Whenever you hear a story on radio questioning where the 124 Al Majiri schools built by the Federal Ministry of Education are located, or you read the GAVI report on the 2.2 Million USD unaccounted for primary health care, you realise that Nigeria still has big public accountability issues. You also realise that the presence of legal frameworks such as the Freedom of Information Act 2011 or the Public Procurement Act 2007 do not, in themselves, amount to a system accountability.
Then you hear about the Open Government Partnership (OGP) and question whether Nigeria really needs to join yet another global initiative, what the OGP offers and whether it is of any good to Nigerians. If it is found to be of any value to enabling accountability, there is still the question of whether Nigeria is courageous enough to join it.
According to the website of the Open Government partnership, the OGP was launched in 2011 to provide an international platform for domestic reformers committed to making their governments more open, accountable, and responsive to citizens. Since then, OGP has grown from eight countries to the 65 participating countries, including Ghana, Sierra Leone, Kenya, South Africa, the United States of America and the United Kingdom.
In all of these countries, government and civil society are working together to develop and implement ambitious open government reforms. In order to join, a country needs to achieve a minimum eligibility of 12 out of 16 points; eligibility is measured by the parameters of Fiscal Transparency, Access to Information, Income and Asset Disclosures, and Citizen Engagement.
At the last count, Nigeria had 12 points and is therefore eligible to join the OGP. All that is required now is for the government of Nigeria to send in a letter of intent, then draw up an action plan that clearly states the open government reforms that would be achieved in a year and how these would be achieved.
Browsing through the parameters for eligibility, what is clear is that the OGP is not introducing new parameters to judge the state of governance. Rather the OGP advocates for the same issues that we already advocate for. Issues that if addressed, would only ensure that government fulfills its primary constitutional function of providing welfare and security to Nigerians. This then raises the question of whether OGP seeks to duplicate incountry campaigns or efforts.
It doesn’t seem so. Rather the sense is that the OGP seeks to bring government and civil society to a place where they not only consolidate all the issues plaguing Nigeria, but that they also measure where they are on the governance trajectory and then collaboratively draw a measurable course of action towards achieving these goals.
This action plan is made public to Nigerians and to the international community to which Nigeria belongs. The OGP can be likened to a course whose certification is only attained after years of study and examination, but with an examination at the end of each year before you move on to the next year’s modules and closer to the certification. Given our history at going through the motions of national reforms, the OGP could be extremely valuable in committing and walking the whole course.
To bring Open Government home, it would be useful to pick just one of the numerous public services that are in a state of decline such as basic education. Many of us would be ashamed if we honestly consider the state of our education system. That quality, free basic education, was better guaranteed three to five decades ago speaks clearly of how well we have implemented reforms.
To think that but for a lack of choice, no one would consider placing their children in a public school that offers free basic education speaks volumes of how well we trust the quality of education being provided. But what should astound us all the most is that in the years of basic education reforms, backed by statute, the system is much worse. By the time we consider all the reforms that are ongoing in various sectors, and these reforms haven’t necessarily translated to a more equitable Nigeria, then we must question how well they are being implemented. It may be a lack of coordination; perhaps there is just too much to be done and it is difficult to prioritise and decide one reform over and above the other. Perhaps it is because the reform laws, projects and campaign promises are not accompanied by actionable plans that would make them operable. Perhaps it is the lack of political will to give our institutions the integrity we seek in public office holders. But perhaps the OGP is that platform where we collaboratively commit to actionable plans to strengthen our governance systems.
The OGP platform recognises that coming up with strong annual National action plans towards operating an open government takes political will; and so the platform acknowledges political interests and provides a high level platform for international peers in government to showcase their reform efforts; to task each other and to compete at being exemplary models for good governance. The OGP also requires action plans to be jointly agreed on by the government and representatives of citizens groups.
Each action plan is drawn for a period of one year and publicly presented to all stakeholders. At the end of the action plan year, each country reports back on how well they have achieved the goals set out in the action plan. Knowing that a platform such as the OGP already exists is an opportunity for Nigeria to consolidate all actions required towards improving the state of our governance.
In the first year, Nigeria may commit to ensuring that proactive disclosure of public finance is attained across public institutions. Nigeria could commit that in order to ensure clarity, uniform standards for disclosing public finance information are deployed, that project standards and specification are clear enough to facilitate their being tracked from the stage of budget appropriation, to budgetary release, to contract award, to contract implementation and unto to final service delivery. Our existing laws already require these to be done. However, the plan for scaling such requirements across the public service, have not been effectively developed. One thing is clear; Nigeria could benefit immensely from the platform the OGP provides. But signing up to the OGP would mean a commitment to structural changes. And any of such changes from the status quo would require a certain level of courage from the leadership of Nigeria.