The Oasis Reporters
January 24, 2024
Democracy refers, at a minimum, to a political system that guarantees some involvement in decision-making. It gives citizens opportunities to choose and replace their leaders or representatives via free and fair elections.
But that’s not all. Democracy also protects citizens’ socio-economic, political and cultural rights.
Its success turns on its ability to bring changes to the living conditions of citizens.
It is a form of governance that holds this truth: that the people are what matters most.
In a paper I co-authored, we used these defining features to assess the state of democracy in Nigeria.
Our paper was based on observation and narratives on democracy found in literature. We concluded that very few countries in Africa met the basic conditions of a democratic state. The exceptions were Botswana, Ghana, Mauritius, Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania.
In the case of Nigeria, we found that what was missing in the country’s democratic efforts was good governance. Good governance is central to the performance and measurement of democracy. We looked at two measures of good governance: the welfare of citizens; and succession. On both scores we found that Nigeria fell short. Although our research was conducted in 2014, the factors we identified remain in place today.
We conclude that on both measures of good governance improvements could be made – firstly by strengthening the crusade against corruption, and secondly, by steps to improve the welfare of citizens.
Good governance should be the goal of any government interested in improving the quality of life of its people. Professor of economics Michael Obadan has argued that there are five fundamental elements to good governance. We found that Nigeria was falling short on all these scores:
Accountability of public office holders with regard to public funds
In public service there are many accountability mechanisms, including codes of conduct, which are intended to guide decisions of public officials.
Sadly, the adherence to these principles often falls short of expectations, leaving room for a culture of impunity in Nigeria. A clear example shows up when the influence of a state governor permeates the state legislature, especially in the budget-making processes. This unchecked influence compromises essential public scrutiny for the welfare of citizens. Officials can then misappropriate public funds and evade justice.
Transparency in public policy and decision making processes
A cloud of secrecy surrounds governance in Nigeria. Details of how officials get and use funds are often withheld. The public can’t see the impact of policies formulated to improve their well-being.
Predictability in government behaviour
The essence of predictability in good governance is the ability to expect the policies, decisions, and activities of government. Predictability makes it possible for citizens to engage in civic life, contributing to a democratic process.
Openness in government dealings and effective communication between government and the governed
There are different ways of achieving this, including official and unofficial media. It means that the public won’t misinterpret proposed government projects and goals.
Adherence to the rule of law
At the core of good governance lies the rule of law. It signifies that the law is supreme, applying universally without exception. This principle reinforces the idea that no individual or entity is exempt from legal obligations. It promotes fairness and a just society.
Addressing these basic aspects will contribute to a governance framework that truly serves the interests of the Nigerian people.
We found that in the case of Nigeria there were challenges to good governance in the following areas:
- the election process
Rigging of elections, poor management of polling, a lack of independent election management institutions, a lack of neutrality of external and internal monitors, a lack of credible opposition, weak political parties – all these are problems.
lack of effective participation of citizens in the political process
a culture of impunity
political violence leading to insecurity
ineffectiveness of the Nigerian police force
corruption and lack of accountability
influence of the executive over other organs of government.
We argue that these negative outcomes are due to bad governance.
The welfare of citizens
When elected political leaders emerged in 1999 after 16 years of military dictatorship, many Nigerians expected an improvement in their economic and social conditions. But that has not happened.
Unemployment, shortage of food, lack of public safety, lack of clean water, inadequate healthcare and poor incomes remain prevalent.
The performance of politicians in improving the welfare of citizens shows that Nigeria’s civil regime has achieved nothing. Programmes that would improve the lives of all Nigerians are still lacking.
What needs to be done
One of our main conclusions is that the crusade against corruption remains the basis of ensuring good governance. But this will only be effective if the anti-corruption institutions themselves are subject to democratic governance and the oversight powers of responsible civil society.
Political corruption violates democratic principles and procedures. It should therefore attract equal condemnation and punishment with other forms of corruption such as economic and financial crimes. Often, it is neglected because the political elite in Nigeria is guilty of this.
For example, the history of elections in Nigeria is filled with stories of rigging. Post election adjudication should not only be concerned with determination of who did and did not win in those elections, but should punish with imprisonment and fines in cases where it is established beyond reasonable doubt that political elite or their agents have violated electoral rules.
This is a non-negotiable first step to making leaders accountable to citizens.
Secondly, poverty and unemployment require the institutionalisation of development oriented practices. This means a political and governing culture that places a high priority on the welfare of citizens.
The absence of development oriented practices has been one of the major weak points in Nigeria’s democracy.