Governor-Elect Gives Keynote at DAI Board Meeting in Nigeria

August 09, 2018

DAI’s Board was treated to a keynote speech by Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Governor-Elect or Ekiti State, in Nigeria as part of its quarterly meeting, which is held once per year in a country where DAI works.

DAI has made major commitments in Nigeria in the last few years, with the hiring of Dr. Joe Abah and the merger with GRID Consulting.

Our work in Nigeria has improved domestic resource mobilization at the state and local government level, improved and increased access to maternal and child health services in northern Nigeria, laid the groundwork for systematic improvements in water resource management, enhanced the productivity of commercial food companies and distribution, and enacted the policy reforms needed to promote private sector growth, among other results.

Nigeria board.jpgDr. Fayemi, from left, with Dr. Joe Abah, Jim Boomgard, and DAI Board Chair Betsey Nelson, in Nigeria.

The transcript of Dr. Fayemi’s speech follows:

Short-Termism vs. Sustainable Development: My Ekiti experience—Implications for Democratic Development

Excellencies, Distinguished ladies and gentlemen.

Let me express my gratitude for the privilege of addressing this audience. I would like to thank particularly the CEO of DAI [Jim Boomgard] and the Country Director, my brother and friend, Dr. Joe Abah, for asking me to do this. This is my first public engagement since the historic election in my state almost a month ago. It is understandable therefore if I use this occasion to share a few thoughts on the trajectory of politics, governance, and elections in my home state Ekiti, and its implications for democratic development in Nigeria.

The Myth of Stomach Infrastructure in Nigeria

In 2014, when we lost the election in Ekiti State, there were many who cast the polls as a contest between an aloof intellectual consumed by the minutiae of governance and infrastructural development and a people-pleasing populist who showed that he was in tune with the masses. Our administration was said to be too bookish and too focussed on reversing the poverty trend in the state and thus easily upstaged by a charismatic challenger who understood the power of “stomach infrastructure”—a euphemism for immediate gratification over long-term development. What has transpired in my home state since 2014 has further fortified my belief that cheap populism and opportunistic demagoguery do not represent what is best in us as a people and hold no potential for actualizing the hopes and dreams of millions of Nigerians.

In the age of deceptive populism and post-truth politics, we must concede that Ekiti represents a local manifestation of a global malady—what has been referred to by French political scientist, Francois Bayart as ‘the politics of the belly’ or what the respected Stanford scholar, Larry Diamond described as leading to a ‘global democratic recession.’ Indeed, some observers have identified certain traits that many of these latter-day populists have in common including a disdain for decorum and civility, a disregard for facts and evidence and a flair for the outrageous all of which serve to reify a basic and all-encompassing unfitness for public office.

Yet it is easy to believe that when elections are won on dodgy propaganda, cheap populism, and criminal brigandage, voters who bought into the sleight of hand might see the error of their ways and that self-correction is bound to be the resulting outcome. Unfortunately, when lies become the oxygen of politics and governance, it is often the ethos of politics and the institutions of governance that are largely diminished. Since the voters are supposedly always right, what this does, if care is not taken, is allow them to justify their errors on the simplistic notion that “all politicians are the same.” Even where there is evidence to suggest otherwise, as was the case in Ekiti in 2014, there still persists a level of self-righteousness that fails to acknowledge errors of judgment. But if we are to move from this situation, all must admit they have sinned. The voter, on the one hand, must accept culpability for being cast adrift in the ocean of lies. On the other hand, every politician must acknowledge the place of populism and not labour in the mistaken belief that the average voter is so discerning to separate the wheat from the chaff. In short, substance matters, but symbols cannot be ignored.

What transpired in the recent election in Ekiti must be seen in this context; first with the deconstruction of opportunistic demagoguery for what it is with contrasting perspectives of an incontestable past record of competence in office, but also by the effective deployment of critical strategies that resonated with the voting public. Although the job was made easier by the sheer adversity of the past four years, it is also true to say Ekiti voters have become more resistant to the cynical ploys of those who would use poverty as a political weapon with no corresponding record of service delivery to the people.

Implications for Developmental Politics

Three years is a long time in politics and almost four years after our historic triumph in the last presidential elections, we find ourselves on the cusp of another election year with choices of great consequence upon us. In 2015, we offered a message of change and millions of Nigerians moved by the compelling currency of our agenda voted massively in favour of President Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressives Congress. In so doing, they also brought a watershed moment and a turning point in our politics—the dislodgement of an incumbent president and party. Clearly, the post-election euphoria has since dissipated. It is fair to say that in the immediate aftermath of our taking charge of government, we could have moved with far more urgency than we did.

Some critics have argued with some justification that we could have done a much better job of managing expectations after the polls. It is said that you campaign in poetry and govern in prose. Even so, the poetry of our campaign was never so abstract and fantastic as to downplay what we believed to be the onerous nature of the task ahead. The journey so far has been difficult. An economic recession occasioned by falling oil prices proved to be an immense obstacle to our plans and programmes. Toward the end of last year, our efforts began to yield fruit and the country moved out of recession. Our exit from recession and the resurgence of oil prices after a period of economic contraction indicate that despite the challenges facing us, there have been many positive changes upon which to build. In critical sectors like agriculture, social investments, infrastructure development, particularly roads, rail and power infrastructure, mining and manufacturing, the country has witnessed significant progress.

These are areas that have a direct verifiable bearing on the fortunes of millions of Nigerians in terms of jobs and investment opportunities. We have prioritized improving the ease of doing business in Nigeria as part of our overall commitment to making Nigeria an investment destination. Elsewhere, particularly in the Northeast, the advent of an administration that has shown commitment in word and deed to tackling the insurgency in the region has yielded positive results. The first is a universally agreed upon improvement in the security situation in the region. According to the Global Terrorism Index, there was an 80 percent decrease in terror incidents in Nigeria—the biggest such decline in terror-related incidents in the world. This development has inspired much goodwill and the significant commitments by the international community to humanitarian intervention, recovery and rehabilitation in the North-East. To be sure, there remain serious security challenges nationwide—especially as it relates to farmers-herdsmen clashes and the administration is committed to addressing them but it is an undeniable fact that normalcy is returning to the insurgency-affected North-East—a region of the country that captured global attention in recent years. I believe government will also bring that zeal to bear in tackling other threats to peace and security in other parts of the federation.

Clearly, there are areas in which we have not fully kept to the ideals and programmes espoused in our manifesto. The question of fundamental reforms to our federal architecture remains very much an elephant—some would say The Elephant—in the room. The fervour surrounding the debate about restructuring and improving our federalism indicates that there are very passionate and strongly held views on both sides of the divide. There is, however, considerable agreement on the fact that there are fundamental flaws in our national governmental order that strongly inhibit our drive for reform and progress. The government is not unaware of the enduring topicality of this issue. Indeed, the All Progressives Congress set up a committee on “True Federalism” which has submitted a report to the Party after extensive consultations around the country and I believe this is an issue that the Party will pursue with added vigour in the runup to the 2019 elections.

All said, I am willing to acknowledge that there are many who feel that there are sufficient grounds for disappointment and there is much room for improvement in terms of how we have managed our historic mandate so far. Even so, I remain convinced that going back to the norms and paradigms of the previous administration is not an option. And here, I must let you know since you’re outsiders looking in that it can be dangerous to fall for the myth that the major parties are the same. WE ARE NOT THE SAME? When in office, the PDP embraced supply side economics in accord with the dictates of international financial institutions. In their worldview, the moneyed elite and big business got preferments to maximize their economic advantages. This trickle-down economic theory clearly failed to empower the bulk of our population. Alternatively, we have embraced a more grassroots model of economic development with social safety nets, increased agricultural output, revival of moribund industries, improved infrastructure development, and the promotion of knowledge economy. In all of these, we see government as a catalyst for development, not a bystander that seeks to sell off all public goods. This is our alternative vision for development and democracy and the difference is clear.

Whither Democracy and Development Promotion in Nigeria?

Where does this leave DAI that wants to do development differently? Given the mixed record of the democratization process over the past two decades, development experts and democracy watchers have reached different conclusions about the democratization process in the country and its wider implications for development. While a set of watchers see the glass as consistently half-empty, others see the glass as filling up, underscoring the importance of not letting the perfect become the enemy of the good. The truth is that significant variations exists between these broad generalisations when we move away from outcomes and focus on the dynamics of change, the quality, texture and content of democratic reform either here in Nigeria or when we extrapolate from the wider African context.

Based on my own experience as a participant-observer in the Nigerian political space, democracy assistance and development aid must move away from an overtly technocratic and apolitical conceptions of reforms and embrace reforms that are both ‘technically appropriate’ and ‘politically grounded.’ I think we also need a more nuanced understanding and analyses of reform dynamics—beyond macro-level explanatory variables. For example, while the Mo Ibrahim Governance Index paints a grim picture of democratic deficit and governance failure in Nigeria given the concentration of the analyses on the central government, the index totally ignores ‘micro-transitions’ where better governance is emerging in a number of sub-national entitites, in which state level leaders are doing business differently with a more active citizens engagement, promoting accountability and real development. In Lagos, Edo, Borno, Enugu, Gombe, Kaduna, and Kebbi states to mention just a few, elected governments are responding to the demands for accountable governance and better performance from citizens.

While macro-level/country level analyses are important, it is the complex mix of evolving factors at more micro-levels that also determine outcomes. Most times, scholars of democratization and development practitioners ignore partial reforms, inconclusive processes, transition reversals and democratic subversions, failing to recognize that failure in one instance may result in more enduring reform. Such analyses over-focus on the fate of macro transitions, while ignoring changes in bits, in parts or segments of the sub-national systems. The dialectics of reform in Nigeria has demonstrated in the last two decades that rarely does transformation come from a single, big shift; but rather as a cumulative effect of small, incremental shifts and improvements. Ignoring micro transitions and their cumulative effects often lead to wrong questions being asked and wrong conclusions being reached—leading to the design of programs that are misaligned with the shifting context of politics. Happily, some donors are beginning to realize this and are focusing more on micro-level transitions in Nigeria. Yet, even when these donors acknowledge the need to operate at sub-national and sometimes informal levels, the lack of coordination and inflexibility of the donor agenda often undermine these positive prospects.

A key fall-out of this challenge particularly when working at the sub-national and informal levels is a mindset that often draws a false dichotomy between civil society and political society. There have always been attempts to draw a distinction between those who stand at the barricades protesting bad government and seeking change and those who wield political power. Indeed, theories have been propounded about state-society relations deepening the difference between civil society and political society. Civil society activists are often seen as occupying the moral high ground while politicians are seen to be Janus-faced—on the one hand, visionary, fascinating, and sophisticated, and on the other hand, charismatic, cynical, populist, calculating, venal, and opportunistic. Having operated on both sides of the divides for years, I can tell you that this pseudo-divide has impeded our abilities to connect with each other and work together towards a better, brighter future for our citizens. I am convinced that the structuring of actors on the basis of either/or and us/them with one of the other being valued more leads to domination. For me, partisan politics—properly anchored—is a form of social activism and another stage in the struggle to restore dignity of humankind—an integrated continuum rather than discretely compartmentalized oppositional phenomena.

In my view, our discussion should really focus more on the making of leaders and citizens in a good society. Without direct citizen participation, the legitimacy of our political institutions will continue to decline. For this reason, I strongly believe that leaders—be they politicians or activists, should worry because their ability to lead effectively is being seriously undermined by the desertion of average citizens from the public space, deepening the crisis of legitimacy in our country. Yet, this lack of legitimacy cuts both ways. When the people withdraw trust in leaders and discountenance politicians, we make our democratic institutions less effective as they become more susceptible to demagogues of all hues and risk making ourselves ungovernable.

Given the challenges identified above, how can we then formulate a theory of change that matches the times in order to help progressive donors, grantees, social movements and others seeking better governance, public goods, and service delivery. Is it possible to assist donors in recognizing some key elements and useful signs towards deepening democracy and achieving better governance in our country?

First, I think we need a typology of democratization that further interrogates the broad categories away from the unhelpful focus on binaries—of success and failure, pessimism and optimism, sub-optimal performance and unprecedented progress. This is necessary because of its practical implications for policy choices by our citizens, governments, and development partners.

Second, donors must move away from a focus on judgments pegged on macro-reforms—democratization, privatization, anti-corruption, insecurity—that are often measured by large, dramatic shifts. Opportunities to accelerate change and strengthen governance structures are often missed in the context of this exclusive focus, or worse they may deepen the challenges, inherent in the process of change, by withdrawing, for example, in the wake of partial reform. Donor exit from Northern Nigeria in the wake of Boko Haram insurgency caused more harm than good, for example. Rather than focus on short-term gains, which is the deleterious effect of the psyche of ‘bean counting’ in the donor community, it is important to understand change in a longer-term perspective and not through the typical binaries of success and failure. In this way, it would become clear that societal transformation in post-military Nigeria in the past two decades has led to the emergence of new social forces, changed the importance of others and consequently altered the relationships among various social and political actors whilst fostering new coalitions for change.

Third, the context, extent and form of donor involvement are also important. In many countries on the continent, political reform has tended to be donor driven and lacking local ownership. Donors have been driven by different objectives and have utilized a variety of entry points which has been characterized by lack of coordination, even among entities within the same donor agency. The virtue of collaborative and/or coordinated efforts both within and among donor agencies cannot be over emphasized if we are to move mountains and not molehills. Clearly, resources are limited and there is a lot to be gained by collaborating with one another in order to achieve economies of scale and optimal effectiveness. Equally, while it is important to strike the right balance in order to make tangible impact, donors must ensure that their programs are not ill-adjusted to domestic, institutional, and resource capabilities. Reform agenda and donor support must tap into existing constituencies by working with a growing local philanthropy constituency, in particular. It is possible to work with prominent wealthy Nigerians with private foundations—Aliko Dangote, TY Danjuma, Tony Elumelu, Folorunso Alakija to mention a few—as well as other local grant makers that have a better grasp of the dynamics of change in their areas of focus such as the African Women Development Fund and TrustAfrica.

Fourth, linked to the immediate challenge of terrorism and insurgency, international response to democratization and development in Nigeria has become more reluctant, inconsistent, confusing, and contradictory. Nearly all multilateral and bilateral agencies involved seem to be at a loss about the most appropriate ways of intervening in areas deemed to be the “internal affairs” of Nigeria and where they might be set against elected authorities that are reluctant to embrace inclusive human rights agenda. The resonance gained by reports from institutions like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and International Crisis Group on Nigeria’s military response to the insurgents seem to underscore this point graphically. Of equal importance also has been the necessity for mutual accountability between donors and recipients—an issue that has been the subject of critical concern by the Governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima, in his critique of the deluge of ‘do-gooders’ in the insurgency ravaged zone.

Finally, democracy assistance as currently constituted suffers a great deal of deficit, in its façade of apolitical orientation. It is time for policies that not only recognize, but explicitly embrace the politics in aid policy formulation in the development community. After all, we all know that aid is often tied to the politics and policies of the donor. Consequently, the political economy of the recipient is crucial to the understanding of aid effectiveness.

All Politics is Local…

In conclusion, let me go back to Ekiti because that’s why you invited me in the first place. Clearly, the past four years has not only seen the steady decline in the socio-economic circumstances of our people, but also a corresponding denigration of our integrity as a people. When I left office in 2014, Ekiti had the highest enrollment of school children in Nigeria, now it has the lowest in the South West; equally, Ekiti had the lowest child and maternal mortality rates in the country but it’s now experiencing serious challenges in the health sector, it has the lowest HIV prevalence in the country and the highest life expectancy partly because it was the only state with a social security benefit scheme for the elderly. Given the fact that effective governance has deteriorated, all these gains have been eroded and poverty rates have hit the roof. More worryingly, our pristine values had been eroded and our collective reputations sullied. My decision to contest in the recently held gubernatorial election in the state was therefore motivated by the need to lead a collective rescue mission of our state, which inspired the theme of our campaigns “Reclaiming our Land; Restoring our Values.”

I believe our victory at the polls is a testament to the collapse of Stomach Infrastructure and its resounding rejection by the people. While the jury may still be out in certain quarters, I am convinced that Ekiti citizens on balance have shown their preference for tangible development against democracy of the stomach. They have seized the opportunity to rewrite a new narrative. Our duty is to ensure that they do not regret their choice. This is why it is imperative that we resume our aggressive developmental strategy for the state. Clearly, Ekiti State needs rapid development to regain the lost years. We need to restore inclusive governance that caters to the generality of the citizens—particularly at the grassroots. So, if DAI really wants to do development differently, the destination of choice is Ekiti. Help us in the quest to reclaim our land and restore our values. It is a key factor in moving from short-termism to sustainable development.

Thank you all for listening.

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