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ISSUES & CHALLENGES OF GOVERNANCE IN NIGERIA: By: Prof. Akin Mabogunje, CON – PART 1

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 “It is gratifying to note that the National Conference of 2014 (NC, 2014: 202) had itself recommended what it called a Modified Presidential System at the Federal level which combines the best practices in both the Parliamentary and the Presidential system of government; although it says very little about local governments; other than to return them to the states. It, however, still proceeded to recommend the creation of 18 new States on the “awuff” basis.’’ – Prof Akin Mabogunje, CON

 TERRIFIC HEADLINES notes that the significance of the paper being published are three-fold to wit: It is authoured and presented by one of the most erudite and respected scholars ever produced by Nigeria, Prof Akin Mabogunje; it was presented to mark the endowment of a Professorial Chair in Governance by one of the most forthright, progressive, and respected monarchs in Yorubaland, His Royal Majesty, Oba (Dr.) Sikiru Adetona, Ogbagba II, the Awujale of Ijebuland; and  on the occasion of the Endowment Fund for the Oba Sikiru Adetona Professorial Chair in Governance; and lastly; the treatise itself, as a very relevant material these days when the search for Good Governance, a prerequisite for development, appears elusive.

TERRIFIC HEADLINES asserts that it is a fact that one of the issues that would move the polity forward is the ability of those engaged in Governance to read widely, to be able to gain knowledge to take well-versed decisions. Preparation is important to success. For example, knowing that some members of the State Executive Council might not properly digest Council Memos before attending weekly EXCO Sessions, a former governor of one of the Southwest States designed a unique method that kept members of his team on their toes. In the midst of EXCO Sessions, he usually pointed at any EXCO member and asked him/her to contribute to the issue being debated. Inability make observations by any EXCO member attracted the comment: ‘’They address you as honourable; but I am sure you are not honourable!) That was possible because the State governor himself, highly cerebral,  had painstakingly gone through the compilation from the Cabinet Secretariat – Leadership be example.

It is on this basis that we introduce the lecture that is of utmost relevance to our present dilemma as a nation, as compiled by a great scholar and mentor to so many reputable scholars, Prof Akin Mabogunje, CON.  The lecture, delivered in 2016 is titled: ISSUES & CHALLENGES OF GOVERNANCE IN NIGERIA. It is a MUST READ for all those engaged in the three arms of Government who mean well for Nigeria; political governors of the three tiers; as well as students of politics, public policy, governance procedures, public administration, and history of political development. Because of its length, this compilation will be serialized in two parts.

STARTING POINT: I have some clear ideas and views on issues and challenges in the governance of this country which I have been canvassing at various fora and would like to share with as many compatriots as possible; including and especially those in this august assembly. I have, no doubt, Kabiyesi himself is not unaware of some of these views of mine given his own standing as, perhaps the most outspoken, the most courageous and the most astute traditional leader in Nigeria today. My views on these matters are predicated on three propositions: First, that because of the windfall from oil revenue and its own operational structure of a unified command, the military regime transformed the country away from its federal and democratic trajectory of development; secondly, that since the end of the military regime, our political leaders and various professional groups particularly the Nigerian Bar Association have failed the nation in not legally challenging some of the non-democratic distortions to our governance system especially at the local level; the third is that unless we seriously re-visit these distortions and rectify them appropriately the nation will continue to be hostage to a dysfunctional; and disempowering governance system in the country.

LECTURE IN FOUR PARTS:  I have therefore divided the lecture into four parts. The first examines the nature and legacy of the military era in the governance of this country. I have referred to this legacy as the rise and fall of the “awuff” society. The second part then assesses the twist this legacy has made in leaving the nation with a most expensive and dysfunctional governance system at the federal, state and local level in the country. The third section attempts to show how the nation can get itself out of this morass by looking intelligently at its own rich historical and cultural experience in governance whilst the fourth presents some lessons of international experience especially of countries similarly caught in a situation of sudden access to “windfall revenue” from petroleum resources such as ours but which made more prudent and sustainable choices than we did about what to do with the windfall. A concluding section considers the way forward in the context of the recent National Conference and other attempts to amend our present flawed Constitution.

THE RISE & FALL OF THE ‘AWUFF’ (FREE BENEFITS) SOCIETY: Let me begin then with the story of the rise and fall of the “awuff” society. To appreciate the thrust of this story, I must go to the year 1951. In that year, a group of young men met in the town of Owo determined that if the evolving political situation gave them the chance, they will provide this part of the country, that is Western Nigeria with a governance system of which the citizens would all be very proud. I believe the term “governance” as distinct from “government” in the title given me for this lecture is deliberate since it encompasses not just the government as “the formal institutional structure and location of authoritative decision making” (Stoker, 1998: 34) but also its interrelationship with its citizens and other stakeholders in the determination of desirable outcomes in the civic public realm (Swilling, 1997). To this end, this group of young men produced a number of policy papers of what they would do if they got into government. Perhaps the most revolutionary of their policy papers was the one that indicated that they would provide free and universal primary education to all of the citizens. When they did get the chance and got into government in 1952, in executing their scheme for the free and universal primary education, they began by setting for themselves a target date of January 1955.

They decided to find out how many children would by them be qualified to enter school at that date, how many teachers would they have to train to cater for this number, how many teacher training colleges would they have to build to train these teachers, how many school books would they have to ensure are available and so on and so forth. Then they set out to worry about the resources to make this realizable. Of course, it all had to come from increased taxes from the citizens. So, they raised the capitation tax from sixpence to ten shillings and six pence. They imposed tax on salt and petrol. They put on an entertainment tax. The idea was to make every adult taxpayer pay whether he or she had children of school going age or not. Not unexpectedly, there was resentment and even open riot in some parts of the region. But the government went out to try and further explain and enlighten citizens in those rioting areas about the long-term goals of the programme. In spite of this, this political party in power in the region still lost the federal election of 1954 to its opposition party. But when in August 1954, the government asked parents to register their children for the universal and free primary education, as against the anticipated 170,000, the number rose to close to 400,000. (Awolowo, 1981). Not daunted, the government had to find additional sources of finance. It struggled to have the centralized commodity board regionalized so that it could impose export tax on crops emanating from the region.

It appealed to leadership of communities to assist in building additional classrooms with government providing corrugated iron sheets for the roofing. It appealed to all retired former teachers to come out in January 1955 to help fill the manpower gap until additional teachers could be trained. It all became an interesting challenge to patriotism not only for the government but for the people as a whole. Thus, when the system stabilized, every one took pride in the achievement. And it is important to stress that what was “free” in this whole programme was the access of the children to education for which every taxable adult in the region had to pay. Almost twenty years later in 1970, at the end of a Civil War, remarkable for the fact that Nigeria did not borrow to prosecute the war, the same proponent of this regional feat argued that the resources mustered for fighting the War could now be prudently diverted to organize and provide free, universal primary education for all children in the whole country. The greatest antagonists to this proposal were federal civil servants who argued that it could not be done, that resources were inadequate to promote such a national programme. Yet, two years later, with the beginning of the windfall from the rise in the price of petroleum due to the Arab-Israeli War, without any plan whatsoever, the Federal Government announced that it was launching a nation-wide free and universal primary education to start at the beginning of the following year, less than six months away.

IMPORTANCE OF PLANNING TO DEVELOPMENT: There was no plan whatsoever to find out the number and distribution of the children that would be involved or to plan for the training of their teachers. Instead, the Federal government advertised all over the world and brought in teachers from Egypt, South Africa, Phillipines, India, Pakistan and many other countries. For classrooms, it got architects in Lagos and elsewhere to design model primary schools even for places as far away as Sokoto and for building these classrooms and other public buildings it began to engage contractors and, in the process, provoked a “cement armada” in anticipation of the massive construction binge. This was the beginning of the “awuff” society in the country. It is necessary at this juncture to define the word “awuff” as used in this lecture. This is a word used commonly in pidgin English to signify “free” money or unearned income which is not the product of a person’s labour and therefore can be squandered or spent imprudently.

In applying it to governance, it is meant to describe a situation in which fiscal resources accrue to government, not from tax revenue assiduously and diligently collected from citizens; but from royalties and rent from the exploitation of mineral resources, particularly petroleum, which can therefore be squandered, spent imprudently or unaccountably or simply misappropriated into personal accounts. It is a situation best captured in the statement “money is not our problem but how to spend it”. Consequently, in the situation in Nigeria in the 1970s, instead of using the accruing resources from the windfall from petroleum to improve and modernize our colonial infrastructure, we began by establishing a Public Service Review Commission, which enhanced personal emoluments of civil and public servants dramatically, resulting in a national spending spree that depleted commercial stores all over the country of durable consumer goods such as air-conditioners, refrigerators, electric cookers, television sets, radios and so on.

This, of course, forced a sharp rise in the demand for electricity beyond the capacity of the National Electric Power Authority to provide and the consequence of that singular miscalculation is still with us till today. More serious was the impact of this “awuff” mind-set on the governance system itself. Just before the Civil War, the military government had had to announce the creation of 12 States out of the 4 regions of the country at the time. These were to be six states in the north of the country and six states in the south. The reason for this was exigent. It was a response to long-standing agitation for a more equitable federation in which no one state would be so big as to bend the will of the federation to itself. It was a decision which did a lot to undermine the attractiveness of the Biafran secession and to consolidate widespread loyalty of people behind the Nigerian federation. But as the windfall from petroleum continued to pour in, it was decided to tamper with the fundamental fiscal arrangement of the Federation. That arrangement was based on the “derivation principle” in which regions retained 50 per cent of royalties and rent paid in respect of mineral exploitation as well as import and excise duties of goods and services consumed in the region whilst 20 per cent went to the Federal Government and 30 per cent to a distributable pool shared among the regions on an agreed formula to even out development in the country.

FACTORS THAT DEEPENED THE ‘AWUFF’ MENTALITY: With the continuing and increasing in-flow of the windfall from petroleum, the military government with its unified command structure was no longer comfortable with a fiscal arrangement in which the governor of an oil-rich state could start to have a revenue-base close to that of the Federal Government itself. In consequence, the Federal Military government set out to subvert the existing fiscal arrangement of the Federation. Instead of the “derivation principle” of revenue allocation, it passed the Petroleum Act of 1969 which decreed that all royalties and rent from petroleum accrued to a Federation Account from which all levels of government, in consonance with the unified command structure of military administration, can have a share on some agreed formula. This Act allowed the Federal Military Government to begin the process of of “gratuitously” creating States and local governments without any consideration as to their economic viability. It was assumed that they could all enjoy their “awuff” share from the Federation Account which in popular parlance came to be referred to as “the national cake”. The “awuff” mentality, however, had a down-side to it.

LACK OF MORAL RESTRAINT IN FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT: Since the resources being shared is largely not the product of the tax revenue from the labour of the citizens, there was no compunction or moral restraint in misappropriating or stealing significant part of it. Consequently, State Governments had no compunction in misappropriating the share of the Federation Account meant for the local government which, in turn, had no compunction misappropriating part of the share that was eventually allowed to reach them into personal use.  And since the misappropriated share did not come from the taxes which the citizens were no longer compelled or encouraged to pay, they too became compliant with the situation. This negative aspect of the “awuff” mentality began to permeate all segments of society, promoting the acquisition of wealth by whatever means, preferably with little or no labour, as the goal of existence. With growing impunity, this “awuff” mentality fostered and promoted corruption in the public sector, blunting the moral conscience of leaders and officials, and bringing us to the present impasse in which in the middle of a very destructive insurgency, the resources for acquiring needed ammunitions to win the war could be diverted for political and personal aggrandizement.

In the meantime, the trade unions, noticing this apparent morass at the governmental level, would go on strike at the slightest provocation and expect to be paid for days their members were not working, clearly in contravention of the trade union law and practice which required that the union pay their members when they go on strike. Such “awuff” payment for work not done was seen as their own share of the national cake. The youths of the country, in their turn, also imbibed this culture and with technology on their side, managed through wide-ranging scams and fraudulent activities, to seek access to “awuff” money all over the world, thereby destroying our image internationally.

NEGATIVE EFFECT OF RELIGIOUS PRETENSIONS: Within the country, religion provided an easy platform for people with a gift of the garb to fraudulently exploit the weaknesses and gullibility of the masses by preaching the gospel of easy prosperity for their own personal gains, leading to the dubious correlation of a country with high religious pretensions and high-criminal propensities. There is the expectation that the dramatic drop in the price of petroleum and the anti-corruption posture of the new administration may represent, if nothing else, the beginning of the end of the “awuff” society. Nonetheless, it is my contention in this lecture that the structure of the governance system bequeathed to the country by the military and which it continues to operate, is the fundamental factor in the blossoming and sustenance of the “awuff” syndrome and corruption in the management of the affairs of the nation. Until this whole set-up is re-visited and re-structured in a way to elicit and promote appropriate democratic reactions to governance among the citizens, corruption may not be easy to tame and the nation would remain hostage to a dysfunctional and disempowering governance system. I shall now proceed to adumbrate this thesis by reference to issues and challenges at each level of our present governance system.

First Republic’s Issues and Challenges of Governance: (a) the Federal Level The 1962-1966 political imbroglio in the country led to the collapse of the First Republic and the end of the parliamentary system of government which the country had adopted from the experience of its colonial master. The military government that took over the administration of the country noted that apart from re-structuring the country from four regions to twelve states, there was need to design a more robust Constitution that takes cognizance of Nigeria’s peculiarities especially its multi-ethnic character, its religious differences, the different levels of socio-economic and socio-political development of the various nationalities that make up the country. There was need for a system in which all these nationalities and ethnic groups could have a say in the selection of their Head of State and of Government of the Nigerian Republic. It was reckoned that such a system would ensure that the Head of State/Government would strive to be sensitive to being acceptable to all parts of the country and not just his small constituency as was the case in the single-member constituency structure of the parliamentary system of government. It was also felt that there was need to minimize the importance of regional political parties in the determination of national affairs.

Presidential System of Government & The 1979 Military Constitution thus chose a Presidential System of Government of the American type which it believed provided the answer to all of these national challenges. This system requires that the President is elected by the majority of the Nigerian population in their different nationalities and states. It emphasized the separation of powers as between the Executive (the President and his Ministers), the Legislature and the Judiciary. It empowered the President (the Executive) to man the different Ministries of Government with personnel brought generally from outside of the elected members in the legislature. It also empowered the President to employ in addition, needed advisers and special assistants from outside the Legislature to facilitate governmental operations. The system required that policies and programmes derive essentially (but not exclusively) from the President so as to provide a focused, consistent and decisive strategy for national development and security with the Legislature having principally an oversight function to ensure transparency and accountability on the part of the Executive, apart from passing the budget for implementing the policies and programmes. In spite of being an apparent answer to the challenges of Nigeria at the Federal level, the American-type Presidential system has many striking demerits in a country like Nigeria which is still trying to find its feet as a democratic and a developing nation.

For one thing, the idea of a governance system based on the separation of powers ends up, as it were, positioning the Legislature almost as the opposition to the Executive, even when the President’s party has a majority in the National Assembly. In other words, the system does not necessarily align the majority party behind the policies and programmes of its President, thus rendering party manifestos of little importance in evaluating the post-election performance of the party in power. It thus makes for weak party control and discipline of the legislators as we’ve seen in the present National Assembly. It provides virtually little opportunity for serious political education of politicians by denying legislators the reward system of ministerial promotion for those showing good grasp and expertise in tackling the intricacies of particular sectors of national socio-economic life and loyalty in promoting the policies and programmes of the party whether in government or in opposition. More than this, the Presidential system is very costly especially in terms of the range of personnel appointable by the Executive (ministers, advisers, special assistants, etc.) and the need to provide separate constituency development fund to the legislators even those whose party is in power.

PRESIDENTIAL SYSTEM TENDS TO BREED CORRUPTION: More seriously, the Presidential system tends to foster and promote corruption in the decision (or budgetary) interface between unelected Ministers sitting on and dispensing large national resources while elected legislators are confined, as it were, simply to legislative duties and oversight functions. This, of course, is where the “awuff” mentality comes into play. By 1979, when Nigeria was opting for the American-type Presidential System of Government, there was another Presidential System which was emerging world-wide as an alternative to either the Parliamentary System of government. Indeed, this system combines the best features of both the parliamentary and the American-type system and is often referred to as the Semi-Presidential system of government. The system admits of an Executive President elected by all of the electorate in the nation and has powers over defined areas of government such as Foreign Affairs, Defence, and Security; whilst having a Legislature from amongst the majority party of which a Prime Minister and Ministers are chosen, whose performance is constantly under the direct scrutiny of the Legislature. There is no Vice-President in the system, and the division of functions as between the President and the Prime Minister varies from country to country.

Similarly, the question of the tenure of office of a government under a Prime Minister is based on the ability to muster a majority in the legislature and can be determined by a negative vote of confidence in the National Assembly. The Legislature thus elects its own Prime Minister and Ministers but these are formally approved by the President who also has the responsibility of formally dissolving the Legislature whenever its term expires. The Semi-Presidential system which is similar to what obtains in France and some 40 other countries has certain advantages that makes it more suitable for the Nigeria political situation than the American-type Presidential system. By preserving the system of a President elected nation-wide, the semi-presidential systems meet the challenge of the Nigerian situation. By removing the position of Vice President, it has done away with one of the causes of unnecessary tensions and conflicts in the administration of the country. By emphasizing the choice of Prime Minister and Ministers from among the elected representatives of the party in power, it enhances the process of political and policy education among politicians and removes the “awuff” temptation in the process of passing the annual appropriation bill as a surreptitious factor of corruption in governance. — To be continued.

Akin Mabogunje is an Emeritus professor of Geography, and Chairman, Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy.

 

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