Changing Perception to Make NEEDS Work


“Success depends on perception and our job is to create the right perception to ensure success.” [Professor Klaus Schwab, President, World Economic Forum]

NEEDS Perception

We are in an era of reforms. Dysfunctional states are becoming more functional, failed states are coming alive and closed systems are opening up. Across the world, more countries are practicing democracy, economies are playing by the rules of the marketplace and the attainment of social equality is the order of the day.

In the Middle East, Jordan is leading the pack by implementing reform programmes aimed at modernising their society. Kuwait and Qatar have also begun to reform. The after-effects of perestroika have enabled Russia to lead the countries of the former Soviet Union on the path of economic reforms. Reforms have also meant that China is doing away with some of the vestiges of communism. In Africa, Botswana’s reforms have come full circle just as Mozambique, Equatorial Guinea and Tanzania are showing strong signs of growth and development as a result of the reforms that they are putting in place.

Global governance institutions are also encouraging reforms. The United Nations Millennium Development Goals are virtually unachievable without reforms. The Bretton Woods institutions – the World Bank and International Monetary Fund – have reformed in order to facilitate the process of reforms in countries across the globe. Regional integration and cooperation is also shaped by reform agendas. The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) is one such agenda. Simply put, reform is the name of the game.

The Federal Government of Nigeria has just launched its own reform programme tagged the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS). The NEEDS document is just like the Vision 2010 document unveiled in 1997, in that it is broad, bold and imaginative. NEEDS rests on four key strategic pillars: reforming the way government works and its institutions; growing the private sector; implementing a social charter for the people; and re-orientation of the people with an enduring African value system.

Some of the macroeconomic targets of NEEDS are to attain 7% real GDP growth, reduce poverty annually by 5%, create 7 million new jobs and a single digit inflation rate of 9%, all by the year 2007. Other 2007 targets of NEEDS are 1:25 teledensity, manufacturing capacity utilisation of 70%, 6% annual growth in agriculture, adult literacy rate of 65%, 70% access to safe water, 10,000MW power generation, 18,000km of rehabilitation, maintenance and new roads, debt management and reduction, at least $3billion earnings from exports of cassava and related products and developing the solid minerals sector to provide self-employment for at least 500,000 Nigerians. The public sector reform agenda includes public expenditure/budget reforms, pensions reform, monetization of fringe benefits, public revenue/tax reforms, customs/trade reforms, civil service reforms, local government reforms, NNPC reforms, reform of national statistics and data gathering, public service delivery, judicial service reforms, prison reforms, institutional reforms for security and administration of justice, fighting corruption, improving transparency and accountability. NEEDS also aims to grow the private sector and develop small and medium scale enterprises. The targets are realistic and realisable. To implement NEEDS, there is an economic team comprising a ‘brain trust’ whose spiritual leader is the former Vice President of the World Bank.

The people of Nigeria are presently beset with reforms fatigue and have become weary as they recall the various Rolling Plans, Austerity Measure, Structural Adjustment Programme and Vision 2010, which, to them were paperwork carnivals of the elite and ruling class. Simply put, they do not believe such programmes work for the common good of the common man. Therefore, the success of NEEDS will be heavily dependent on the triangulation of partnership between policy, people and politics. This type of partnership should be the watchword of NEEDS and will be built on perception. Perception is about building the right confidence to ensure that everyone is on board. Perception must therefore be the interlocutor of NEEDS. In order to create the right perception needed to strengthen the triangulation of partnership between policy, people and politics for NEEDS, the government – the originator of NEEDS – should take steps to do things differently.

To begin with, there ought to be an investment of presidential capital on the social capital. The social capital, according to Francis Fukuyama, is trust. For that we shall need leadership. In an essay to the 2002 World Economic Forum titled ‘Re-evaluating Leadership and Governance’, Jim O’Toole, a Research Professor at the University of Southern California in the United States of America described trust as the “secret ingredient” of leadership. In it he writes, “In practice, trust is created by the behaviour of leaders toward followers: when leaders treat followers with respect, followers respond with trust. Leaders show their respect by always treating followers as ends in themselves – and never as means to achieve their own ego or power needs, or even to achieve the legitimate goals of the organisation.” He also submits that when followers trust their leaders, they are more willing to stick their necks out, make an extra effort, and put themselves on the line to help achieve organisational goals. He was writing about the organisation but it may well apply to a nation.

I believe we have four broad challenges – dramatic success windows – required to change perception and make NEEDS work. They respectively cover each section of the NEEDS document – Macroeconomic Framework, Reforming Government and Institutions, Growing the Private Sector, and the Social Charter. The dramatic success windows are budget implementation, rebuilding the Nigeria Police (to be more people-friendly and corrupt-free), creating a free market economy with a social sensitivity, and deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry (to ensure better distribution and affordability).

NEEDS promises a timely implementation of the national budget. The Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala commands the respect and trust of the average Nigerian. The implementation of the 2004 budget must be in the public domain. In line with NEEDS, the framework of the 2004 is encouraging with about 60% of expenditure going to education, health, roads, water, power, security, agriculture and rural development. These are people-issues. For a start, once the Appropriation Act is signed into law, the Finance Minister should give a complete breakdown of the expenditure profile. If the Federal Government proposes to spend 8% of capital allocation on education, the people will like to know the core elements of the expenditure. Will it be on rehabilitation or reconstruction of schools? If so, which schools? Will it be on books and equipment? If 12% of capital allocation is going to maintenance, rehabilitation and construction of roads, which roads? The same should apply for the other expenditure areas of the budget. The people will then more readily know if and when the budget is implemented. Such information can be published on the Internet and serialised on major national newspapers. To win trust, information is power. Implementation of the budget will then be such that all can see. The Finance Minister must then walk her talk. In the perception game, information begets action.

To change perception, the federal government must single out the Nigeria Police for immediate reforms and restructuring. The government says that it has increased the size of the force from 110,000 to about 310,000 in the last four years. But as the NEEDS document states, “the challenge now is to make the police effective”. Specific initiatives of NEEDS include re-orientation to improve the quality of service; increased use of scientific methods in policing – to enhance the quality of evidence and investigation; introduction of appropriate equipment and development of an exclusive communication system – to improve police effectiveness in combating crimes; and capacity building, training and re-training as well as involvement of communities in policing. NEEDS recommends that the entry level into the force will be raised to a minimum of OND and gradually rising to HND and degree level. These are very commendable and should be implemented. Rebuilding institutions is always a fundamental aspect of reforms but any institution is only as good, credible and functional as its leadership. It is time to have such a leadership for the Nigeria Police. It is safe to say that the Nigeria Police does not enjoy the confidence of the Nigerian people. Today, the Nigerian people go to great lengths to cooperate with NAFDAC. If the Nigeria Police catch the NAFDAC contagion, Nigerians will do it for the Nigeria Police. There is a compelling need for action now. In the perception game, action begets reaction.

The deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry is a vital component of NEEDS. This is good for our economy because, deregulation encourages competition. The private sector is the engine of growth in thriving economies and is usually encouraged to actively participate in key sectors of the economy. Deregulation does just that. It also encourages direct foreign investment into the petroleum industry. Therefore, more refineries and depots are supposed to be built and that translates to more jobs for the people. In the final analysis, however, it is all about availability and affordability. If petroleum products are readily available in all parts of the country at affordable prices within the shortest possible time, NEEDS would make more sense to the average Nigerian. The Department of Petroleum Resources should also be structured towards effective monitoring of the industry and the Petroleum Products Regulatory Agency must also be seen to be more pro-people. Again, the NAFDAC contagion must be mentioned here. Also, the Nigerian people will like the President to appoint a substantive Petroleum Minister of a respectable mould. The times require proactive reaction from the President and the government. In the perception game, reaction begets inclusion.

The demise of the Soviet Union and its economic culture not only doomed the future of state control of the economy but also gave rise to the ascendancy of a global monotheistic economic paradigm, capitalism, which transfers control of the economy to the free market. Today, we are all captivated by the magic of the marketplace. This magic obfuscates the dependence on rents and handouts from the purse of the state. It requires enterprise and innovation, which will be driven by entrepreneurs whose main asset will be to take an idea and turn it into an industry. Enterprise drives the engine of growth for the economy while innovation puts new knowledge to work for the economy. NEEDS apostatises all these as it places huge premium on deregulation, liberalisation and privatisation as well as provisions and strategies for growing the private sector. However, I agree with Professor Robert Reich of the Harvard University who, in an essay, “Of Markets And Myths”, believes that all markets are in a sense artificial constructs conditioned by the culture in which they exist and that we can organise and maintain free markets that can align the publicly desirable with the privately profitable. Nigerians believe that free market players cartelise their respective industries, take the people for granted and exploit the haplessness of the consumers while the government looks the other way. Petroleum marketers sell their products at exorbitant prices while telecommunications service providers operate as lords of the manor. Immediate and effective regulation is very much required with respect to the telecommunications and petroleum industry to secure value for money for the consumers. This can and should be done as soon as possible to include the ordinary Nigerians in the quest for reforms. In the perception game, inclusion begets cooperation.

I believe that these actions, if taken immediately, will result in quick wins and change the perception of Nigerians to the very idea of reforms, and this is very crucial for the implementation of other parts of the reform programme because, in the long run, it is the people that completes the triangulation of partnership and their perception needs to be changed in order to make NEEDS work.


This article was published on the backpage of Thisday, August 27, 2003 as a Right of Reply to Kayode Komolfe published on August 20, 2003 titled, On the Social Content of Okonjo-Iweala’s NEEDS.