Sunday, 2 March 2014
Democratic Accountability and Public Trust in Nigeria
In 1992, McFadden in his Rainbow Warrior Theory prophesied that when the earth is sick and dying, after its land , air and water have been poisoned, the races of humanity will unite like the colours of the rainbow to save her, and ultimately discover the sacred dimension of our lives. Nigeria has fought many battles: a 30-month fratricidal war, War Against Indiscipline, War Against Corruption, War Against Poverty and war against the masses.
Of all these wars the only war Nigeria has won is the war against the masses, and this has been achieved largely by the political elites who afflict the populace with poverty. Analysts believe the political office holders seem to have won this battle because they are accountable to themselves, and in most cases their creator rather than the people they claim to govern. Nigeria suffers from the scourge both during the military and ‘democratic’ rule.
Accountability in any society begins by holding institutions and their leaders accountable, building mechanisms to comply with the terms of accountability, and transparently reporting on performance. These are the bedrock principles. But delivering social justice demands more. Accountability is a necessary adjunct to the power that government exercises in our society. Thus If corruption is the most damaging disease that any organization must confront, as discussed in the preceding section, then accountability and transparency are the major cures.
In governance, the purpose of accountability is to uphold underlying and fundamental principles, such as public interest, public trust, rule of law and good governance. Accountability therefore, defines the expectations of the public pertaining to the responsible exercise of political power pertaining to matters such as financial probity in government, the behavioural integrity of officials, and the protection of the less-privileged. It also implies that when public office holders are not performing, the invocation of sanctions readily becomes the remedy. This is underscored by the fact that the essence of accountability is that those exercising public power must be answerable, responsive and transparent.
Accountability also describes how authority is distributed in the governmental system and how those who hold such authority are held to account. The notion of good governance recognizes a number of generally agreed principles such as accountability, transparency and openness. Accountability, meaning that it is possible to identify and hold public officials to account for their actions. Transparency, implies that reliable, relevant and timely information about the activities of government is available to the public. It also means the participation of the public in the process of decision-making. There is also the principle of openness, which connotes that governments that listen to citizens and businesses, and take their suggestions into account when designing and implementing public policies.
In the practical operation of governance, accountability connotes that government should be run in such an open manner as to encourage participation such as the competitive tendering of government contracts. It also implies that government contracts are process massive anti-corruption campaigns involving all public officials and the President, Public sector reforms to reduce, if not completely eliminate, the opportunity for corruption, especially through the comprehensive monetization of benefits to public officers.
The success of public governance will ultimately be judged not by the citizens not by those in governments. It is citizens who are demanding greater transparency and accountability from government as well as greater public participation in shaping policies that affect their lives. Second, good governance and the fight against corruption should not just be catchwords in international co-operation. They represent the keys for successful reform and for equitable and sustainable development.
Within the context of democracy, accountability describes the relationship between those entrusted with public power and the people who entrust that power to them. Another way to approach the topic of accountability is to focus on the laws, mechanisms and procedures that constitute an accountability system. This is enforced through administrative law mechanisms and procedures. The purpose of accountability is to facilitate government and to ensure that it is exercised responsibly. Accountability is not supposed to constitute an impediment to the exercise of public power.
Nigeria is one of the world's most endowed nations with abundant human and natural resources. There is practically every vital mineral deposits in all the states of the federation. Yet, it remains under-developed because of the menace of corruption. Corruption has become a way of life in Nigeria, which no one can ignore. Corruption and cronyism have long haunted Nigeria while military has been castigated for generally misruling the country, the civilians are no exception.
The relationship between corruption and democracy is noticeable in government transparency that is becoming an increasingly important topic in both stable and new democracies, and the task of measuring the level of corruption in public office, as the corruption perception index (CPI) by Transparency international is becoming of great value. Most societies have a certain degree of corruption permissiveness, with some of them being on the average more likely to justify corrupt practices than others.
In Rivers State the demolition exercises sometimes were executed in such a bizarre manner that most people wonder if the mission statement of government is the violation of human rights. In most States, good governance has been replaced with impunity, while accountability has been forced to take a back seat. Across the landscape, public policy is decided by the not by the rule of law instead of brute force. Most of the official mechanisms of social control have broken down. There is impunity in the land.
Over the years, the nation has been striving at good governance in principle but not in reality, we seem to have taken a giant leap backwards. Political office holders do not sufficiently adhere to the basic tenets of constitutionalism and the rule of law. Our electoral system is far from transparent. Political office holders do not sufficiently adhere to the basic tenets of constitutionalism and the rule of law. Elected or selected representatives of the people traverse the landscape as tyrants.
Even the educational system is not spared. Today, there is public outcry about the declining quality of the product of our educational system. The system produces graduates that can hardly cope with the demands of the economy. The poor quality is reflected in the very low productivity and job performance of graduates which is not matched with the amount certification. The credential gap poses a challenge for quality. It is a national shame that most Nigerian Universities can conveniently be labeled as glorified high schools. Our cherished values are fast fading. Values such as honesty and hard work, probity, accountability and community spirit are being replaced by dishonesty, greed and individualism.
The vapour of corruption and moral decay emitted at the National Assembly radiates to the States. In most States, debates at the hallowed chambers are usually coloured by partisan rancour, as legislators are like choristers who chorus whatever the Chief Executive says. We have a group of self-chosen watchmen who apply tricks and treachery to shoot their way to what in other lands are humble positions. The ruling Peoples Democratic Party lacks internal party discipline. That explains why people have to resort to litigation before the Vice President can be allowed to act even in the face of overwhelming evidence that the President is afflicted with grave incapacity resulting from ill-health.
In Nigeria, there is real hunger in the land and unemployment, as the average civil servant has been reduced to a mere creature. While economic hardship has heightened cases of blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases, the life expectancy rate in Nigeria is one of the lowest in the world. This is why kleptocracy is thriving in spite of loud public pronouncements that the Rule of Law is being implemented. Our democracy has become a cruelly manipulated chess game, as public officers loot the treasury and govern as if the State is a private enterprise. Nigeria runs like an engine with adulterated gasoline and a badly trained driver. Our political economy moves in zigzag directions like a blindfolded man treading a thorny bush path. That is why even our Chief Law Officer is trying to convince the people that leaders can rule from anywhere, everywhere and nowhere, even in outer space. What a strange definition of democracy!
Accountability is critical to the maintenance of fundamental human rights and the rule of law, strengthening judicial and legislative institutions as well as other agencies to hold State power accountable. Others include empowering democratic governance at the local level, ensuring the equal status and full participation of women, empowering marginalized groups to become partners in the restructuring of their societies, invigorating civil society and the autonomous mass media, securing fundamental workers rights, especially freedom of association, ensuring that those who work non-violently for the democratic transformation of their societies are provided the space and resources needed for their task among other such measures.
More than any country in Africa, Nigerian leaders seem to have learnt nothing from history. Babangida’s bid for self-perpetuation was the hidden agenda behind the annulment of the June 12 elections in which the masses foisted their collective destiny. Abacha – his turned out to be the most brutish of all military dictators Nigeria has ever had. Nigeria attained pariah status and the nation’s diplomacy in Africa sank to its nadir. It was the finger of God that saved Nigeria from being plunged into a holocaust.
However, corruption is a serious problem negating Nigeria's democratization process. This is because it is bedevil by such problems as mismanagement, wasteful spending, and spending States fund on unproductive sectors among others. Fighting corruption in Nigeria has not succeeded because most of those at the arrowhead of the war are not committed to the eradication of corruption. Full democratization needs serious efforts from the government and commitment of the people. Public office holders should equally renew their commitment towards the people's needs and be more alive to their responsibility.
The fundamental problem of corruption quagmire in Nigeria, is the failure and virtual collapse of governance, the contamination of democratic values, the erosion of accountability procedures, and the prevalence of bad leadership. The erosion of public confidence in the country's political and economic institutions promote a culture of contempt for the rule of law. On the long run, Nigeria cannot afford the social, political or economic costs lack of accountability has inflicted on the system
By the end of the day, those factors that have heightened centrifugal pressures in Nigeria’s body politic such as: revenue allocation among the three tiers of government and equitable fiscal federalism including the creation of states and local government areas creation as instruments of development, will continue to harass the collective psyche of the nation. The need to entrench a just, egalitarian and equitable society Democratic accountability can only thrive when people are allowed to participate and manage their own affairs in decision-making, transparency and accountability in the management of fiscal resources.
Without democratic accountability, Nigeria will continue like a nation that has made an eternal covenant with stagnation. More than a decade ago, Prof. Ake prophesied thus: “decades of efforts have yielded largely stagnation, regression or worse. The tragic consequences of this are increasingly clear: a rising tide of poverty, decaying public utilities and infrastructures, social tensions and political turmoil, and now premonition of inevitable drive into conflict and violence”. Nigeria is a typical example of a nation that is determined to take the “kingdom of heaven” by force. This ugly situation will endure until democratic accountability is fully entrenched in the system. One thing is clear: Nigeria is gradually approaching the elastic limits of tolerance where chaos will be the norm of civility, but whatever doom these would spell for this ‘truculent African tragedy’ may not be too complex to determine in the nearest future.
Idumange John, is a University Lecturer and Activist