01.08.2011 Feature Article

The Nexus between Weak-Institution Governance Failure

The Nexus between Weak-Institution Governance Failure
01.08.2011 LISTEN

Nigeria's underdevelopment is a result of general governance failure. Most analysts point at vices such as corruption, inequality, kleptomania, unemployment etc as the fundamental causes of Nigeria's under-development. While it is germane to acknowledge that these factors are dwarfing our growth, they are only symptoms of general governance deficit, which in turn is a product of weak institutions. No nation has developed if the institutions are not strong enough to provide effective regulatory framework. Weak institutions in turn negatively affect the quality of governance as well as the national integrity of the entire nation especially the allocation of scarce values. Weak institutions also affect the national integrity of a country.

A national integrity system is the set of institutions necessary to ensure good governance in any society. These include an independent judiciary and judicial review, a free press, freedom of information legislation, open budget processes, virile civil society organisations and effective watch-dog institutions. In this article I desire to make two main assertions.

1. That Nigeria has no constitution, but what we call Constitution is a patchwork of several incompatible laws exacerbating division along religious, class and regional lines.

2. That Nigeria is not a federal system, but what we refer to as federalism is a system where we have an omnipotent centre with very weak units such as the States. The States are also predatory in that they the Local Government attribute the mal-governance in Nigeria to two fundamental factors; namely: lack of equity and true federalism and the existence of obnoxious laws, which has exacerbated the perceived inequality in the land. The result is the persistent agitations from almost all quarters, each seeking a sense of equity in the allocation of scarce values.

Nigeria got her independence with a faulty constitution. The Regional system during the parliamentary period relegated ethnic minorities to the background. The tripod political configuration was also controlled by parties dominated by the major ethnic groups to the utter neglect of the minorities. This led to a feeling of alienation, marginalization and neglect. This was the starting point of when Nigeria's national integrity in her public institutions in terms of accountability, transparency, efficiency and public participation in decision making was compromised.

If these flaws were taken care of at the time of independence, Nigeria would be up and running, not to be talking about reforms in land, the police, the prisons, power sector reforms, petroleum sector reforms, Freedom of Information (FOI) bill, EFCC, ICPC and the fight against corruption would have long been taken care of. Today, these institutions are very weak hence, even though they claim to have autonomy, they are inefficient, ineffective and unworkable. What Nigeria needs is not a patchwork of a constitution but a truly autochthonous constitution that reflects our values, culture and national aspirations.

Today, Nigeria has had to grapple with acutely unfavourable business climate hence we cannot compete favourably with any other nation. Our inability to engage in compete in industry, technology entrepreneurialism is a result of lack of a normative system that can underpin development. We have been democratizing for the past 12 years yet we have not inched towards good governance. Nigeria is now caught in the snowballing effect, where a favourable global atmosphere led to a diffusion of democratic ideas, through the expansion of global communication and transportation.

Lack of genuine commitment on the part of our leaders has slowed down Nigeria's drive toward democratisation. This has further weakened the institutions. Nigeria is not yet part of the global industrialization-complex. Nigeria's economy cannot withstand the shock of a shaky and melting down capitalism. The anti-graft agencies in Nigeria lack the autonomy to try such matters expeditiously. EFCC in most cases lack the manpower to investigate matters thoroughly before bringing perceived culprits to court. The Commission has been further weakened by the judicial system – which is not only corrupt but over-politicized. It is now easy to explain why morality and public accountability is a rare commodity. Without a transparent judicial system, how can we explain the $16 billion the Obasanjo administration invested in darkness?

Thus, whereas EFCC basks in the euphoria of reducing corruption, Transparency International is aware that the Corruption Perception Index is rising in geometric progression – an indication that either the fight against corruption has been politicized or that people have conspired against it.

In Nigeria transparency and accountability are the keystones of the Public Procurement Act, 2007 but because of the subsisting handicraft technology and our inability to keep records, we don't even adhere to simple due process rules. Most of the financial crimes committed in the National Assembly and federal government paraststals are associated non-adherence to due process in public procurement.

The Judiciary is also going into a stupor. It is only in Nigeria that a Public office holder can steal money and run to the Law Courts to take a perpetual injunction not to prosecute him. The case of former Governor of Rivers State Dr. Peter Odili is a case in point. I am told that former Speaker of the House of Reps, Rt. Hon Dimeji Bankole has been angling to remove Barr. Festus Keyamo as EFCC counsel because of his previous criticism of the riotous expenditure profile of the NASS. Certainly, Dimeji is seeking a short-cut out of the massive fraud he and the House have committed. Several others would emulate this example and try to escape prosecution.

The petroleum sector is even most worrisome. The NNPC is another conduit. In 2008, NNPC sent a bill for refund to federal government of about N1.1 trillion as subsidy element. In 2008, the Corporation incurred N7bn in demurrage. As a result of the refinery downturn, NNPC increased imports from the 50 per cent to almost 100 per cent at a staggering cost of N800billion. The refineries in Nigeria are also considered to be cash centres, because they have not been operating to make profits rather to compliment the supply of fuel in the country. Another industry operative disclosed that some of the causes responsible for the financial crisis being faced by the NNPC include financial recklessness and indiscipline, needless expenditure and mismanagement, general efficiency common with government establishment and over bloated expenditure arising from general services it is rendering in the petroleum sector.

Another distinctive characteristic is the productivity levels of the economy. Productivity may generally be defined as the output per labour costs. It is the ratio of the total output to the total inputs. Basically productivity is low in Nigeria because of her poor industrial base. Therefore low productivity is a function of lack of industrialization, which in turn is a product of many macro-economic variables such as capacity under-utilization, inability to provide critical infrastructure such as power supply and lack of investment security. The case of Nigeria is worsened by ethnic antagonism, religious bigotry and political adventurism, which have all combined to render Nigeria unsafe for foreign investment. This is the same argument that underlies the antagonists of the deregulation policy, because an unproductive economy cannot be grown even if we privatize everything including the air we breathe.

Mr. President's proposal of a 5-year single tenure is tandem with his promise of constitutional reforms but what beagles my mind is does the President have no priority? Nigeria has no constitution, and what civil society advocates is the complete overhaul of the entire constitution. We have the economy to fix; insecurity is ridding roughed, and there seems to be no respite in sight; our roads are short hand for death traps and on a daily basis, several people are despatched to the great beyond. Our health centres have degenerated to mere consulting centres. Infant mortality has been on the increase and there seems to be no one to the rescue. Our educational system has ebbed to the point where we have lost our competitive edge in the West African sub-region.

An efficient infrastructure system is a key factor in a country's economic development because it facilitates the movement of goods, services and people. By opening up new markets, infrastructure systems induce economic activity and are crucial inputs to enhance economic productivity. Nigeria is yet to grapple with the challenge of power supply. Develop new, renewable energy sources. The country must begin exploring alternative sources of electricity such as biomass, solar, wind, hydro, geothermal and ocean energy or hybrids of such. We still lack the technology to move the nation to the next level. Why can President Jonathan address these issues instead of bringing a very controversial matter like 6-year single tenure?

Money politics is at the root of corruption and patronage. In Nigeria, the poverty reduction strategies adopted so far are not successful because the leaders have been fighting poverty without involving the Poor. The lack of participatory mechanism which involves the civil society in formulating, implementing and monitoring poverty reduction programmes brings about a corresponding lack of a pro-poor growth. This trend has led to the continuous pillage of budgetary allocation meant for the poor through political adventurism and economic opportunism.

Until Nigeria has a constitution that reflects our culture, norms and aspirations, not only Vision 2020 will remain a good intension, but Nigeria will be left behind as a nation by-passed by modernity. When we have a constitution that is truly our own can we entrench genuine fiscal federalism and pursue all the ingredient of nationhood and there is no short cut to these tortuous issues.

Idumange John is Deputy President, Niger Delta Integrity Group

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