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Constitutional role for civil society-media organisations(2)

IT was against the background of “light”, which in modern times we could term transparency that the work of creation began on earth. We can deduce that without transparency as a first modus operandus of governance, nothing good could result from our transformation efforts.

The Freedom of Information Act and the proposed CCS, with the media group playing a vibrant role, will engender transparency, and the demand for accountability and responsiveness. Their intervention will stem corruption in the system.

The present three branches of government fall short of the expectations of Nigerians. This model of governance does not suit our situation where the corruption-prone extractive industries dominate the economy.

We are aware that oil and gas contribute approximately 95 per cent of foreign exchange earnings and about 80 per cent of government revenue, according to Shell Nigeria April 2013 Report. With this sectional dominance of oil which Juan Alfonso called “the Devil’s excrement” that results in Ross’s “oil curse”, the model is unlikely to deliver satisfactory services, development and transformation.

The panacea can be found in the role of CSOs to engage all tiers of government, demand transparency and accountability, expand services and set the stage for accelerated development of Nigeria’s “Third Sector”, the voluntary and non-profit social sector where the needs of 150 million Nigeria’s poor people will be met.

These fit the global Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, EITI, which engages CSOs as a strategic partner to reverse the “resource curse” worldwide.

But what could be the cost of this enterprise? Working on the estimated 2013 budget of the federation of N9.5 trillion, a capital component of 27.3 per cent, the same ratio in the approved 2013 federal budget, we have N2.6 trillion of capital expenditure which should impact Nigerians.

Dr. Andrew Pocock, the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, disclosed that infrastructure in Nigeria  cost three times higher than it ought to be, because of corruption in allocation and delivery process. On this basis, the value of the capital budget that could be lost in 2013 is estimated at N1.7 trillion at all tiers of government.

This figure excludes savings in the overheads of government. Investing on the CCS at all tiers, about five per cent of the expected value not delivered, which comes to approximately N85 billion per annum, in order to recover N1.7 trillion for Nigeria would appear a reasonable investment. So, the CCS project would be good value-for-money.

CCS, this new arm of government, will positively affect the 150 million poor Nigerians, the vulnerable and disadvantaged of our society, who were excluded in the framing of the 1999 Constitution.

The 812 executive arms at all tiers of government have no more than about 30,000 elected and appointed officials to supervise a public service of about 2.5 million. Based on the 2007 report of the global citizen network, CIVICUS, Nigerian CSOs now have about 120 million as members. CSOs therefore have the capacity to effectively engage the 2.5 million public servants on a 24/7 basis at all critical points where value is expected to be created.

Why is this constitutional engagement so compelling? First, the ordinary citizen is weak and helpless. There is very little he or she can do to influence government. As proposed, the CCS will act as an intermediary to advocate and mediate the social contracts between the people and their governments.

This model also applies in the spiritual realm. For example, in the Christian faith, Christ Jesus mediates and advocates between our Omnipotent God and mortals under the new covenant or divine contract. Christ mediates between God and His people. Borrowing a leaf from the foregoing model, we can assert that without credible CSO’s in any nation, a people should not expect meaningful improvements in their security, social, economic and other areas of life.

The second reason is that Nigeria’s complex ethnic, religious, regional and other societal diversity overburdens our generic three arms of government. We are the world’s seventh most populated country, estimated to be 170 million people.

This population which is fragmented along many divides has over 250 ethnic groups which speak over 550 languages, spread on one million square kilometres of territory, dwelling mainly in rural areas and facing multi-faceted environmental challenges at the extremes of north and south.

This chaotic situation was further weakened in the quest to keep the nation one. Societal confusion was compounded by serial balkanization of the four regions in 1963 to 36 states and 35 provinces to 774 local government areas. These demarcations now constitute the basis for social, economic, political and what have you, contests by few elites, to the exclusion of the larger proportion of the citizens.

Moreover, as a resource-rich nation, Nigeria is under the heavy veil of the “resource curse”. The CCS is the EITI equivalent of the “magic arm” by which we convert the complex diversity and liability of our large poor population to assets: 120 million people who constitute the members of CSOs and volunteers who come together to build understanding, paper over these divides, create social value, propagate transparent, accountable and responsive governance, and turn the “resource curse” into God’s “resource blessing” for all.

Mr. NATHANIEL ABARA, an economic expert, wrote from Lagos.


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