Citizens’ engagement, public institution accountability and transparency have emerged as crucial priorities and formed a part of a broader demand for the realization of good governance and societal reforms; therefore, engaged citizenship and demands for accountability and transparency are mutually inclusive. The idea of citizenship is beyond the membership status, it is also an expression that involves a deeper understanding of civic responsibilities to one’s community; it is a necessity for a virile democratic system. Recognizing this inevitable role of citizens is key to efficient and effective social and political institutions and processes.
The intractable dysfunctionality in the Nigerian downstream sector reared its ugly head when the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited (NNPCL) through its four consortia of direct sale, direct purchase (DSDP) of refined products came to public knowledge. Through these proxies, the NNPC imported 170 million litres of adulterated petroleum, which led to public outcry and has equally created artificial fuel scarcity and a hike in the pump price. The results are several cases of engine malfunction reported by users of this bad product and an expected hike in transportation costs which is draining the purchasing power of citizens and bleeding the economy.
It is troubling to know that seven years into this current administration; a government that promised Nigerians change, Nigeria still imports refined petroleum products. A government that promised to fix the ailing national refineries and build new ones has spent and is still spending more funds to sustain the subsidy scam. Nigerians still spend hours in the queue to buy fuel at N200, thereby creating brisk business for the black market that sells between N400 and N1000 per litre. According to Sahara Reports, Abuja residents, workers were stranded as fuel sold for N1000 per litre
Almost 2 weeks into these regrettable events, there is no retribution to those found culpable for this malicious racket, besides the usual retorics. Meanwhile, the President, Muhammadu Buhari doubles as the petroleum minister and still junkets the globe, proffering solutions to other countries problems while his own people suffer. The failure of this government to arrest the situation, carry out a conclusive investigation to bring out and punish culprits that imported this large quantity of methanol-blended petroleum into the country reeks of irresponsibility and lack of accountability to the masses. It further shows how little the government regards the people. The country boasts of four refineries with billions of naira sunk into them for yearly turn-around maintenance, yet no evident result but has remained a conduit for generational corruption by few individuals given to debased appetites. There is a vicious circle of bad leaders, devoid of purpose, that runs public institutions against public interest, presenting the anti-masses face in the governance system while impunity continues unabatedly.
The unfortunate events of importation of dirty fuel, fuel scarcity and other state-sponsored social injustice should not be treated with nonchalance; the masses should hold the government to account. For a government that shies away from transparency and accountability, the masses are the only people to remedy the situation and drive out bad leaders in government. It is increasingly recognized that greater accountability and responsiveness on the part of government can only be brought about by the people.
It is evident that one of the reasons for accountability failures in Nigeria is the unfortunate quality of leaders that represent the people and manage public institutions. The 2023 general election is drawing close, election remains a critical political mechanism that allows citizens to choose their government, and form a democratic political system, and this electoral process determines the quality of political representation. The people must be circumspect on electing people with the capacity and willingness to respond to calls for accountability. Election periods should not be used to self-sabotage, but citizens should begin to see it as a viable means to correct these anomalies and elect leaders that are competent, transparent and accountable.
Election is crucial to sustaining democracy and it remains one of the means through which the citizens are empowered to elect competent people to lead and to effectively manage resources for the common good and development of the people. It follows that an efficient legal framework and electoral process will strengthen democratic institutions. However, Nigeria’s elections have often been marred by consistent and avoidable irregularities; the defective electoral law in Nigeria has served as an instrument for electoral fraud and subversion of the will of the masses and has over the years produced unsatisfying outcomes. The vagaries of the faulty electoral law have continued to produce far more arbitrariness than the electorates are willing to stomach, hence the demand for amendment in Electoral Act.
There is already mass demand from a different section of the country for the President to be swift with assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021, which belies the mood of the country as a whole. It is unfortunate that the President would wait to be reminded of his responsibility and its importance to the electoral process before he acts. President Muhammadu Buhari has declined assent for a record five times to the bill, even after the National Assembly had bent over to make amendments to some clauses of the bill, like Clause 84 which deals with the mode of primary election to be used by political parties to select candidates. Some provisions of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021 include; early release of funds to INEC captured – clause 3(3), the inclusion of persons with disability – clause 54(2). Others are, legalizing electronic accreditation of voters – clause 47, power to review election results declared under duress – clause 65 and the controversial electronic transmission of results in clause 50. No doubt, these provisions and others will engender a more transparent and credible election in Nigeria.
It is unclear whether the President is willing to sign the bill or not, going by the silence from his office, other than a statement from one of his aids that he is consulting widely. He ought to understand that failure to assent to the bill would not only impoverish the democratic space but also reduce the 2023 general election to an exercise in futility because electoral fraud would persist amidst a faulty electoral law. Repeated decline to assent to the bill is an indication of the unwillingness and lack of commitment by this administration to a free and credible election in Nigeria and assault on democracy.
We call on President Muhammadu Buhari to show courage and commitment towards improving the integrity of elections in Nigeria by signing the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021 into law. Nigeria is eager for a more robust electoral space, but refusing assent is nothing but democratic backsliding. The President’s promise of change should be backed up by his assent to the bill which reckons with fundamental values of democracy.
The unprecedented level of public awareness concerning the importance and benefits of the bill and a desire for lasting reform in Nigeria’s electoral law should not be undermined by the President’s refusal to assent and the needless shenanigans, because the will of the people must prevail. A transparent and credible election is non-negotiable if Nigeria must achieve good governance that will lead to sustainable democracy and the development of the country.
On January 12, 2022, the federal government announced the lifting of the ban on Twitter, which was placed on it due to a perceived attempt by the microblogging site to destabilize the country. This action has been met with mixed reactions from different sections of the country. Seven months ago, precisely on June 5, 2021, in brazen contravention of the fundamental human right of freedom of expression as contained in the 1999 constitution as amended and recognized in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government took its authoritarian style of governing to a new and unparalleled height, shattering every illusion of hope Nigerians had by abruptly placing a ban on Twitter and turning up the dials on freedom of expression and media censorship.
This was protested by the masses as it constitutes a grave restriction on the fundamental rights of the Nigerian people. Social Development Integrated Centre (Social Action) and members of other civil society organizations also echoed the same concerns. Unsurprisingly, President Muhammadu Buhari-led government has no compunction about this draconic decision to suspend the activities of the micro-blogging site Twitter in Nigeria. Such extreme, restrictive, anti-masses and insensitive decisions are intended to alienate the people whom the current government claims to represent. Citizen engagement and freedom of expression are eternally accepted norms of good governance. Any government that fails to protect them is no less than an autocratic government. The ban affected small businesses and cost Nigeria N546.5 billion, according to media reports.
While the timing of the lifting of the ban bears a political undertone, the shadiness surrounding the conditions met by Twitter raises significant privacy concerns and the absence of independent oversight to ensure that users’ privacy is protected. Announcing the lifting of the ban, the federal government disclosed that Twitter has agreed to all the conditions the Nigerian government outlined. If the privacy of users is tampered with, it may expose Nigerian users to threats, intimidation, and actual violence by the state, something the current government thrives on.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s government and his change mantra are plagued by undeniable contradictions, evident in many anti-masses policies churned out, the Twitter ban included. Given the high-handedness of this government, Twitter should not be bullied into allowing the government access to their backend, sensitive data, or information about users. It would be abused in a way that interferes with people’s constitutional rights and endangers the very foundation of democracy and other factors compatible with good governance. More so, it would further fuel the Nigerian masses’ mistrust of this government.
The Social Action reiterates its stance on the need for open and good governance in Nigeria and is genuinely concerned about protecting and promoting the fundamentals of democracy. Freedom of expression is a fundamental right, and the benefits of a free and diverse society are endless. Good governance and democracy thrive in an atmosphere of openness and accountability. We call on this government to show unadulterated commitment and support participatory democracy by allowing citizens to engage the government in every medium necessary and hold the government accountable. The government cannot continue to gag the masses in the name of “national security.”
Social Action will continue to oppose all forms of suppression and gag designed by this government to alienate and render the masses ineffective. We resolutely believe that good governance is centred on the principles of accountability and transparency, and we will continue to uphold these principles.
Democracy and human rights are recognized as inextricably connected, but the Muhammadu Buhari-led government has always de-emphasized that link. The #EndSars protest and the atrocious breaches of human rights before, during, and after the period of the protests across the country provides sobering evidence that this government is increasingly fueling human rights violations.
On Thursday, 7th October, 2021, President, Muhammadu Buhari, presented N16.39 trillion as the 2022 budget proposal before a joint session of the National Assembly. The proposed 2022 budget is titled, “Budget of Economic Growth and Sustainability”. Some of the 2022 budget key figures are: capital expenditure of N4.89 trillion, non-debt recurrent expenditure of N6.83trillion, oil benchmark price of $57 per barrel, with projected oil production target of 1.88m bpd and the exchange rate is projected at N410.15/US$.
In a frantic effort by the President Muhammadu Buhari’s government to increase Nigeria’s debt profile, he has again, requested from the National Assembly, the approval of another $4 billion and EUR 710 million loan. The request was contained in a letter read by Senate President Ahmad Lawan on the Senate floor Tuesday 14th September 2021. It could be recalled that this request is coming shortly after the National Assembly approved $6.18 billion foreign loans.
The concluded forensic audit report on the Niger Delta Development Commission- NDDC, highlights failures related to accountability, including financial mismanagement, chronic underperformance and service collapse of the agency. These fundamental gaps in accountability and transparency at the heart of NDDC activities result in underperformance. The devastating effects of the deficiency in the operations of the Commission have continued to ravage the Niger Delta with compounding hardship, and thus call for a pragmatic shift for a change in the narrative.
From its inception, the NDDC could be described as a cesspit of corruption, abandoned projects and political patronage. It is disheartening that the NDDC has remained in the same claws of mismanagement that has left the Niger Delta people to suffer, evidently seen in the poor accountability profile within the NDDC structure. This kind of system no doubt makes stealing easy. The NDDC has displayed long-standing weaknesses in how poorly it uses funds meant for the development of the Niger Delta region for personal gains, which falls short of standards for spending public money.
Clearly, this shows that there is a lack of accountability in the operations of the NDDC. This has enabled repeated failures in service delivery such as abandoned projects, poor procurement practices, embezzlement and wasting public money. Accountability lies at the heart of masses-owned and service delivery institutions such as the Niger Delta Development Commission. The current system in NDDC displays critical management weaknesses, quantum corruption and lethargy that trail the need for prosecution where necessary. However, the good thing is that these can be addressed. The government must, therefore, begin to shift from the culture of blame and piling of reports to prosecution of those culpable, recoveries of illegally acquired wealth from culprits and returning same to the public coffers for the improvement and development of Niger Delta.
Matters of accountability and transparency in NDDC are sacrosanct because when it works, it benefits everyone. It will enable the people of Niger Delta to know what the NDDC is doing, and how to gain redress when things go wrong. It would ensure that the interventionist agency is acting in the interests of the people that they were appointed to serve. Consequently, accountability remains critical to the management and delivery of NDDC mandate and this will increase the trustworthiness and legitimacy of the agency in the eyes of the people of Niger Delta.
While accountability and transparency are not the only panaceas for solving the numerous challenges that NDDC faces in a complex environment, it can improve its service delivery, generate incentives for responsible individuals within the agency to act in the interests of the Niger Delta people. Even if this means those untouchable are prosecuted following the rot in the agency; what is important is a healthy system of accountability and transparency that makes it effortless for the agency to meet its mandate to the people of Niger Delta.
To rigorously pursue the good principles of accountability and transparency in NDDC, the agency should periodically publish transparent, authoritative information and data that underpins the spending process. They should publish financial statements at the end of each spending period and also declare details of all projects before and after they have been agreed upon and how these projects would be delivered in practice. This should also be subject to concerned communities’ scrutiny and validation. This would provide the people with information to inspect these projects as they are implemented. We also demand that the federal government inaugurate the NDDC Board which is in consonance with the law establishing the agency. The board would provide a forum for strategic discussions on service delivery, how to develop the Niger Delta and exert effective oversight, ensuring that policies work as intended.
The necessity to overhaul the prevailing system of corruption in NDDC is not negotiable. It is an effort towards redefining the working patterns of the agency to imbue it with sanity imperative for Niger Delta to begin to enjoy the benefits of good service delivery against the experience of untold hardship which has been a product of administrative deficiencies and corruption.
Social Action will continue to be at the vanguard of expounding sanity with impeccable standards, to reveal the pervasive culture of corruption, perceivable ill practices and echoing gaps of accountability and transparency in NDDC until justice is done and the people of Niger Delta are better off.
The Niger-Delta Development Commission (NDDC) awaits the long-expected Board to be inaugurated by the end of June 2021 or early July 2021. Fifteen nominees had already been screened and confirmed by the Senate in November 2019 for the NDDC Governing Board. However, there has been power play of some sort, coupled with reports of screening of fresh nominees for the same Board. This has led to a back-and-forth in the inauguration of the board and ultimately affected negatively the development of the region, leaving the Interim Management Committee (IMC) which had been indicted for financial recklessness and mismanagement to continue overseeing the NDDC.