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Published On: Wed, Jul 2nd, 2014

The way out of Nigeria’s many troubles

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jonathan-sadBy Larry Diamond.

I don’t think many Nigerians needed the suffering and shame that Boko Haram has inflicted on this country to see that the situation is desperate and is not amenable to platitudes and faint-hearted solutions. Intellectual honesty can only point in the direction of comprehensive and far-reaching policy responses. When corruption has brought a country down to the bottom three percent in the world in terms of political stability, it’s time to think outside the box.

I want to suggest six reform responses. I don’t presume that these are the only ones, and I realize that some of these are definitely “outside the box.” Nigeria has to do multiple radical and unconventional things if it is going to climb out of the deep trough in which it has been stuck for half a century.

The place to begin is with elections. Two key requirements for clean elections are effective and neutral administration, and comprehensive transparency. On the first, some progress has been made, but there are serious concerns about whether the country’s electoral administration is up to the coming challenge in 2015. There is at least on respect in which the recent Ekiti election does not inspire confidence.

You cannot have the police and the military blocking the supporters (not to mention fellow governors) of one party from moving about a state and campaigning, and call that a fully free and fair election. Democratic elections require a level playing field. That must mean freedom to campaign. And it must mean strict neutrality of all the instruments of state security.

I think there is something to be learned from the experience of India in institutionalizing the extraordinary power, independence, and administrative capacity of the Election Commission of India. The position of the Chief Election Commissioner is one of the most crucial and respected in India, equivalent in stature to Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and it has been held by some of India’s most highly accomplished and talented career civil servants. Why not call one of them in to advise on elections here, or even to sit as an advisory member of the INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission)?

It is vitally important that the INEC vigorously advance its work, with the broad assistance of civil society and the Nigerian media, to educate Nigerians about the coming elections and strongly encourage them to register to vote. An election can only be as good as the electoral register, and it takes many months to ensure that the register of voters is as accurate, up to date, and inclusive as possible. It helps that we are in a new era now technologically, where biometric tools of voter identification can help to root out fraudulent inflation of the electoral register. But those tools, as well, must be applied in a rigorously neutral and transparent way. Every step in preparing the election must be open to scrutiny.

Second, there is a clear and unimpeachable gold standard for monitoring the fairness of elections. Neutral monitors in civil society must have the freedom and resources to conduct parallel vote tabulation (PVT). The technology for this is well established, and Nigerian civil society organizations are well experienced in this task. In previous recent elections, their parallel counts have not (to my knowledge) dramatically diverged from the official percentage tally of the vote. Nigeria must have neutral and credible judicial processes available should the parallel vote tabulation in 2015 clearly indicate a different electoral outcome than the officially declared one.

Third, there is a need to advance internal democracy within Nigerian political parties. There is a growing recognition internationally that you cannot have a quality democracy unless there are adequate procedures for transparency, accountability, constitutionalism, and democratic procedures within political parties. This must include democratic means for the selection of candidates so that they become accountable to the voters more than to party leaders and “godfathers.”

Fourth is the need to reform and modernize the state security apparatus. The military, police, and intelligence must be trained and equipped to wage the security response with the proper tools and strategy, and to target the use of force carefully and effectively. They must also be instructed and monitored to avoid needless civilian casualties, and they must be held accountable for violations of law and procedure. But reports of recent confrontations between Nigerian security forces and Boko Haram suggest that the former have often been significantly outgunned and outmanoeuvred. It is the responsibility of civilian political leadership in the executive and legislative branches to work with the military and oversee the military to ensure it has the necessary weapons and other tools. International security cooperation is also needed to track and confront the shadowy movements of arms and money across borders.

Fifth, the laws on paper against bribery, corruption, and conflict of interest are reasonably good in principle, but they have huge weaknesses in enforcement that must be repaired. Corruption is like water seeping into the ground; it will find any crack or crevice and make use of it. The only way to fight it is with a system of horizontal accountability that is vigorous, comprehensive, independent, and interlocking. A critical, indispensable condition for successful enforcement is transparency. What good is it for public officials to declare their assets if those declarations are not made publicly available? The Code of Conduct Bureau has never had the staffing, the manpower, the energy, and probably the will to vigorously investigate the veracity of all of these declarations. It needs the public’s help. And it needs the help of the international community.

By law, all assets declarations should be made available online for public scrutiny. And since Nigerian law forbids the President, Vice-President, Governors, and federal and state legislators from operating foreign bank accounts, why not require them to sign, along with the Code of Conduct, a legal declaration foregoing any right of privacy or any claim to ownership of any foreign bank accounts that may bear their name. This still leaves open the question of accounts owned by their spouses and children, another loophole that would need to be addressed. They should also be asked to forswear ownership and invite surrender of any real property or other assets, foreign or domestic, that are discovered to be in their names, which they have not listed on their assets declaration.

In the early 1990s, when I was researching the problem of corruption in Nigeria and the total inefficacy of the Code of Conduct Bureau at that time, it became clear to me that little sustainable progress in controlling corruption would be made unless politicians knew that the public, and the international financial system, would be mobilized against them if they accumulated vast wealth in office and then tried to hide it. It took me a long time to get a Nigerian politician to engage me in an honest conversation on the subject, but finally I found one. When I explained why I thought it was essential to make the assets declarations public, he agreed with the logic of my argument, but said it would be impossible, because: “If the people ever found out how much wealth the politicians have, there would be a revolution in this country.”

Maybe it is time to declare a financial amnesty: Account for what you have, bring your money back home, hand over the bulk of it, and you will not be prosecuted. Maybe the only way to begin is by following the maxim of the leading anti-corruption scholar, Robert Klitgaard, that you must “fry big fish” if you are serious about controlling corruption. But that requires a serious and independent anti-corruption apparatus. And that in turn means hard thinking about how to insulate these bodies from partisan political control and other forms of subversion.

Nigeria needs to do some creative, hard thinking about how to appoint the members of crucial agencies of horizontal accountability—such as the Code of Conduct Bureau, the INEC, the Federal Judicial Service Commission and possibly some of the other bodies enumerated in article 153 of the Constitution. If the country gets a president seriously committed to good governance and political reform, then it works fine to have the president appoint and the Senate confirm the chairmen and members of these bodies. But constitutions should be designed to protect against the worst leaders, not to empower the best. Is there a way to involve civil society in the selection of these crucial positions to ensure that they are independent and vigorous personalities, dedicated to the role envisioned in the Constitution? Would the power of appointment to these bodies be better vested with the Supreme Court or some other body?

If you want to think radically, here is a sixth possible policy reform. Give some of the oil money directly back to the people. There is growing international interest in the idea of “oil to cash,” essentially the “Alaska model,” wherein the state directly gives some of the oil revenue back to each individual citizen. With the growth of mobile phone access and mobile banking, this is a much more feasible approach in Africa than it would have been even a few years ago. And technology will make it increasingly feasible.

Nigeria may be too populous a country to distribute revenue to everyone, but cash payments could at least be targeted on the poorest of the poor, as India is doing with income supplements. Some allege that the poor would waste the money on impulsive spending. But, can the poor really do a worse job than Nigerian politicians have done over the last several decades? If, as was reported in the recent Ekiti elections, Nigeria’s voters are going to demand that candidates for office pay attention to the “infrastructure of the stomach,” maybe the state should do that directly and then let the voters decide who can best deliver development.

Professor Larry Diamond is a political sociologist at Stanford University in the United States. He is also Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, and founding co-editor of the Journal of Democracy. He gave this excerpted lecture under the title The Governance Predicament: Poverty, Terrorism and Democracy at Freedom House, Lagos.


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