17 Nov Book Review | Obaze’s Waning Strength of Government Resonates by Chiagozie Udeh
Oseloka H. Obaze, diplomat, politician and writer, continues to expand his niche as an author and public commentator by finding time to weigh in on governance, policy and challenges confronting Nigeria. In doing so, he validates an assessment once rendered of him: “He is not just an author, but as a professional, intellectual, public policy analyst, leader, a loving husband and a caring father”.
Anyone truly interested in contemporary Nigerian politics should acquire and read Obaze’s just-published book, Waning Strength of Government: Essays on Nigeria’s Governance, which was released amidst Covid-19 lockdown in July 2020. This, his sixth book, follows his well-regarded 2017 book, Prime Witness: Change and Policy Challenges in Buhari’s Nigeria (Safari Books).
Waning Strength of Government, which is segregated into four clusters: democratic imperatives; domestic development challenges; foreign policy dimensions and leadership and governance, is an unvarnished SWOT analysis of various glaring and uncertain aspects of ‘Nigeria’s affected democracy.’ After sixty years of independence, Nigeria still suffers from weak institutions and governance structures. Obaze reveals that he drew his inspiration and flip title from McGeorge Bundy’s 1968 seminal book, The Strength of Government, in analysing and deciphering governance challenges confronting Nigeria.
As indicated on the book’s blurb, “Obaze draws on twenty-three of his various speeches, policy briefs, lectures and op-eds, to render exploratory essays that dissect some common patterns and trajectories that point antithetically to factors and conducts, which ought to constitute the strength of government but don’t. In so doing, he unmasks the prevailing weaknesses and waning strength of government – the attendant consequences, and their prevalence and implications for Nigeria.”
Of governance in Nigeria, Obaze asserts that “democracy, once characterized as probably the greatest expansion of freedom, has come under assault from within its ranks, as a shift in geopolitics combines with the ascendancy of non-state actors to undercut democracy…nowhere is this consideration more evident and concrete than in Africa, Nigeria included.”
As any reader will quickly discover, the focus of this volume, as the title suggests, “is not the strength of government in a democratic Nigeria; but instead, the departure from that value, which has manifested in the waning strength government, a reality that is concretized by alarming deficiencies in government, and have contributed to evident stagnation and in some spheres, retrogression of the democratic nation. Such waning strength is marked primarily, by its weak democratic institutions; the nation not being robust as it ought to be, and its seeming inability to rise to its full potentials.”
Waning Strength of Government is not an out-an-out criticism of governance modalities in Nigeria. Rather, it speaks to the need for members of the Nigerian intelligentsia, the elite and attentive public to confront the truths, myths and realities of challenges bedevilling Nigeria, and speak truth to power unequivocally, on such critical national issues. Although this volume derives from a rendition of topical policy-focused papers, delivered to eclectic audiences on different occasions, the disparate subject matters still resonate. The chapters I find most captivating and instructive are those titled, Nigeria-Biafra Newfangled Narrative; Actualizing Private Sector-Led Regional Investment Growth; Follies and Falsities of Ruga Settlement; Chinese Silk Road: Debt Peonage for Nigeria; Impact of Media Convergence on Good Governance in Nigeria; Nigeria’s Crisis: Followership and Leadership and title chapter, Waning Strength of Government.
Obaze makes three important points in his closing chapters. First, “In governance, some public policies are fraught with controversy. At times the controversies arise from lack of broad consultations or explanations of how such policies will impact on the population. Warped perception (of) policy intent, also create policy acceptance dissonance. Such controversies, in turn, create discernible dichotomies.”(p.246) Second, “One of the greatest challenges hobbling Government is sycophancy and inability of many Nigerians to confront those in leadership positions with the truth.”(p.248) Third, “Whereas to some, the postulation and validity of the waning strength of government in Nigeria may seem like a mere academic exercise and as such deemed contestable, one merely needs to look rigorously at certain areas of governance in which Nigeria has faltered badly to find the required vindication.”(p.252)
Waning Strength of Government is an important addition to works on Nigerian contemporary politics, leadership and dilemmas confronting the nation. In the book, Obaze makes the point repeatedly and vehemently “that the strength of the government is not about military capacity or use of force; but about the upholding the rule of law, consolidating democratic institutions and entrenching the social contract between the government and the governed.”(p. xviii) Interestingly, the release of the book coincides -rather fortuitously – with the #EndSARS national mass protestations over police brutality and related abuses and as “Nigeria grapples with the challenge of genuine and responsive leadership, transparency, accountability, policy formulation, implementation, and indeed, real patriotism.”
To be admired is Obaze’s courage, diligence, insights, conviction, authenticity and keenness in sharing his thoughts, and proffering pragmatic and tested solutions. For this reason, the book will for long serve as an excellent and invaluable reference guide. The book commends itself, to every observer, teacher, scholar, and student of contemporary Nigerian politics and government. For Nigerian leaders, past, present and future, this book is a must-read.
Udeh, Chairperson, Global Executive Board, Plant-for-the-Planet Initiative, is at University of Geneva, Switzerland.