Nigeria’s impressive array of transparency and accountability measures has not made the desired dent on governance and development in the country because of subsisting gaps in legislation, capacity, values and resourcing, says a new report by Agora Policy, an Abuja-based think tank.
Titled “Imperative of Strengthening Nigeria’s Transparency and Accountability Measures,” the report makes a strong case for bridging these gaps and for sustaining and strengthening the various anticorruption measures to make them more effective tools for deepening good governance, service delivery, shared prosperity and democracy in the country.
“Whether now or in the future, Nigeria needs more transparency and accountability, not less,” states the report released on Monday in Abuja and produced with the support of MacArthur Foundation.
“As Nigeria prepares for a new government, a stocktaking of the transparency and accountability measures is desirable to ensure that the zeal for anticorruption is sustained and that the prevailing measures are fit for purpose, and further strengthened and institutionalised,” adds the report.
Put together by a group of experts, the report examined 16 transparency and accountability mechanisms within four clusters: norms and values, public financial management, open disclosure, and sanctions.
Some of the measures assessed include asset declaration, freedom of information, public procurement, whistle-blower policy, annual and routine audits, government’s e-payment platforms (such as IPPIS and GIFMIS), publication of subnational transfers, disclosure of extractive sector revenues and beneficial ownership to prosecution and asset recovery.
“Most of the interventions have been made since the return to civil rule in 1999, and some of them have yielded some results and milestones,” states the report. “Despite the achievements, the problem of transparency and accountability remains. The assumption that transparency and accountability automatically lead to good governance did not take into account attendant challenges such as social behaviours in the forms of resistance and sabotage.”
The report examines the rationales, histories, achievements and challenges of the selected transparency and accountability initiatives, then makes recommendations for improvements. Some of the key recommendations include: the need to enhance legal backing for some of the initiatives, faithful enforcement or implementation of existing laws, improvement in capacity and funding for some of the implementing agencies, enhancement of collaboration across tiers of government, and implementation of a sustained and strategic campaign on value reorientation.
The report recommends the strengthening of the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation through improved staffing and better remuneration of the staff of the agency, and prompt presidential assent to the newly passed audit bill.
“While the Auditor-General of the Federation (AuGF) has a responsibility to eradicate corruption from Nigeria’s public finance system, this responsibility is limited to the extent that the country’s audit law permits,” states the report. “Nigeria needs a fresh law that guarantees independence and powers to sanction for the AuGF in line with established standard of the International Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI). Without the powers to sanction, the AuGF is more or less a toothless bulldog.”
It is on the strength of this that the report recommends that: “President Muhammadu Buhari should sign the Federal Audit Service Bill into law before he leaves office. The bill, which was passed by the National Assembly on 29 March 2023, repeals the Audit Ordinance of 1956. The bill strengthens the operations and independence of the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation (OAuGF). It aligns with the present times and with global best practices and it enhances the utility of auditing as a powerful transparency and accountability mechanism.
“President Buhari refused assent to an earlier version of the bill passed by the 8th National Assembly. He should quickly assent to the 2023 version once he receives a clean copy from the 9th National Assembly. Whatever misgivings the president may have can be accommodated in subsequent amendments. President Buhari should see the law as one of his parting gifts to the country.”
The report also calls for the amendment of Paragraph 3 (c) of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution to ensure that assets disclosed by public officials can be made public by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB). It also argues for improved funding for CCB for the agency to be better positioned to discharge its important mandate, including the verification of assets declared by millions of public servants across the three tiers of government.
The report also calls for passage of laws to back up the whistle-blower policy and the Open Treasury Portal so as to address grey areas and make them more binding and effective.
The report advocates for greater investment in capacity building and technology across the board in the fight against corruption in Nigeria. “Technology remains the greatest enabler of transparency and accountability,” says the report. “Thus, rather than contemplate the idea of going back on technology-driven platforms such as GIFMIS, IPPIS and the rest, the focus should be on how to improve them.”
“Capacity development should be prioritised as cross-cutting” adds the report. “Capacity building to bridge gaps in technical knowledge and skills in anticorruption agencies will go a long way to enhance the effectiveness of the relevant personnel in these institutions and, ultimately, strengthen transparency and accountability.”
The report notes allegations of sharp practices even within some anticorruption and oversight institutions and argues that such practices gravely undermine the mandate and the effectiveness of these institutions and the transparency and accountability measures that these institutions implement.
To address this disturbing development, the report recommends for government to: “Undertake rigorous background checks on the boards, leaderships and staff of institutions with anti-corruption mandates and institute adequate safeguards on the exercise of oversight powers. These measures are needed to ensure that there is a symmetry between the mandates of these critical institutions and the values of those who work in and lead them, that there are measures for ‘watching the watchdogs’, and that the anti-corruption institutions are not undermined by the same ills that they were set up to tackle.”
While also advocating for greater collaboration across tiers of government on transparency and accountability issues, the report calls for a national campaign on value reorientation. “The impact of emphasis on systems and sanctions will be limited without changes in societal values,” the report argues, urging the Federal Government to lead “a comprehensive and well-thought-out national value re-orientation programme that tackles and seeks to change dysfunctional values, attitudes and narratives that wittingly and unwittingly enable public corruption.”
Commenting on the report, Waziri Adio, the founder of Agora Report says: “This is a very timely report. At a moment of transition, there is a danger that the focus on anti-corruption may fade, especially given how anti-corruption barely registered as a major campaign issue during the 2023 elections. The report is an important reminder about the centrality of transparency and accountability to citizens’ welfare and the democratic project. It also underscores the heavy investments that Nigeria and its development partners have made in the transparency and accountability space over time, perhaps even more than in some advanced countries, and the need to ensure that these investments do not go to waste, that the country derives adequate returns on these vital investments.”
The report is the last of the four policy papers commissioned by Agora Policy, with the support of MacArthur Foundation, to contribute to national debate before, during and after the landmark 2023 elections in Nigeria. The other three reports focused on the economy, national security, and gender and social inclusion.
PHOTO CREDIT: SmallBusiness.co.uk