GOOD GOVERNANCE: What can ”we the people do”? — Akin Mabogunje
As Nigeria marks another Democracy Day on June 12 in recognition of certain political developments that eventually gave birth to the Fourth Republic, TERRIFIC HEADLINES believes that June 12 should ideally not be for celebrations. It should necessarily be a day for reflections and declarations by citizens of the most populous black nation in the world, NIGERIA – to move Nigeria forward into her place in destiny. These two immensely successful personalities are Nigerians who are not bothered about what they could get from the system; but what they could contribute through sharing of knowledge and guidance on democracy and governance in order to make Nigeria great again.
For this reason, we present reactions from two great and eminent Nigerians whose names have evidently entered the positive pages of history. Coincidentally, both of them delivered the lectures that are still very fresh in 2011, and are holders of the insignia of honour – Commander of the Federal Republic, CFR. They are very well-known names:
Mallam Adamu Fika, former Secretary to the Government & Head of the Civil Service of the Federation presented the paper at the Barewa Old Boys’ Association annual lecture in October 2011. Adamu Fika’s lecture is titled: Going Back to Basics: The Past as Prologue. Mallam Adamu Fika, CFR ( Wazirin Fika) is a respected and skilled administrator who served as Permanent Secretary of six federal ministries. He appears in another slot on this same page.
On his part, Prof. Akin Mabogunje, CFR, a distinguished academic of global reckoning delivered his lecture as the ‘Fourth Splash F.M. Anniversary; and Chief Adebayo Akande’s 72nd Birthday at Lead-City University Ibadan, Ibadan on Friday, July 8, 2011. It has the title: PROMOTING GOOD GOVERNANCE: WHAT CAN WE, THE PEOPLE, DO? Mabogunje who has distinguished himself as au authority in diverse fields attained the status of professor at the age of 35 years. Professor Mabogunje has also held many important positions either as a member, Chairman, or President of at least 15 international organizations. It is a free day for the elite and political classes, academics, students, public office holders, public servants etc. TERRIFIC HEADLINES also adds to this bumper package a piece titled: AS NIGERIA MARKS THE JUNE 12 STRUGGLE – THE LESSONS OF THE EVENT. The three compilations are available on Terrific Headlines shortly after midnight.
We will publish the fourth compilation – President Muhammadu Buhari’s address to the nation early in the morning of JUNE 12. The fifth publication is about the healing of wounds of quarrels and turning your enemies into friends as are very common on the political turf. Enemies today; friends tomorrow – The type of admonition that President Bill Clinton, in his inaugural lecture at the first Nelson Mandela Foundation lecture in Johannesburg which Clinton called: ‘’Easy to say; hard to do’’ while appreciating Nelson Mandela.
The owner of the mandate, MKO Abiola also did the unthinkable. He was one of the most formidable political adversaries of Chief Obafemi Awolowo in the Second Republic. Abiola made sure to reconcile with Awolowo and even demanded for a plate of eba that he consumed in Awolowo’s house after his apology was accepted when he paid the unscheduled rapprochement visit to Ikenne. And it is highly notable that the Awolowo offspring are not known to publicly condemn people who might have wronged the departed Nigerian nationalist openly. But readers could be convinced by a sermon delivered by Joel Oosten and this is available to commemorate JUNE 12, on our sister channel – www.couplesofvirtuesandvalues.com/Blog, Enjoy your holiday!
PROMOTING GOOD GOVERNANCE: WHAT CAN WE, THE PEOPLE, DO? By Professor Akin L. Mabogunje, CON
All Protocols observed.
Let me start by joining all the friends and well-wishers of Splash FM 105.5 in congratulating it heartily on the occasion of its fourth anniversary of operation. I also like to wish the radio station, that as a veritable and robust medium of enlightenment and entertainment, it will continue to go from strength to strength. I must acknowledge that the occasion also marks the 72nd birthday anniversary of the proprietor of Splash FM 105.5, Chief Muritala Adebayo Akande, the Agba Akin Olubadan of Ibadanland. I join family members, friends, associates and all his well-wishers in wishing him “Many Happy Returns of the day”.
It was less than a year ago at the launching of the autobiography of Professor Adetokunbo Lucas that Chief Akande reminded me of our long-standing relationship that goes back for well over 50 years. We are not only alumni of the same famous, Ibadan Grammar School, but that in his early years in that school, I have had the privilege of having been one of his teachers. But, of course, since then so successful has he become in his many business endeavours and so great have been his other achievements in the public sphere that I did not realize that it was the same young Muritala that I taught that had grown from the small acorn of those years to become this gigantic and mighty oak tree about whom I have heard so much. This is particularly so with respect to the radio station Splash FM 105.5 which does not set out simply to enlighten and entertain but, more importantly, to hold forth and campaign strongly for integrity and anti-corruption in the public life of this nation. I salute your successes and achievements and pray that God will grant you many more years of robust good health to continue to serve meritoriously your community, the nation and humanity at large.
Now to the topic of my lecture which I was given the freedom to choose myself. I have chosen the topic: “Promoting Good Governance: What can We, the People, do?” I must at this stage qualify the title by emphasizing that it is “promoting good democratic governance” In the context of the crusade of Splash FM 105.5 for integrity and anti-corruption, the basis of my choice may or may not be fairly self-evident. I hope, however, that by the time I conclude, you will all appreciate the fundamental nature of the fact that good democratic governance, especially through its emphasis on accountability, can be a major antidote to corrupt practices in the public life of a country.
In his inauguration address to the nation on Democracy Day 2011, (Guardian, May 30, 2011, p.11) our President, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has this to say about the challenges still confronting Nigeria. I quote: “This is a new dawn for Africa. We fought for decolonization. We will now fight for democratization. Nigeria, in partnership with the African Union, will lead the process for democracy and development in Africa. In particular, we will support the consolidation of democracy, good governance and human rights in the continent. Africa must develop its vast resources to tackle poverty and under-development.” He then continued:“The time for lamentation is over. This is the era of transformation. This is the time for action. But Nigeria can only be transformed if we all play our parts with commitment and sincerity. Cynicism and skepticism will not help our journey to greatness. Let us all believe in a new Nigeria. Let us work together to build a great country that we will all be proud of. This is our hour”
In this lecture, therefore, I want to do four things. First, I want to examine what is this “fight for democratization” which our President wants us to engage in and how this is related to good governance and the prevention or reduction of corrupt practices in the nation. Second, I want to examine how well positioned we are in Nigeria to engage in this fight and so be able to promote good governance and anti-corruption efforts in the country. Third, I like to discuss what “We, the People” can do to improve Nigeria’s position in the fight for democratic good governance. And fourthly, I want to examine the role of civil society organizations such as the media and the various non-governmental organizations in mobilizing us effectively for this fight. I conclude by referring again to the Speech of our President that the great future of good governance and greatly reduced corrupt practices that we all wished for in Nigeria can only be secured “with unity, hard work and collective sacrifice”.
What is democratization and good governance? The year 2011 has been significant in the history of Nigeria because it has seen the nation as a whole go through a number of elections to choose our leaders at both the Federal and the State levels. We have spent hours standing in queues on three different days in the month of April voting for our President, our governors as well as our representatives at both the National and State Houses of Assembly. Those elections have enabled the world to accept that we are a democratic society in that we changed our leaders periodically through elections. But is that all there is to democratizing a society? Indeed, what does President Jonathan mean when he asserts in his inauguration speech that: “We fought for decolonization. We will now fight for democratization.” So, it is legitimate to ask: What is democratization and how do we fight for it? And, of course, how does such a fight help to reduce the level of corruption in our society?
Democratization, I suggest, is the process of fostering and enhancing democracy or democratic culture among a people or in a nation. At a very simplistic level, it can be understood as entailing no more than holding periodic elections to choose or determine the leaders and representatives of a people. It could even be extended to include holding such elections in the context of a multi-party system of government. However, a more serious examination of the concept of democratization emphasizes that it is truly a way of life, a culture or an all-pervasive system of organizing the affairs of any society that ensures an all-inclusive mobilization of its members in the operations of all of its activities. This is why Tonny Gitonga, a Kenyan scholar of democracy, in his 1987 publication titled: “The Meaning and Foundations of Democracy” emphasized that democracy is about people ruling themselves, ordering, organizing and managing their own affairs in freedom. Or, in the celebrated words of Abraham Lincoln, democracy is government of the people, by the people, for the people. However, Gitonga went on to stress that to truly appreciate the nature of democracy, we must conceive of it as operating at three levels of social existence of a people. These levels he referred to as the infrastructural level, the structural level and the super-structural level.
What does each of these levels entail? The infrastructural level of a democratizing society relates to the organization of its economy, its system of production, distribution and consumption of material goods and services. In other words, a democratizing society is one that encourages and provides the enabling environment for a robust, free market economy in which citizens are encouraged to grow the economy within a competitive framework in which no one person or a small group can hold members of the society to ransom by various forms of collusion or monopolistic arrangements. It is thus at this infrastructural level that democratization entails that everything is done to facilitate the growth of a private sector which works with the government in meeting the basic needs of the people. Five of such needs are usually of critical importance. They are: (a) the sustenance needs for food, clothing and shelter; (b) the security needs of freedom from danger, fear and anxiety; (c) the identity needs for social belonging, acceptance and affection; (d) the recognition needs for respect, social esteem and status; and (e) the self-actualization need for accomplishments.
The structural level of a democratizing society relates to the various institutions of governance, their functions and procedural arrangements for ensuring that democracy functions well in the society and that the decisions of government reflect as much as possible the wishes and desires of the people. Three principles are critical for ensuring that these various institutions of governance meet the democratic ideal. First, government must be open in the sense that it allows to citizens freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of choice of whoever they want to represent them; second, these institutions must be simple to operate or manage so that the citizens can easily understand the nature of their operations and are thereby less vulnerable to fraudulent manipulations; third, the role of each institutions must be clear as to their authority, power and influence since it is this that helps to establish the necessary checks and balances in the operation of a democratic system.
The super-structural level in a democratizing society is determined by the values, beliefs, behavioural orientation and attitudes of the citizens. In a truly democratizing society, citizens must be made to appreciate the profound implications of the gospel of equality, freedom and human dignity. They must also recognize the value of fairness and justice in their day to day interactions with others. Indeed, for democracy to exist, survive and prosper, it requires that the people be bathed and drenched in this democratic ethos. This is why Gitonga emphasized that at its superstructural level, democratization relates to acquired behaviour. In other words, it must be emphasized that true democratic behaviour is not a genetically conditioned, inborn or inherited faculty – it is learned. Citizens are mobilized from very early on in their lives to appreciate the importance of democratic values and are taught directly or indirectly through various forms of organizations on how to promote democratic culture in the society.
In governance terms, therefore, democracy is not just about how representatives are chosen which we have just done in Nigeria. More importantly, it is about how the citizens are regarded in the decision-making process – whether they are believed to be individually the equal of those making decisions and have the freedom to accept or reject any decisions made on their behalf or whether they are inferior beings on whom any decisions can be imposed. Accountability of elected representatives to those who elected them at each level of government and not to any other body however highly placed is thus central to the operations of a democratic system.
It is through such accountability which, especially at the local government level is expected to be made directly to the people, that much of the temptations to corruption can be checked. This is why a critical feature of local democracy in America is the Town Meeting. This is an annual affair in which elected representatives in a local government area meet with their electorate to report back on their achievements during the year and present them with their budget and tax proposal for the following year for their approval. This is why Alexis de Tocqueville, the earliest scholar of Ameican democracy, noted that such “local assemblies of citizens constitute the strength of free nations”. He went on as follows: “Town meetings are to liberty what primary schools are to science; they bring it within the people’s reach; they teach men how to use and how to enjoy democracy…..In the township (or local government) the people are the only source of power; but in no stage of government does the body of citizens exercise a more immediate influence. In America, the people are the master whose exigencies demand obedience to the utmost limits of possibility…..Yet, without power and independence, a town (or local government) may contain good subjects, but it can have no active citizens’.
Comparing the present level of democratization in Nigeria with what obtains in the United States, it is clear that most of “We, the People” are at best good subjects but not as yet active citizens. The significance of this distinction was brought clearly home to me in 1967 when I was a Visiting Professor at the Northwestern University in the town of Evanston in the State of Illinois in the United States in the late 1960s. Evanston is a small town of some 80,000 inhabitants. It also at the time had three secondary schools which were the responsibility of the local council. Some residents of the town felt it was important for the children to be taught French in all of the schools and began to canvass at the annual town meeting that the Local Council should make this possible. The position of the Council, however, was that it did not have the resources to do anything about this. However, such was the agitation for this development that the Council was forced to undertake a calculation of how much it would cost for French to be taught in all of the three secondary schools.
This calculation included the cost of building special classrooms equipped with audio-visual teaching aids as well as the cost of textbooks and employment of special teachers. When it had completed this calculation, the Council also considered how to raise the necessary resources through marginally increasing the rate of property tax that the residents had to pay. It then decided to put the issue to a referendum. All those who wished that French should be taught in the schools should vote “yes” to raising the property tax rate accordingly. All schools, primary and secondary, were closed for the referendum. It was the note sent through my children of the reason for the closure of schools for than day that informed me of the referendum and the basis for it. On the appointed day, the residents trooped out en masse to vote. At the end of voting, the “yes” votes were in the majority. On the basis of this referendum, the Council was able to raise the property tax rates as indicated, mobilized the resources, and went on to implement all that was required for French to be taught in all the high schools within the Council’s jurisdiction as required by the citizens.
The transparency with which the Council indicated what it can and cannot do and its accountability to its electorate are the very grit of what participatory democratic governance is all about. The town meeting provided the platform on which such local democracy could be built, ensuring that the people were not just “good subjects” but “active citizens” of a truly democratic society. It needs emphasizing, though, that in all of these decision-making processes neither the State nor the Federal Government was consulted nor their approval sought. The Council was accountable only to its citizens who were very active in ensuring that their councilors served them diligently and honestly.
How Democratized is Government in Nigeria? Against this background, the question may be asked: how democratized is government in Nigeria? The 1999 Constitution of Nigeria began by asserting that it was being enacted in the name of “We, the People of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, having firmly and solemnly resolved … to provide for a Constitution for the purpose of promoting the good government and welfare of all persons in our country on the principles of freedom, equality and justice, and for the purpose of consolidating the unity of our people do hereby make, enact and give to ourselves the following constitution…”
That Constitution also states that there shall be three tiers of government – federal, state and local. All our efforts of standing endlessly in queues last April was to elect representatives to the first two tiers of government. In many states, it is not even clear if there is a local government. Certainly, no serious attention or at least the same quality of attention is paid to election of persons to this tier of government. And yet, it is this tier of government, the local government that is often described as the government closest to “We, the People”. The first question to ask, therefore, is “In what sense is our local government, a government close to us? What, in fact, do most of us know of our local government other than that it is indolent, the cesspool of massive corruption and virtually irrelevant in the scheme of things as far as governance is concerned.
In this connection, I must relate the story of a recent visitor to Ibadan who inquired whether there is a government managing the affairs of the city. When he was challenged as to the basis of his question, he retorted that as he went round the city, he could not but observe in different places piles and piles of refuse; that he noticed that the guest house where he was staying depended on a bore-hole for its water supply, a gigantic generator for its electricity supply and its own incinerator to dispose of its solid wastes. When he was taken to see a primary school, he was depressed by the state of disrepair of the building and the poor and also sterile environment in which the children had to learn and play. He was taken to see one of the local hospitals and was equally disheartened at the poor state of health delivery in the town. So, he asked again, is there a government responsible for delivering any type of service to the inhabitants of this impressively large urban centre? What was all that national excitement about a “free, fair and credible election” about? How does this translate to improved quality of life for the masses at the level at which this really mattered. It is, of course, generally agreed and even the Fourth Schedule of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution confirms it that the services which local governments are usually expected to perform for their people include refuse collection, refuse disposal, retail markets, parks and gardens, recreation, public hygiene and sanitation, drainage, sewerage, dispensaries and clinics, roads and bridges, traffic control, primary education, preventive health, fire prevention and land-use planning. Other services that are carried out by some but not all local governments include water and electricity supply, municipal transportation, rural public transport, vehicle licensing, small industry development, agricultural extension, community development, tourism, labour exchange, air and water pollution control, environmental protection and police. Furthermore, in many of our local governmnts, because of the dominance of the poor, two other services are considered as basic for local government to provide. These are reproductive health services especially family planning services as well as financial services especially microcredit to enhance the capacity of most of the poor to struggle out of their predicament.
In Nigeria, the history of service delivery at the local level reveals a systematic retreat from the days of Native Administration in colonial times to the so-called local governments of the present day. In colonial times, the Native Administration was responsible for delivering most of the services listed above to the populace. To-day, our so-called local governments either do not provide any services at all or these services are provided by higher tiers of government and their parastatals, or delivered by the private sector or even by the communities themselves. In our colonial past, it was from the declared revenue raised by the different units of the Native Administration that capital projects were undertaken such as dispensaries, court buildings, prisons, roads, usually constructed by communal labour but maintained by the Native Administration. With some “grants” from the colonial Government, a number of these Native Administrations were able to establish waterworks, develop hospitals and maintain secondary mission schools. In short, the colonial Native Administration functioned more effectively as a local government than anything we have had since the reform of 1976. So, the question may be asked: why have our present-day local government lost the capacity and capability to deliver services to us? The answer to this question, to my mind, is multiple but they all revolve around three issues: inadequate decentralization; poor dedication and venal corruption.
INADEQUATE DECENTRALIZATION: Inadequate decentralization refers to the Nigerian phenomenon in which the Federal and State Government have ascribed to themselves responsibilities which are properly the mandate of local governments. Until the early 1980s, for instance, refuse collection and disposal in most large Nigerian cities was the responsibility of the local governments. Indeed, under the 1979 Nigerian Constitution, “provision and maintenance of public conveniences and refuse disposal” is specifically identified as a local government function. Yet, today in many States of the Federation parastatals have been established by State Governments to perform these responsibilities but all they do at best is to concentrate on providing these services to the capital city of the State. Water and electricity supply have been cornered by the Federal Authority leaving the people with little room for any local initiative and no one to complain to directly for the huge shortages , frequent outages and enormous losses of revenue and income that characterize their poor provisioning.
For those other services which local governments were expected to deliver to their populace such as good roads, drainage, health clinics, primary school, library services, recreational facilities and so on the lack of a sense of dedication and diligence as a result of the pervasive corruption have undermined the local ability to perform. Not unexpectedly, therefore, other providers notably the private sector, both formal and informal, community associations and individuals have had to move into the arena to cover up for the inadequacies of municipalities and local government. Today, in many large Nigerian cities, private sector operators provide at relatively unnecessarily high costs a wide range of services which the local government is expected to provide. The large number of operators supplying water, the mini-buses and okada operators providing transport services and others providing health and educational services and so on attest to the growing irrelevance of the formal local government to the provisioning of services to the local population. Many city residents and families particularly among the poor depend for their daily water ration on buying from such water vendors whose source of supply is generally uncertain and the safety of the water for human consumption doubtful. Most city residents also depend on informal transport service providers to move daily from their homes to their workplaces or engage in social visits. All of these could be provided collectively and more cheaply and made available to residents at much lower prices per head than is the situation at present.
SERVICE DELIVERY & DEDICATION: Clearly, there is no better testimony to the poor dedication of our representatives at the local level than the state of service delivery in all its ramifications. Stories are rampant from all parts of the country that most councilors only report at the local government headquarters once a month to share the federal allocation due to the local government. Indeed, from the point of their seeking to be the people’s representatives, there is no compact with the people as to what to expect from them during their years of service. There is no institutionalized town meetings at which councilors could be expected to report on their performance to their electorate, to defend their budget for the new year or indicate how they expect to raise the needed revenue for services to be delivered. Of course, given the level of corruption, no Council dared talk or do anything about raising rates or taxes for service delivery. Consequently, there are no possibilities of citizens’ being able as in the case of Evanston in the State of Illinois in the United States to indicate improvements they would like to see to social or economic conditions in the local government or to exercise any oversight functions to establish that services due to them were duly delivered.
The lack of dedication is, of course, the result of the pervasive corruption. This is a situation that links leadership of political parties with the State Government and leaves neither in a position to call the councilors to order. In spite of the decision of the Federal Government that the share of local governments from the Federation Account should be paid directly to them, the continued existence of the Joint State and Local Government Account had served to allow State Governors to exercise an overweening power over the resources of the local government. Indeed, it is claimed that for many State Governors, this joint account is the source of much of the slush funds they dispense without accountability to anyone. Since the Governor has powers to remove a local government chairman or the whole council on grounds that need not be proven to the citizens’ satisfaction, most elected representatives at the local level thus see their loyalty not to the citizens who elected them but to the Governor who can remove them.
From the above, there is no gainsaying that at the level that greatly matters to the welfare of citizens, Nigeria is still far from being a truly democratic country. It is, however, a most unfortunate fact that at no time in our post-independence constitution-making events whether in 1963, 1979 or 1999 that the issue of the situation in our local government gets the attention or the importance that it deserves. This is why in my 1985 Nigerian National Merit Award Winners Lecture, I had called attention to our penchant as a nation for doing “last things first”. I have likened our effort in many instances including that of governance as a penchant for always trying to build a house from the roof to the foundation, with all the adverse consequences that can be expected from such effort. There can be no doubt that most of the problems of development and welfare as well as the endemic nature of corruption in this country arises from the failure to enlighten the population at the grassroots as to their rights and obligations in a truly democratic society so as to empower them to become “active citizens” rather than “good subjects”. It is no wonder that a former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Boutros Boutros-Ghali noted derogatorily that Nigeria is a country which he would have loved to rule since the people never seem to be able to protest against any level of avoidable deprivation and degradation to which they are subjected through bad governance. We simply, in the words of Fela Anikulapo, love to be “suffering and smiling”.
What then can “We, the People” do? What then can “We, the People” do about this situation? Is it possible for us, the civil societies to which we belong in a democratic setting to call attention to the need for a more participatory and inclusive governance system especially at the local level where this is most possible, practicable and essential? At federal and state level, we have done what is expected of us. We have sacrificed time, energy and commitment to stand in long queues to elect our President, our Governors and our representatives at these relatively remote levels. All we can hope is that they will redeem their pledges to provide us with regular power supply, potable water, better education, good roads, better health care delivery, security of lives and property, job creation and poverty eradication. But we know that if they fail or renege on their promises there isn’t much we can do except wait and try to vote them out at the next election four years from now.
By contrast, it is my contention in this lecture that there is much that “We, the People” can do where the services to be delivered to us are within the purview of our local governments. I can illustrate the nature of our power by narrating a story told me of a situation in a local government in one of the states in the north-eastern part of the country. The story was how the communities in the local government area decided to ensure that their local government became accountable to them. In this local government like many others in the country, it was common knowledge that the Chairman and the Councilors rather than provide needed services to their area were simply busy misappropriating the surplus from the monthly subvention from the Federation Account. The situation got so bad that the elders of the local government invited the youths of the area and appealed to them that they were in the best position to initiate the needed change for accountability in the Council. The strategy they proposed was for the youths to go as a large group to the Local Government Office, quietly and non-threateningly surround the place, whilst three of their leaders should go in to see the Chairman of the Council. They were to be very polite and on their best behaviour. After greeting the Chairman, they were to point out to him that as members of his constituency and his major electorates, they would want him to tell them exactly what he had done to improve conditions in the area since he was voted to power nearly two years before.
The elders advised the youths on what was likely to happen at this point. They also counseled them on how to behave in responding to the ensuing situation. Everything that followed was as they predicted. The chairman lost his temper when asked to account for what he and the councilors had done over the period, sent the representatives of the youths out of his office and proceeded to summon the anti-riot squad of the Nigerian Police. As instructed, the three youth leaders quietly left the Chairman’s Office to join their other colleagues who were seated casually under the trees within the precincts of the Council’s Office. No sooner had they settled down than the Mobile Police drove into the compound. The Divisional Police Officer went in to ask the Chairman where the rioters were. He pointed to the youths outside. The DPO came out to ask the youths what they wanted; why they were threatening to breach the peace and destroy Government properties. The youth leaders then told the DPO that they were the electorate who elected the Chairman. That they had only come to find out from him what he had done to improve the local conditions. That as for rioting and destroying Government properties, they had no such intention especially as the so-called Government properties were built with their tax money. But since they voted the Chairman into the Council as one of their representatives, they will not leave until he had spoken to them and report what exactly the Council had done in the area.
At that point, the DPO went back to report to the Chairman. He pointed out that since these were his electorates they had a right to insist that he must speak to them. They, as the Police, will simply stay around to prevent a breach of the peace. The Chairman’s hands then began to shake. He asked that the youths be summoned to the main hall of the Local Government. He then began to make a case to explain why they had not been able to do much because of the so-called “zero-allocation” from Abuja. But the elders had given the youths the list of the monthly subventions to the local government from the Federation Account. So they were able to challenge the Chairman on his zero allocation excuse. As a result, he then apologized to the youths and claimed that they would see some changes in the area in the next few months. I gathered that some changes did take place. The lesson of the story, of course, was that if people themselves are not committed to ensuring that those they elect to govern them are made accountable to them, then those Councilors and Chairmen of Local Governments are likely to pay more attention to feathering their own nests than providing services and improving infrastructural facilities of the area they are meant to govern. In other words, if we prefer to be “good subjects” rather than “active citizens”, we will continue to suffer the deprivations and development-deficit that go with poor governance.
In short, the challenge of transparency and accountability is not only one to be met by those who govern us but also by “We, the people” ourselves. Or, as Bernard Shaw so aptly puts it in his play, The Apple Cart, “we (the people) need to be governed and yet to control our governors”. This is why, in reminding people of Abraham Lincoln’s famous dictum on democracy as “the government of the people, by the people and for the people”, we need to remind ourselves that “government of the people” means that we choose people from among ourselves to rule us; “government for the people” means that they are to rule us for what we need; but “government by the people” means that even when they do those other things, we remain committed to ensuring at all times that they serve the purpose for which we elected them to rule us. This is the sense of the adage: “eternal vigilance is the price of freedom”.
I wish to point out five features of the apocryphal story I have just told to underscore what “We, the People” can do. There are clearly FIVE steps in the strategy adopted by the elders of the communities to initiate the beginning of good governance in the local government. These are:
Information gathering: the Elders of the community had for the youths the information of the monthly federal allocations to the local government;
Training: They advised and counseled the youths about how to be effective without being violent or destructive;
Leadership: They ensured that the youths worked under a disciplined leadership of three of their members;
Strategy: They advised on the various stages of the outcome of their demonstration, what they should do at each stage, and the importance of forcing the Chairman to be accountable to them;
Sustained Monitoring: The meeting of the Chairman with the youths and his pledge to improve on the Council’s performance established the basis for further meetings for sustained monitoring of the Council’s performance.
These five steps are what “We, the People” need to be able to do to ensure that we respond to President Jonathan’s clarion call to fight for “democratization”. Thus, as the battle cry goes up by political parties for constitutional revision to make Nigeria a true federation especially in respect of power-sharing between the federal and state governments, it is important that we also have championed for greater decentralization and devolution of power to local governments and to “We, the People” whom they directly serve. These champions must press for at least four changes to our present local government system. First, they must agitate that town meetings must be made mandatory in each local government and must be summoned at least once every year. Second, such town meetings should be open to all citizens of the local government but especially to leaders of neighbourhood and ward communities within the Local Government area together with the heads of other institutions such as traditional leaders, religious leaders, heads of the local chamber of commerce and other trade and professional associations, women societies, community development associations and other local non-governmental associations. Thirdly, such town meetings can, indeed, come to be the platform for the introduction and development in Nigeria of the system of participatory budgeting which has made so much difference to the quality of local development in most Latin American and European countries. Fourthly, it is only at such town meetings that elected local representatives can be sanctioned or resolution taken for any or all of them to be removed by the Governor. How can such a transformation in the governance of the country come about? Who can help to empower “We, the People” to be able to bring about this transformation so critical for our economic well-being and social welfare? Who can assist “We, the People” to become “active citizens” in meeting the challenges of transforming the country to better serve our needs?
The Role of the Media and Civil Society Organizations For “We, the People” to succeed in ensuring that those who govern us listen to us, the level of awareness or consciousness of our latent power in particular situation has to be raised and greatly enhanced. This certainly must be one of the many tasks of the media and other public relations agencies. In this respect, it must be admitted that the Nigerian media has had an impressive track record of many successes in helping to raise the awareness or consciousness of the people where critical issues of national importance are concerned. This record goes back to our pre-independence, nationalistic days and has continued even till recent times of our agitation against military rule and tenure elongation. The media thus has a very serious responsibility in promoting good democratic governance and reversing the virtual disappearance of real local government in Nigeria. It may be that some sections of the media have also given up on local governments in the country. Indeed, most of the time when they write about poor urban roads, poor waste management, poor drainage, poor market facilities and so on, they immediately expect these to be the responsibilities of State Governments rather than the local governments.
Many reasons may account for the media pushing issues of local governance well to the back burner of their socio-political concern. One is the amorphous nature of many local governments following on the manner the military created them arbitrarily without any reference to actual communities. Thus, the Afijio Local Government of Oyo State resulted from the amalgam of the communities of Awe, Akinmorin, Fiditi, Ilora, Jobele, Iware and Olorunda, the acronym of their first letters providing the name of the local government. Each of these communities thus lacks their own effective local government which their citizens can try to control. Instead, they have to depend for the informal hometown development associations for much of their governance services. At the other extreme, Ibadan metropolis was sub-divided into thirteen local governments without an over-arching metropolitan authority to oversee the effective planning and management of the whole metropolitan area.
It has been difficult to call for a review or reform of the present local government system in the country for two principal reasons. First, the skewed and unfair distribution of numbers of local government areas per state especially after the 1976 reform which favoured certain states more than their population demanded. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the decision of the Federal Government to share the Federation Account to local governments on the basis of this biased distribution. Thus, a State like Lagos, the most populous State in the country was assigned only twenty Local Governments whilst the truncated Kano State, the second largest populous State has forty-four local governments. Jigawa State which was carved out of Kano State has 26 local governments. For those States benefitting from these distortions, any review or reform of the system was seen as antagonistic to their interests. Promoting good democratic governance in the country thus would entail removing local government issues from the purview of the Federal Government as obtains in the present Constitution and ensuring that the local government share in the Federation Account is based on the same criteria as used for the States.
If the media would take the challenge of championing the cause for a more effective and vibrant local democratic governance in Nigeria, it must concentrate not only on how to make our councilors more accountable to us but also on how to correct the structural defects in the present constitutional arrangements. They must champion the need for having at least one town meeting a year in every local government area to enable the local council present its annual budget to the people and indicate how far projects and programmes in the previous budget had been met. This is no more than what the age-old “town unions” or informal hometown development associations used to do every year to foster transparency and accountability to their compatriots. Moreover, every settlement, however small, deserves some institutional arrangement for effectively managing it. It does not need to be expensively designed like the present system, parading a presidential structure with separations of powers between the executive and “legislature” at the local government level. A new local government system need not operate on a “one-mode-fits-all”. It can vary from State to State and with different sizes of settlements. The issues raised here are, of course, too numerous and complex to be dealt effectively in this lecture but I hope that it has served to call attention to important defect in our present effort to democratize and strive for good governance in the country.
I believe civil society organizations such as Campaign for Democracy and similar non-governmental agencies also have a pre-eminent function in enlightening and educating citizens as to their responsibilities in promoting good democratic governance, starting from the local government level where they can be most effective. I had earlier emphasized that democracy is not an in-born or inherited trait in human beings; it is acquired behavior. It has to be taught and taught again in different circumstances until the people come to be “bathed and drenched in its ethos” and until it becomes a fundamental aspect of our way of life and our culture. The illustrative example of how elders in a local government area in the north-eastern part of the country dealt with their governance situation also emphasized at least the five areas in which civil society organizations and other NGOs can help in educating, enlightening, mobilizing and empowering the populace to be able to ensure transparent and accountable governance at the local level.
There is also a new element in the equation of mobilizing and empowering citizens whose wide-ranging potency in a democratic society is still to be explored and exploited. This is the use of information technology. The events unfolding before our very eyes in various countries of North Africa and the Middle East underscore what revolution can come with so many in the population owning cellphones, computers and various other electronic gadgets. How can we deploy these gadgets to empower the citizens in its fight against corruption of officials and elected representatives and in the struggle for greater involvement in the governance of the community? This is a challenge which our youthful population with their great savvy in using and operating these various gadgets of information technology should be able to take up and deploy in the cause of promoting good democratic governance in our country.
Conclusion I believe I have said enough to underscore that the fight for democratic good governance in Nigeria is at best at its very infancy. It is true we have had elections for federal and state representatives that had been adjudged relatively free, fair and credible. This has greatly helped to boost our ego as a people and to raise our standing internationally as a democratizing nation. But it is only the beginning of the fight. Especially at the local level, Nigerians still feel alienated and distanced from their government which, most of the time delivers little or no services to them. This is why most people would not pay their taxes or their tenement rates. It is also the reason why there is so much indifference to the deplorable environmental and dehumanizing conditions which visitors see in our cities, towns and rural areas especially outside of state capitals. It is this alienation and cynicism that have made it difficult to effectively mobilize the populace in the fight against corruption of officials at all levels of our governments particularly at the local government level. Indeed, for the local councilors, it would appear that the attitude is not to even raise the issue of payment of taxation or tenement rates with the populace. They are afraid that if they did, the citizens might demand for greater probity and transparency in the conduct of public affairs.
And yet it is clear we cannot continue like this. This state of alienation and cynicism to our surrounding conditions cannot go on indefinitely. We cannot continue to be indifferent to the filth, dreariness and degraded environment that define the context in which most citizens live and have to earn a living. We cannot continue to pretend that it is only at the federal and state levels which are farther away from our direct influence that the challenges for good governance are to be met. Indeed, for the majority of “We, the people”, it is at the local level that our lives have meaning and true worth. It is thus at this local level that we must begin the struggle for good governance and the fight for real democratization. And as President Jonathan reminds us in his inauguration address: “The time for lamentation is over. This is the era of transformation. This is the time for action. But Nigeria can only be transformed if we all play our parts with commitment and sincerity. Cynicism and skepticism will not help our journey to greatness. Let us all believe in a new Nigeria. Let us work together to build a great country that we will all be proud of. This is our hour.”
It is my hope that on this its fourth anniversary, Splash FM 105.5 under the dynamic leadership of Chief Bayo Akande would accept the challenge of initiating the process whereby the media will champion the cause of enlightening, educating, mobilizing and democratically empowering “We, the People” so that we can truly play our part not only in promoting good democratic governance and reducing corruption but also, more importantly, in building a great country that we can all be truly proud of.
I thank you all for your attention.
(Being text of a Lecture to mark the Fourth Splash F.M. Anniversary and Chief Adebayo Akande’s 72nd Birthday delivered at Adeline Hall, Lead-City University Ibadan, Ibadan on Friday, July 8, 2011)