Information is a key asset – perhaps one of the most valuable keys in the pursuit of good governance. Whether you want to see the breakdown of the ‘elements’ in a country’s annual budget, the details of the asset of a public officer, the register of companies and property owners or even the health status of your president – information is your ammunition. That is if you must stick to facts and verifiable details and not cheap propaganda or rumour. When a government is willing to promptly and proactively disclose information, such a government is likely to reduce unnecessary suspicion, speculation, and increase trust among the citizenry. If citizens trust their government due to its deliberate openness and responsiveness, the expected constructive engagement and resultant relationship of accountability naturally fosters democratic consolidation. That is the ambition of the Open Government Partnership (OGP). Founded in 2011, this partnership seeks to bring together governments desirous of reforms to share experiences and learn together. Growing from an initial eight countries to 75 participating countries now, it is evident that participating countries have faith in the promises that this initiative seeks to deliver. The questions lingering in the minds of many has been whether the OGP will deliver on its promises or it is simply another western idea to ‘teach’ developing countries good governance through untested slogans.
It is cheering news, however, that Africa’s most populous nation and largest oil producer, Nigeria, joined the initiative last July. Since the discovery of oil in commercial quantity in the country, Nigeria is yet to see commensurate development while billions of petro-dollars have been reportedly squandered by the political class. With the recent momentum for reform shown by President Buhari, whose electoral victory was largely due to his no-nonsense stance and anti-corruption credentials, many observers are keenly watching how far the country can leverage on OGP to fight the scourge of corruption that has bedeviled Nigeria since independence, and how far these efforts can go to improve her economy that is currently in recession. In the National Action Plan (NAP) developed by the Nigerian government in collaboration with civil society (a condition for membership), the country committed to the four thematic areas of fiscal transparency, anti-corruption, access to information and citizen’s engagement. From these thematic areas, fourteen concrete commitments were developed, with clear milestones and timelines over the next two years. Technology and communication were also identified as crosscutting tools that will drive the implementation of the commitments. Although there is enthusiasm among government agencies and civil society organisations who are participating collaboratively in the OGP process, a section of the population still remains skeptical about whether the country can translate such ambitious commitments to concrete action. Past administrations had mouthed transparency and anti-corruption only to end up driving the country into deeper profligacy and decay.
With many frontline civil society groups under a coalition known as the Open Alliance, participating in the process, there is assurance that they will insist that government fulfills its promises in relation to the OGP commitments.
Nevertheless, the federal government seems determined and resolute on the pathway to openness. Many governmental institutions are already working together to resume the implementation of the OGP commitments relevant to their mandate. Last week the Nigeria’s Attorney General and Minister for Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) disclosed that about 57.9 billion naira and 666.67 million dollars have so far been recovered by the Buhari administration as fines from corporate organisations and stolen monies from corrupt individuals in the country. The amount recovered seems to be a far cry from the USD 89.5 billion, which is estimated to have left the country illicitly through criminal trade and money laundering between 1970 and 2008 – as estimated by the report of a special United Nations Panel on Illicit financial flows from Africa headed by former South African President Thabo Mbeki. However, recoveries seem to be a useful starting point.
Since the inception of the Buhari administration, many high-level politicians, including Nigeria’s former National Security Adviser, Ibrahim Dasuki, who served under the former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, have been brought to book. Also, the country’s former oil minister and first female president of the Oil Producing and Exporting Countries (OPEC), has been accused of laundering millions of dollars of public funds outside the country. She has strongly denied any wrongdoing, though she and her close relatives are reportedly under watch in the United Kingdom and may be charged to court soon. Furthermore, on February 3, operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) recovered USD, 9,772,800 (nine million, seven hundred and seventy-two thousand, eight hundred dollars) and another £74,000 (seventy-four thousand pounds) in cash, from a building allegedly belonging to a former Group Managing Director of the country’s national oil company, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mr. Andrew Yakubu. Critics from the opposition, People’s Democratic Party (PDP), disparage the ongoing anti-corruption battle in Nigeria as a selective vendetta mission and point at the perceived reluctance of the president to prosecute persons reported to be close to him, who have been linked inexorably to some shady deals in the recent past.
…one of the commitments in Nigeria’s OGP Action plan for instance, is to establish a technology-based citizen’s feedback platform between government and its citizens.
With renewed impetus to improve the ease of doing business in Nigeria, through the recent launch by Acting President Yemi Osibanjo, of the “60-Day Action Plan” of the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC), an initiative to open a public register of beneficial owners in the country’s murky extractive industry led by the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) among others, hopes of stakeholders are beginning to be rekindled that Nigeria’s membership of OGP may soon begin to deliver verifiable dividends. With many frontline civil society groups under a coalition known as the Open Alliance, participating in the process, there is assurance that they will insist that government fulfills its promises in relation to the OGP commitments. Some experts have welcomed Nigeria’s membership of the partnership as another chance for citizens to demand accountability from their leaders with a known history of opacity. For instance, one of the commitments in Nigeria’s OGP Action plan for instance, is to establish a technology-based citizen’s feedback platform between government and its citizens. For a country that has a teledensity of 110.76 (155 million active telephone subscribers) as at January 2017, one can only imagine the huge potential impact such a high level of telephone access could have, especially if government can leverage on it to increase citizen’s feedback on services provided to them.
Of the truth, the transition from openness to accountability, particularly in a country that has endured many years of military rule and held hostage by a formidable parasitic elite, will be a long and tortuous one. There will be resistance from beneficiaries of the status-quo to sustain the culture of secrecy and frustrate any form of reform through their vast clientelistic networks. However, the global experience sharing and cross-fertilisation of ideas offered by the OGP platform could become the model of how government and civil society could work together to collectively deliver good governance. If diligently followed, methodically implemented and tailored to context, OGP may indeed become the next big thing in transforming the good governance landscape, especially in countries that need it most.