“Maybe you can be my intern, and in turn I’ll show you how to cook up summer in the winter”- Kanye West (Gone)
One of the most interesting quirks about politics and public life in Nigeria is what constitutes preparation for it – and I very strongly believe this might be the foundational issue with how and why governance is broken. You see, in Nigeria the path to public office is riddled with visits to stakeholders”. After all, the constituents’ votes don’t count for much when a trip to Maradona’s Minna mansion, Baba’s Library, Bourdillon Road and maybe an Okija Shrine or two is pretty much par for the course for winning an election. As said candidate travels from oligarch to oligarch soliciting bought votes and shifty allegiance, one can only imagine what promises must be made behind those closed doors.
Now I am not going to play naïve. I understand that it is a bit of a pipe dream to expect politicians not to roam the porches of the country’s most influential people in search of political support and endorsement. However I have serious issues with the idea that these visits to traditional rulers and godfathers should constitute adequate preparation for public life in a democratic Nigeria. How can we expect politicians, even when they are well intentioned, to know or care the development priorities of the people they should serve when the only endorsements available are those of the people who have wrecked the country? What we need to understand is that as Aristotle said, “it is not fortune’s power to make a city good; that is a matter of scientific planning and deliberative policy”.
Our reliance on politics and public policy by the “will of God” is killing us and we have to come to a better arrangement. It is not enough for us just “hope” that politicians will do their best when we have not prepared them to. So it raises the question, how can we better prepare our politicians for public life? One idea I have been mulling is actually compelling politicians to undergo a rigorous training program in politics, public policy and economics before we can vote for them – or in the case of ministers, take them seriously. I think it is necessary for public officials in Nigeria to have a solid understanding of the basics of politics and economics.
I look at some of the policy that comes out of our national assembly, and it is quite clear a basic understanding of economics 101 escaped them. It might be necessary to get our politicians in classrooms in Nigeria or online (trips to Harvard are not necessary – we are too broke for that) so they can regain an understanding of how macroeconomics works. There might also be other useful modules we can include in this training program including, development priorities, what makes for an effective law, and how to work against and around corruption in the civil service. Now, I am under no illusions that the government will work with us on this – and to be honest, I wouldn’t even want them to. It will have to be a citizen’s effort to work well. How I imagine this would work would be said politician interested in elective office voluntarily goes through a public policy training program put together by an independent third party non-for profit (not INEC) headed by credible Nigerians who are knowledgeable about policy and economic issues.
At the end of the training program, instead of an exam, he writes, not a wishful political statement chucked full with “free” everything, but a realistic manifesto guided by whatever ideology he subscribes to. This public policy training program can then certify his or her manifesto as one that has come out of this rigorous training program. Also, politicians who have had the good sense to participate in the program will have a special logo they can put on their campaign and communication material to let everyone know they are a sane public official.
Just as we have done in the world of fair trade agricultural products with and industrial manufacturing, this system of endorsement and certification will give us more clarity into who is wheat and who is chaff in our politics. More importantly, instead of relying on paid endorsements from Bourdillon Road, Hilltop and Otta, we can rest easy in the hopes that the people who make life-changing decisions on our behalf are not absolute idiots. After all, if we don’t train our public officials in the art of responsible governance, who will?