Prof. Sam's Corner

Reformation A Veritable Tool for National Development I

Text of a Lecture Delivered by Dr. Sam Amadi at the 2010 Annual Distinguished Lecture of the Center for Public Affairs Research and Documentation (CEPARD) at the Protea Hotel, Apo, Abuja on December 7, 2010

I am delighted to have opportunity to speak to such an assemblage of personalities. I am delighted also that I have opportunity to speak at this platform. The topic for this discussion is reform. I will speak more outside the script so my script will be short.

Today, the talk of the town is reform. Every government prides itself as a reforming government. In Nigeria, every State Governor claims to be engaged in reforming one aspect of public policy or the other. The ubiquity of reform is not surprising. Reform is inherent in the nature of things. If we accept that change is inevitable in human affairs then we are not far away from reform. So, the fact that the word ‘reform’ has become a fad is to be expected.

In Nigeria, the last 12 years have been years of intense reform. This reform has also been extensive, covering different aspects of national life. Economic reform has gone together with political reform. We have restructured public enterprises, reviewed laws establishing agencies that manage economic development and realigned political relations all in the name of reform. But does the result of the reforms justify the energies expended on them? Are we much better today on account of the reforms than we were years before the reform?

Many Nigerians would argue that they are yet to feel the impacts of reform. In their view the reform has failed to yield the desired results. In a way the arguments for reform seem to have fallen into disrepute of a sort because the so-called ‘dividends’ of democracy are yet to arrive. But even as we rue the lack of significant positive impact of the reform projects in the last 12 years we cannot abandon the path of reform. Except we reform we shall perish, if I am allowed to paraphrase the words of Jesus the Christ. We cannot throw away the baby and the dirty waters. We have to reexamine the business of reform and salvage what has to be salvaged.

The Business of Reform:

The business of reform is a global phenomenon. By the ‘business’ of reform, I mean the overwhelming resort to reform as the main policy thrust of governance in contemporary world. One aspect of contemporary globalization is the ascendancy of a model of economic policymaking which emphasizes the inevitability of market economy. This brand has been described as “Washington Consensus”. The Washington Consensus is named after the famous world capital where the leading multilateral financial institutions of the world are headquartered. The Washington Consensus advocates deregulation, privatization and the reduction of the role of the public sector in the economy.

Nigeria is one of the developing countries that have swallowed the magic bullet of Washington Consensus. Nigeria under President Obasanjo bought the logic of economic reform. The impetus for the adoption of the reform agenda derives from the pedigree of some of the members of President Obasanjo’s economic team. The then Minister of Finance, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, was a Vice President of the World Bank before she entered the cabinet. Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili and Malam Nasir el-Rufai, core members of the economic management team, were enthusiasts of market reform. Together they constituted strong influence on the direction of economic policy. Some of the highlights of reform agenda included programs on fiscal responsibility which involved the enactment of a fiscal responsibility law and the establishment of the Due Process Office (now known as the Bureau on Public Procurement).

Reform also implied the fast-tracking of the privatization of public enterprises and the consolidation of the banking sector to make for major banks that can undertake massive financial investments in the real sector. The major premise of the Obasanjo reform was to catalyze fast-paced economic growth through private sector control of the economy. The case was made that to make Nigeria attractive for private sector investment we must upgrade basic infrastructure and improve macroeconomic policy environment.

The orthodoxy of the dominant neo-liberal model of economic growth is that growth requires fundamental reform of the legal and institutional regimes in the country. This model speaks of the urgency of removing bottlenecks in the business environment through legal reform and provision of incentives to foreign investors through smart macroeconomic policymaking. The National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS) captured the policy thrusts of the reform.

Even with the fine articulations of the NEEDS documents the reform failed. The major challenges to the reform were the lack of political will and the failure to reset the state for effective reform. I will focus the rest of the lecture on the kind of political environment required to achieve effective reform. I will also talk briefly about what kind of reform a country like Nigeria needs as we enter the next 50 years of nationhood.

About Dr Sam Amadi

Dr Sam Amadi, a policy strategist and law and governance expert, is a senior lecturer and head of public law at Baze University, Abuja. He was a Visiting Research Fellow at the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies from 2016-2018. He was Chairman and CEO of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) between 2010 and 2015, where he led a team of management and staff through the rigorous task of reforming the Nigerian electricity industry.  

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