Regardless of all the reservations or enthusiasm that a voter might have for his government, we are all bound as citizens to observe that the news that President Goodluck Jonathan has signed a performance contract with his ministers is good news. We are to see it as the planting of a good seed necessary for all the desperately needed development and efficiency in the country. As you can imagine, a seed if well planted and nourished, will grow otherwise it will wither and die. The trajectory and eventual outcome of these performance contracts is also therefore, a test for Mr. President’s ability to lead.
The signing of these contracts with cabinet ministers took place last week during the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting; most members of the Nigerian press corps, probably following the script they were given by the presidency, termed and presented the event as a ceremony to their readers. That in itself is an original perception and expression, but let us leave such analysis for another day.
The President is reported to have remarked that “the performance contract system is aimed at upgrading contract performance by improving quality and accelerated delivery of services to the citizenry through enhanced productivity, accountability and effective service delivery”. Yes, that maybe so, in plain pure English. However, the essence of performance contracts are in the transparency, certainty and accountability they bring to any given project. For projects, transactions and operations to work efficiently, a good performance contract will enable all parties and eventual beneficiaries involved to know exactly what needs to be done, why it is required, how it will be done, what instruments and resources are required, how long it will take, who is in charge of each phase of a project, who is in charge of monitoring and what will happen if projects succeed or fail.
Consequences or accountability and transparency are as important as ideas and intentions in management, the President and his aides are therefore, wrong when during and after the signing of these performance contracts they seem to be going out of their way to reassure the signees that the contract is not to be perceived as a means to sack anybody. The President is reported to have immediately declared that “the exercise is not meant to witchhunt anyone”. By Gosh! Wrong move Mr. President; there is no reason at all to make such a statement. With such a declaration you are being a fox (or a tortoise in Nigerian parlance) rather than a lion. This is the time to be bold and clear, you need to be so in these circumstances not just to prove the point that you are tough but primarily for the country’s sake and even for the sake of your ministers.
All ministers working with you need to know that their sanction or reward depends on their performance rating. As President, hence their leader, it is your duty to make these things very clear to all. You need to spell out what you consider a good performance, how you will judge it and what people should expect from you when they underperform or over perform. The advantage of this approach is that there will be no surprise or drama for anyone; you will not need to soothe any incompetent minister’s pain. By being certain and transparent in terms of expectations, all your ministers will know what will happen to them if they a take a step or another. The only but very important act you owe all members of your team is to be objective in your evaluation and impartial in your judgment. You need to be seen as focused mainly on results and not on people or gossips. One of the possible consequences of such approach is that you might soon discover that the friendliest and conforming ministers are not necessarily the best performing ones. Therein lies your test as a leader, Mr. President. You have to decide if you want performers or conformists in your cabinet. We the citizens and history (your ultimate masters at the end of it all) are waiting and watching to see if you will pass these tests.
Rather than say “the exercise is not meant to witch-hunt anyone”, the President needs to let his team know that the stakes are high and that any witch caught will be burnt at stake. The certain and well articulated fear of being punished for underperformance and the joy of being rewarded for achieving are major parts of what will remind your ministers to sit up, implement and seriously monitor these performance contracts in their own departments.
Outside the palaces of government, the rest of the citizenry and other stakeholders have a huge interest and duty to emulate, shape, demand and monitor these performance contracts. For all those who use government offices, it means that one can now demand for and expect clear definite timelines from government officials rather than put up with “we are working on it” annoying answer we hear in many offices today. The performance contract is a seed, a good seed that needs to be nurtured with constant care. This simple, relatively cost free exercise is probably the most inspiring act this administration has proposed so far and if well managed it could be the best thing that has ever happened to Nigeria.