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Good Governance and Development: Notes on Nigeria

Being speech by Atiku Abubakar, GCON, former Vice President, Federal Republic of Nigeria, at the 2nd Annual Convention of the Abia State Medical Association Alumni Association, UK, held at Doubletree by Hilton Hotel, Dartford, London. 30 April, 2017.


If you are like me you would have sat around fellow Nigerians as they discuss the many challenges facing the country and the many ways they think those challenges can be met. And you likely participated in some of those discussions. After listening and analyzing the litany of challenges, one often hears the discussants bemoan the lack of leadership/good governance or corruption or both as the key missing ingredients in Nigeria’s quest for greatness. Sometimes people blame ethnic groups other than their own as the cause of the under-performance of our governments.

Often people reach these conclusions when they realize that other key ingredients for a nation’s greatness, such as human and material resources, have been available. And for those of you who have had the privilege of living in better organized and better-led countries, this single realization must be particularly jarring because unlike your compatriots at home you have actually experienced alternative ways of governing a society and the more positive outcomes from them.

So when the organizers of this event asked me to speak on good governance, I quickly understood where they are coming from, even if I am not entirely sure of all that is expected of me in this presentation.  Be that as it may, I have decided to speak on good governance and development with particular reference to Nigeria.

What is good governance and what does it mean in today’s Nigeria?  How can it help Nigeria overcome its challenges?

Good governance, in a democratic setting, would mean that the government effectively and efficiently delivers on its constitutional duties and promises to the electorate in a fair and equitable manner. It also includes meeting other challenges that emerge in the society during the government’s tenure. And it includes government being accountable to the people and recognizing the people’s right to know.  Good governance is a requirement for a country’s development which, to me, means improving the society’s productive capacity, improving the people’s welfare and enhancing their freedoms.

In contemporary Nigeria, good governance would involve addressing the country’s economic stagnation and crisis, including transitioning the economy to a post-oil/commodities trajectory, ensuring security, fighting corruption and restructuring the polity, including the structure of the federation and government institutions.

In a democracy, a vibrant and constructive opposition, including opposition political parties and independent news media, are critical in ensuring good governance because they help to inform and mobilize the citizens and hold the government to account.  And above all, perhaps, good governance requires a vigilant and demanding electorate.

Good Governance and Nigerian Development
I think it has been very difficult to realize good governance in Nigeria due to a number of structural, historical and socio-cultural factors. But human actors are largely responsible for the current state of affairs.  A brief excursion into Nigeria’s history will help.

As we marched towards political independence our leaders chose a federal system of government with three powerful regions and a central government.  They also adopted a revenue sharing formula that allowed the regions to retain 50% of revenues generated in their jurisdictions. These regional governments, relying mostly on taxation of agricultural produce, built good schools, hospitals, roads, and power plants. The University of Nigeria, Nsukka, the Obafemi Awolowo University and the Ahmadu Bello University were established by the governments of Eastern, Western and Northern regions respectively and were centres of excellence.

In addition, security was a shared responsibility between the federal government and the constituent regions, with the latter having their own police forces.  While governance was not perfect, the quality was clearly good. Officials largely abided by rules and regulations and followed due process in the conduct of public affairs.

However, with military rule beginning in 1966 and a civil war, coupled with the rising importance of crude oil rent in government revenues, our leaders centralized more power and concentrated more resources at the federal level at the expense of the regions which were then split into twelve states. The states have been further split to reach the current 36 weak and mostly unviable states, with the associated multiplication of running administrative and other costs. Military rule for most of that period led to the virtual abandonment of rules and regulations and due process in the planning and implementation of government policies.

The economic front saw the shift away from agriculture as the main source of government revenues to oil rents. Here was a paradox. The sector that employed the vast majority of our people became largely neglected in terms of formal investment and as a source of government revenues while the oil sector that operates as an enclave and employing only a few, became embraced.

The consequences have been huge, including the disconnect between government revenues and the economic activities of most of the population; dependency on rent from a single commodity and neglect of other sources of revenues, wealth without work, dependency of the federating states on revenue allocations from the centre; dependency of people on government largesse; huge unproductive bureaucracies at the federal level and in 36 states, disregard for rules and regulations, corruption and lack of accountability by government officials.

Others include the high premium on political power as it is the biggest source of patronage. We currently have broken infrastructure all over the country, high unemployment rate, unacceptably high poverty rate of up to 60%, over 10 million school-age children out of school and human development indices such infant and maternal mortality and life expectancy among the worst in the world.

What Should be Done?
As the old saying goes, nothing good comes easy. So it is with good governance. Good governance will require a plan, not just for managing day-day governance issues but to address emerging and anticipated future challenges. The goals of good governance, after all, are people’s security and welfare and the smooth functioning of society. In Nigeria’s case what we do must include:

1. Going back to basics. We need to restore due process and respect for government procedures rules and regulations. And we need to enforce sanctions for their disregard. We really need to go back to the basics of what makes for an orderly and smooth functioning governmental administration.

2. Good governance requires proper coordination of the organs of government. You cannot have different agencies of the same government working at cross-purposes or contradicting each other on very important policy issues, and personnel selection.

3. We must address Nigeria’s economic stagnation/crisis. This will include economic reform and modernization which privileges the private sector as the engine of growth and employment generation. We must continue to diversify our economy away from the excessive reliance on oil, continue the privatization policy began more than a decade ago and try to align monetary and fiscal policies for much needed coherence, predictability and stability in order to attract investments.

4. Good governance in Nigeria will include a relentless effort to curb corruption in public life. And this should not be merely dealing with corruption after the fact. Perhaps more important are efforts to prevent corruption from taking place, especially through the removal of opportunities for corruption and imposing strong sanctions for the corrupt. Such efforts should also include ensuring the independence of the anti-corruption agencies through such measures as funding them through the first line charge in the consolidated revenue fund and having them report to the parliament.
5. We also have to improve security, including anti-terrorism, anti-kidnapping and anti-armed robbery, and efforts to end the herdsmen-farmers clashes. Fortunately, progress has been made in the fight against the Boko Haram insurgency by the Buhari administration, but we need to also make progress on the others. All these security issues are broadly linked to economic challenges, and improvements in the latter will help in that regard.

6. To improve good governance in Nigeria we also need to restructure the country’s federal system. This include fiscal federalism, devolution of powers to federating units and the restoration of state police to states that so desire.  We might consider using the current geo-political zones as federating units since they are large enough to be more viable or we may consider a means-test for viability of states such that existing states that are unable to generate a specified percentage of their revenues from internal sources will be collapsed into other states. This will encourage the federating units to once more engage in productive activities and healthy rivalries.

7. On the whole, good leadership is critical for good governance. This will involve leadership by example, a leadership that steers the country in a clear direction, is competent; has integrity and credibility; and is perceived as fair to all segments of the population.

8. Effective opposition is critical for the maintenance of good governance and the deepening of democracy, which in turn, helps in the maintenance of good governance.

9. Good governance will also require a vibrant and independent media. Nigeria has done reasonably well in this regard. But threats to the independence and vibrancy of the media do not always come from government. Media organizations that rely almost exclusively on government advertising patronage do not meet the standard of independent media. So is “cash-and-carry journalism,” which some media organizations unwittingly encourage through poor remuneration of their reporters and other editorial staff.

I need to stress that these steps will not automatically take place. People, organized as a collective force, must demand these changes, deploy their democratic rights to select leaders who they believe will meet their aspirations, protect and defend their freedoms and hold their elected servants and governments to account.

I thank the organizers of this event, Nigerians in Diaspora in Europe, for inviting me and giving me this opportunity to share ideas with you.
Thank you for your attention.

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