May 29th, 2017 marks a threshold for assessing Nigeria’s democracy and President Muhammadu Buhari’s mid-term. Positive as things seem, all is not well with Nigeria. Beyond Western normative idea of good governance, Nigeria missed the age of convergence, which Jeffrey Sachs once described as “the tendency of developing countries like Nigeria to make unprecedented economic advances through the deployment of best practices and advanced technologies.” Sachs’ assessment was off mark. This much is known. In five decades, statist Nigeria missed out on the best practices of good governance and technological advancement. Nigeria also missed the opportunity to lead the power grouping that Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi named the Concert of Medium Powers. Despite her rebased economy, Nigeria also missed out on the BRICS economic grouping, settling for the third-rate MINT grouping. Her non-qualification for and non-inclusion in the earlier groupings was not incidental, but self-inflicted. One may ask why such a fate? Like the question, the reasons are seemingly oblique, yet stark.
There is merit in worrying about Nigeria. Hitherto and now, assessments of Nigeria using acceptable global development parameters have been negative. Presently Nigeria ranks 152 of 188 in the 2016 Human Development Index (HDI); 136 out of 175 in the 2016 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) and the 13th most unstable country in the world out of 178 countries on the 2017 Fragile States Index (FSI). These triple-negative indices, coupled with a double-negative challenge of corruption and double-dip recession are worrisome. Moreover, weak cohesion and poor governance, two variables known to accentuate state vulnerability and collapse are prevalent in Nigeria. Contextually, whatever challenge Nigeria faces has cascading risk and negative spillover effect.
As Nigeria struggles to situate herself positively in global affairs, dissonance in her governance modalities remains high. Such dissonance which is symptomatic of her extremely weak institutions, poses grave danger to her national interest; a subject her political leaders are averse to discussing publicly. Yet what is most worrisome is the tendency by Nigeria’s leadership to mistake noisome pestilence for governance. Indeed, governance in Nigeria reflects high artificiality, since political leaders now over-engineer governance by misconstruing hype, rhetoric, and incessant motion for good governance. Nigeria’s political leaders also gloss over prevailing drivers of fragility: social exclusion, resource disparity and the negative impact of politicizing national issues.
While Nigerians retain hope for concrete change, development and advancement, Nigeria struggles at all levels with governance challenges. Change remains elusive, which explains the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) recent call on the Federal Government to stop making excuses and tackle head on, challenges confronting the nation. CAN also asked the Federal Government to focus more on governance – an obvious upbraid of its anti-corruption fixations.
As various national issues fester – herdsmen violence, absence of an operational 2017 budget, non-submission of budgets by 38 MDAs, broad violations of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, non-adherence to the Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP) and the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF), the national debt rising to 23% of GDP, Biafra recidivism, militancy, coupled with a very sick president and related coup talks — it’s now common for Nigerian policymakers to resort to obfuscating buzz words to convey a sense of good governance. Nigerians are hungry and dying. In a nation buffeted by recession, loss of purchasing power and high unemployment, the use of soundbites to convey good governance, without correlating evidence of concrete and implementable programmes, amounts to noisome talk. Relatedly, rule of law is increasingly being flouted, ignored or manipulated, and often made inapplicable to common interest. Besides the diminution of ordered liberties and extant statutes, precepts are being insinuated into the realm of governance as substitutes for law and order, due process and due diligence. These developments plus disrespect for judicial orders and separation of powers highlight the scope of the rut in the governance circles.
Traditional benchmarks for good governance are well known. But acknowledging and espousing these benchmarks hardly guarantee their deliverables. Beyond polemics, good governance is about accountability, inclusivity, rule of law, transparency, responsiveness, consensus-building, equity, effectiveness and efficiency in service delivery and above all, sustainable strategic vision. Good governance also demands frugality, operating within available resources, plus prioritization and equitable distribution of resources.
The down side of the prevailing dissonance in governance is that the much touted progress is marked by retrogressive indices and persistence of extreme poverty in Nigeria. A recent study shows that “Despite its vast oil riches and impressive economic growth, Nigeria has struggled to lift its people out of poverty over the past three decades.” As a recent 2017 World Bank report revealed, “35 million more Nigerians were living in extreme poverty in 2013 than in 1990.” Nigeria also reportedly lost a whopping $200bn over five years from the non-implementation of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). Power supply remains epileptic nationally, despite Nigeria having spent over N5 trillion ($36 billion) since 1999 on the power sector. Expert opinion indicates that Nigeria can only enjoy 4600 megawatts of power, despite the capacity to produce 12,000 megawatts, due to infrastructural deficit and paucity of funding. Meanwhile, DISCOs are owed N600bn in unpaid power supply, and the Federal Government’s promise to infuse N701bn into the power sector has failed to materialize. These are revolting facts. That Nigeria is not seriously looking at alternative energy is in itself a gross policy failure. An attentive leadership should have long declared a state of emergency in the power sector. Relatedly, by now, it should be obvious to Nigerian leaders that the nation can’t tackle national infrastructure development challenges including housing deficits, without clear city rankings based on demographics, physical disposition and an analysis of the capacity of existing and envisaged infrastructure to cope with social demands.
Dissonance has also intruded into routine constitutional dictates, including statutory appointments. It is most confounding that some policymakers even attempted to tweak the statutorily role and the delegated authority that devolves on the Vice-President in the absence of the incumbent president. Similarly, but unnecessarily, the debate of the pertinence and superiority of the Constitution, notably Section 171, has become rife, more so, where extant statutes like the Pension Reform Act 2014 (PRA) and the EFCC Act stand violated. Lost in the ensuing debate, is the fact that the extant checks and balances as crafted, were meant to foreclose on undue interference from the Executive Branch, as all statutory appointments are tenured and therefore protected until they lapse. One may ask then why political leaders in Nigeria keep repeating earlier distractive mistakes.
The most troubling dissonance in Nigeria’s governance is the dichotomy between Nigeria’s ruling elite and her working class. Pretend as Nigeria’s political elite may, there is a badly broken relationship between Nigeria’s elite and the nation’s working class, including civil servants and unemployed youths. This chasm is reflected in the continued resistance by public and private sector employers to implement an agreed minimum wage across board. Growing bold civilian protestations against electric power distribution companies and looming strikes by the NLC and its affiliates underscore existing fault lines. Irrefutably, a great void exists where Nigeria’s middle class ought to be; and there is no assured formal migration from lower class to upper class Nigeria. Incidentally, Nigeria’s leadership elite, which is a minority, in mapping Nigeria’s governance challenges including poverty, consistently think of their needs first, then that of Nigerian working class, which represents the majority.
Far more troubling is the messy handling of various national security questions. The Osborne Towers, cash cache is a case in point. Without prejudice to the investigative outcome of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s Panel, that the DG National Intelligence Agency (NIA) publicly vouched that the fund belonged his agency, should have instantly consigned the subject to the national security category; thus not a matter for the public domain. That is the nature of the intelligence and national security business — often fraught with opacity. With the matter now in the public domain, Nigeria assumes greater risks; if not the evisceration of national security. Not to discuss the matter publicly now will smack of a cover up.
In two years, Nigeria made some progress in security and fighting corruption, but not much in good governance and development; after all, national development endeavours amount to naught, absent accelerative thrust. Indeed, change, progress and development have been halting. The promised change has not materialized and the political leadership rather than focusing on governance are politicking for 2019. Since good governance is about public institutions managing public resources efficiently via good decision-making, the present state of the nation calls for a deeper evaluation. Moving Nigeria forward requires civility, inclusivity, transparency and honesty in governance. Doing so requires confidence without attitude — attitude towards the governed or attitude towards the opposition. Whilst anarchy or implosion is rarely contemplated in a democracy, they remain remote possibilities in any polarized nation. Also in a nation without differentiating political ideologies, anything is possible. Ditto any nation where noisome pestilence has replaced good governance. For these reasons we must refocus on good governance.
Oseloka H. Obaze
Obaze, MD/CEO, Selonnes Consult Ltd. is the author of a forthcoming book, Prime Witness– Change and Policy Challenges in Buhari’s Nigeria.