Memo for the incoming president

IN this final week of February, if the Lord tarries, we would know who has been elected president of our great federal republic. Whoever it is, he will face an in-tray of formidable to-do priorities. I itemise them below.

 

Constituting a transition team

The most immediate task of the president-elect will be to put together a transition team. Electioneering politics attracts all sorts of hangers-on. A good transition team must comprise of sober-minded technocrats whose job is to put together a viable framework for the incoming administration. They will serve as a link between the outgoing and incoming government. Setting the right tone is essential to boosting public confidence and sending the right signals that we have a leader who is ready to rise up to the occasion.

After all the tumult and strife, we have a country to run. The transition team will process detailed briefings covering all ministries, departments and agencies of government. They will prepare a memo for the president-elect on the state of our public finances and progress on implementation of ongoing projects. The team in turn will digest the responses from the president-elect and integrate them into a revised blueprint for the operational action by the incoming administration.

They will need to prepare an action programme delineated into three categories: (a) immediate priorities; (b) medium-term policies; and (c) long-term policy programmes. They will also have to prepare the inaugural address, which must be a speech to be remembered down the ages. They will also coordinate the roadmap before, during and after the swearing-in in May and beyond.

 

Formation of the cabinet

The president-elect, if he knows what he is about, should by now have a full idea of the full complement of people that will form the core of his cabinet. He must avoid what happened to the Buhari administration in 2015, when it took them six months to form a government, with disastrous consequences. We need someone who can hit the ground running, to borrow the language of the American marines. This will send the right signals at home and abroad that we have a leader who knows what he is about – a leader with a clear vision of where he is taking the country. Part of the reasons for the delay in 2015 had to do with the question as to whether “technocrats” or “politicians” should form the bulk of the cabinet. It is a pointless debate. A wise leader will seek a healthy balance between the two. The most technical ministries and departments should be headed by technocrats of international repute.

A leader who wants to succeed must bring in people of high repute, regardless of labels. He must choose his economic team wisely to send the right signals to the international community. He should also aim to form an inclusive administration, not the kind of nepotistic contraption that has brought so much contumely and distrust to the Buhari administration. Our constitution requires that ministers come from all the 36 states of the federation. But it is only be convention that governors are consulted.

I was once told of a governor who sent a complete buffoon to Abuja as minister. When accosted on that issue, the governor replied that he sent him there precisely knowing that the man is a buffoon, as he didn’t want anyone who will go and outshine him. We would be well advised to steer clear of governors that send buffoons to Abuja. We must aim to get the best from all the corners of our federation, bearing in mind that ultimate success will depend on the quality of the men and women that are brought into the administration.

 

Administrative restructuring

In addition, there will have to be some administrative restructuring. Lumping together the three departments of Works, Power and Housing under one super-minister, with the benefit of hindsight, has been a disastrous mistake. I also do not think it is right to have shifted the Budget Department to the Ministry of Planning. I believe it should be returned to the Finance Ministry. The Office of the Minister of Finance must be accorded its rightful dignity. Its proper title should be “Federal Ministry of Finance and the Economy,” empowered to work on all aspects of public finance and the budget while coordinating the economic development programmes of the administration.

We must work towards a target where the budget appropriation bill is passed into law by December of the preceding year while implementation begins unfailingly in January of the New Year.

This is not to say I favour downgrading the Ministry of Planning. On the contrary, I would love to see that ministry expanded to take on board the abandoned culture of economic development planning. We need to recruit 300 first-rate Ph.D economists, architect-planners, engineers and statisticians in that ministry, with a mandate to engage in long-term economic and urban development planning for the entire country. We should give them marching orders to design a five-year economic development covering the years 2020-2024. The annual budget must derive its framework from the five-year economic development plan.

They are also to integrate into that plan a comprehensive urban regional planning framework for our cities and towns to make them smart urban centres that meet the needs and expectations of our expanding populace, most of whom will become urban dwellers in the coming decade.

 

Presidential strategy team

In the heart of the Presidency, a strategy adviser with a full operational team needs to be created. The role should be that of monitoring and ensuring implementation of the government’s programme; with a mandate to produce a monthly and quarterly progress report to ensure that the government’s priority programmes are being implemented. Where there are lapses, they must report to the president and his cabinet to ensure that remedial action is effected. All cabinet members and heads of agencies and departments must have a performance contract. Those who do not meet their targets must be sent packing.

 

Tackling the security challenge

The biggest challenge facing us as a country today is insecurity. The whole situation is muddled up by the fact that people in government are implicated with Boko Haram and the militia herdsmen. This requires going back to the drawing board. We must agree that the first duty of government is to secure the common peace. This requires that we confront the insurgency and all forms of criminal violence with renewed focus and determination. We can only do this effectively if we redesign the national security architecture while re-tooling the armed forces and the police and intelligence services. We must reinvent our country as a land of peace and of expanding opportunities for all its peoples.

 

Refocusing on macroeconomic and structural reforms

The success or failure of the incoming administration will largely depend on how it addresses the multifarious challenges of the economy. Today, our country has the dubious prize of being the world capital of poverty. Some estimated 24 million of our people are unemployed while over 13 million children are out of school. Our commitment must be to revive the economy through the agency of a progressive servant developmental state.

The private sector has to be the driver of economic progress while the state, serving as a servant of the people, has to be the midwife. We have to identify those public sector enterprises that are not working and we must decide if the liberalisation or outright privatisation is the best way to go.

We must tackle headlong unemployment and poverty. We must ensure food security while building a mass-based industrial revolution. Equally important is addressing the gross deficits in our public finances. We need to raise the requisite resources needed to finance our ambitious programmes while cutting waste and ensuring efficient allocation of scarce resources. We need the CBN to refocus on its core mandate while abolishing the iniquitous multiple exchange rate regime and the high interest rates which make it impossible to finance the real sector which should normally serve as the locomotive of growth and structural transformation.

We must plan for a post-oil economy by diversifying the economic base. We must address issues of welfare, not by throwing good money down the pork-barrel of misguided populism but by serious thought and strategic economic policies that ensure the best outcomes for the majority of the poor.

 

Addressing the challenge of nation building and political re-engineering 

It was the great Swiss historian Jacob Burkhart who famously described the state as “a work of art.” By this he meant that every state in the world is the handiwork of visionary statesmen who have a plan and vision and who set to work with passion and assiduity to build nations that flourish and succeed. The last few years have heightened the painful fissures that separate our people. We can never take our future survival as a corporate political community for granted.

The question of nation building and “restructuring” will never go away. We, therefore, need to launch a dialogue process on how to re-engineer our federation to ensure that we have a free and prosperous democracy that is at peace with itself and with the world.

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