Public policy refers to a set of actions selected from among alternatives based on assessment of given conditions to guide and determine successful delivery of a public good. What is important in the choice of any policy is never the good intentions behind the policy but the impact it would have by the delivery of the public good. The key issue in determining policy choices therefore are feasibility, production of intended effects and positive impact in relation to the targeted public good. In Nigeria however, it appears there is very little reflection on what the desired success is and how we will know when we get there.
One example is the recent decision to temporarily suspend the activities of Twitter because of the harm it does in producing and sustaining hate messages that impact negatively on national cohesion. In other words, the intended positive impact in government thinking is to improve social relations and unity in the country, very good. So, twitter is disallowed from operating by the government and within minutes, most twitter users circumvent the measure using VPN technology and continue what they were doing on the platform. Meanwhile, because government now has a clear policy decision on twitter, its spokespersons and supporters that were previously countering fake news and hate speech on the platform all withdrew creating a situation in which there is no longer alternative voices against fake news and hate speech. The real effect of the policy decision therefore in an increased access of Nigerians to fake news and hate speech without any alternative voices from government and its supporters. The impact of the policy move so far is the opposite of what was desired. No real thinking about the policy before implementation.
A second example is the recent ban placed by the Central Bank on banks and financial institutions from servicing cryptocurrency transactions in the country. In other words, crypto exchanges and related companies that previously allowed users to deposit or withdraw their funds directly from their bank accounts can no longer do so. The intention of the policy was to reduce the ability of corrupt individuals stealing public resources or engaging in criminal activity and hiding the proceeds in digital money. The intention was to save Nigerians from scammers in the digital economy and combat corruption. The real effect of the policy is to drive the transaction underground. Most crypto transactions were through registered banks and financial institutions so government could monitor what was going on. With the ban, transactions moved to the peer-to-peer cryptocurrency trading platforms where government could no longer monitor what was going on. The volume of transactions did not go down from all indications. All that happened is that government now knows less of what is happening. Industry reports indicate that Nigeria has the second highest volume of crypto transactions in the world with a remarkable trading volume of $1.5 billion with over 1.5 million users, despite the ban. These 1.5 million Nigerian traders are, due to the policy more susceptible to scammers as they engage in direct trade without the protection of financial institutions. Most of them are hardworking Nigerians who think there is value in saving in cryptocurrency and the policy has affected their interests negatively. As Nigerian citizens continue to lose millions to cryptocurrency fraud, Nigeria’s regulatory authorities have remained quiet on this matter and are not in a position to take corrective actions to shield citizens and venture capitalists in the country against cryptocurrency fraud. Did the Central Bank do its research before implementing this policy?
Maybe the most serious policy madness is the establishment of the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR) in 2000 by the Olusegun Obasanjo regime in response to the rising incidents of conflicts across the country. It’s a policy think tank whose mandate covers research and interventions towards strengthening Nigeria’s response capacity in the promotion of peace, conflict prevention, management and resolution. In the 21 years since its establishment, the need for the institute has become even more crucial as conflicts have broadened and intensified. Sadly, through lack of thinking, the Institute was placed under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has zero mandate for internal security and peace building. Each year, the Institute does it work and sends it to the Foreign Ministry that have to throw the report to the dust bin because they have no mandate for its work. The IPCR case proves my point because violent conflicts are threatening Nigeria’s existence, no one in Government has noticed that we have a very important institution to help the country but it cannot function because it is placed under the tutelage of a ministry without the mandate to act. The intended public good of addressing rising insecurity is not being performed and the error in its placement has not been addressed for over two decades.
The irony is that the IPCR does significant work conducting the Strategic Conflict Assessment (SCA) of the country since 2002. The SCA provides detailed field information, data and analysis on conflict prevention and management strategies for government institutions and communities at all levels. It also established the Nigerian Peace Academy (NPA) to use in training as a vehicle for developing the capabilities of individuals, groups and organisations in the area of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), as well as the peaceful management and resolution of conflicts.
The Strategic Conflict Assessment pays attention to conflict contexts – trends of violent conflicts, stakeholders, and impact and implications of conflicts for inter-group relations, state-society relations, and all spheres of human security. Nigeria needs this institution to achieve its mandate and all States in the country need peace building institutions to address the current crisis. The work of the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution should provide the empirical basis for the work of government in developing policy measures aimed at addressing violent conflicts that have emerged and above all developing and implementing peace building measures to address them. So far, only two states have embarked on the path of establishing specialized state level peace building institutions, they are Kaduna and Plateau states.
The fact of the matter is that Nigeria has lost the process of thinking about policy and ensuring that policies and the institutions that produce them actually think, plan and monitor policies to ensure that they provide the public good government had intended when they are designed.