecessary expenditures on white elephants, curb our elites penchant for ostentation; streamline the MDAs and trim down the over-bloated work force, get rid of most of the unproductive political appointments which drain the national exchequer, check public sector corruption which has become the nation’s albatross, demonstrate zero tolerance for corruption and deal fairly and swiftly with itchy-fingered public officials who convert our national treasury into their family piggy-bank.
The executive branch must synergize with the National Assembly and the judiciary, for without such, all other worthwhile efforts may be in vain.
The NASS especially must be carried along, elected legislators must be encouraged to see themselves as a pivotal arm of the same government, not the opposition or something that stands on its own; its members must be made to divest themselves of their sybaritic indulgences, stop budget padding and needless constituency projects, scrutinize budgets to approve only realistic expenditures, exercise correct legislative oversight of government without fleecing MDAs.
The judiciary must be up and doing in the administration of justice so that the war against corruption would not drag endlessly or be frustrated by resort to sheer legal technicalities that fail to ensure that real justice is done.
Above all, there is the need for a comprehensive restructuring of the entire architecture of politics and governance to, among other things, ensure efficient performance and give all Nigerians a sense that the country belongs equally to them all.
- Prof Fawole writes from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.