Political leadership in a democracy in a time of national crisis

Posted by News Express | 31 March 2020 | 942 times

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We are living through a time of crisis. For many people around the world, life is a daily struggle. This is worse for most people in sub-Saharan Africa. It is not because of their fault. Their [mis]fortunes have long been determined before they were born. Indeed, determined by the political, social and economic structures that exist in our world, in countries and communities in which people reside. These structures have been built on the ideologies of those who have [had] the ‘privilege’ of political leadership through generations. These ideologies are behind the policy choices and the processes that they drive.

But this is all about choices. When millions of people fall ill and die from health conditions and health complications that are preventable, based on our current level of knowledge, we must ask questions about our choices. When millions of young people in their prime cannot use their most productive years to contribute positively and significantly to their community and economy, we must ask questions about our choices. Why is it that they cannot be self-employed or employed in an organisation? Why is it that they cannot earn decent tax-paying income for contributing to the co-production and supply of the goods and services that people in our communities and the economy need? Why is it that they cannot afford to pay for the goods and services that they and their families need, thereby contributing to demand?

The right choice to make is obvious. It should not be difficult whether it be at the global, national or subnational levels of decision-making. It should be the kind of political, social and economic structures and policy choices that have the best chance of optimising and utilising the best of our people and our land. We can then produce all the goods and services that our people need to support a decent standard of life. This requires investing in the structures and policies that would continue to give our people the knowledge, skills, tools, and incentives to continue to keep us all in good health.

The knowledge, skills, tools, and incentives to participate in optimising the co-production and fair distribution of all the goods and services that we need. The level of knowledge, skills, tools, incentives, and mindset required to organise our population, commodities and financial markets to allow for all-inclusive participation in the various pathways of the fair trading of co-production to support incomes and wealth in more equal ways. The level of knowledge, skills, tools, and incentives to enable us to prepare for and to surge capacity when necessary to effectively respond to threats including one from the Covid-19 pandemic.

This is what the economy ought to be about. This is what will sustain stable economic growth. Asking tougher questions of our current choices should be in our enlightened self-interest. When everyone is involved in the co-production and are co-owners of the economy and society, every one of us would have the ‘power’ and self-interest to protect and defend our own. This is truly what democracy in its best form is about. That every one of us who are old enough (as a society would so determine) to give informed consent should have an equal chance to contribute (to the economy and public discourse) and to participate in political decision making in the interest of all of us.

This can fundamentally improve the fortunes of most people around the world, especially people in ‘seemingly poor’ countries in sub-Saharan Africa. It can improve individual and overall wellbeing. It can reduce poverty in all its dimensions. It can improve access to quality education. It can improve the levels of knowledge, skills, and can change the mindset of the population. It can truly empower people. Not only would their collective power ensure that they have good governance, but it is that kind of power that derives from commitment and sacrifice for the community that is required to overcome great threats such as the Covid-19 pandemic.

For many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the only price to pay for such a good fortune is to replace the various forms of aristocracy and oligarchy (pretending to be a democracy). Forms of aristocracy and oligarchy (pretending to be a democracy) that accumulate enormous power in a few, leaving the population with little or no political and economic power. Forms of aristocracy and oligarchy (pretending to be a democracy) that build political, social and economic structures and implement policies that sustain various forms of aristocracy and oligarchy (pretending to be a democracy).

Covid-19 and global structures and systems

The Covid-19 pandemic is a sad reminder of how vulnerable the global architecture and systems are. It also exposes how easily a virus (an enemy we cannot see) can wreak so much havoc and destruction to lives, overwhelm the capacity of health systems that were otherwise ‘strong’, disrupt global and national supply chains and damage economies within a relatively short period of time. This is a virus waging an all-out war on all of us and our way of life. The enemy is invisible. Based on our blindsides, the virus has no demonstrable ‘fear’. It does not matter your ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, education, profession, faith, or status in life, we are all vulnerable. And, we really do not have a solution yet. Neither do we know how long this war would last and the new dimensions it might take. These are difficult and uncertain times. It requires political leadership. At the global level, global institutions and the richest nations are providing some leadership. Political leadership is also required at the national and sub-national levels.

Covid-19 and leadership in a democracy

Elected political leaders have a responsibility to lead for the common good based on facts. This is especially important in a democracy to protect trust which is one of the most important fabrics of society. It is political leaders in whom the people have invested their powers that the people look up to (recognising that people of faith look up to God first) at a time of crisis such as the Covid-19 pandemic. There is confusion, heightened uncertainty, and insecurity. The people look up to political leaders for fact-based information, explanations, and solutions.

In performing their leadership responsibilities, elected political leaders must rely on the expertise of the best professionals (working together at the problem and applying the best scientific approach to leverage data for insights on scenarios). Elected political leaders should, therefore, be consumers of the best information on the Covid-19 pandemic for the purpose of decision-making. It would be their judgment call. But a leader’s judgment often depends on the leader’s positionality. The latter comprises a leader’s entire life journey and experience. This is another reason why the processes through which political leaders emerge should be robust, rigorous, and subjected to ongoing scrutiny and the people decides to invest their power.

Political leaders are also expected to provide comfort, healing and to inspire hope especially at a time of crisis. The strength of the community would depend on it. The maintenance of law and order will depend on it. The people’s survival through the crisis depends on it. The ability to overcome the crisis depends on it. Post-crisis recovery would depend on it. Learning from the current pandemic, storing that memory and building new structures and systems that are adaptable, dynamic and scalable to prepare for and respond better to future threats would depend on it.

In a democracy, the political gains and prospects of an elected political leader are linked to how well she or he provides leadership, especially through a crisis. The question is, how did the leadership of an elected official affect the lives of ‘the people’ who will decide at the next election? More than electoral fortunes, political leaders in different countries have a moral and legal responsibility to do all they can to approve the resources required, and to provide accurate information, comfort, healing and hope during a crisis. This explains why in particular, elected political leaders are regularly on national and international television to answers questions from the media on the Covid-19 pandemic and related issues. This also explains why they may regularly participate in radio programs. And, why they write articles and participate in newspaper interviews to directly provide vital information, comfort and hope to the population that they are elected to lead and to serve. The Prime Minister (PM) of the United Kingdom (UK), Boris Johnson (who is currently on self-isolation having tested positive to Covid-19 and showing mild symptoms) is leveraging technology to continue to lead the UK through the pandemic. He has even taken a step further. This week, the UK PM is sending a personal letter to all the households in the UK to provide comfort, thank and to inspire every citizen and resident of the UK in this time of crisis.

Nigeria

On Sunday the 29th of March 2020, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria addressed the nation in a way that only him has the vested authority to do so to achieve desired effects. It is the President that the people look up to in a crisis to protect, comfort, heal and to inspire hope. By electing him as president, the people have invested their powers in him to act within the constitution of Nigeria and other legislations (not in conflict with the constitution) of the National Assembly (‘representatives’ of the people) that the President has signed.

While state governments continue to do what they can, by working with strategic partners and local communities, the recent presidential address is a major boost. The authority of the president and the statement he gave yesterday will reinforce what we should be doing right now. With the use of data, the laser-focus must be on flattening the Covid-19 epidemic curve nationally. This has to be by smartly flattening the Covid-19 epidemic curves in every state (Lagos and Abuja as the priority) and by local government areas, based on where each state and local government is on the curve. We need to test more (making wise and smart decisions with limited resources and test-kits) and we need to sustain social distancing. The strategy for enforcing compliance with social distancing should be a combination but more of a number of soft strategies and tactics than hard. Legislative backing may be required to ensure that this intervention is executed within the laws in Nigeria.

The soft strategies and tactics should include micro-targeted accurate and effective information communication on Covid-19. The objective must be to empower every Nigerians (in their own language) so that they can make conscious decisions based on their own informed self-interest and in the interest of their own families, friends, neighbours, and community to stay at home. As most Nigerians work in the informal sector and are self-employed, the potential impact of Covid-19 on household income, poverty and life outcomes can be very severe during and after this pandemic. It is only the federal government working with states, private and international partners that can pool together the resources and capacity that may be required to make the hard choices at a time of global and national crisis. By providing financial and economic support to all Nigerians in need now, the government will be making the right investments in the economy now and tomorrow.

Because the soft strategy aims at strengthening individual Nigerians, it can have a long-lasting positive effect on behaviour. The soft strategy is an opportunity for the whole of Nigeria to invest in a change in culture. This may prove very important if this pandemic were to linger. The soft strategy is also an opportunity to fundamentally change our economic philosophy. If we decide to put money directly into the hands of Nigerians, that money should be buying locally produced goods and services. It should not be stolen by predatory Nigerians who find an ‘opportunity’ to steal in the middle of a terrible crisis to buy US$ to store and to import foreign goods and services that we can produce in Nigeria.

This means that what we do in fighting this crisis can place before us a choice to seriously consider restructuring our economy. Such a reminder of the crisis and the actions it has forced us to take, not unmindful of the externalities, to minimise its negative effects, could be what gives us the political will to look mostly inwards. How can we help new and small businesses to innovate, scale and increase their output related to demand (all be it local demand in the first place) after this crisis? How can we ensure that there is a fair level of competition among local businesses so that they can improve quality? How can local businesses in Nigeria compete on quality and price of similar products by businesses in Africa and in other countries? These are some of the policy questions and the scenarios that we should be aspiring for. A scenario that increasingly reduces our dependence on imports to drive value and supply chains in critical parts of our economy. One that seeks to take over significant control of strategic value and supply chains in Nigeria. This would require a longer-term view of fiscal and monetary policy. This would require elite sacrifice. 

I also understand that it may be necessary to use a hard enforcement strategy for social distancing in some cases. This should be largely short-term. Law enforcement officers must, therefore, be given strict standard operating procedures (SOP) and guidelines for engagement. They must be monitored for compliance. The commanding officers and leads must take responsibility. Nigerians are facing a crisis of no fault of theirs. This should not be an opportunity for the use of disproportionate force and extortion. Otherwise, we may add further complexity to a complex crisis. This will make response and recovery difficult.

This is also a time for scoping and encouraging the trials of technology by responsible individuals and corporate citizens to enforce social distancing and to monitor. The innovation and use of geolocation, mapping and realtime police cameras in a way that respects rights to privacy and freedom may be helpful in enforcing social distancing within the ambit of the law and SOP. We can learn from China, South Korea, and others. There will be a lot to do to reduce the negative effects of Covid-19 on Nigerians and Nigeria in the weeks, months and years to come. We should not forget the research side of this intervention. While it is important that we continue to work with friendly countries, international and global partners, we should be involved in collecting and contributing and analyzing local data, and enriching tools and guidelines for healthcare provision and public health.

We should be commissioning various ambitious programmes and tasking our best scientists and innovators to achieve set targets and goals. This would help us strengthen research and the scientific process, deepen local baskets of knowledge and intellectual property and explore different applications that may have social and economic value for Industry. This is how countries emerge from a crisis stronger. As the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) can only work with the assets it can mobilise (given the urgency of the times), Nigerians expect the NCDC to limit the health care effects of this pandemic.

However, after this pandemic, the NCDC should be enabled to increase its capacity to address other public health challenges and to prepare for future epidemics. This should be one of the investments to ring-fence. It should not be considered a cost. The work of the NCDC can reduce the burden of public health constraints on the Nigerian economy. It can be the engine of research and repertoire of the base evidence required for smarter and wider health system interventions. Its original research can be the catalyst for further cutting-edge research in health in Nigerian universities. It can provide the evidence that forms that basis on which the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) and related organisations can be more efficient and effective both on the risks and benefits side, and much more.

Finally, given the scale of the challenges confronting Nigeria, even without the Covid-19 pandemic, the country is in crisis. Insurgency in the North East, low oil prices, large population and high rate of youth unemployment, corruption, high levels of poverty and widening inequality, high levels of insecurity, to mention a few. The president, governors, and legislators should be constantly engaged with Nigerians, providing accurate information, to build trust. They should be providing comfort, healing, and hope. Let the advisers to the president build on the recent national address on Covid-19. Information to the average Nigerian should be in bite sizes and simplified. Tough messages should show compassion. The president and his team should be on television and radio regularly engaging with Nigerians and answering questions. Nigerians want to read a presidential column in newspapers on the issues that matter to them most. Increase the visibility of the president and demystify presidential power. This will reverberate throughout the entire country and levels of power. Let the president inspire all Nigerians.


Source: News Express

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