By Uche Ezechukwu,
Increasingly, especially with the emergence of the situation whereby technology and the social media are compelling openness and transparency on all the spheres of human endeavour, especially in the conduct of public affairs by the different strata of governance, government operatives at different levels are being roused to action. The social media, otherwise known as the people’s media, has placed the power to scrutinize in the hands of anybody who can afford a cheap phone that can access the Internet. So, public scrutiny – warts and all – is no longer the preserve of the haughty and privileged few.
The way things are today, nobody can escape the prying eyes of the public, especially as technology has democratized governance and the way the world views it. Hence, increasingly, some standard requirements of good governance have become both the accepted and expected norms for conducting the public affairs of nations and societies of the present time and of the future. It has become obvious that none can escape the current tendency and demands for openness and transparency.
In realisation of this fact, many people and bodies are coming up with initiatives that institutionalize the different and widely accepted and tested attributes of good governance that are applicable across the different global divides. One of such initiatives is the Open Government Partnership (OGP) which was formed on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in September 2011, when heads of state from eight founding governments (Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, United Kingdom, and the United States) endorsed the Open Government Declaration and announced their country action plans along with an equal number of civil society leaders, including the former managing director of the World Bank.
These eight founding members then welcomed the commitment of some 38 other governments to join OGP and since its creation, resulted in over 2,500 commitments made by 75 participating countries, covering a third of the world’s population. Significantly, Nigerian government under President Buhari has formally committed and signed up to the ideals and demands of OGP.
Because OGP provides a platform for reformers inside and outside of governments to fashion out initiatives that promote transparency, that empower citizens, fight corruption and harness new technologies to strengthen governance, it aims at securing concrete commitments from national and sub-national governments that drive open government reform and innovation in an effort to push countries and societies further in the direction and areas of transparency, accountability, and citizen engagement. Significantly, OGP is a voluntary partnership that countries opt to join on their own accord without any external influences.
When I became aware of this initiative from some of my foreign friends, I never for a moment believed that it would become an initiative that would enjoy wide acceptance among African countries including Nigeria, following our legendary tendency for opacity in the conduct of public affairs. It was, therefore, with utter surprise that I learnt that members of the Nigeria’s governors forum – that voluntary forum that provides state governors the platform and opportunity to discuss issues of common interests – at the their April 17th meeting, unanimously agreed to commit and sign up to the Open Government Partnership Agreement, which means that they have, without any prompting, committed to running the affairs of their states on the basis of indices which include, but not limited to: fiscal transparency, anti-corruption, citizen engagement and providing greater access to information.
With the bashing and abuses which state governors have been subjected to on a regular basis, who would have imagined that they would, on their own, sign up to this international platform that commits them to all the things which they had been accused of standing against.
Naysayers would – for now – wish to adopt a ‘wait and see’ attitude, believing that the governors’ act was too good to be true, claiming that there is usually a canyon of difference between reality and statements. However, more positive observers, who claim that things are changing for the better across the different strata of the society, claim that a few indications seem to have borne out that the fact that the governors might, after all, be living true to their avowed commitment to the OGP agreement ideals, which they willingly agreed to adhere to. These observers point to such issues like the recent exchanges between the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Right Hon Yakubu Dogara and the governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasiru el-Rufai. When the speaker had challenged Governor el-Rufai to publish the details of his public spending, the governor had surprised the entire nation by the type of details he promptly volunteered, including the details of how he had disbursed his security vote, which was, hitherto had been adjudged to be beyond public scrutiny.
However, when the governor brought the challenge to the doorsteps of the speaker, he could only produce a payslip of the amount which was immediately scoffed at and dismissed by the public In fact most observers found it very amusing that the speaker could produce a document which showed that he earned about N340, 000 a month – amount which could not fuel the cars on his convoy for a week.
The fact that Mallam el-Rufai could submit his security vote to public scrutiny clearly showed that he had started abiding by his commitment to the OGP which he had willingly signed. There is no reason to assume that other governors, especially those in their first term, and thus desirous of public opinion for their second term desideratum, are not also exhibiting similar levels of transparency. A recent interview by the Abia State governor, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu revealed how he had brought the bailout funds from the federal government as well as the Paris-London Clubs refunds to the attention of labour leaders and other stakeholders who made their imputs on how the funds would be deployed.
With these and other similar examples in other parts of the country, it is becoming clear that transparency is returning to the states, without much fanfare.
Regrettably, there are still state governments that are still mired in the past misdeeds, with unpaid wages to workers and such other infractions, yet, unlike in the past, yet none of them seems to be proud of those lapses, which is a positive index.
There are many observers who are convinced that when the performance of states and those of the federal government are placed side by side, especially in the areas of welfare and provision of infrastructures, like roads, the federal government would come out as the distant second best. For instance, in most states of the federation, whenever you are driving on a smooth well-manicured roads, chances are that you are plying a state road. In a place like Anambra State, the only remaining bad roads belong to the federal government, even though the state government had undertaken to work on many of them that belong to the federal government and hope for later refunds.
Under a situation whereby the federal budget remains unpassed and unsigned five years into the year, resulting in a myriad of unfulfilled commitments of the government, people like Hon. Yakubu Dogara and his colleagues at the federal level should hasten to remove the logs in their eyes to enable them see and remove the specks in the eyes of the state governments.
There is no doubt that, in spite of what is happening in very few states, things have taken a steep trajectory for the better in most other states. Hence, rather than bash state governments, the federal institutions deserve to receive lessons from the state governments.