Lord Peter Mandelson of the UK Labour Party, speaking at the APC Policy Dialogue, drew lessons from his party’s 16-year reign after having defeated a strong incumbent Tory government in advising the incoming Nigerian administration.
Lord Mandelson, a former UK secretary of state and former commissioner of trade under the then-prime minister, Tony Blair, delivered the keynote speech instead of Blair, who was originally billed to appear.
In his opening remarks the vice president-elect, Yemi Osinbajo, said the goal of the two-day forum was to “launch a robust policy direction and priorities and inform the administration’s approach to key issues facing the country.”
Also speaking, the former governor of Ekiti state and director of the APC Policy Directorate said: “The rubber is about to hit the road. We have to deliver on the promises we made to the people.”
This sentiment was echoed throughout the first day of the two-day Forum.
Lord Mandelson’s often-funny but pragmatic address resonated throughout the course of the first day of the programme. Here are some key notes from his address.
1. “What got you in government is not the same thing as what keeps you in government. One is about words, while the other is about deeds,” Lord Mandelson said to the APC faithful and technocrats in the room.
After having congratulated the APC for their historic unseating of an incumbent president, he was quick to remind them of the need to translate lofty ideas to implementable solutions.
He urged the APC to not just inspire people, but give measurable expectations of those in their government. The science of delivery, he said, has to be coupled with the art of politics.
“Tell the story of your government, what you’re doing to help lives. Ask yourself, how the Internet can help tell the story better?
“You have to move from wordsmith to CEO.”
2. “Communication is fundamental to any democracy, because it is both the means of convincing people to vote for you and the need to keep following you once you’re in charge.”
Lord Mandelson emphasized the need for the incoming government to “tell the story” of their government, and deploy social media and other means to do so.
“You’re aware of your plans, but others need to be constantly reminded. The big canvas will keep fading if you don’t keep sketching it out for people.
“Use every opportunity to tell the story of your government. Four years later, you need to make sure people remember,” he said.
3. “If you only talk in general about change and reform, everyone will be in favour.”
To drive this home, he used the example of education reform under the Labour government in which he served.
Lord Mandelson stated: “Best way around it is to focus on one specific thing, then build a team to deliver on that goal. Take education that we started. They started with one school with seemingly irredeemably bad conditions in which to begin. Following the success of that intervention, they were able to roll out their policy elsewhere.
“You start reforming individual ministries or policies, suddenly there’s a 1000 reasons why it shouldn’t be them or now. When people talk about the risks of reform, always ask: what about the risks of doing nothing?”
4. “Here’s the challenge: you’re spending the whole time putting out one fire after another and not doing the major thing you’re in government for. Develop a policy mechanism that stays focus on your day job.”
On the matter of policy priorities, Lord Mandelson urged focus. He warned the APC to expect crisis and scandal, but to do their best to never deviate from key policy priorities and promises that they have made to Nigerians.
5. “Do the difficult things while you still have the goodwill.”
In the last and arguably most contentious piece of advice, Lord Mandelson said that the incoming administration will have a short time to make a good impression. He gave the example of the Indonesian PM Jakawati’s removal of subsidy. In one act, said Lord Mandelson, the new Indonesian premier demonstrated he was serious about economic development reform, and the protests ended up being minimal.
In another of his strongest hints at specific policy recommendations, Lord Mandelson said that overhauling the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) “will send a very strong message.”
In closing, Lord Mandelson acknowledged that about 45% of Nigerians voted for the current President Goodluck Jonathan, but urged President-elect Buhari and his incoming administration to represent the interests of those who did not vote for them.
“Your government must demonstrate that it is the government of the whole of the country.”