Martins Oloja

By Martins Oloja

You can resist an invading army; you cannot resist an idea whose time has come – Victor Hugo

This is one of the most frequently used versions of the powerful musing of a French poet, novelist and dramatist of the Romantic movement, Victor Marie Hugo. He is considered one of the greatest and best-known French writers. The big man died since May 22, 1885 in Paris, France. Hugo’s evergreen quote on an “idea whose time has come”, has been variously cited by non-French speaking writers. The two other versions that are popular in the art journals are equally instructive. They are: Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come. All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come.

Whichever version is cited at any time, the take-away caveat from there is that no power in the world can successfully resist an idea whose time has come. And restructuring is one of such ideas whose time has come. That is why this week again, we should step aside from the discussion points on “Better universities and organizational learning and knowledge” stuff. We will return to the issue sooner than later. It is certain that we cannot ignore the issue of tertiary education quality in this part of the world at this time.

There are too many low hanging fruits that we can’t ignore now, especially the national question, simplified as restructuring…It is now a polymorphous term that connotes so many things in the minds of people from various parts of the country. To some people from certain parts of the country, anyone who mentions restructuring is very close to playing with a concept of accessary after the fact of sedition, a law that Court of Appeal struck down during the second republic that ended since December 1983, although police still charge some offenders with it. But to some others, without restructuring of the convoluted federation, there can be no progress, no matter the kind of politics we play.

To the now ‘proactive’ Secretary to the Government of the Federation, (SGF), Mr Babachir Lawal, anyone talking about restructuring, especially through the 2014 National Conference Report should be considered naïve as the report was put together by some unserious citizens who got some N9 billion worth of “job for the boys”. To Lawal’s boss and new Sheriff in town, the document that some outraged southerners are touting as a blueprint for restructuring, it is already one of the ancient landmarks in the national. But to some political juggernauts including Atiku Abubakar, we cannot run away from restructuring as a fundamental objective and directive principle…, after all. The former vice president’s well-researched article on restructuring has touched raw nerves and has been receiving rave reviews. This again is yet another issue we cannot ignore at such a time like this. Really, we need to understand and interpret these perilous times to improve the quality of decision-making.
However, as we agonize over the bogeyman called restructuring, there is need for all of us to organize: We need to appeal the big men in Abuja to sheathe their swords to be able to study the various writings on the wall of the troubled federation. I have been reporting and analyzing politics and policies for about 29 years. I was already a newspaper editor in the nation’s capital in 1993 when the June 12 debacle was foisted on us. I was one of the few editors the state terror then chased out of Abuja on account of June 12 crisis reportage. Our newspaper, The Abuja Newsday, the premier newspaper in Abuja, was shut down by the rampaging military authorities then I escaped to Lagos and my publisher Alhaji Bukar Zarma was arrested in Kaduna.

And so I have been vigilant about the anniversary of the debacle every year. For about seven years, the fervency for the June 12 anniversary had ebbed until this year and this is curious. I mean state actors should note that suddenly the agitation for June 12 reparations resurfaced this year in the mainstream news media in Lagos. It is part of the curiosities of the time that this resurgence came with revival of some ancient grudges in the South East and South South Zone where Biafrans and Avengers have become defiant despite threats of “we will crush them” by military authorities. There is a sense in which we can claim that the superior fire powers in Abuja have not been able to crush the Biafran spirit and the resilience of the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA).

But as the authorities in Abuja are still scratching their heads over whether it is necessary to set up crisis management taskforce in the East and West, there is need for us to encourage them to be tolerant of all the views about restructuring. It is not helpful for people in office and in power to shrug their shoulders and just dismiss what most of the people are saying. Like children of Issachar, our big men in Abuja and the 36 state capitals “need to understand the times”. They need to forget politics after election and face serious governance issues such as restructuring. People are educated enough to know that it is not easy to defy the constitution and start dismantling the structures the Grundnorm has put in place. But there are some low hanging fruits that can be dealt with in our convoluted federation.

I mean that there are some national issues that even party and interparty consensus can deal with given the right attitude. Is it not possible, for instance for the government of the day to begin the processes of amending our laws to allow state governments to manage solid mineral resources in various states that are always in Abuja for bailouts? The federal government cannot explore the bitumen deposits in Agbabu in Ondo state. And the tragedy is that the state government that can’t pay salaries now cannot do anything about this because the do-nothing federal government that needs bitumen to construct roads too won’t allow the states to explore.

There is a huge deposit of gold in Ilesha, Osun state. Mining can only be dome illegally and unprofitably there in the absence of restructuring that will allow Osun State government to explore this and generate employment for its people. There is no state in the federation that does not have one thing or the other that the federal government can be flexible about. What is the mandate opf the Law Reform Commission? Why is the National Assembly there if it cannot brace up to amend laws that impede the practice of federalism? But how can this happen when the ruling party, the APC has not been meeting regularly to articulate policy options for the progress of the country? How can there be restructuring when there are not indications that the executive council of the federation has been holding regular meetings where issues such as restructuring can be tabled.
Besides, the president’s men should note that there are so many areas and issues that need to be restructured, it is not only the constitution. There is need to restructure the ownership of federal highways in the country. They have become too complicated for federal maintenance. There is need to restructure the power sector to allow states generate, transmit and distribute if they have the capacity. The federal government’s firm grip on the power sector has not gone beyond 4000 megawatts for 170 million people. There is need to restructure the minimum wage legal framework to allow the states to pay their workers according to their endowments. There is need to overhaul the civil service to deliver efficient service delivery.

The Obasanjo administration in 2004 brought in Tony Blair’s Public Service Reform Adviser, Dr. Wendy Thompson who wrote a road map for service delivery. It was a good document that an unreformed civil service could not implement. Servicom that the document produced remains what it has been since: a mere slogan. Unless there is a purpose-driven public service reform, there will not be any progress in the public sector. There is need to restructure the education system that is not attractive at the moment. There is a large pool of experts that attended most of the best schools in the world. They are in Nigeria.

Abuja needs to swallow its pride and vanity and consult with mega recruiters of mega men such as Atiku Abubakar and Asiwaju Tinubu who can assist in fishing out experts. Atiku and Tinubu certainly know how to recruit eggheads, experts and indeed “knowledge workers” as Peter Drucker calls them. You need knowledge workers to drive reform processes. They are available in Nigeria. The trouble is that not many principals want to work with too many experts in Nigeria. It is inscrutable why many state actors prefer mediocrities to work for them.

The conclusion of the whole matter is that there are too many issues to restructure in Nigeria for our benefits that won’t compromise the sovereignty of the nation. The starting point really is the renewing of our minds. One ancient expert was right when he said transformation actually begins with the renewing of our minds. “Be ye transformed by the renewing of your minds”, the guru had noted. Even the private sector organizations have to reform their processes now. They call it “change management”, “leading change”, “organizational change management ”, etc. If you don’t reform your processes, the disruptive technologies that daily shape the markets will kill your business.

Here we will blame it on witches and wizards. You will only regret that you are the witch for failing to reform at the right time. Therefore, our leaders at all levels need to transform to lead transformation successfully in their organizations. If we don’t devolve, we may dissolve as some observers have noted. Restructuring is an idea whose time has come. If we ignore it, the world and the market will also ignore us.

Inside Stuff Grammar School:
Recruitment Exercise vs Recruitment:
This school has noticed that many writers are still in love with use of this redundancy: “exercise”. It is often used after common words such as “recruitment”, “screening”. We often read or hear: “recruitment exercise”, “screening exercise”, etc. The word ‘exercise is redundant in all these sentences. Examples: It is wrong to write or say:

The ‘recruitment exercise’ was not thorough. It is correct to write or say:

The recruitment was not thorough. Same for “screening exercise”. The ‘screening exercise’ will begin on Tuesday. It is enough to say/write: The ‘screening’ will begin on Tuesday. But use ‘exercise’ as an antecedent. Examples:

The exercise will be very thorough, according to the senior supervisor.

The article first appeared on The Guardian Newspaper

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