Little Things Can Make A Difference

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Simons Kolawale’s Little Ideas That Mean Much, in his Sunday column in the Thisday Newspapers of 20th December, 2009, and Mahmud Jega’s Ten Outsourcings in his Monday column in the Daily Trust of 4th January, 2009, have drawn the attention of Nigerians to one issue- the missing things in Nigeria’s development efforts. There is strong consensus among Nigerians that something very important is lacking in Nigeria’s effort to attend an appreciable level of development.
What is completely missing in the leadership style of Nigerian political headship, is, attending to the basic things by employing ‘small things’. In Nigeria, the love for holistic approach to programmes, projects and setting-up of systems and institutions is very glaring. Nigeria’s policy formulators, bureaucrats and the political class find holistic approach irresistible. The leadership of the Nigerian state adores ‘carrying the camel and its loads’.
Though, the whole represents more than the sum of its parts, but the use of holistic approach in conceiving or building systems in Nigeria have proven to be a failure. For instances, Nigeria’s electricity sector was conceived based on a holistic idea- the former NEPA was saddled with the responsibility of generating, transmitting, distribution and marketing of electricity in the country, the result was; the present electricity crisis in the country. Other examples are: the urban water supply in Nigeria was built on the idea of holistic approach (a series-water-system) for an entire state. Whenever there is failure at a point, the entire state’s water supply crumbles. The structures of the federal government of Nigeria, from tip to toe were built on a holistic idea. The result is, a federal system in which the centre is overwhelmed with so many responsibilities.
Though, this is not an attempt to discredit the idea of the use of holistic approach as a tool in tackling Nigeria’s development. Rather, the approach should be used in identifying and defining Nigeria’s numerous problems. If the current style in tackling development issues in Nigeria is not yielding the desired results, as expected, then what is the alternative?-The use of reductionisms, perhaps. The time has come for Nigeria’s political class to embrace the governance-style which entails attending to the basic things by employing ‘small things’. This tactic was the backbone of China’s Chairman Mao, 1958, The Great Leap Forward, which China is today benefiting from. However, we must quickly acknowledge that a complete copycatting of Chairman Mao’s idea may not necessary be the solution to Nigeria’s infrastructural and other nagging problems. Nigeria’s leadership can employ a kind of middle-line approach— an approach that has to encompass new thinking, new strategy, new concept maps, that will completely aid in shifting away from the traditional way development is approached. Nigeria needs a new development strategy where development in agriculture, road, education, electricity, healthcare, water supply, youth development and the bloated federal system are tackled through ‘segmentation of the various sector into their smallest unit’, then a head-on tackling of each unit with the participation of all the three tiers of government- applying ‘small things’ approach, one may say.
Nigeria has a good number of superb agricultural policies and programmes, but implementation has been a major problem. Implementation has been difficult because the federal government has always wanted to do everything- formulator of policies and programmes, implementer, owner of the land, the importer of farm implements, producer and distributor of fertilizers and so on and so forth. This is not saying that the government at the centre shouldn’t be part of all these. But a kind of reductionistic approach is needed. An arrangement that will allow the federal, state, local governments and private sector play a specific role that will trigger community participation and the feel of ownership. Take for instance, an agricultural project that will make youth participation the centre-point of its implementation. A project that will initiate the participation of graduates as entrepreneurs; where local councils give the land, the state governments offer all the necessary extension services while the federal government provides collateral/surety for financial institutions to make available the necessary fund. This will reduce the number of tasks each tier of government will do and also allow concentration on such task, as well as promote true generation of wealth through agriculture.
Nigeria has about 108,000km of roads, the largest in West Africa and the second largest in South Saharan-Africa. However, these roads are poorly maintained. This is not because of the complete absence of funds, but a slipup on how to tackle road maintenance. Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) and some states’ road maintenance agencies have initiated many rehabilitation projects, but it appears their efforts are not yielding result. FERMA has introduced a very good initiative on road maintenance, the siting of road camps in some locations on Nigeria’s federal highways, but it seems the idea died from birth. The road camps were mere two-room blocks, without the necessary tools, facilities and manpower required of a road camp that would assist maintenance engineers, superintendents and foremen to perform their works in accordance with correct and efficient fundamentals. Had these road camps been properly setup, they would have brought about easy detection of road defects such potholes, ruts, gullies and soft spots on unpaved roads, as well as automatically introduced reductionism into Nigeria’s roads maintenance programmes, as each road camp will concentrate only on a specific kilometers on a particular federal highway. Though whatever method is used, when roads repair is done correctly, the repair will last a long time. Done poorly, it can soon become a growing expense.
This writer is a strong advocate of private sector greater participation in managing Nigeria’s public schools. But not a ‘bulldozer’ kind of participation, where government will entirely surrender these schools to private entrepreneurs- hence students; teachers and parent would be at the mercy of private hands. Nigeria needs a ‘measured’ public private partnership, where government builds new schools, equips old ones, then takes a benchmark from a well-run private school on what it cost per student head in running a school; then a gradual entrusting of public schools to private sector, where government provides the funds, taking into cognizance cost per student; as it is in private, while the private sector manages it especially in the area of infrastructures maintenance, provision of teaching tools, management of training programmes for teachers – hence, our educational system will be run efficiently, new sustainable jobs will be created and government get will relief from deadweight. This suggestion may appear odd, but a honest look at all the three tiers of government budgetary spending per student head, for sure it will exceeds the amount the best schools in Nigeria charge per student head.
Same idea can be applied to Nigeria’s healthcare sector. There is complete absence of health insurance for majority of Nigerians, except the current health insurance scheme for government employees and some private firms entering contracts with private health care providers. This scheme benefits less than one percent of Nigerians. Healthcare provision in Nigeria is a concurrent responsibility of the three tiers of government in the country. However, the state of healthcare in Nigeria has been worsened by a shortage of doctors, poor facilities and the most important, the shortage of drugs and poor attention to primary healthcare. Since Nigeria operates a mixed economy and corruption in government has not allowed availability of drugs and adequate maintenance of healthcare facility. Private providers of healthcare have a visible role to play in Nigeria healthcare delivery. Time has come for Nigeria to adopt Public Private Partnership in its healthcare sector. The government should equip old hospitals; build new one, then gradually handover their management to private healthcare provider. The government provides funding and effective monitoring, while the private sector manages it. This will enhance availability of drugs, eliminate corruption and bring continues improvement, as there will be competition among the private healthcare providers on quality of patient care, enhanced healthcare facilities and of course affordability. Though, this kind of collaborative approach to healthcare requires a painstaking laying-down of procedures, regulations, and management structures.

Since Nigeria’s big approach to development efforts has failed. Time has come to test the ‘Reductionism Approach’- attending to the basic things by employing small things. It may be a silver bullet.
Zayyad I. Muhammad writes from Jimeta, Adamawa State, zaymohd@yahoo.com, 08036070980.

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