Between Cakes of Token Palliatives and Bitter Pills of Reform  Reflection on Citizens Expectations, Difficult Policy Options, Reform Frustrations and Change Mitigation



Abdulwarees Solanke


As citizens and political leaders of many countries of the developing world including ours often mouth, demand, advocate for and promote the idea of reform and change when seeking power, I am forced to launch a rhetoric in asking: Are we really prepared for genuine reform and change? My question in this reflection or whisper today is borne from a series of other questions I will be raising immediately. First, what aspect of our public life is not challenged? Secondly, which sector do we not complain about? Third, which institution of state, in our reckoning rates as perfect in its processes and services? Finally, which group of players or actors in the public sector gets our applause or pass mark in their dealings with citizens or the public they are paid to serve as public servants?


In virtually every country of the developing world, there is little or no aspect of public life that is not challenged or not begging for serious government intervention, even exorcism of certain endemic malaise that cheapen the human life or existence. So, in what is commonly denoted as dividends of democracy in those operating democracy as a system of government, there are great expectations from the citizenry on what their governments must do to assuage these crippling challenges they daily grapple with or what they endure as existential problems in terms of friendly policies, redeeming programmes  and initiatives usually defined as palliatives, incentives or mitigation measures.  


These challenges and issues, ironically in legion. From education to health, public transportation, housing, safety of life and property, summed together, the citizens just want a better quality of life. The citizens cry for change and quest for reform are in terms of pains of poverty, poor access to social infrastructure, ravaging unemployment, unequal opportunities for empowerment. deteriorating physical public infrastructural facilities, urban decay, environmental pollution and under-representation in the governance process in which they feel excluded in the decision making on issues that affect them directly.


 They evidently are the dominant content of the mass and social media which are also often exaggerated or mischievously presented in many instances, thus promoting the phenomenon of fake news and hate speech that indeed fan violence and destruction, including loss of election and military takeover in many of these countries. Therefore, during seasons or cycles of election that political parties jostle for power, these realities of cause form the crux of campaign promises and pledges, party manifestoes reform agenda and commitments on improvement of public welfare by candidates seeking the electoral mandates of their constituents to various levels political representation or offices, from counsellors at ward levels to the presidency at the federal level. Nigeria is not exception in this culture of electioneering. Different appeasing slogans, appealing radio and television jingles and creative messages are abundantly crafted and produced to reach the hearts of the electorate either to sway them to vote in a particular direction, continue in office or return to power.


So, immediately after the elections, the citizens expect from the government they invested their franchise in in voting them to power some magic in the redemption of the electoral campaign promises and sharing or distribution of dividends of democracy as return on investment. This quest for dividends is understandable because election in these countries   can be likened to a contract or a transaction between the  led and the leaders. After all, what motivated them in the first instance to vote a particular party or candidate or in a particular direction is their faith that their fate of pain, misery and misfortune will come to an end in the new order that promises change and better life for all.


Also, their assumption is that governance is very simple and straight forward. Win election, Come to power, give instruction, roll out measures promised during campaigns and act with dispatch to bid farewell to poverty. The ordinary citizen cannot appreciate the complexity of governance and reform process. They cannot understand what it entails to initiate public policies to really address those existential issues or tackle so many endemic structural challenges that confront government when deciding what to do to assure a provision  or restoration of quality life. 


Rationally, the path of reform is a very narrow and difficult one. It is a path encumbered by realities of pain, apathy, lethargy, compromises, abuses, misconceptions and insincerity on the part of some agents and actors in the policy process. Also, because of certain political realities, there may be a semblance of lack of political will on the part of those expected to drive or support the reform process or assist its implementation. Certain social and economic realities and interests also render implementation of reform policies unattainable while experience in some climes confirm that reform initiatives can suffer process fatigue, because, normally, the gains of reform are not immediately visible


Similarly, all reform policies produce unintended results, outcomes and impact in what is described in policy language as externalities. It is OK if the attendant externalities are positive. But what is often apparent as bye products of reform policies are negative externalities. These negative externalities or unintended outcomes which affect powerful interests are often the cause of the fall of regimes that initiate such reforms that are often considered unpopular, leading to loss of election, political mayhem and social upheavals that could cripple the entire fabric of the polity.


Personally, I consider vision crafting, mission enunciation, manifestoes production, agenda setting and issues mainstreaming as pure sophistry or mere academic exercises, even rhetorical pre-occupation that do not pragmatically address critical existential concerns of the electorate or the citizenry until a government gets into the stage of engaging stakeholders in a reform project or the actual implantation phase when it comes face to face with the real but voiceless citizens  that will be directly impacted by a policy or reform initiative.


We are even talking about a citizenry that may be ignorant or is not even concerned about its own future but just the needs of the moment, a citizenry that is incapable of appreciating the costs and sacrifices that must be made to meet those needs, a citizenry that has been wired to see only what polities of the Western world described developed countries enjoy without understanding the pains they had to bear in the past, the investments they made and the cost they bore the before arriving at the Eldorado for which they are celebrated as developed. We are talking about a citizenry that only thinks of revolutionary or overnight changes without understanding the implications of a revolution, a citizenry that suffers from the tragedy of evolutionary impatience. We are talking about a citizenry that hates to begin from the beginning, that hates to swallow the bitter pills of genuine reform for the land that is dead to come back to life. We are talking about a citizenry, indeed a polity that is ignorant of the nature and realities of reform and change.