By Abubakar Jimoh
With Nigeria’s rich ethno-religious and linguistic diversity, good governance remains essential to ensure minority rights, equality and peaceful coexistence for all citizens to survive and thrive.
While governance is referred to as a process by which decisions are made and implemented or not implemented—in case of bad governance, good governance is the main driving force behind a healthy, secured and prosperous nation.
Given this backdrop, governance cannot be described as good without some fundamental features like participatory, consensus building, transparency, accountability, efficiency, effectiveness, equity, inclusiveness, and rule of law.
As credible and sustainable governance depends largely on effective citizens’ participation and on what it delivers, the quality of governance diminishes if citizens are ignorant about plans, programmes and policies of the governments.
Involving citizens in governance process helps ordinary citizens to assess their own needs and participate in and monitor governments’ plans and programmes.
It is evident across the globe that citizens’ participation can help governments to be more accountable and responsive, improve the people’s perception of governmental performance and democratic dividend the citizens receive from the governments.
Effective citizens’ participation is guaranteed when they understand and want to exercise their rights to participate in local political issues as legally protected under Section 14 of the 1999 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, which states: “(1) The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a State based on the principles of democracy and social justice. (2)(a) sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this Constitution derives all its powers and authority… (c) the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.”
The citizens’ civil and political rights include freedom of expression and access to information, which are at the basis of political participation as guaranteed and highlighted under relevant provisions of Freedom of Information Act, 2011, which provides for citizens’ access to public records and information, protect public records and information to the extent consistent with the public interest; and African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, which mandates all African countries including Nigeria to uphold the supremacy of their constitutions and promote participatory democracy by encouraging culture of popular participation and protect fundamental people’s rights.
Apart from this, through their local institutions, governments can facilitate the citizens’ participation to ensure they feel confident and know where and how to participate.
In this case, strengthening one-to-one and one-to-many constructive communications between individual legislators and their constituents are important elements of participatory governance; as direct communication between them helps legislators to make appropriate decisions about legislation and public policy issues, and provide enabling platform for the expression of public views and opinions. Solidified linkages between the two promote peace and stability in a democratic system. These linkages in the analysis of Nikhil Dutta et al are a two-way phenomenon—top-down and bottom-up communications. That is, legislators represent the people`s interests, while simultaneously providing feedback and information to their constituents on the political processes.
E-governance has been adopted in most parts of the world to transform citizen service, provide access to information to empower citizens, enable their participation in government and enhance citizen’s economic and social opportunities. The features of E-Governance highlighted by Crowley M, a researcher at Center for Public Policy & Administration University of Utah, includes the ability for citizens to leave feedback to various government offices; a subscription based list serve or e-Newsletter that keeps citizens and other agencies informed; Online discussion forums or chat rooms to discuss policy issues; e-Meetings for cross agency/cross governmental participation; Online citizen surveys or polls for specific issues with published results; Online citizen satisfaction surveys with published results; Online decision-making – e-petitions, e-referenda; Online performance measures with published results.
Consequently, E-Governance has become an enabling involving the use of Information Technology in improving transparency, providing information speedily to all citizens, improving administration efficiency and improving public services such as transportation, power, health, water, security and municipal services. Local governments in this case, can take responsibility in developing integrated rural-based, citizencentric, information-driven, user-friendly, easily-accessible, and dynamic e-governance system.
When citizens feel that their views are represented in government and their representatives bear constituents` interests in mind, they are encouraged to participate in governance process. Through this process, citizens’ participation in governance will improve accountability and the ability of local authorities to solve problems, creates more inclusive and cohesive communities, and increases the number and quality of initiatives made by communities.
Efficient and effective service delivery
A peaceful and productive society is achieved through effective and efficient service delivery by the state institutions. Good governance in this case, according to GIZ means “effective and efficient structures which provide optimal support to citizens in leading a safe and productive life in line with their desires and opportunities”.
We cannot say good governance is in place in presence of continued diversion of resources reduces the level of resources and investments available for the public health system. Resources are reportedly drained from health budget through embezzlement, fraud and corruption reduce the funding available for salaries, health services and maintenance, contributing to lower staff motivation, quality of care and declining service availability and use.
As observes by the Executive Director of CISLAC, Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani), corruption impedes effective and efficient public health care service delivery, and this practically symbolises: unethical attitudes of the health workers towards helpless patients, discouraging attendance at public health care facilities; scarcity of drugs even when they are provided by governments but patients are directed to private hospital or stores to purchase such at expensive sums; poor access to health care facilities, intensifying the already increasing maternal and child mortality rate, especially in the grassroots; poor monitoring and evaluation of the health facilities by relevant authorities, giving chances to degrading treatments and unethical attitudes by some health workers; delayed release of health budget as appropriated, backpedalling timely interventions and provision of adequate, accessible and affordable health care services; poor implementation of health budget even when released.
We cannot think of good governance in the presence of endemic mismanagement of educational funds. This triggered a lamentation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) that corruption has weakened the sector, leading to low efficiency, wastage and misappropriation of resources, low quality service delivery. The Commission classified the ills into different levels of occurrence such as policy, Ministry/state and local government, schools and administrative levels. Corrupt practices in the education sector are extensively endangering the country’s social, economic and political future.
Of course, good governance cannot be arguably in place with the unquantifiable and unforgivable inefficient and poor service delivery by our nation’s security services, with their continued and unchecked sabotage of the nation’s socio-economic development and well-being of the citizens through institutionalised human rights abuses and systemic bribery, which gives chance to hopelessness, insecurity and degrading treatments of the less privileged; sexual assault, extra-judicial killings and shooting of citizens for refusing to bribe; high-level embezzlement and diversion of security personnel entitlements into private pockets, limiting resources, efforts and motivation to effectively secure lives and property of the citizens; and the porous nation’s borders, which paves ways for influx illegal immigrants, illegal importation of weapons of various kinds that further endanger lives of the citizens.
Transparency and Accountability
Having a transparent and accountable system helps the governments in adapting to social and technological changes, stay close and respond to citizens demands. Through transparent system, a legislature provides more information and expands citizen participation in a deliberate and meaningful way that makes it more effective in delivering democratic dividend to the electorate. Every citizen regardless of his or her social, political, economic, education and ethno-religion background should have access to public information, which should be made available by the concerned public institution.
Transparency and accountability are increasingly recognized for their crucial role in making legislative and policy information more accessible to citizens, strengthening the capacity of citizens to participate in legislative and policy processes to advocate for greater access to government, improved accountability, and increased collaborative dialogue on issues bothering public reform.
How can we talk of transparency and accountability in governance when budget processes or information are not public accessible for citizens’ participation scrutiny, contributions, monitoring and evaluation in most states across the country? We cannot talk of transparency and accountability when federal allocation and Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) are diverted and used for unknown purposes. We cannot talk about transparency and accountability in presence secrecies and lop-sidedness in tax collection, administration and utilisation, breeding illegal and multiple taxation.
Lack of accountability could be practically buttressed where maternal delivery services are practically carried out based on unaddressed ‘queue-and-swamp’ system in the health facilities; when unavailable but avertable drugs and other essential commodities, and poor access to health care facilities intensify the increasingly maternal and child mortality rate, especially in the grassroots.
Equity and inclusiveness
Women constitute over 50 percent of the world’s population; perform two-third of the world’s work, yet receive one-tenth of the world’s income; represent a staggering 70 percent of the world’s one billion poorest people.
In the analysis of the Executive Director, Centre LSD, Otive Igbuzor, in developing countries, women own less than two percent of all land. At least 60 million girls are missing due to female infanticide or sex selective abortion and an estimated 5,000 women murdered each year in “honour” killings. He observes unequal distribution of food and health care including 93 million children who are not enrolled in school are girls.
In eight Northern States, over 80% of women are unable to read (compared with 54% for men), as reported by UK Department for International Development (DFID) in 2012; owing to some traceable factors such as lack of funds, existing traditional and religious inclination, non-provision of educational facilities by government, poor funding of the educational sector, weak educational policies, early marriage, early childbirth, poor sanitation and ignorance.
Nigeria has the highest population in African continent with 38 percent of its women lacking formal education as against 25 percent for men and only four percent of women have higher education against the seven percent of their male counterpart.
Consequently, in Nigeria, majority of girls and women face real-time poverty, gross inequality, molestation and injustice, denying them effort to acquire meaningful skills and contribute positively towards the nation’s development. Series of discrimination and atrocities against women include poor education, poor nutrition, violence and brutalization, vulnerability and low pay employment.
Since democratic rule in 1999, women are under-represented in all key political decision making bodies in Nigeria. During the 2007 elections, women constituted about 11% of all candidates with only one woman contesting for the office of the President; 33.9% for governorship positions; 13.5% for Senate, 15.6% for House of Representatives, and 15.8% for Houses of Assembly. Following the elections, women occupied only about 7.5 percent of key leadership positions in Nigeria.
During the 2007 general elections, the late President Umar Musa Yar’Adua’s administration promised 30 percent of political appointment to women, a year after the elections, only 11 percent was allocated to women.
Official records released by the Independence National Electoral Commission (INEC) shows that a total of 809 women emerged as candidates for the 2011 elections on the platforms of various political parties. This represents a 17% increase over 692 women who emerged as candidates during the 2007 elections. But when the results was released, women’s representation at national level regressed slightly from 7.5% in 2007 to 7.1% in 2011. In the 2015 elections, the number further decreased to 7 in Senate (6.4 percent) and 19 in House of Representatives (5.2 percent).
During President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, women occupied 33 percent of cabinet positions. This was later decreased to 19 percent in President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.
In Nigeria, every 10 minutes one woman dies from conditions associated with childbirth; and only 39% births take place with assistance of medically trained personnel, coupled with the scarcity of skilled attendants, absence of personnel among other factors impede the effectiveness of health services in the country.
Nigeria records one of the lowest rates of female entrepreneurship in sub-Saharan Africa; with majority of women concentrating in casual, low-skilled, low paid informal sector employment.
Women are important in our society; and every woman has a role to play. Without meaning to sound like a broken record, I will like to remind us that women owing to their nurturing nature make good managers.
More importantly, a healthy society doesn’t automatically emerge and stand firm without the balance of that pivotal role played by women. Indeed, from behavioral to health education, it is a woman who teaches how to behave, how to speak and how to deal with different classes of people. Consequently, women remain fundamentals of a good society and essential contributors in the nation’s building.
Similarly, it is often said that the basic unit of society is a family; one cannot overemphasize the importance of women in the family. As women make a family, a family makes a home and homes make a society. Thus, there would be no society without the contribution of women.
Although women have great responsibilities in upbringing of a healthy, solid society, but records the lowest rates of political participation in the country. She plays roles as a mother, a sister, a daughter, a wife.
While imposition of tax remains a vital instrument for the promotion of resource re-allocation, social equity through wealth distribution, women marginalisation in tax processes and responsibilities of government towards its citizens has hitherto constituted public and policy debates, but with little effort to address the emergent plights of women under unwary tax regime.
With increasing incidence of taxation in the contemporary tax reforms, Nigerian women are worst hit by the socio-economic burden of the various gender-insensitive tax policies.
It would be recalled that in September 2015, Nigeria joined the rest of the world at United Nations’ High Level Plenary Summit for the adoption of Structural Development Goals (SDGs) with 17 goals and 169 targets as part of the global efforts to build a comprehensive development plan in order to complete the unfinished business of the Millennium Development Goal (MDGs).
Adopting the SDGs, at country level with Goal 1 and 5 promising to: end poverty and hunger in all its forms everywhere; and achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, respectfully, Nigeria is committed to address poverty and ensure equal opportunity for women in all socio-economic and political ramifications. However, the existing gender-biased tax regime remains a major impediment that if not strictly addressed may backpedal or obstruct the country’s success in the implementation of SDGs.
Also, the imbalanced Value Added Tax (VAT) system is another endemic challenge to the women’s earning and well-being. The VAT Amendment Act 2007 removed the 5 percent fixed rate and gave the Minister of Finance Power to determine the VAT rate. Exercising the authority, the Minister of Finance raised the rate to 10 percent, but later repealed its decision with the rate returned to the initial 5 percent. Nigerian women are known to purchase more goods and services that promote health, education and nutrition compared to men.
In 2004, the Nigeria Living Standards Survey report by the National Bureau of Statistics showed that over 50% of the expenditure by female headed households was on non-food items which as likely to attract VAT. This in the observations of GTZ creates the potential for women to bear a larger burden of VAT, especially if the VAT system does not provide for exemptions, reduce rates or zero-rating.
Good governance cannot be in place when women are maginalised in all ramifications with a high percentage of girls out of schools. Appreciable efforts must be made by governments at all levels to recognise girls and women as equal players in the game of life whilst empowering, up-skilling and investing in them for a better world.
Full-fledged implementation of 35% Affirmative Action for Women by governments at all levels is paramount to encourage full participation of women as leaders and decision-makers in households, communities, and in the public and private spheres.
A god governance system improves access to education and eliminating gender gaps in education, proper individual orientation, mass public awareness and sensitization on the provisions of the Rights of Women.
Rule of law
In every governance system, the guiding principles of rule of law must be upheld and respected since it’s the foundation of good governance. In Nigeria with a contrary experience, the basic principles are violated through carelessness and recklessness conducts.
As former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Aminu Tambuwal puts it, “the principle of rule of law is, like other attributes of liberal democracy such as accountability, transparency, and human rights promotion and protection, essential element of democracy without which the process, dynamics and success of a democratic system is likely to be endangered, some would say, bereft of its inherent value and sanctity.”
According to him, without the rule of law democracy is impracticable as arbitrariness is likely to hold sway and torpedo the process of realizing good governance. “The rule of law encompasses all it takes to uphold, promote and safeguard the supremacy of law over any proclivities of institutions, groups or individuals. It is a term which is essentially instrumental to the nurturing of a virile democratic culture and democratic consolidation,” he added.
In order to uphold the principles of rule of law, an effective judicial system must be guaranteed to promote equality and fairness in legal processes. The judiciary has a great role to play in the efforts to save the nation from imminent collapse under the weight of unbridled corruption. Without doubt, judges symbolize the judicial powers of the state; they stand out as the central figures in the judicial system and the administration of justice.
Good governance is not attained through intentional creation of backlog of cases to pave ways for demanding bribes to fast-track a case; endless abuse of offices and distortion of judicial processes; judges who are on politicians’ pay roll, even when such is against judicial code of ethics; high-ranking judicial officers who serve as couriers of bribe.
Consensus building and responsiveness
Adopting strategies for consensus building in Nigeria through such holistic techniques as bringing diverse groups of stakeholders together to engage in shared learning and decision making on legislative and policy issues has become imperative to enhance collaboration, peaceful co-existence and encourage public participation in governance.
Consensus cannot be built on a failure to separate party politics from state, which in the observations of Commonwealth Network is extremely damaging, “making important public institutions such as the military, judiciary, election commission and state media hostage to the incumbent”.
It is important that governments provide for credible and independent institutions and adequate political space for an effective opposition and diverse groups. At the same time opposition parties must respect the rule of law and engage in a meaningful and constructive manner in the political process.
Consensus building process must be sincere and transparent to restore confidence in and represent interest of oppositions or diverse groups. Through this process, outcomes of dialogues or meeting will be acceptable and respected by all parties.
In order to uphold the principle of good governance, governments must be aware of what the citizens want and citizens must as well be aware of what governments are going. Governments must be responsive and responsible towards citizens’ demands and expectations by maintaining integrity, transparency, and accountability. In Nigerian context, to be responsive and responsible, government have the primary responsibility to effectively relate and interact with the citizens.