Summary: This paper presents a variation on the theme of state capture as it is more generally understood in the literature. The term “state capture” is more widely used to refer to a situation in which non-state actors have captured the state by influencing public officials, or where powerful state officials are using non-state actors to direct state resources to private benefit. This paper offers a different perspective: that in which the state, through its institutions and structure, has managed to capture itself. I refer to such a state as a ‘selfie state’ and use Nigeria as a prism for studying this phenomenon.
Key words: state capture, institutions, Nigeria
- Introduction and Context
“Kabiyesi [Your Royal Highness], I don’t want to say this in front of you, but Osun [one of Nigeria’s 36 states, with a population of 3.5 million people] is not as rich as I am that I would want to steal from it. I only want to help this state.” – Bola Ahmed Tinubu (former Governor of Lagos State).
A ‘selfie’ is a photograph that one has taken of oneself. In this discussion on State Capture, I have used the term ‘Selfie State’ to refer to a situation in which the State has managed, through a variety of institutions, to engineer its own capture. The terms “Institutions” and “Organisation” are often used interchangeably. I will be using the term “Institutions” to mean “the rules of the game in a society” (North, 1990). Essentially, institutions are the way things are done in a society. They are the formal and informal rules that are accepted by members of society, enforced for compliance and passed on to new members of society through socialisation and education. On the other hand, I will be using the term “organisations” to refer to groups of people intentionally organised to achieve set goals (McNamara, 1999).
The term “state capture” was probably first used in the World Bank Policy Research Working Paper titled ‘Measuring Governance, Corruption, and State Capture.’ The paper describes state capture as “the efforts of firms to shape and influence the underlying rules of the game (i.e. legislation, laws, rules and decrees) through private payments to public officials.’ It posits that state capture thrives when the state is unable to reign in its bureaucracy, to protect property and contractual rights, and to provide institutions that support the rule of law. While the World Bank paper focuses on firms, the Public Affairs Research Institute (PARI) paper ‘Betrayal of the Promise: How South Africa is Being Stolen’ describes state capture more broadly as a systematic and well organised way of “accessing and redirecting rents away from their intended targets into private hands.”
The concept of self-capture is a variation of the state capture concept as set out by the World Bank and the Public Affairs Research Institute. The PARI paper sets out an elaborate structure of state capture, with a strongman ‘controller’ that sits above the elite. In a ‘selfie state’, there are several controllers, each protected by social, cultural, historical and political institutions, many of which appear to have initially come into being for altruistic reasons but have since being hijacked for personal gain. More paradoxically, the state has also reserved for the main beneficiaries of the captured system the exclusive power to change these institutions, if they wish. As turkeys tend not to vote for Christmas, the state has wittingly or unwittingly captured itself in a grotesque ‘selfie.’ We will explore what forms this takes, using Nigeria as a case study. We will also explore what, if anything, can be done about it.
I will consider state capture in the selfie state using four concepts: access to the trappings of power; legitimate abuse of public office; patronage, and “stepping out of office into power.
2. Prisoners of War
The military has ruled Nigeria for about half of its existence as an independent nation. With a long history of military coups and a devastating civil war in the 1960s, the current democratic dispensation is the longest unbroken period of civilian rule in Nigeria’s history. Nigeria’s Land Use Act 1978, promulgated as a decree by the then military government but still in use today, vests all land in each Nigerian state in the Governor of that state. Since the beginning of organised society, the importance of control over land has been paramount. In Rosseau’s Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, he traced the establishment of civil society to “The first man, who, after enclosing a piece of ground, took it into his head to say ‘This is mine’ and found people simple enough to believe him” (Rousseau, , 2004). Control over land probably accounts for more wars than any other factor. From ancient times, control over land often meant the difference between survival and starvation (Harari, 2011).
Through the instrument of the Land Use Act, Nigeria handed over control of this most important economic resource to anybody that could attain the position of governor of a state. The powers of the governor over land are virtually unfettered. All land in Nigeria is on a 99-year lease that is granted and revoked at the pleasure of the Governor. It is possible to go to court for improper revocation but the judiciary is slow, with civil cases taking an average of 10 years to determine. The Governor decides who gets land for any purposes and how much they should pay for it. The Governor is able to forcibly take any land “in the public interest” and use state resources to pay compensation to any previous lessor, where necessary. How “public interest” is defined is malleable and what may at first appear to be public interest tends to eventually morph into personal interest. Any exchange of land among citizens can only be done with the consent of the Governor. There are no clear rules against a Governor allocating land to himself or his family members and close business associates. Corruption is punishable but abuse of power is not.
State capture in this sense then is very physical in nature. For anybody that is able to become the Governor of a state, it provides access to instant wealth and control over the economic lives of all citizens. With the Land Use Act, the military essentially subjugated property rights over land to the barrel of the gun. Given the nature of land, any disposition of ownership brings economic gain to the land owner. In turn, economic power provides access to political owner. The expropriation of wealth that comes from this control over landed property can be perpetuated for generations, especially when the legal system is ineffective and the judiciary is insufficiently independent to curtail state predation (Besley, 2006).
As part of my research for this paper, I conducted a poll on Twitter on 18th September, 2018 on my Twitter handle @DrJoeAbah. I asked: “Who are the real owners of Nigeria? Who, if any, really holds the remote control?” I gave 4 options: Retired Military Generals; Politicians; Traditional Rulers; or Powerful Businessmen. A total of 9,555 people voted in the poll over a 24-hour period. 55% of those that voted chose ‘Retired Military Generals.’ Perhaps unlike the case outlined about South Africa in ‘Betrayal of the promise: how South Africa is being stolen’ (PARI, 2017), ‘Politicians’ (the equivalence of the Zumas of South Africa) got 33%, and ‘Powerful Businessmen’ (the equivalence of the Guptas in South Africa) only got 10% of the votes. Of course, one accepts the limitations of social media polls in academic research. However, the poll has been necessary in explaining the concept of self-capture in the selfie state. As the Russian painter, Wassily Kandinsky, once said of methodology, “All means are sacred which are called for by the inner need. All means are sinful which obscure that inner need” (Kandinsky, 1997).
It is instructive that Nigeria returned to democratic rule in 1999, nearly 20 years ago, and that of the four Presidents Nigeria has had since then, two have been retired military generals. By 2019 when Nigeria’s current democracy would be 20 years old, retired military generals would have been in power for 12 years (60% of that period). In the 40 years since the existence of the Land Use Act, there has been no serious attempt to repeal or amend it. At the return to democracy in 1999, this control over land was simply handed over from the military directly to those that the military supported for public office. In the democratic dispensation, the state Governor, whoever that becomes, now has control over landed property rights. As if the Land Use Act itself was not enough, Nigeria’s supreme law, the 1999 Constitution, expressly validates the 1978 Act. The legislature has the power to make, amend and repeal laws but changing the Constitution is tortuously difficult. To amend the Nigerian Constitution, Section 9(2) requires the support two-thirds majority of all the members in the House of Assembly and the Senate, as well as support by two-thirds of the legislature of all 36 states.
The capture of the key economic resource of land backed, by legislation and validated by the Constitution is, therefore, the first example of a selfie state. In ‘The Origins of Political Order’, Francis Fukuyama extensively discusses the importance of land over the course of history, ranging from tribal societies, to the ambition of communists to control all means of production (particularly land), through to the assertion by modern neo-classical economists that strong property rights is the source of long-term economic growth (Fukuyama, 2012). He concludes his discourse by blaming many of Africa’s current dysfunctions on the failure of Westerners (particularly European colonial officials) to understand the nature of customary property rights in Africa. With the Land Use Act, 1978, Nigeria achieved what many socialists like Franz Fanon, Kwame Nkrumah and Amilcar Cabral feared the most: the new African leadership simply stepping into the shoes of the departing colonial bourgeois (Fanon, 1963).
The ‘beauty’ of the selfie taken by the selfie state is that state capture in this sense is institutionalised, completely legal and even Constitutional, and that the state has made it virtually impossible to change. In the next section, we will look at the effects and consequences of the Nigerian Constitution, bequeathed by the military to the civilian government, on state capture.
3. Born in Chains
The aim of every political Constitution, is or ought to be, first to obtain for rulers men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of society; and in the next place, to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous whilst they continue to hold their public trust (Madison, , 1961).
Jean-Jacques Rousseau begins his seminal treatise The Social Contract with the dramatic words “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains” (Rousseau, 1998). Being that the military bequeathed to Nigeria the Constitution it still operates today, it is debatable whether or not Nigeria’s democracy was indeed born free. The sincerity of the opening lines of that Constitution, “We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria […] do hereby make, enact and give to ourselves the following Constitution”, has relentlessly been hotly disputed. Most of the current debates around the need to “restructure” Nigeria have focused on the need for Constitutional reform.
Nigeria is a federation consisting of a federal government, 36 state governments and 774 local governments. The federal government is large and overbearing, consuming 52% of all revenue, with 36 states sharing 28% and 774 local governments taking 20%. With every successive Constitution since independence in 1960, the Federal Government has taken more and more power to itself. The Nigerian Constitution vests control of all minerals, mineral oils and natural gas in the Federal Government. Of all these resources, the most important is oil. Nigeria is the 6th largest producer of crude oil in the world and the largest in Africa. Since the discovery of oil in Nigeria in 1956, petroleum revenue has contributed between 50% and 90% of Nigeria’s total revenue.
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is opaque in its operations. Although Nigeria’s Freedom of Information Act 2011 clearly places an obligation of disclosure on any organisation “supported in whole or in part by public funds or which expends public funds”, the NNPC has consistently refused to honour Freedom of Information requests, without consequence. The NNPC can indeed be described as a supra-state organisation that decides, solely out of its own benevolence, how much to contribute to government coffers. The Nigeria Extractive Transparency Initiative (NEITI) reports that the NNPC has not been able to explain what it did with $22.7 billion revenue that it collected over a 15-year period. NEITI has no powers to make NNPC account for the money. It appears that no one has. That a state-owned corporation can owe the state $22.7 billion (more than the Federal Government’s entire budget for 2017), and there is little appetite by the state to stop it from happening, is symptomatic of state capture in a selfie state.
It is usual for Nigerian Presidents to double as the country’s Minister of Petroleum. Control over NNPC, therefore, vests in whoever is the President of Nigeria at any point in time. The wide discretionary powers that the President has also means that it is within his gift to award oil exploration blocks. An oil exploration block is a large expanse of land awarded to oil drilling and exploration companies (and sometimes to individuals) by the government of an oil producing country. When former Nigeria dictator Sanni Abacha allocated his friend, Theophilus Danjuma, an oil exploration block in the Niger Delta, Danjuma immediately sold the allocation paper for $1 billion, dutifully paying tax of $500 million and retaining $500 million as profit. He is currently estimated by Forbes to be worth over $1 billion. In 1993, Folorunso Alakija, the favourite fashion designer of the wife of the former President, was awarded a 617,000-acre oil block. Today, as a result, she is one of the richest black women in the world, with a net worth estimated at $1.7 billion.
If a Nigerian Head of State is perfectly within his legal rights to grant a piece of paper worth $1 billion to a friend or to his wife’s seamstress, the level of resources that he and his family members have legitimate access to can only be imagined. Here, the institutions of the state capture the country’s natural resources and willingly hands it over to anybody that can rise to the position of President to dispense as he pleases. As Thomas Hobbes once wrote:
The greatest of human powers, is that which is compounded of the powers of most men, united by consent, in one person, natural or civil, that has the use of all their powers depending on his will…” (Hobbes, 2008).
Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution gives the legislature the powers to appropriate funds and pass budgets. Indeed, Section 80(4) of the Constitution says that no money can be spent “except in the manner prescribed by the National Assembly.” The intention of this provision of the Constitution was to make the Executive arm of government accountable to the elected representatives of the people in the management of public funds. As is often the case in situations of state capture, this noble intention has been directed towards private, pecuniary gain. While Nigerian Senators only earn an official salary of $55,000 per annum and Members of the House of Representatives earn $42,000 per annum, one of the Senators has admitted that each Senator receives an additional $450,000 per annum to spend as “running costs.” He explained that there is no specification as to what the money is meant for and that Senators are merely required to provide receipts. The funds for the National Assembly is a first-line charge that comes straight out of the treasury, with no control by the Executive.
The National Assembly has simply used its Constitutional powers of appropriation to take from the government treasury what it wants to take, simply because it can. The legislature makes the laws, so nobody is in a position to change the practice. This is state capture perhaps in its crudest from, directly from the treasury without any agents, brokers, dealers or any sort of middleman. This is the selfie state at its clearest, when the state has unwittingly designed a checks-and-balances system that has now been used to capture the state for personal gain.
4. Jobs for The Boys
Nigeria runs a Presidential system of government, with an Executive, a bicameral legislature and a relatively-independent judiciary. The Constitution empowers the legislature to make laws and to approve certain appointments made by the executive. In most cases when a law is made, a government agency that will implement that law is created as part of the Act. Agencies are created for several reasons. Some are created to focus on certain functions of a technical nature that may not properly be delivered through the generalist structure and personnel of the mainstream civil service, for instance, a food and drug administration agency. At other times, agencies are created because a function of state is not working as well as it should and government desires a new body with greater autonomy and powers that it does not want to confer on the existing delivery agent. At yet other times, governments, particularly in developing countries, create agencies in order to give the public the impression that they are tackling an identified problem. There are also occasions when agencies are created as a result of international, continental, regional or bilateral reasons. A good example of an agency created as a result of a continental initiative is the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) agency.
Very often, the creation of agencies is a convenient way for government to avoid taking the hard decisions that reforms often entail. In many developing countries, existing agencies are hardly ever scrapped when new ones are created. This leads to a constant rise in the cost of governance. In both democratic and autocratic governments around the world, and in both high-income and low-income countries, the cost of governance has grown remarkably over the last 50 years (Besley, 2006). Concerned about this, the Nigerian government instituted the ‘Oronsaye Committee’ review which identified 541 agencies of government in 2011. It recommended the scrapping of some and the merger of others but successive governments have lacked the political will to implement the recommendations. Instead of reducing the number of agencies and government expenditure on them, the Federal Government of Nigeria created even more. In May 2015, the Nigerian Minister for Finance admitted that the country was borrowing to pay the salaries of Federal government employees. As at 2018, the Budget Office of the Federation was having to make provision for more than 1,100 government organisations in the Federal budget.
While there are often genuine reasons for creating new agencies, corrupt and prebendal governments also use agency creation as an avenue for patronage for members of the elite (Abah, 2016). Every new agency has to be staffed. The politician uses this avenue to secure employment for family members, friends and political loyalists, and will use their influence to ensure that staff of the new agency earn more than anybody currently delivering a similar function, thereby distorting pay relativity. They will also use their influence to secure a hefty take-off grant, from which they would expect to benefit in terms of contracts. Perhaps most importantly, they will influence who becomes the head of the agency, ensure that the person is aware of their influence in securing her appointment and effectively become her ‘controller.’
Members of the National Assembly, Nigeria’s legislature, have another reason to create new agencies. For political reasons, it is important for them to say that they have “attracted development” to their constituency. Therefore, there is frequent clamour in the National Assembly for the creation of yet another new university, college of education or institute, despite the fact that one already exists within a 5-mile radius, which government is unable to adequately fund. As agencies are created by law and the National Assembly has the Constitutional powers to make laws, and as it is often in their pecuniary, familial and political interests to create agencies, an important, expensive and influential aspect of state administration has effectively been captured in the selfie state. While the executive arm of government can merge and demerge ministries, they cannot do anything with agencies without amending the laws setting them up. Those laws cannot be amended without the National Assembly that created them in the first place. The National Assembly has no incentive to amend them and will use the emotive issue of potential job losses if the agencies were to be scrapped to counter any moves by the executive to streamline agencies. The resilience of these sorts of patronage systems are well documented in Merilee Grindle’s Jobs for the Boys (Grindle, 2012).
5. Stepping Out of Office into Power
I have said it before and I will say it again, Asiwaju (Leader) Bola Ahmed Tinubu stepped out of office into power (Ismaeel Ahmed, 2018).
Stepping out of office and into power is a very apt description of the influence that only the crème de la crème of public office holders in Nigeria are able to achieve. The politician to whom this quote refers, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, was the Governor of Lagos State, Nigeria’s richest state in GDP terms, from 1999 to 2007. Since leaving office, he has become the sole kingmaker in Lagos, with the seeming exclusive power to determine who becomes Governor and who doesn’t, who represents Lagos State in the National Assembly and who is appointed into public office in Lagos State, including the Governor’s cabinet. He also enjoys the total loyalty of the State House of Assembly, having handpicked all the members, which gives him the power to facilitate the impeachment of any Lagos Governor if and when he wants to.
Tinubu is the same person that declared that he was personally richer than a neighbouring state of 3.4 million people with a GDP of $7.28 billion. Using his total control over Lagos politics and his stupendous wealth, Tinubu has kept successive Lagos Governors on a very tight leash. He has even been strong enough to determine that the incumbent Governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode, should not seek a second term in office in 2019, on the basis that he “deviated from the masterplan” that he, Tinubu, crafted for the state. After initially attempting to resist, Ambode, facing immediate impeachment, caved in and surrendered the party’s gubernatorial ticket for 2019 to Tinubu’s preferred candidate. Having captured Lagos State, Tinubu’s influence extends to all the 6 states in southwestern Nigeria, hence his prominent role in the elections of neighbouring Osun state during which he made the statement about being richer than the state.
Beyond the southwest, it was the coalition that Tinubu created, which became the All Progressives Congress that was able to wrest power from the People’s Democratic Party that had been in power at the national level in Nigeria for 16 years. He successfully engineered the circumstances that led to the then President, Goodluck Jonathan, losing at the polls in 2015. It is the first time that an incumbent President and ruling party has lost power at the national level in Nigeria.
How do step out of being a state Governor into the kind of power, wealth and influence that Tinubu has been able to amass? We will now attempt to answer this question by bringing together some of the strands of self-capture that we had previously discussed.
Lagos is Nigeria’s smallest state in terms of landmass. The value of Lagos land is very high, with indigenes often saying that land is Lagos’s equivalent of oil. To make things even more interesting, oil has recently been discovered in Lagos. Being the former capital of Nigeria, Lagos inherited the infrastructure of a federal capital, no matter how inadequate. Its location at the shores of the Atlantic Ocean means that it has lagoons, bays and marinas that naturally attract the very rich to its waterfront properties. Lagos is home to 4 out of the 10 most expensive property locations in Nigeria, with a 5-bedroom house in Banana Island, the most expensive part, costing nearly $3 million on average. The Land Use Act 1978 gives exclusive control over all the land in Lagos to the Governor of Lagos State. Bola Ahmed Tinubu was the Governor of Lagos State for 8 years, from 1999 to 2007, giving him control over this key economic resource in the location in which it had the most value in all of Nigeria. He has also had the power to choose and control his successors in office since stepping out of office.
Tinubu controls who represents Lagos State at the National Assembly at federal level. Despite some murmurings, he was able to get the people of Lagos to vote in his wife, Oluremi, as one of Lagos State’s Senators at the national level. His control over the Lagos State legislature is total. As soon as he decided that the incumbent Governor of Lagos State should not run for a second term, all the members of the State House of Assembly, as well as all Local Government Chairmen in the state, immediately swore their allegiance to Tinubu’s preferred candidate for the next election. This gave a clear signal to the incumbent Governor that he risked impeachment if he did not bend to Tinubu’s will. He did.
Lagos is the commercial capital of Nigeria, generating 55% of Nigeria’s Value Added Tax. It is also home to Nigeria’s main sea ports. Although sea ports are Constitutionally the preserve of the Federal government, the inherent economic activity that hosting them generates is significant. The headquarters of virtually all Nigerian banks are in Lagos and the oil industry moved most of its headquarters to Lagos following the Niger Delta crisis in the early 2000s. Lagos is also Nigeria’s main industrial and manufacturing hub. All of these mean that there are sterling opportunities for the Lagos State Government to collect taxes. Recognising this opportunity, Tinubu appointed Alpha Beta Consulting as revenue consultants for Lagos State. A former Chief Executive of the company, now a whistle-blower, said that the company collects 10% of all revenue accruing to Lagos State and has been doing so since 1999. According to Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics, Lagos generated revenues of N334 billion in 2017, more than $1 billion using official exchange rates. 10% of that is $100 million in 2017 alone. Alpha Beta Consulting has been Lagos State’s revenue consultants for 19 consecutive years.
The influence of Alpha Beta Consulting is so pervasive in Lagos that the company was inserted by name into the new Land Use Charge legislation. Following public outcry, the House of Assembly removed the name of the company from the Bill, claiming that it had been inserted in error. Whether or not it was inserted in error, the intention of the State House of Assembly and that of the Lagos State Government is clear, as far as Alpha Beta Consulting is concerned.
By using control over Lagos land for an 8-year period, continuing control over the politics of the state (both Executive and Legislature), control over ‘jobs for the boys’ and a sophisticated patronage system, and allegedly repurposing the state, Bola Ahmed Tinubu was able to step out of office into real power. His ability to do so stems primarily from having being Governor of Lagos State and using the legitimate powers and institutions attached to that status. Although quite influential in determining their successors, former governors of other states have not been able to exert the same kind of influence that Tinubu has. The financial resources available to Lagos State are not available to them. In 2016, Lagos State generated more revenue than 31 of Nigeria’s 36 states combined. As Bola Ahmed Tinubu comes closest to the concept of ‘Controller’ set out in the PARI paper, I wonder whether as a defined geographical region becomes richer, it lends itself more to state capture in the South African sense. Until then, state capture in Nigeria is a lot more diverse.
6. Conclusions, Recommendations and Next Steps
The concept of self-capture is a variation on the state capture concept more widely known in the literature. Many authors (Crabtree and Durand, 2017; Edwards, 2017; Kaufmann and Vicente, 2005; and World Bank, 2000) use the term state capture to describe a situation where companies, drug cartels, oligarchies or other non-state actors essentially buy advantage by corrupting public officials. In the South African version, as set out in State of Capture and in the PARI 2017 paper, the head of government uses his powers to recruit a company or a group of companies that helps to redirect state resources for private benefit. In a self-capture situation, what I refer to as the ‘selfie state’, the state itself, through weak institutions, has managed to engineer its own capture without relying on any external agents. Because self-capture is state engineered, the nature of state capture in a ‘selfie state’ shows a lot more plurality and diversity. Perversely, state capture in a selfie state can indeed be seen as an objective that virtually any citizen can aspire to, simply by getting into public office.
In the case of Nigeria, its Constitutional, legal, political and societal institutions have effectively captured the state, just waiting for anybody that gets into public office to take advantage. Control over the key economic resource of land; weaknesses in, and abuse of, Constitutional provisions; supra-state organisations like the state-owned oil company; control of a pervasive and entrenched patronage system; and access to large amounts of cash, all provide legitimate but perhaps immoral means through which government officials can step out of office and step into real power.
Changing institutions is tortuously difficult. Weak institutions and ‘path dependence’ tend to persist and are notoriously resistant to change (Grindle, 2012; Acemoglu and Robinson, 2012; Besley, 2006). However, it is possible to overcome the fatalism of institutional theory, forge new paths and force the creation of new institutions. In the case of Nigeria, it seems to me that the starting point must be the formulation of a new Constitution that truly represents the wishes of “We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.” In 2014, a year before the general elections, the Federal Government put in place a Constitutional Conference that sought to tackle a number of institutional difficulties in the current Constitution. Many viewed it as a political gimmick targeted at gaining electoral advantage. The new government that took over power in 2015 has refused to even look at the conference report, consider its recommendations, or organise its own conference. The current ruling party did set up a “restructuring committee” but not much has been heard about its work since it submitted its report.
The amendments that the legislature has made to the Constitution have largely been in those areas that affect and benefit its members directly. Examples of such amendments include the one that makes the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives members of the Council of State; ensuring that the funding of State Houses of Assembly is a first-line charge on the treasury; and providing immunity for legislators for words spoken as part of their legislative duties. There has been no attempt to amend those sections of the Constitution that facilitate state capture. Despite occasional rhetoric, there appears to be an absence of political will on the part of the Executive or the Legislature to change the current Constitution.
Given the absence of political will by both the Executive and Legislature to seek Constitutional change, what options are citizens left with? Out of frustration, many Nigerians are drawn towards what Douglas North calls “discontinuous change”, a radical change in the formal rules as a result of revolution (North, 1990). However, as North points out, broad-based support for violent action requires a shared commitment to an ideological position. That shared ideological reasoning is lacking in Nigeria and many developing countries.
Where there is no political will to change institutions and discontinuous change is unlikely, can pressure by citizens be effective? In society, it is clear that there is a constant push and pull between what is desired and what is allowed to happen. What is not so clear is at what threshold certain pressure will trigger institutional change (Abah, 2012). This is why our approach here must necessarily be explanatory, rather than predictive. In ‘The Logic of Collective Action’ (Olsen, 1975), Mancur Olsen looked at various possible sources of pressure, e.g. labour groups, professional bodies and business lobbies. In Nigeria, a possible additional source of pressure will be faith-based organisations. Unfortunately, labour groups are only concerned with increases in wages, professional bodies have become heavily politicised (an accounting body recently endorsed the incumbent President for the 2019 elections), businesses are heavily reliant on government for patronage, and faith-based organisations appear to be more interested in miraculous prosperity than institutional change.
Olsen goes on to make the sobering point that large or latent groups (“those who suffer in silence”) have no tendency voluntarily to act to further their own common interests. While the need to “restructure” Nigeria’s governance systems is paramount in the minds of most people, there is no coordinating mechanism to bring it about. One way could be to make it the key election issue in 2019, thereby forcing all aspirants to power to at least promise to address it. Tony Blair remains perhaps the only world leader to have fought and won elections on the promise of public service reforms (Barber, 2007). While there are no guarantees that campaign promises will be delivered when people eventually get into office, a President may feel the weight of expectation sufficiently for them to want to fulfil a campaign promise, just like David Cameron did with ‘Brexit.’
The only option left would be to await the happy accident of an activist President coming to power, without the elite initially being aware that he will bring about disruptive or discontinuous change. That change will need to be protected from what Pranab Bardhan calls “infant mortality of reforms” (Bardhan, 1984). The best protection for the reformer is not the elite but the public. Those who suffer in silence.
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