From Tunji Olaopa
In a previous article examining the policy-research nexus in Nigeria and its need for national development, I made the basic claim that if Africa contributes one percent of total world production to research spending, Nigeria’s share of it Production can be almost insignificant. With this irreducible fact I want to say that the basic diagnosis of Nigeria’s development problem is deeply conceptual: First, Nigeria still doesn’t seem to understand what development is about. Hence the question: what are the larger intangibles that address key issues of national development, and how does a state like Nigeria intervene? From independence to this day, I believe the Nigerian leadership is still dancing on the verge of this fundamental issue.
Second, Nigeria does not seem to have what it takes to devise a development agenda and plan that does not rely heavily on outside agencies and organizations for the basics of its scientific parameters and metrics, as well as technical guidance and support. It should be clear, even to the casual observer of Nigeria’s policy and governance domains, how much policy conception, recommendations, and design can be traced back to development agencies’ theories of change. In addition, a significant part of the usable development statistics is compiled by foreign organizations, from the World Bank and the IMF to the United Nations. While the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) recently set itself the task of compiling a statistical database of the Nigerian economy to meet development and governance needs, funding constraints are still a key factor in determining its ability to do more to achieve.
The sadder fact about Nigeria’s development problem is that we are still focused on what we used to call the development management hardware, especially the infrastructural details of what it means for a state to develop. We license new universities, even if the old ones are barely financed and functional. We build roads and highways that hardly stand the test of time if we carefully consider the longed-for paradigm shift in our national maintenance culture and in asset management. We are pumping money into the health system that is incapable of providing health for citizens. And yet, despite this attention to infrastructure development as an index of national development, Nigeria’s infrastructure deficit is still enormous. It is currently at $ 3 trillion. And it spends $ 100 billion annually for thirty years to fill the void. It follows that Nigeria’s focus on the hardware of development has not even changed our development situation. It is time to initiate a paradigm shift away from an outdated reflection on development as a (hardware) infrastructure transformation of the economy. Don’t get me wrong – infrastructure development is key to national development. However, it requires what has been termed the intangible capital of a state’s national wealth to sustain critical development and stay on a sustainable curve.
The relationship between tangible and intangible capitals gives us a glimpse of what we call the missing pieces in our imagination of Nigeria’s development. In contrast to natural capital and infrastructures, intangible capital addresses the human capital of a state as well as the quality and values of institutions. These refer in particular to the quality of the state education system and the rule of law. It is the education system that creates human capital development, around which the skills and competences necessary for development are built. And the rule of law serves as a template for measuring the functional value of the institutions a state relies on for good governance. Here we are talking about the idea of social trust, an efficient judicial system, rule of law, property rights, security, up-to-date and reliable statistics, reformed public services, research and innovation, digital engagement, freedom of information and the mass media. The World Bank found that 80% of the wealth of rich countries and 60% of the wealth of poor countries consist of intangible assets. While the OECD members achieved 90 points in the rule of law index, Sub-Saharan Africa unfortunately only made it to 28. While Switzerland achieved an average point value of 99.5 out of 100, Nigeria only achieved 5.8.
We can ask a fundamental question: why would an equally talented Nigerian professional or expert be five times more productive in the United States or Germany than their counterpart who chose to stay in Nigeria? The answer is simple: as soon as the Nigerian professional comes to the US or Germany, she immediately enters the capacity context provided by intangible assets per capita valued at around $ 418,000 per person. The expert who stays in Nigeria has to manage a stupid 2,748 dollars. The tragedy is that African countries like Nigeria not only live with very low per capita wealth; their political system is complicit in the systematic destruction of their intangible wealth and assets. There are two indications of this in Nigeria. First, higher education in Nigeria is palpably heartbreaking. As we have argued, there is no link between politics and research. The anti-intellectualism of the political class ensures that universities, for example, are not involved in a meaningful relationship with politics. Second, there is a massive bleeding from Nigeria’s brightest and best professionals, experts, academics, and scholars away from the aridity of the Nigerian context of government into the plethora of Western societies and the existential fringes of the national economy. Who does not want to be able to access an intangible capital that makes their competence worthwhile? On the other hand, the extent of impunity in the Nigerian state immediately warns us how the institutions that define and determine good governance have been devalued by impunity, lack of leadership and corruption.
Once the development-determining intangible capital is undermined, the knock-on effect of the consequences is inevitable: The education system cannot produce the high-quality human capital whose skills and competencies a state needs in order to boost the material wealth on which good governance and national development are based . The by far weaker consequence of the increasing destruction of Nigeria’s intangible capital is being perceived more strongly by the public service system. This is done on two levels. The first concerns the lack of institutional synergy between the civil service and Nigerian higher education in terms of the generation and use of human capital that allows the civil service to navigate the knowledge age and its globalized ecosystem comfortably and with minimal constraints. The university dynamics of a state serve as a link between such a state and the global knowledge economy. The universities therefore produce the workforce that forms the backbone of an optimal and high-capacity public service. The second level is about translating the skills and competencies of an intelligent workforce into a knowledge component around which development revolves. In other words, development is essentially a knowledge project. It involves the incorporation of strategy, intelligence and knowledge into the political architecture of a state, which makes action research an essential part of the innovative implementation of policy recommendations that qualitatively change the well-being of Nigerians.
The civil service is therefore becoming vital as a strategic institution in redefining development in Nigeria. Alongside the education system, it becomes an institutional corridor in the dynamic that produces and sustains intangible capital. To achieve this, both the public sector and the education system need to be embedded in a broad framework of institutional and regulatory reforms that target their ability to restructure the Nigerian development agenda at three correlated levels: The first level is the material / infrastructural level representing the system of production, distribution, consumption and exchange. The second level comprises the institutional dimension, which includes the system of institutions, organizations, the procedural mechanisms underlying democracy, etc. The third level encompasses people’s social relationships, culture, values, beliefs and attitudes. In considering these three levels of structural and institutional reforms, government attention needs to be guided by what is known as the Real Progress Indicator (GPI). This provides an indication of an alternative indicator that the Nigerian state can use to achieve a redefinition of development that focuses on intangible capital, and how it is intangible capital that provides the opportunity, a state’s natural capital for infrastructural development to use. In this case, the state needs a political will that can bring the reform of the public service to an end as a place of national development.
And, to reiterate again, a key aspect of this institutional reform is the need to enable a strong and strategic nexus between politics and research that creates a strong foundation for political intelligence and action research on which good governance for the good is built and well-being can be established of Nigerians. Only in this sense can we really say that the Nigerian state knows what it means to develop and is ready to use the political will to enable the reform program that will free up the tangible capital that Nigerians have for the national Tap into development.
- Olaopa is the Retired State Secretary, Professor of Public Policy, and Senior Staff, National InstituteFor Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Jos