When in 2011, eight governments (Brazil, Indonesia, Philippines, Mexico, Norway, South Africa, United Kingdom and United States) came together to formally launch the Open Government Partnership in New York City, South Africa again was the country Africans would look up to for representation. For a while now, it has always been that way with the supposed giant of Africa missing in action. Nature abhors a vacuum and that continental leadership vacancy that Nigeria has refused to step into as expected is conveniently been occupied by South Africa. However, that is a topic for another day. Today, achieving good governance is the focus.
Good Governance is an inevitable component of a prosperous nation. In simpler words, no nation can be prosperous without good governance. It can also be said that any prosperous nation that ends up with bad governance one way or the other would sooner rather than later be characterized with poverty. That Africa ‘was’ a poor continent is no argument and the global imperialists of the world have in the name of trade and commerce pretended to take Africa out of poverty through foreign aid, SAPs, Austerity measures when they feel it is needed, and all sorts of activities championed more by the IMF and the World Bank. It is no surprise that after hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign aid since the end of the second world war, there has been very little, if any change on the surface of the level of poverty in Africa. Very little of these billions was channelled into promoting good governance and democracy without which prosperity will not be welcomed in any society. It cannot be really said that there is an increase in the percentage of these foreign currencies in foreign aid channelled into promoting good governance. However, the focus on good governance in emerging markets has to a large extent increased and the Open Government Partnership is one of such platforms.
The crux of the Open Government Partnership as it is laid down in the vision is that “more governments become sustainably more transparent, more accountable, and more responsive to their own citizens with the ultimate goal of improving the quality of public policies and services, as well as the level and scope of public participation”. An open government is the panacea to a good society as I will try to show in the next few lines and until Nigeria as a nation matures to a level where an open government is the order of the day, achieving prosperity might always be miles away from our grasp. Let me explain. An open government means that the government records, budgets, spendings, transactions, data, policies, frameworks are available in the open and can be used, reproduced and does not have to be requested by citizens before it is produced. With an open government, drafting of policies and public ownership of growth schemes enhance implementation of such schemes rather than policy behind thick walls that do not get public support and compliance which on the long run negatively impacts implementation.
There is no better way of tackling corruption in a society than through the institutionalization of transparency and accountability in such society which an open government embodies by default. The fear of President Buhari as have been praised since the beginning of his administration will not work for long and the threat of justice will only be able to go as far as justice can go in a society where the rule of law is still an alien concept. Let’s leave corruption aside, Misappropriation of funds and maladministration by public officers is often a result of a lot of things, few of which are misplacement of priorities and a lack of vision. With an open government, it means there is enough data available to civil society such that the civil society will be able to alert, provide guidance, shape public opinion and the society will be able to demand better. Investing in a society where governance is open is far more incentivizing to investors than one in which governance is not open. One country recently published all the owners of big companies and the percentage of their ownerships. When you can put a name to the owner of the big companies that make the larger percentages of the monies flowing in, there’s a limit to the corrupt practices they can engage in.
One singular factor that propelled the candidacy of now President Muhammadu Buhari was his integrity and his public intolerance for corruption. This has to a large extent given a large percentage of the populace a kind of miraculous or rather magical expectation of the way things are to progress once he assumes power. However, as I have tried to show in another column of mine, without the proper institutions put in place to solve the obvious problems of our society, History like we had in 1985 after Buhari was overthrown and Nigerians returned to the status quo will repeat itself. The three basic institutions that I mentioned that must be established according to Francis Fukuyama are; Rule of Law, Democracy and Accountability. The Open Government Partnership that now cuts across 64 countries striving to make their governments more open is a pathway to establishing one of those institutions – Accountability
Accountability is on double edged concept. One side is the part where the government is held accountable by the office of the citizen. This is a bottom-up approach and usually involves the exercise of efforts from the active citizens and is more of a reactionary approach to achieving good governance when carried out alone without the other side. The pro-active approach on the side of the government is where the government without the express reactions or demands of the citizens through bills such as the FOI bill makes the government open such that information on all levels are available to citizens in need of it. Globally more countries are demanding for more participation and more openness from their governments and quoting from OGP’s Four Year Strategy 2015- 2018, “OGP is a response to (these) powerful trends and emerging priorities at the global level and within countries. . .”
Yes, we have the Freedom of Information Act even though it has only been localized in Ekiti state and attempts are being made by Kaduna state under Governor El Rufai OGP is a lot broader. The FOI Act gives citizens the ability to demand for any ( well, not just any) information that pertains to government business, the OGP goes many steps further. It places countries in a position where they provide information about government business to the public so that it is accessible, reproducible and usable for the public in making decisions and more importantly raises public policy participation. Is Nigeria ready? This is a different matter entirely. President Buhari is supposedly poised to wage a full war against corrupt practices in his government, whether that is going to extend to the governors across the states is another. The true test to President Buhari’s commitment to stifling out corruption and driving an all-inclusive government is the level of commitment he will give to institutionalizing platforms that promote open governance, one of which is OGP. It is no coincidence that the first identified risk in carrying out the OGP mission is the political will of the political leaders and the extent of their commitment.
OGP is an opportunity and a platform for countries committed to opening up the government to come together and deploy resources, technical knowhow and a network of like-minded partners in achieving open governance in their countries. Quoting President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia, “. . . OGP’s greatest strength lies in its facilitation of the exchange of ideas, learning, and experiences on open and good governance”.
Here in really lies our opportunity. Let us take it.
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