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Taking Accountability Seriously

By Sam Amadi
NIGERIA has not achieved its potentials as a country highly endowed with natural resources and human capital. Nigeria should have been a medium economic power at this stage of its national history. But today, it lies far behind countries without any notable natural resource in the index of human and physical development.

In the 1960s when Nigeria became independent she was hailed by international community and media as Africa’s decent chance of proving that what one racial group can do another can do even better.

She was bounteously blessed. she was a net exporter of several commodities. Malaysia took its palm oil seedlings from Nigeria and today is the world largest exporter of Palm Kernel while Nigeria is a net importer of the same commodity.

Nigeria once boasted the best universities in Africa but today her universities are not globally competitive. They even miss out in the first 50 of African universities ranking.

Nigerians have very poor living standards as they are ravaged by preventable diseases. More than 70% percentage of Nigerian citizens fall within the poverty bracket according to respectable domestic and UNDP estimates. We almost live in darkness. The hope of sustained power supply for domestic and industrial uses has gone up in flames. Nigeria is pretty much a development nightmare.

There are many tales of woes about Nigeria. But Nigerians are also a resilient people. We hang on tenaciously to hope hence after each disappointment by leadership, we are back to dreaming, to hoping and striving. But we have often being undone by bad leadership. It is generally believed that Nigeria would have come down on the other of the divide between poor and prosperous and between conflict-ridden and stable countries if her leaders had been people of great vision and integrity. Alas, we lacked such.

Nigeria’s poverty in midst of plenteous natural resources is a result of bad leadership, leadership without skills and character. In a formal democracy, bad leadership is to a large extent a product of flawed electoral system. So, incredible electoral system is the beginning of poor leadership.

Not everyone agrees on the universality of western institutions of democracy. but everyone would agree on the non-negotiability of good governance, no matter how defined. Good governance is identified as the critical ingredient for political stability.

At the heart of good governance is accountability, the idea that in one way or the other the governed retain the real opportunity to know what the governors do and to call them to order. A country’s journey towards good governance in reality is measured by how much management of public policy and revenue is open to the scrutiny of the people.

Where because of institutional deficiencies of liberal democracy the people are disconnected from the leaders, serious societies have improvised structures to facilitate accountability. This is the reason we are harangued by development community to enact budget, public procurement and fiscal responsibility laws.

The culture of accountability and its institutions are a strong protection against conflicts and instability. Nigeria like the rest of African countries are caught in the cusp of many conflicts, including conflicts over political power. The real nature of political conflicts in these societies is that the norms and procedures for arbitrating between varying claims to power are incapable of restraining the tendency to ‘game’ the system.

This is why politics has been reduced to a fierce struggle for access to political power. One feature of this tendency is low capacity of conflict resolution institutions. The institutions of public governance lack the norms and procedures that enable them to avoid and settle political disputes.

Conflicts over access to political power are compounded by the oil economy which has created the resource curse. The resource curse in a context of corruption means that most politicians are interested in access to political power as a pretext  for access to the resources tap. Weak accountability frameworks therefore makes it easy for leaders to gain personal control of public finance and utilize same for personal needs.

This situation reinforces the fierce struggle for political power as contenders increase their fire-power as the stakes are enlarged. This is the classic case of ‘conflict trap’.

The Nigerian state has been historically managed in a manner that grants the managers of public policy and public revenue wide discretion. Civil society engagement with management of public policy and public finance is also very poor and ineffective. So, as long as there is a natural windfall, the stakes are high for self-aggrandizement and tendency for political conflict increases.

The main problem with democracy and good governance in Nigeria is lack of accountability. Nigeria suffers from gross culture of impunity, which derives in the main from failure of rule of law institutions. With colonialism the traditional norms and structures of accountability were weakened.

The country is yet to develop strong democratic norms even as they have embraced democracy as a system of governance.

The process of policymaking and management of public expenditure remain clothed in relative secrecy in spite of the enacting of a fiscal responsibility law. Some government agencies continue to transact outside the fiscal responsibility and public procurement laws. The oversight institutions are still weak and largely uninterested in effectively overseeing public expenditure by executive agencies.


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