By Matthew Ayibakuro
I have just returned from spending my summer back home in Nigeria. This is the third consecutive summer I have done so. It is not difficult to tell that a lot has changed in Nigeria over the last one year: a new political leadership, a currency in free fall, an economy in shambles, unpaid public servants and an uneasy excitement about the government’s anti-corruption campaign. In the midst of all this intrigue however, some things managed to remain unchanged. The people are still resilient, resourceful and hopeful, churches and other places of worship continue to attract sufficient attendance and the public sector remains as inefficient as always.
From going through immigration and customs at the airport to trying to process a document of any kind in a public office to bidding for public contracts and indeed having any form of interaction with the public service in Nigeria, it is all so easy to tell that this is a country at peace with inefficiency. This has been the case for so long that it now appears that successive governments just do not care about it anymore. Most steps taken in this regard have often being half-hearted and never seen to a logical conclusion.
At a time when the economy of Nigeria is facing its most difficult times in decades and having to consider expedient structural changes that are long overdue, there is probably no better time to consider dealing with the size and inefficiency of the public service in the country. Sadly, the country continues to be gripped with the hysteria of fighting corruption in a rather deluded and mistaken belief that winning the battle fight against corruption will solve the mammoth and variegated challenges of socio-economic and political development in the country.
Beyond the “Fight Against Corruption”
As I have conducted researched on anti-corruption measures in sub-Saharan Africa over the last couple of years, I have become more convinced of the incongruity of the expression “to fight corruption”. Dealing with corruption is not just a “fight” you win by landing a deadly blow and then move on to others issues. It is a lot more complicated than that. This is a fact that the international development community which thrust the anti-corruption agenda on countries in the global south in the late 1990s is painfully realizing now as it begins to ask fundamental questions of the supposed fight against corruption which should have been asked a long time ago.
It is therefore in the best interest of countries like Nigeria to understand what really would drive development in a country like Nigeria beyond just supposedly fighting corruption when a lot more strategic issues are amiss. For instance, Nigeria ranks at No. 169 in the World and 36 in Africa in the latest Doing Business index of the World Bank that measures the ease of doing business in countries. This indicator takes into consideration the ease with which businesses can undertake activities like starting a business, dealing with construction permits, getting electricity, registering property, getting credit, protecting minority investors, paying taxes, trading across borders, enforcing contracts and resolving insolvency.
These are all services provided by the public sector and it tells a lot that the country ranks so poorly on the index. Whilst it is now fashionable to blame everything going wrong in the country on corruption and political parties appear to be in a fruitless battle of trying to establish which is more corrupt and should therefore carry more blame, there is very little a fight against corruption can do to remedy a situation like this.
Those fighting corruption can spend all their days in the ring and their nights in the gym; they can fly to their conceited coaches all over the globe seeking training and assistance and getting pats on their heads all year round in their bid to defeat corruption. It will all amount to nothing in the long term if fundamental issues like an inefficient public service are not dealt with.
The Cost of an Inefficient Public Service
It is not my intention to trivialize the need to deal with corruption. However, it is important to contextual this in the broader objective of achieving development. Without an efficient public service that understands how to do things right and also do the right things, whatever resources saved from dealing with corruption will end up re-embezzled or wasted without achieving the desired development outcomes for citizens. The cost of an inefficient public service, in terms of discouraging foreign investment, frustrating entrepreneurship and wasting valuable human and material resources will, on the long run, outweigh whatever benefits even the most fervent anti-corruption campaign may provide.
Nigerians are resourceful people. Their entrepreneurial drive coupled with the wealth of the country in resources and its sizeable market which provides inherent incentives for foreign investment can propel this country out of recession and onto prosperity. But first, its slumbering public sector has to be awoken. It is time for the government reconsider its approach of fighting-corruption-is-the-answer-to-all-our-problems and get its priorities right.
By Matthew Ayibakuro
It has been just over three weeks since South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma survived an impeachment vote in the country’s National Assembly. This followed the ruling of the Constitutional Court that he had violated the constitution by failing to repay public money spent on his private residence in Nkandla.
Like David Cameron surviving calls for his resignation following the Panama Papers scandal in the British parliament, it was safe to reckon that Zuma might have survived this. That was until yesterday, when the country’s High Court declared that he should be charged with 783 counts of alleged corruption, fraud and racketeering in connection with a £4.4 billion arms deal signed when Zuma was deputy president in 1999. The charges were dropped by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) just weeks before the 2009 election in which Jacob Zuma emerged president.
Whilst awaiting the decision of the NPA on whether or not to reinstate the charges following the decision of the High Court, it is important to highlight yet another significant lesson to be learnt from the Jacob Zuma corruption case, and indeed the anti-corruption regime in South Africa.
Constitutional Institutions and Principles are Pivotal
Following the relative success stories of Singapore’s Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) and the more prominent Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) in Hong Kong, the model mechanism for dealing with corruption in the last couple of decades has been the establishment of specialised anti-corruption agencies charged with fighting corruption in their various countries. The United Nation Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) makes the establishment of such specialised anti-corruption agencies obligatory for state parties in Articles 6 and 36 of the Convention.
In response to this, anti-corruption institutions have cropped up in unprecedented numbers in countries all over the continent, albeit to to obvious limited effect. The establishment of these institutions has been important in creating the impression that these countries are taking specific action against corruption, whilst simultaneously fulfilling the expectations of international donors, institutions and partners. The reality on the ground has however shown that these institutions have achieved very little in terms of dealing with corruption. Even countries like Nigeria that have done one better by creating multiple institutions in this regard has shown little signs of significantly reducing corruption.
After years of relative failures, possible explanations proffered include the lack of attention for local circumstances in promoting this global model of institutions, the inadequacy of requisite infrastructure, deficit in capability of anti-corruption personnel and more importantly political interference in the work of these institutions.
The issue of political interference has featured prominently in most countries, prompting the cliche call for political will in the fight against corruption. The Executive branch in particular has been known to use these institutions to witch-hunt political opponents whilst simultaneously shielding their corrupt supporters from prosecution. In most countries, the performance of anti-corruption institutions has become only as long as the foot of the head of the Executive.
More than anything else, this shows that dealing with corruption goes beyond just the establishment of specialised anti-corruption institutions. It requires other supporting democratic institutions and frameworks without which these institutions cannot operate successfully. And for any country that is really serious about dealing with corruption, these institutions and their independence in particular should be constitutionally guaranteed. Issues like the appointment and tenure of members of these institutions and their financing need to be guaranteed in the constitution to give these institutions any chance of operating independently and successfully.
The South Africa Model
South Africa provides a good model in this regard. Chapter 9 of the Constitution establishes not only the office of the Public Prosecutor, but also for other important state institutions to support constitutional democracy like the Human Rights Commission, the Commission for Gender Equality and the office of the Auditor-General.
Considering the broad range of desperate steps taken by Jacob Zuma to shield himself in the light of the Nkandla scandal, it is difficult to see how the Public Prosecutor would have pursued the case against the President as she did without the all-important backing provided by the constitution. Recent efforts by the Senate in Nigeria to amend the Code of Conduct Act for the specific purpose of assisting the Senate President in an ongoing corruption case shows just how vulnerable these institutions are to political manipulation and restates the importance of providing constitutional backing for anti-corruption institutions and efforts generally.
In the face of overwhelming emphasis on institutions in the fight against corruption and in the overall pursuance of good governance, experience has shown the futility in expecting corrupt politicians and political systems to create independent and effective transparency and accountability institutions. Perhaps the emphasis should de-emphasise seeking political will to fight corruption and rather concentrate on insulating these institutions from any form of influence from political will in the first place, at least until the point when the political systems in most countries are entrenched in positive values and therefore dependable.
Providing constitutional backing for these institutions might not, by itself, provide a final solution to the challenge of dealing with corruption, but it will at least give the widely-spreading anti-corruption institutions a fighting chance against entrenched grand corruption prevalent in most countries.
By Matthew Ayibakuro
Without a doubt, the biggest news out of the African continent in last couple of days is the decision of South Africa’s Constitutional Court, declaring that the President Jacob Zuma violated the constitution by failing to repay public money spent on his private residence in Nkandla. The lavish improvements which Zuma must now pay for in the coming months include a swimming pool, amphitheatre, visitor centre, cattle enclosure and chicken run, amounting to over $15 million.
With the opposition now calling for the impeachment of Zuma following the decision of the Constitutional Court, it is safe to say that the story of this scandal which has dragged on for some time is not over yet. In the meantime, for those interested in issues of governance, it is imperative to highlight some very significant issues and lessons for the much talked about fight against corruption in South Africa and indeed other countries in the continent. A comparative analysis of the framework for anti-corruption in Nigeria and South Africa shall highlight these issues.
Independence of Anti-Corruption Authorities -Appointment and Removal
The headlines for the decision in Zuma’s case has been mostly about the Constitutional Court and rightly so. The bold decision of the court re-emphasizes the strategic nature of its role in democratic societies. However, the role of the Public Prosecutor should be getting as much or even more acclaim. The Court itself emphasized this point when it noted that the public prosecutor is “the embodiment of a biblical David that the public is, who fights the most powerful and well-resourced Goliath, that impropriety and corruption by government officials are“. This metaphor could not be any more apt considering this case was against the president of the country. Rare as this case is, it is no coincidence considering the independence of the office of the public prosecutor guaranteed under the constitutional and legal framework in South Africa.
Under Article 193 of the South African Constitution, the appointment of the public prosecutor is made by the president on the recommendation of the National Assembly. The latter is required to only recommend persons nominated by a committee of the Assembly proportionally composed of members of all parties represented in the Assembly and approved by 60 percent members. Based on Article 194, The Public Prosecutor can also only be removed on a finding by a committee of the National Assembly establishing grounds of misconduct, incapacity or incompetence. The National Assembly is then required to adopt a resolution supported by at least two thirds of members calling for the removal from office of the public prosecutor.
By comparison, the heads of the two strategic anti-corruption bodies in Nigeria -the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) – are simply required to be appointed by the President subject to confirmation by Senate. On removal, whilst an address supported by two thirds majority of the Senate is required for the president to remove the head of the ICPC, the head of the EFCC can solely be removed by the president for inability to discharge the functions of his office or for misconduct or if the president is satisfied that it is in the interest of the Commission or the public that he be so removed.
Why This Matters?
In the course of the Nkandla scandal, President Zuma utilized every possible political office and tool that owes him allegiance including the Minister of Police and Parliament, where his party the ANC holds a majority, to exonerate himself. And he probably would have succeeded, but for the courage and persistence of the public prosecutor. The fact that the president plays a rather peripheral role in her appointment and removal offered her the requisite security and therefore independence to carry out her duties without fear of removal or being influenced.
This is a far cry from the situation in Nigeria where the President plays a dominant role in the appointment and removal of heads of anti-corruption authorities and therefore displays very obvious and over-bearing influence over their activities. The fact that prospective and serving presidents in Nigeria have over the years made themselves spokesmen for anti-corruption agencies by promising to prosecute certain individuals or investigate certain issues makes a whole mockery of anti-corruption efforts. In countries that deal with systemic corruption, especially within the executive, the best a chief executive can and should be required to do is guarantee the independence of anti-corruption authorities and allow them do their work.
It may be argued that irrespective of the procedure for appointment and removal of heads of antic-corruption bodies, such individuals can still demonstrate seriousness in investigating and prosecuting corrupt officials and institutions once appointed. While this may be true, it leaves open the question of the fairness and impartiality with which they carry out their functions. This is a question that continues to bedevil the actions of anti-corruption authorities and the overall anti-corruption regime in Nigeria. Even the much acclaimed efforts of Nuhu Ribadu who was head of the EFCC under President Obasanjo were later ridiculed by claims of overwhelming influence by the President leading to selective prosecution of public officials.
It is difficult to envisage any circumstance where any of the numerous anti-corruption bodies in Nigeria will be able to hold a serving president of the country accountable for corruption under the current legal framework, and if we cannot guarantee that everyone is indeed equal before the law in this regard, then anti-corruption efforts in the country will continue in the realm of politics, instead of being about public resources, people, rights and development.
The first lesson from the Zuma case is therefore that granting independence to anti-corruption authorities is a prerequisite for any viable anti-corruption effort. It is time for Nigeria and other countries with similar legal frameworks to amend their laws accordingly.
By Matthew Ayibakuro
On Tuesday 8th March, the world marked International Women’s Day 2016: Various events were held in New York, Geneva, Ethiopia and elsewhere, numerous speeches made, Facebook posts and tweets put up and somewhere in the National Assembly in Nigeria, a Senator moved a motion asking Nigerian men to marry more wives, claiming that “the first care of a woman is marriage” and that marrying more than one wife is “a sign of respect for women”
Although the motion did not go through, and some might claim that it should be taken in good humour, it is important to note that this was taking place just a few days after another senator had, with benighted pride, referred to the need to marry Nigerian wives as a way of patronizing “made in Nigeria” products. There is absolute nothing funny in either the inapt coincidence of these statements made on the floor of the Senate or indeed in the timing.
What concerns me most however is the fact that other rational senators in the National Assembly did not speak up against these statements on the floor of the Senate, and as usual, most reactions condemning these statements came from women or women groups, with men satisfied to play a neutral role on issues bordering on gender equality once again. As considerable strides are being made all over the continent to secure the rights and protect the interests of women at political and institutional levels, perhaps the missing piece of the puzzle is the emergence of male champions for gender equality.
CELEBRATING THE PROGRESS MADE ON GENDER EQUALITY IN AFRICA
In the last couple of decades, considerable progress has been made on gender equality in Africa. Facts show that, as of February 2016, Rwanda has the highest percentage of women in Parliament in the world with women constituting 63.8% of members of its lower house and 10 of the 26 members of the upper house. The top ten countries in this respect also include Senegal (ranked 6th) and South Africa (ranked 8). Countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States of America lie at an abysmal 48 and 95 respectively. Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania and Burundi are also in the top 20 in the ranking of countries according to the percentage of women in ministerial positions. The use of quota systems in most countries has been instrumental to making these gains.
At an institutional level, the African Union declared the years 2010 – 2020 the African Women’s Decade, with 2016 in particular being the African Year of Human Rights with particular focus on the Rights of Women. In 2015, the African Development Bank Group produced the first African Gender Equality Index offering “a snapshot of the legal, social and economic gaps between men and women” with the major objective of providing the needed findings that will spur leaders, policymakers and civil society to start dismantling the barriers preventing women from contributing fully to the continent’s development.
These institutional efforts have also translated to reasonable success on the ground. Statistics show that between 1990 and 2011, almost 20 African countries have achieved gender parity in primary school enrollment, with others making good progress. There has been a 47 percent reduction in maternal mortality rates with similar progress in other areas like employment and access to healthcare.
However, most studies show that a lot still needs to be done in furtherance of gender equality on the continent. There is a palpable disparity in progress made between different countries in the continent on most of the issues mentioned above. But perhaps more importantly, there is still the prevalence of religion and culture-based prejudices against women in most countries; prejudices that are echoed in the statements of the senators referred to at the start.
GENDER EQUALITY: A MATTER OF NATURAL JUSTICE AS WELL AS DEVELOPMENT
The fact that most men are content playing a passive role on the issue of gender equality is a reflection of a lack of understanding of the foundations and ramifications of gender equality in society. This explains why, even though the right to equality and freedom from discrimination on grounds of sex is guaranteed in most constitutions, most men would show indifference to this right, in comparison to discrimination on grounds of colour, religion or ethnicity for instance. It is hypocritical that men would take a stand on discrimination in society on almost everything else, but not the institutionalized discrimination of women in their homes and offices and places of worship.
Discrimination against women, like any other form of discrimination questions the very conception of justice in society, but it also has ramifications for development in the continent. Women have always been economically active in Africa, albeit often as farmers and petty entrepreneurs, and in these roles they continue to contribute enormously to the welfare and life prospects of their families and children in particular. But this is changing slowly as women are beginning to occupy strategic roles in both the public and private sectors, and as the continent strives to harness its resources for development, bridging the gender gap and unleashing the full potential of women political, socially and economically could yield profound and enduring results for development on the continent.
In the light of this, the conversation on gender equality needs to progress from connotations of social norms, cultural formations and spirituality, traditional or otherwise: It is an issue of justice in society and like most issues of a similar nature in society, indifference on its own perpetrates the injustice. The patriarchal nature of present-day society mean that, without the involvement of men, progress on gender equality will continue to saunter. This is true in Africa, as it is in every other part of the world. The United Nations #HEFORSHE campaign was initiated in recognition of the important role of men in attaining gender equality.
There are fewer ways for us to be champions to our mothers, our sisters, our daughters, our wives and our nieces that to play our role in creating a just society where they can all ‘equally’ realize their full potential and contribute to development in society, than in advocating for gender equality. This is my #PledgeforParity. Over to You…
By Matthew Ayibakuro
On the 5th February 2016, the Supreme court in Nigeria dismissed an appeal by the Senate President of the country, Bukola Saraki, paving the way for his trial on corruption charges to commence at the Code of Conduct Tribunal. The widely anticipated decision of the apex court was considered a victory for anticorruption efforts in the country, at least in the interim. There were however a notable number of Nigerians who felt that the decision was yet another step in the unfolding persecution of the senate president through prosecution.
The background to the latter view arises from the dramatic emergence of Bukola Saraki as Senate President in June 2015, against the apparent dictates of the Presidency and the top hierarchy of his party, the All Progressive Congress (APC). Since his emergence, Saraki has had to deal with different corruption-related accusations against his person or close relatives and allies, including his wife Toyin Saraki.
Justified or not, Saraki’s recent travails with anticorruption agencies have led to the inevitable impression that they are not unconnected with his political squabbles with the Presidency and the leadership of his party. This is more so, considering the crux of the charges against him at the Code of Conduct Tribunal has to do with assets declaration made by him whilst serving as Governor of a State dating as far back as 2003 and never brought up until now. Furthermore, there are sixteen former governors in the current Senate of Nigeria, most of whom have long-standing accusations and even cases already instituted against them by anticorruption agencies. None of these accusations or cases have received the attention and diligence that has been accorded Saraki’s case.
Persecutory Prosecution – Does it Matter?
This situation leads to a number of salient questions that have ramifications for the anticorruption regime in Nigeria and elsewhere: would Saraki be on trial today if he had not fallen out with his party’s hierarchy? Corollary to this in broader terms is the fundamental question as to whether it matters at all if a person is facing prosecution for corruption as a result of political persecution. Does the motive behind the prosecution even matter if at the end of the day, the person being prosecuted is proven to be corrupt? Does the end not justify the means? To what extent should the ordinary citizen be concerned about the motives and processes that lead to the prosecution of corrupt public officials, as long as they are prosecuted and punished?
Experience around the world has shown that fighting corruption is no easy task. The global framework for anticorruption in the last couple of decades continue to emphasize the importance of strong governance institutions to eradicating corruption. However, the situation in countries like Nigeria and a few other developing countries who have made reasonable strides in establishing such institutions but not achieved commensurate reduction in levels of corruption, reiterate the importance of political will in the fight against corruption
Can Political Will to Fight Corruption be Apolitical?
Political will in this context presupposes, not just the will to fight corruption, but to do so impartially and with due regard for the rule. The latter is a factor that has been pointed to severally since the Presidency of Muhammadu Buhari began in May 2015. Having being elected on the principal promise of fighting corruption, the government has apparently taken some steps to enunciate its commitment to fighting corruption. However, the manner in which it has gone about this, as displayed in Saraki’s case, has also led to concerns about the neutrality of the fight against corruption and its regard for the rule of law.
This has created a very complicated situation for ordinary Nigerians and observers. Haven cried foul over the lack of political will to fight corruption for a long time, should the efforts of a leader who seemingly possesses the will to do so be criticized due to perceptions of partiality in his efforts? Provided those who are prosecuted are corrupt, I guess many persons would care less about the motives behind such prosecution – political or otherwise. It would however be a very different situation where the person being prosecuted is innocent and is only being persecuted as part of a political agenda, and that is where the danger lies.
Until then, very few people would be ready to play a pivotal role in detracting the most serious commitment yet by a leader to fight corruption in the country. The perception that corruption is the biggest challenge to development is widespread and perpetuated both within and outside the country. In that light, it would appear that most persons would not mind sacrificing secondary issues like neutrality and even the rule of law, provided the fight against corruption is on full throttle.
Issues like political interference in the work of institutions like anticorruption agencies and the rule of law however, do have ramifications beyond just anticorruption and determine whether the fight against corruption is sustained over time or continues to oscillate depending on who is in control of state power. Nigeria and other countries in a similar situation will have to decide the trade-offs and determine where the right balance lies.
By Matthew Ayibakuro
It is almost impossible to go through any material on development in Africa without coming across the word corruption. Hardly any speech on development of countries in Africa would come to an end without the mention of the “C” word. It is the go-to word, the toast of academics, analysts, practitioners, politicians, anyone really. In fact, irrespective of the country or sector you are interested in on the continent, when asked what the major challenge is, you cannot go wrong by starting your answer with the almighty “C” word. Anything else comes after the big “C”.
However in a continent where most countries multi-ethnic and are still grappling with achieving sustainable economic growth in an unfair global trading system, maintaining political stability, confronting terrorism and other security challenges and dealing with social inequities, amongst others, is corruption the only impediment to development in countries in Africa? In fact, is it even the major challenge?
The current state of the discourse on the subject or corruption in Africa is a demonstration of how the narrative of a subject can so easily be refashioned and redirected with reckless abandon. Until the famous speech of the then president of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn in 1996 when he referred to the cancer of corruption as a major barrier to development which had to be dealt with urgently, corruption was considered one of the many challenges to development. As far back as 1988, the Africa Leadership Forum identified some of these challenges to include capacity building, food security, efficiency of trade investments, regional and sub-regional economic integration, food security, inequality and poverty.
Post-1996, following Wolfensohn’s speech at the annual general meeting of the World bank, the Bank and other financial institutions have led the way in making corruption the major focus of development efforts. Budgets for good governance-related development assistance has burgeoned at an alarming rate. Everyone else has followed and there are no signs of this narrative and therefore focus dwindling anytime soon.
Elections in most countries in Africa are growingly becoming about corruption and little more else. The most recent presidential elections in Nigeria provides a perfect example with the opposition candidate Gen. Muhammadu Buhari essentially riding to power on the promise of eradicating corruption. Very few appeared to have taken note that the election was held at a time when the economy of Nigeria was in dire straits following the slump in oil prices, the value of its currency was also in free-fall and its economic prospects for the rest of the year, at least, looked uncertain. All these challenges were however overshadowed by the issue of corruption. That Nigerians elected Buhari is yet another indication of the popular belief that the end of corruption would automatically translate to development. The economic woes of the country remain and four months after the election, there are no indications in terms of policy to steer the country to economic safety.
It would be foolhardy to deny the importance of fighting corruption in countries in Africa. However, doing so at the expense of most other pivotal issues challenging development on the continent might prove to be even more costly than corruption itself on the long run. The challenges identified by the Africa Leadership Forum referred to above remain relevant and visible today on the continent as they were decades ago, and whereas fighting corruption is intrinsically linked to solving some of them, most others have little or nothing to do with the corruption. Questions are being raised on whether some African countries have even successfully shaken off their colonial legacies and how this might be impacting on their development. More global issues impeding development of countries on the continent like the unfair imbalance in the multilateral trading system under the WTO also continue to impede meaningful economic growth.
The majority of people who prioritize the fight against corruption appear caught up in the challenge of deciphering the myth and the reality about the prevalence of corruption on the continent. Between the consistent headlines and sleek research findings of organisations like Transparency International, it is hard to criticise their conviction.
But it is time for African countries to recognise the fact that achieving sustainable development and having a chance of catching up with the rest of the world in terms of development goes beyond just fighting corruption. Ignoring the many other equally vital issues would be at the peril of countries on the continent. Those who succeed in eradicating, or at least minimising corruption, might just wake up to the fact that corruption was probably just a little more than a needle in a haystack in this prodigious field of development.
BETWEEN BUHARI’S WISH LIST AND KENYATTA’S RALLYING CALL: WHAT IS THE STRATEGY OF AFRICAN COUNTRIES ON AID?
By Matthew Ayibakuro
Last month Germany hosted the meeting of the Group of Seven countries, often referred to as the G7 Summit. These countries consider themselves the most powerful industrialised countries in the World. It used to be group of eight of course, but Russia is suspended. The merits of this group in world order and its legacy remains debatable; a debate that I do not wish to engage in at the moment. But every now and then, certain countries are invited to dine with this group of the high and mighty. This year Nigeria was was one of the fortunate chosen ones.
Of course Nigeria had to consider itself one of the charmed ones going to the G7 Summit, especially at this point in time. After all, it is the newest darling of the democracy-crazy west. The country had just concluded general elections where the ruling party had been toppled by an opposition party that had not only won the elections, but did so with a campaign strategy shaped by western consultants. These G7 countries could not have wished for a better scenario. Even before his inauguration, President Buhari was the guest of David Cameron to Downing Street, where the Nigerian leader promised, amongst other things, to do all he could to secure his country’s borders, thereby ensuring that Britain would not have to deal with the infestation of African migrants to Europe. This is very crucial to Cameron’s commitment to limit migration to Britain at all costs.
And by the way, that is apart from the fact that he remains very committed to aiding development in Nigeria and Africa in general. Britain is one of only a handful of countries that fulfils the target of spending 0.7% of its gross national income on aid every year. So, in the same vein, shortly after the inauguration of President Buhari, the British Secretary for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Philip Hammond who was in Abuja for the ceremony, told the President that they were ‘waiting for his list’ of things he needs help with at the G7 summit. Helping in this way is better, certainly more convenient. Why deal with a problem on anyone’s terms when you can do it on your terms? That would be irrational, stupid even.
Buhari’s Wish List and Kenyatta’s Rallying Call
Thus, the expression of the President of Nigeria going to the G7 summit with a “wish list” was born. I found it amusingly theatric the first time I read about the wish list. It reminded me of a scene from Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. I could almost visualise the G7 leaders seated around a table like Don Corleone and then President Buhari walks in expectant and respectful. He would then speak in low tones about how he needed this for that and that for this. He would explain how this person was the hindrance and that situation was the problem. The G7 leaders would nod with empathy and say words like, “We will help you. Just make sure you do not do this and that. It is bad for the business of the family and our partners”. Buhari agrees and everyone comes out with smiling faces for the cameras. Back in Nigeria, Buhari extols the ‘tremendous sympathy’ of the G7 for the region.
I wonder what faces they would have had on when just a couple of days later, Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta made a rallying call for African leaders to give up aid, as “the future of our continent cannot be left to the good graces of outside interests”. This contrast of opinions and approach from leaders of two of the biggest countries on the continent tells a bigger story. Between Buhari’s wish list for help and Kenyatta’s rallying call for an end to aid, one wonders what exactly is the strategy of African leaders for aid, and if there is even one at all?
What is the Strategy of African Countries on Aid?
There is a large amount of literature on development assistance. There are those who call for an end to aid like Kenyatta. Others criticise the practice of conditionality that accompanies aid, whilst yet others who support conditionality, go further to argue that the conditions are often the wrong ones or that they are not monitored or implemented properly. The one homogenous feature of all these opinions is the fact that they all talk about the strategy of donor institutions and countries. There is little or no talk about the strategy of recipient countries. Surely it is time for this to change.
In recent terms, there is a general impression that there is another scramble for Africa; principally for its resources, but also for its potential and opportunities. Unlike the previous scramble for Africa, the history of which is best forgotten but never will be, this time it is not just the Europeans. The East in the form of China in particularly is increasing its presence and prominence in Africa. It professes to have an agenda different from that of the West in terms of aid and general development cooperation. It does not care about the much publicised and berated issue of conditionality. It will deal with African countries without necessarily telling the various governments what to do, as the Europeans and Bretton Woods Institutions have since the 1980s.
The important thing is that the Europeans apparently know what they want from their dealings with African countries on aid or otherwise. The Chinese also do. The question then is, do African governments know what they want? What is their strategy generally in dealing with donors. Do they have one in dealing with China? Have they had one in dealing with Western donors over the years? If so, has this strategy being reviewed in the light of the relatively recent involvement of China in the equation? In what ways are the governments of countries in Africa planning to leverage the new scramble to deal with Africa for its benefit?
It would appear that in 2015, as it was decades ago, most African leaders are still content playing the role of passive aid recipients, without necessarily being proactive on the issue of development assistance. They appear to be just lying there with open arms, beneath the decision table, collecting what crumbs that fall to them, totally unperturbed about the implications of the decisions taken at the table before aid is given; the strategies, the motives, the significance.
Making the Most of the Moment
The new scramble for Africa is an obvious testament to the opportunities that the potential of the continent provides. But it is also an opportunity for governments of countries on the continent to become active in deciding its fate in dealings with willing development partners. With leaders like Buhari taking a list of demands for help to the G7, I can only wonder how many leaders in the continent understand the strategic nature of this moment in the history of the continent.
It may sound fashionable to show an understanding of the basis of western aid, no doubt endearing to be critical of it. But I reckon it is now time for African countries to put all that aside and become proactive in dictating the terms upon which it would cooperate for development with the West.
Whilst doing this as individual countries might yield reasonable results, no doubt a continent-wide effort is required. The African Union needs to take the lead in this regard. It needs to put together its own set of conditions under which donors should be required to deal with the continent in a way that benefits the countries in the continent, not just conditions that the donors consider beneficial to the continent and/or themselves. Such strategic policy document should serve as a framework within which individual countries may then negotiate the terms of development assistance agreements.
By Matthew Ayibakuro
The Historic 2015 Presidential Election in Nigeria has been hailed as the most free and fair election yet, that the country has witnessed since its return to democracy in 1999. Apart from the conduct of the election, the actions and reactions of the major contending political parties and especially of their presidential candidates have made headlines around the world. As expected, the encomiums have been pouring in from all over the world. But do these headlines tell the whole story about the just concluded elections in the most populous black country in the world? Is Nigeria, by the singular fact of this election, now a model of democracy in Africa? Has it now heaved out the many demons that have bedevilled its democracy up until this moment? Is Nigeria now strategically placed to achieve development through democratic governance?
The Significant Positives
It is beyond doubt that there are many positives to draw from the just concluded presidential election in Nigeria. It was freer and fairer than any previously conducted in the country. Despite the many challenges, the use of card readers and permanent voter cards during the election was itself a milestone which, if leveraged upon, provides a lot of promise for future elections in the country.
Perhaps the most positive development for which the 2015 presidential elections would be remembered is the phone call by the incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan to the winner Muhammadu Buhari, conceding defeat and congratulating the latter, even before the results had been officially announced by the electoral body. This action was surprising as it was unprecedented in the electoral history of the country and indeed of the continent of Africa. It left the opposition shocked, and the supporters of the president overwhelmed. The ghosts of post-election violence that was predicted were immediately expelled even before they had a chance to surface. The country got the praise for it. Democracy got the medal, and in the midst of all this, it could easily be forgotten that this was the singular act of one man, not his party, or his supporters; I doubt if any of these groups would have approved. Whether or not the opposition would have done the same is anyone’s guess, but no harm done. The country is peaceful, and our ratings for democratic governance for 2015 would skyrocket when they are released, no doubt.
There are however many salient trends that emerged from the elections that have the potential of detracting rather than enhancing democratic governance in Nigeria; trends which should probably be making headlines too, or at least providing a cause of worry for Nigerians, and everyone else who is interested, or at least claims to be interested in strengthening democracy and achieving development in the country.
The Underlying Blindspots
A look at the above map showing the voting pattern by states in the country, show the deep lying divisions in Nigeria. These divisions are not based on progressive factors like performance of current and past governments or on levels of development in various parts of the country. They are rather drawn clearly on religious and ethnic lines. To deny this palpable fact would mean adhering to sheer hypocrisy. The muslim-dominated northern states voted en masse for Muhammadu Buhari who is a muslim, whilst the largely christian southern states did the same for Goodluck Jonathan, a christian. The BBC graphically portrayed the ethnic colouration of the election when it reported that the election was a tale of two hats: one representing the north, the other representing the south. It has not been this obvious for a long time. There were a few variations here and there, but these were way too insignificant in the context of strengthening democratic tenets in the country. The voting pattern makes vivid ethnic and religious lines that are deeply rooted in the history of the country’s unpleasant past; lines that are best forgotten in the best interest of everyone.
The UNESCO International Panel on Democracy and Development (IPDD) in 2002, highlighted a number of factors in its proceedings which aptly describe the concerns for democratic governance in Nigeria as revealed by the 2015 presidential elections in the country:
“A democratic society should be aware of three potential pitfalls. First, the domination of the majority does not constitute democracy. Minority groups deserve representation and without it, democratic governance is simply a tyranny of the majority. Second, minority political representation in and of itself does not guarantee harmony and in some cases can exacerbate problems. Finally, despite a need for cultural diversity in politics, minority status should not be the basis for access to power. That is, ethnicity, cultural and religious ties should not be prerequisites to political power”
The reality of the above truths, do not only define the just concluded election, but aptly describe the democratic culture of Nigeria from a broad perspective. It provides insights on how Goodluck Jonathan, a minority, became president of the country in the first place, and why he had to contend with many issues such as Boko Haram throughout the duration of his tenure.
In just over a month, the opposition party in Nigeria, the APC will officially become the ruling party. It promised change to Nigerians. The most significant and perhaps most challenging change it can deliver to Nigerians would be to change the democratic culture of the country. This is the only way it can consolidate on the gains that have been made so far in terms of entrenching democratic practices in the country. Democratic governance cannot thrive or be sustained along the path it is threading currently in Nigeria.
Although some may not agree with this, in my reckoning, it fell to the predisposition and strength of character of one leader to provide the framework which allowed the opposition in the country to thrive without harassment or intimidation, to ensure that free and fair elections take place, to concede defeat without compulsion, thereby saving the lives of many Nigerians and perhaps the very existence of democratic governance in Nigeria. In doing so, he allayed the fears of many, and made Nigeria a beacon of pride for democracy in Africa.
Post May 29, 2015, it would ultimately fall to yet another man to build on these milestones. Whatever his agenda is for anticorruption, for socio-economic development and the many other things that would foster development in the country, establishing a truly democratic culture in Nigeria has to be an objective as significant as any other. Until this is achieved, it is probably too early for Nigerians to start counting their blessings as a country.