Governors Are Working

On 3 January 2017, Y Naija, a Red Media publication, declared Chief Willie Obiano of Anambra State as the best Nigerian Governor in 2016.

Y Naija is open about its methodology; the Editorial board uses opinion surveys and correspondent assessments to grade governors on their campaign promises, social impact and infrastructural development. Admittedly, these metrics are much narrower than the ones used by international organisations like C-SPAN in their American Presidential Historians Survey, but at the very least, the methodology is transparent.  

How we judge, or ought to judge our politicians is a question of both opinion and fact. Nigeria is not a data-driven society, and even if we were, opinion polls and performance surveys would be subject to the vagaries of Nigerian bias. In spite of this, Y Naija also attempts a more interesting 'Weekly Effectiveness Rankings' of Governors. This survey is more interesting because the time frame is shorter, yet they persist. In doing so, they set the stage for conversations about how Nigerians can measure political success.


'Willie is Working'

Apparently, a billboard stating 'Willie is working' greets all visitors stepping into Anambra state, and most Nigerians will have come across a version of this phrase at some point. The Y Naija ranking repeats this slogan in their justification of the Governor's ranking, and the popularity of this phrase reminds us of a few Nigerian tendencies.

The ranking highlights that Governor Obiano 'secured ₦2 billion investment for production of rice and maize' and won the 2015 Zik Prize for Leadership and The Sun Governor of the Year. The first part reminds us of our tendency to focus on inputs rather than results; for instance, you can be considered a good politician if you spend lots and a bad one if you spend little. The problem with judging inputs as opposed to results is that only results benefit people and focusing on inputs sets the bar low enough never to encourage politicians to focus on results. This bias also encourages politicians to announce large sums spent on expensive projects as evidence of performance – regardless of results. Meanwhile, the second part reminds us that awards are a popular way of signalling performance, as the bandwagon effect comes into play. In short, one major award can lead to a raft of similar awards, reaffirming the reputation of the awardee each time, even if the first award was unmerited. 

These two tendencies are worth questioning not because they are wrong, but because they equate activity with impact. In a country as pliable as Nigeria, it would be a mistake to use weak metrics as indicators of success. Admittedly the alternatives to measuring success are not sure-fire, and Y Naija appears to take a lot more into account than these biases. Yet, with some knowledge of how other countries measure political success, there is room for trial and error in Nigeria.


Trial and Error

There is no single rule for making objective measurements, no matter what economists and political analysts tell you. Sometimes, we assess leaders in the contexts of their time, other times in hindsight. Data-driven societies tend to use surveys and economic indicators, but the recent failure of British polls to predict Brexit and the once incomprehensible accession of Trump have revealed flaws in these approaches. 

As an experiment, we can consider the approach of the former Capitol Hill and Bush Administration aide, Matt Mackowiak, who identified three 'objective' ways to measure political success. Applying his approach to Nigerian society reveals fascinating results.

Firstly, he argues that re-election is a sign of popular approval and political success. This seems reasonable, and Goodluck Jonathan's re-election campaign reveals some semblance of truth to this. Candidates who the polity deem 'unsuccessful' will not get re-elected.

However, the dysfunctional nature of African democracies renders this point moot. Teodoro Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea and Jose dos Santos of Angola have been re-elected six times, while Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has been re-elected seven times. Closer to home, David Mark has been re-elected five times, and the Ayodele Fayose won his re-election nine years after his initial impeachment. Unfortunately, in the context of Nigerian elections, it is more likely that re-election is more subject to the unique nature of political patronage, wealth and influence than it is to the performance of a candidate.

Secondly, he points to the ability of politicians to handle major crises well. Time Magazine also highlights this metric as one of the best ways to define a political legacy. The logic goes that 'it is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed'. This metric is revealing because leaders who navigate major crises with the backing of the people tend to come out strong, as Thatcher did in the Falklands. Crisis sometimes prompts solidarity.

However, in Nigeria, Chibok exposed Jonathan's legacy to ridicule, and El-Rufai's handling of the Southern Kaduna crisis has dented his image. Many times, our local leaders fail to come out on top of their political crises. That being said, this metric is questionable because the frequency of the crisis may be the result of an underperforming leader who fails to avoid them. Similarly, Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti state is frequently embroiled in one political crisis after another, and he manages to always come out on top. However, his ability to secure a political comeback is less of a measure of his effectiveness of his leader than his political acumen in the unique Nigerian environment. Therefore, to the satisfaction of many Nigerian leaders, this metric could be abandoned. 

Finally, there is bi-partisan and legislative co-operation, or to put more practically, 'working with the opposition'. On one hand, weaker democracies operate with one-party states, but the proliferation of opposition is no evidence of political success. Unfortunately, this an unrealistic barometer of political success in Nigeria, considering we lack the bi-partisan political spirit of the British and American political systems. In some instances, legislation across party divides has happened, as was witnessed in the election of the Senate President Bukola Saraki. However, most Nigerians did not view that election as the embodiment of co-operation. What is more likely in Nigeria is that politicians vote along geographical lines depending on the constituencies they represent. In summary, most of our leaders might struggle with this standard.

Clearly, all three metrics fail to work. There is no sure-fire way of measuring political success - at least without strong data, so your guess may be as good as mine. Y Naija has given it a head start, and Nigerians can only try to strengthen the methodology by considering data driven approaches. That, of course, is if majority of Nigerians can be bothered to tactfully measure their politicians. 

In the meantime, having limited options, what choice do we have other than to accept Governor Obiano as the best Governor of 2016? Or perhaps you would measure it differently. Either way, the ball is in your court.


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