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Just Dey Play!



Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon
Prof Toyin Falola

By Toyin Falola
Again I will tap into the sociolinguistic wisdom of the streets of Nigeria, which has generated catchphrases and clichés among the youth, to send a message. One fascinating attribute of some of these slang phrases is their flexibility to fit into several concepts and contexts, especially concerning social edification and ideologies. To hear Nigerians say or comment, just dey play! in several instances, intrigued me to understudy the aesthetics and the motivational semantics radiating all over the usage. As of today, the slang has established its dominance within the Nigerian social media space, as well as in the lyrical constructions of Afrobeat that have further popularised the usage of the slang.

The basic message and context behind the semantics of the slang is sarcasm aimed at showing how much others have achieved and how far they have gone, including subtle criticism of laxity, lackadaisical attitudes, and slow efforts toward accomplishing set goals. It tells one that there is a need for an extra effort for one or society to be outstanding and that a general limitation in Nigerian society does not mean others will settle for it as one does. The message is loud and clear – doing the average is not what has put several others where they are; there is a bit of extra to those efforts. In addition, it tells you that, on the surface, everyone disguises to be ordinary or in the same situation and helpless as you are, but that you should be prepared to see a surprise growth or change in their circumstances because the reality is that those who seem to be doing nothing are having sleepless nights and not telling anyone.

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    It is the same as when Demola, who has several millions of investments and businesses, keeps telling you that he is broke to the point that you would give him N5000 to feed. Just Dey Play! It covers the situation of Rebecca, a student who tells everyone she has not studied for an exam and joins others to play during the day but would have sleepless nights to read and prepare for the exam. When such a student becomes the best-graduating student, her mates will be left with nothing but to say just dey play. Sometime  last year, when I was to deliver a Public Lecture at the Lagos State University, I was amused by the chants of God When! when my citation was read out to the students. I could have replied with just dey play to let them know that the achievements were not a result of going with whatever flow was available. It took me 18 hours of work and study every day since I was a teenager and dedication to what I believe in the most. So, I no just dey play! I paid my dues, which is what every Nigerian youth must learn to do – put in the extra effort. 

We have to understand that while in many countries, doing the average would sustain one and still increase the opportunities for success, the situation is not so in Nigeria. The nation has come to a point where just doing the average will not exist; no, it will not. And this is not just about dreams and aspirations; every aspect of human existence that averages would have sufficed. I often wonder, despite Nigeria having one of the most hardworking populations, both the youth and old, there is still a regrettable number of poor people in the country, with four out of every ten Nigerians living in extreme poverty. No average Nigerian does not have one activity or another that would bring some earnings no matter how small, and this is why you see many risking their lives in traffic to sell sachet waters but still fall among the unfortunate four out of ten. This predicament is because the country has made itself a negative force that converts people’s efforts into nothingness. 

 Now you cannot just walk on the street at night without the fear of danger. The police cannot just stop you without the possible expectation of extortion and brutality. You cannot just go to school, get certified, acquire skills, and expect good employment without connections here and there. You cannot access basic privileges and government opportunities without having some slots reserved for others. Your simple, honest toil cannot get you to the top without that extra hustle. Unfortunately, just dey play has become an irony; it tells a hardworking person that if the extra push and hustle are not added, you will just be one of the four out of ten or become average. It is also to mock those who have decided to be lackadaisical, emphasising their impending doom.

  The street has spoken timelessly, but many people are not listening to the message. We can lament about the state of the nation, criticise the government and drool over the unfavourable economy of the nation, but we need to understand that we should not just be complainants and critics. We must think about how to succeed despite the hardship. Just dey play tells us that instead of accepting the failure of the government to turn around the country’s situation, we should think about what we can do to change it. Should we all fold our hands and let everything go without input or a fight? Should we continue to be spectators and critics without taking definitive steps toward the betterment of the nation? Stretching the perspectives of the phrase, it is the message it tries to tell everyone.

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A revolution and transformation can only happen with the people’s willingness and consciousness. So, Nigeria cannot change if the citizens are not conscious enough to want the change. Every problem Nigeria has today affects mainly the citizens and a few members of the ruling class. On January 20, 2023, it was reported by several outlets that the federal government approved N185 as the official pump price of petrol. A few weeks before this, the country was confused by outrageous prices and petrol scarcity, which no government official would have experienced. The citizens will always be the ones to suffer the consequences, and we still dey play. Just Dey Play!

After the unfortunate attack on the Abuja-Kaduna Train that claimed the lives of some and put some others in captivity on March 28, 2022, one would expect that, at least for the next few years, there would be extra care and intelligence to ensure that such a situation does not occur. I was devastated when on January 7, 2023, there was another train attack in Edo State, where 20 commuters were kidnapped at Igueben train station. The situation is similar to the series of attacks and kidnappings on major roads in the country. Despite their frequency, it baffles me that there is no end in sight and that there are repeated occurrences on the same routes. Unfortunately, the menace of mass murder of people in settlements, churches, and other places has not reduced and still follows almost the same patterns. But we are glued to our keypads forming analysts, critics, and special advisers on social media and in conversations. Just dey play!

I do not intend to be a prophet of doom, but there is a headache that the wise must have about the nation’s future, judging from the situation of things in the country and the massive exodus of our best brains in search for greener pastures in other parts of the world. The Nigerian unemployment rate in the country is about 33.3%, and the number of underemployed individuals is devastating. The commercial atmosphere has also not been favourable to small businesses, and, as such, several individuals have decided to find their fortune elsewhere. The effect is that it is very injurious to the nation’s future as it purges the land of its proverbial milk and honey. Yet, we are all gleaming and unworried about the uncertainty of the future. Just dey play!

We have to understand that although the government has a wide responsibility to ensure that the nation is in the right state, the causes and effects of every problem largely emanate from the people, and the solution must also be from them. So, we cannot afford to just dey play; we must act. The citizens must meet the government in whatever mile they have reached, half or little. Terrorists, corrupt officials, and those putting the nation in trouble are citizens. The first step towards taking charge of the country as citizens is to not play with our leadership choices. No, we cannot afford to play with that. But unfortunately, the number of citizens that just dey play with that is skyrocketing. There are still millions of unregistered Nigerians for the forthcoming 2023 elections. Aside from this, the number of uncollected voter cards has shown that we do not mean business. We just dey play, and it will catch up with us. More despicable is how we contribute to this problem by selling our votes for as low as a kongo of garri and a small packet of chinchin. We want Nigeria to be better, and we are still doing all these? Just Dey Play!

That nebulous politician knows the number. While you rant and shout for a better Nigeria, he has stacked his billions up to buy your votes. They have recruited sons of perdition to kill and kidnap those they can and to snatch ballot boxes when necessary. They are counting their lots while you only count the number of likes and retweets on Twitter and the number of followers on Instagram. This is not the election where you sit on the fence, no! The repercussions are damning, but we should not just dey play. Let all critics not just stick to the pen but go to the marketplaces to sensitise. Let us all support our citizenship movements to oppose vote buying. If kulikuli is the price of conscience, let us offer food and words of enlightenment to the poor so that a day’s meal will not deprive them of several meals for the next four years, eight maybe. We should be intentional about Nigeria. We should not just dey play!

Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.


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The 2023  Elections And The Newness Of Nigeria



The Futility Of A Marital Chase
Dr. Hope Nwawolo

By Hope Nwawolo   

Despite the hues and cries that greeted the results of the 2023 elections, what if the court’s pendulum stays or swings otherwise in the expected litigations?

What will it teach our inquisitive young children?

What will it do to the hopes and dreams of the youths?

What will it do to the mind set of those in diaspora, waiting and hoping to return?

How will it affect our heroes still alive and yearning for the good old times?

One basic fact is that no matter where the pendulum swings, something new has started in the political sphere of Nigeria. And because it was unexpected, it has become almost impossible to strangulate it.  

In every competition, there is an expectation that the best man will win. That may not always be in politics, particularly, in Nigeria…where the winner may not be the best man or even the better man. And when it is said that politics is a game of numbers, sometimes, the actual numbers may not be visible to determine the end result. It becomes a case of the more you look the less you see; until interpreted by respected learned men with high integrity.

Politics, they say is a dirty game, where money speaks and promises made are broken without an iota of guilt. Where the gullible minds of the masses are deceived, with as little as a box of indomie. Where some vibrant but jobless youths are brainwashed to risk their lives to snatch ballot boxes for the politicians who do not know them beyond giving them stipends through some third parties. Where market women are forced to come out for rallies and campaigns because they cannot afford the fine that will be imposed on them if they failed to participate. They also do not want the harassment of the market leaders. 

In politics, fear is palpable in the air, before, during and after elections. The 2023 elections recently carried out, depicted these more than expected in both the politicians and electorate. What started like the usual political pattern took a drastic turn about nine months to the first elections and though it was said to be only a social media affair, it got everyone sitting upright and tightening his seat belt, particularly after the first elections.

Now, there is a generational shift, a new awakening, a new dawn and a new political birth, waiting to happen. To wherever the pendulum turns; where the court stands, it will make a turnaround in Nigeria. It may be turbulent at the beginning, it may be emotionally draining and psychologically traumatizing, but it will point to light at the end of the tunnel.

There is a new hope backed by a high spirit of determination. An unexplainable faith in many people for that newness of existence and purpose. An unprecedented emotional and psychological strength in the youths not to give up on their dreams. An unquenchable desire to keep praying. Soon a newness will break forth to calm all nerves and dry all tears.

A newness that will permeate conflicts and hatred,

A newness that will dissipate unnecessary anger,

A newness that will usher in unquestionable and transparent political systems in future elections,

A newness of freedom to choose a candidate without coercion or molestation

A newness of jubilation after the announcement of election results.

This is the new Nigeria that is awaiting delivery…

Nwawolo, PhD, writes from Lagos.




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Overcoming Policy Execution Trap As Nigeria’s Development Challenge



Prof. Tunji Olaopa

By Tunji Olaopa

If I am asked to give a succinct and apt summary of the entire challenge faced by the Nigerian state in terms of her policy architecture and development management, in spite of contestation in the development literature, I will not hesitate in stating clearly and unambiguously that it is the challenge of policy implementation; the whole dynamics of getting things done. By elimination, the implication is that the challenge cannot be located as that of the dearth of development ideas, insights, models and paradigms. Right from her independence, Nigeria has been inundated with several ideas, both local and global, about development policy and frameworks. And yet, policy outcomes keep getting bogged down in the murky waters of political shenanigans. This means that the new administration of Bola Ahmed Tinubu has its challenge mapped out, in red, for it.

There is no shying away from this postcolonial predicament that has limited and kept limiting Nigeria’s capacity to honour the terms of her social contract with Nigerians. Hence, the Tinubu government will soon be inundated with the impatient agitations of Nigerians for a quick and tangible fix that will address their sufferings. And they are justified since they have not been given any real deal for the past sixty-three years of sovereign independence. And the new administration is obligated because that is the reason for seeking office in the first place.

Prof. Olaopa’s new book on public policy and development challenges

How then can we begin to understand this policy execution challenge? It is simple: how can an administration in Nigeria transition from governance vision and policy intention to policy outcomes that elevate and transform the quality of life of its citizens? Failure to understand and give critical and political attention to this question lies at the heart of the governance failures of successive Nigerian administrations. The new Tinubu administration cannot afford such a glaring mistake. And so, a fundamental case must be made out of the question of how policy intentions get circumscribed in the dynamics of policy execution that occasions policy failures in past administrations.

Modern states all across the world are distinguished by the traditional four functions they discharge as part of their administrative responsibilities—security i.e. securing the sovereign territory against lawlessness, policy formulation and implementation, governance regulation and service delivery.The capacity to perform each and all of these functions very well within an integrated framework in the governance context is what delivers the dividends of democratic governance to the citizens, and it enhances the state’s competitive and human development rating in global reckoning. With these functions, we have the metrics to differentiate between high-performing states like China, India, the United States,Botswana, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirate, Germany, Rwanda and the Asian Tigers (Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea), and low- or even under-performing countries like Nigeria that is still cluelessly stuck within a dysfunctional vicious cycle within her arrested development.

From the perspective of governance, there must be something these states are getting right in the connection between leadership, politics, and policy articulation. For instance, there is a trajectory of relationship that links elite bargains to development bargains. In other words, development is a
function of elite nationalism and the extent to which the political class of a state can commit elite suicide and gamble on development on behalf of the people they are leading. In Nigeria, low
manifestation of elite nationalism has made it really difficult for the political class to set aside their personal and egoistic class interests in ways that enable them to clearly and ideologically discern and navigate the deadly developmental landmines strewn all over our governance landscape by the
neoliberal implication of ideological apparatuses and frameworks to which Nigeria is beholden. And here, the factor of development gamble of the Asian Tigers’ elites comes into bold relief. From within the ideological ambit of the developmental state, the leadership of the Asian Tigers were able to define a policy space that consciously and critically weighed the benefits and shortfalls of external influences, especially the type that came from the World Bank, IMF and the other cohorts of the neoliberal policy dynamics. Their developmental circumspection paid off!

Since we cannot argue that Nigeria has been stumped by the lack of vision documents, development plans and blueprints, or even policy expertise, the locus of the new administration’s focus  must be directed at the possibility of mustering the political will to undermine the mystified Nigerian Factor, and face the global neoliberal consensus in order to begin the crafting of an enabling policy architecture to drive development. And to achieve this translates to creating the delicate balance between ‘doing the right things’ (a function of decision making quotient) and ‘doing it right’(project and change management effectiveness), and overcoming the various political, cultural, structural and systemic constraints that trapped past well-meaning policies and intentions of Nigerian leaders in the dynamics of implementation.

There is first the conspiracy of elitist interest that ensures there is a poor resource allocation that focuses on elite bargain than development calculations and taking care of the national interest. Other constraints follow: (a) the disconnect between policy design and implementation due to  weak  implementation planning, risk assessment and incompetent change management strategies; (b) unstable and poorly managed macroeconomic policies; (c) policy and project discontinuity; (d) public service low capability readiness; (e) political interference; and finally (f) deep-seated political and bureaucratic corruption. In essence, development has failed not because Nigeria lacks the blueprint or paradigms to make it happen, but due to the dynamics of the politics that the political elite plays with Nigeria’s development potential.

Let me outline what we can regard as the “politics of policy implementation” that Nigeria has played for many years, a politics the new administration must take into serious consideration if it
does not want to fall into the category of failed administration right before it commences. This politics throws Nigeria’s development and policy non-performance right into the frame of the 2005 World Bank review findings about policy and development projects in Africa. According to the finding, 29% of development projects ever get completed, 45% of on-going projects are rated as satisfactory, while 26% of such projects invariably get cancelled. Such a review can never backstop a solid development project of a developmental state.

The politics of policy implementation in
Nigeria is founded on the following assumptions and practices. One: there is that dangerous presumption, that the new administration must resist, that once policies and development plan are designed, they are automatically implemented by the public service. And such a presumption is against the background of a scant investment in implementation analysis and planning, as well as the failure to facilitate the capability review, determine public
administration system’s capability readiness, and strengthening of the MDAs as the powerhouse of government administrative functionality. The MDAs, that is, are not working according to any
specific theories or praxis of change that can guide the functional integration of blueprints or paradigms. This kind of policy inattention draws attention to the policy contradiction: launching a
national development plan and strategy that are not implementation- ready in terms of adequate capability review of the MDAs integral to ensuring implementation success. Two: this
presumption is compounded by the uncritical reliance of past governments on policy experts and consulting firms who are tasked with designing high-end policies that are then dumped on MDAs whose capability reviews and implementation readiness have been neglected in the first place. The
extroversion of the policy design is then compromised by poor functional integration. The truth is that most of these consulting firms lack the appropriate deep content and solution frameworks that are in tandem with the context of policy dysfunction they are supposed to work with. Three: governance policy or project are hardly subjected to feasibility test determined in terms of scope and expectation that are captured by their framework of time, cost and risk assessments before
they are pushed into implementation. This makes it very difficult to benchmark funding projections for these policies and projects against revenue estimations, as well as facilitating in-built flexibilities that enable the policies and projects to adjust to volatilities and contingencies.

All the issues raised above constitute binding constraint that will undermine any governance possibilities the new administration requires to make a success of democratic governance. Undermining the binding constraints demands returning to the fundamentals. The first and most significant is that the new administration needs to interrogate the framework of how government business is currently being conducted. Governance successes are necessarily a function of how government business engages the complexities of the policy design and execution processes within a results-oriented frame. And that entails undermining the structural gaps between policy objectives, development strategies and policy outcomes. This demands second, setting the public service on a performance curve with the institution of a performance management system. This means that the public service must, for example, unfailingly now deploy KPI-based metrics to replace the cumbersome annual performance evaluation report (APER). And at the backend, it becomes imperative to have a monitoring and evaluation system supported by databases that enable staff and program continuous assessment, human resource development rooted in iterativep performance gap identification, supervisors-staff dialogue and multisource feedback mechanismsf for overall national development policy tracking and reporting.

The governance mantra must be on getting the balance between doing the right things and doing it right. And this cannot be achieved through the wanton multiplication or even duplication of
governance plans, programs and blueprints. What is needed is sequencing the blueprints into a coherent and feasible implementation programme, with the right amount of political will behind it. This gives the success of democratic governance a 95% chance of succeeding. The new administration  needs that fighting chance!

. Olaopa, a retired Federal Permanent Secretary, and Professor of Public Administration .

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Rigged Elections And The Moral Burden Of Illegitimacy



Prof. Hope Eghagha

By  Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha

Adamu: A man who rigs his way to power carries a moral burden!

Orezime: A moral what?

Adamu: You heard me, didn’t you?

Orezime: I’m not sure I heard you right. Moral what you said?

Adamu: A moral burden, I said!

Orezime: Hahahahahahaha! You make me laugh! Are you from the moon?

Gani: Or Mars?

Emeka: In which country? In Nigeria? That principle does not apply in Nigeria! There is no moral burden on anybody in this country! The election which produced Bubu in 2015 was rigged. Where are the two million voters from Kano State who voted in 2015? Was an INEC official not burnt alive after that election? The one which brought Obj to power was also rigged by the forces which wanted him to ease the tension of the Abiola tragedy on the Yoruba people. Yet those men had the temerity to preach against corruption!

Orezime: The international community winked at the whole exercise.

Gani: Yes! That’s why those two could only preach; they couldn’t really act decisively. A moral burden? They spoke from both sides of their mouths on the issue of corruption. The late President Yar Adua confessed that the election which produced him was compromised. An honest man, he didn’t live long enough to right the wrong of the period!

Orezime: That’s why I laughed when Adamu talked about a moral burden arising from rigged elections.

Bankole: In the ideal world, any power that is stolen and acquired through a dubious means imposes a moral burden on the power holder. No matter what the person does, that power remains stained.

Orezime: What does that amount to in our country? Even the brigands who shot their way to power in the notorious days of military misadventure in Nigeria soon became legitimate.

Emeka: You are going too far in our history. See what happened in Lagos State in the governorship elections of March 18. Ethnic jingoists went about preaching hatred against Igbo people and warned them against coming out to exercise their constitutional rights. Security officials looked the other way when ballot boxes were snatched in broad daylight in places where the opposition was leading.

Gani: A serving state governor personally went about snatching ballot boxes and threatened to shoot whoever got in his way. The same governor declared somebody wanted without recourse to the Inspector General of Police! He worked against the party on which platform he won the seat to spite the party hierarchy!

Adamu: And to think that this is the President-elect’s state. He kept mute through the horrendous attacks on Igbo people in Lagos State just the way the incumbent president has looked the other way when herdsmen went on the loose!

Bankole: Rigged elections are so familiar yet notorious in our land. It was the main trigger to the crisis in the Western Region in the First Republic because the people reacted when they saw a rape of their rights and wishes! It soon snowballed into a conflagration that consumed the nation in the late 1960s. Already, the youths are talking about a protest in the ENDSARSNOW# manner. I hope it doesn’t result in disaster. We have lost too many lives already!

Orezime: What I fear is the rise of ethnic profiling in a supposedly democratic society. To be sure, Governor Sanwo-Olu and the party hierarchy did not single out any ethnic group for verbal attacks. They even courted them. Yet they didn’t caution their followers to stop the degeneration into ethnic hatred. It is a dangerous curve what is happening in Lagos. I don’t subscribe to the Lagos is no man’s land nonsense which some misguided fellows are spewing, but threatening anybody not to vote their candidate is a new low! Can a Sanwo-Olu victory be said to be legitimate if a significant percentage of the electorate is disenfranchised?

Emeka: Good question. They did not stop there. They rolled out the culturally dreaded Oro rituals on election night. Come on! Who is fooling who? The Oro festival was designed to drive fear into non-Yoruba in Lagos. In the 21st Century?

Gani: I am sure the reports from election observers will be damning.

Bankole: I don’t care about those biased observers.

Adamu: Where are we headed in this country?

Orezime: We are on the road to Kigali!

Bankole: May we not travel that route!

Orezime: It’s a good prayer. But what are we doing to avoid the descent into anarchy? Nothing. Those monkeys are simply interested in acquiring power.

Gani: The Obedient Movement seems to have lost steam once it was misbranded as an ethnic agenda to grab power at the national level. Peter Obi needs to tread carefully so he doesn’t become another June 12! Some people are egging him on to challenge INEC through protests.

Orezime: If he decides to lead a protest, it would be within his constitutional right to do so, especially as INEC is stalling on the issue of inspecting elections materials despite an order from the courts. Peaceful protests are guaranteed by the Constitution.

Adamu: No one can be sure whether a peaceful protest will remain peaceful after it starts. That’s the experience the ENDSARS people had.

Gani: It’s not enough to stop people from taking to the streets. Protests are fundamental to democracy.

Adamu: We do not want dead heroes! Mark my words.

Bankole: That’s ominous!

Emeka: It means nothing. Nigeria must change. We cannot go on like this forever! Things are just going down. No cash. No fuel. No power supply. No security. No nothing.  Peter Obi gave a glimmer of hope. Now that has been dashed to the ground.

Adamu: Rigging will remain a moral burden each time our President-elect travels outside the country, each time he meets foreign observers, especially those ones who have a dossier on him. History will also judge him and assess how he came to power. This applies to all the states as well where some politicians have turned themselves into demigods and have compromised poor INEC officials with mouthwatering sums. This is not how to build a democracy. The votes must be counted and must count. Seventeen people have their lives during the governorship and House of Assembly elections. We are supposed to count ballot papers, not bodies. Sad!

Bankole: The moral burden of rigged elections is on all of us. Without our connivance there would be no rigging. We can only hope that this will end some day!

Emeka: Tough luck!


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