Nigeria: The way forward

Published on Pambazuka News, 4 Interviews by Ron Singer, Nov. 24, 2011.

Nigeria is better known for its massive problems than the people who are working to tackle them. Ron Singer speaks to four anti-corruption activists about their ideas for reform and their efforts to implement them … //

… Here are some excerpts from my interviews with the four Nigerian reformers: 

1. CHANGES IN THE LAW:

DR JIBRIN IBRAHIM: DIRECTOR, CENTRE FOR DEMOCRACY & DEVELOPMENT-NIGERIA – The problem we had was that, for 30 years, nobody who could hire a SAN, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, lawyers who have been recognised by their peers… for the 30 years preceding when Nuhu Ribadu came to the EFCC – seasoned lawyers like Femi Falana told me this – nobody who had enough money to hire a SAN was jailed for corruption … //

… 2. LOCAL RESOURCE MANAGEMENT:

DAUDA GARUBA, NIGERIA PROGRAMME COORDINATOR, REVENUE WATCH INSTITUTE – RON SINGER: What does your organisation do?
DAUDA GARUBA: We work in the areas of oil, gas, and mining revenues with a view to enhancing public good. You know, there is a relationship between natural resources and conflict … //

… 3. MAKING PUBLIC SERVANTS SERVE THE PUBLIC:

CLEMENT NWANKWO, DIRECTOR, POLICY AND LEGAL ADVOCACY CENTRE – CLEMENT NWANKWO: We identify what we call ‘pro-poor target committees’: committees that have an impact on poverty issues: agriculture, health, education.
RON SINGER: Are the members of those committees necessarily people who want progress in those areas? … //

… 4. FISCAL FEDERALISM: THE DEVOLUTION OF POWER:

DR JOHN KAYODE FAYEMI, GOVERNOR, EKITI STATE; FOUNDER, CENTRE FOR DEMOCRACY & DEVELOPMENT, NIGERIA – JOHN KAYODE FAYEMI: Some things are not going to go away. The principle of fiscal federalism is one that even governors are now drawn toward. And we are mainstream, even if we come from a history of being outsiders.
RON SINGER: How many governors agree to it? …

… CONCLUSIONS:

Governor Fayemi’s efforts are part of an important push for reform in Nigeria, which began in Lagos with then-Governor Bola Tinubu (1999-2007), and has been continued by his successor, Babatunde Fashola. This effort has been taken up by several state rulers, notably Governor Fayemi, who fought in the courts from 2007-10 to gain the Ekiti governorship usurped by Segun Oni of the PDP (People’s Democratic Party), the party that has ruled Nigeria’s federal government since 1999. Even before running for this office, Fayemi had been a lifelong reformer, active in local tenants-rights movements in London when he was a student there, and, then, in the course of opposing Nigeria’s military dictators, founding the Nigerian chapter of the Centre for Democracy & Development.

Since most of the reforming governors belong to the opposition ACN (Action Congress of Nigeria) party, and since they are also mostly Yorubas, the question arises as to whether the progress they achieve in their own states can create a bandwagon for cleaner, more efficient government that will extend beyond Yoruba states and Governors. There is some evidence that this is already happening, and many people outside of government, such as three Globacom reps I met in Accra, Ghana (where the Nigerian telcoms giant is about to set up shop) see hope in the Governors’ reform movement.

According to the three Globacom reps, who I met over breakfast at our hotel in Accra, another significant basis for reducing corruption in Nigeria involves those sectors of the economy, including telecoms, which are immune to political pressures, including demands for bribes. This immunity stems from the fact that these sectors fall under the purview of independent regulators. In fact, the trio expressed pride and relief that they did not have to bribe Nigerian politicians, which suggests that many other businessmen are not so fortunate. The contrast is great between independently regulated sectors and others where, notoriously, regulation is politically tainted, such as the oil industry.

Seconding the views of the interviewee who currently holds public office (Fayemi), and the other three, who work for pro-democracy NGOs, the three businessmen felt that the end of the Abacha regime had definitely set Nigeria on the road to far more effective, corruption-free governance.

However, a reform governor like Kayode Fayemi wrestles with terrible problems, such as having inherited inflated, fraudulent contracts that he must let run their course because it would be too expensive to undo them and start the projects over. As he said, he also finds himself blamed for problems that should not be his to solve, such as bad roads. Many of his main ideas for reform address this issue of federal versus state responsibility, a core issue in Nigerian governance since Independence in 1960.

Although reformers like these four abound in Nigeria, no one thinks the country is even close to finding its way out of the woods. However, as Governor Fayemi puts it, ‘You should not allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good.’ (full long text).

Links:

Angola: Sonangol’s hotel bill doesn’t add up, on Pambazuka News, by Rafael Marques de Morais, Nov. 24, 2011;

fahamu.org, networks for social justice.

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