Home Opinion An Open Letter to the President, Federal Republic of Nigeria: A Legacy Agenda

An Open Letter to the President, Federal Republic of Nigeria: A Legacy Agenda

by Isiyaku Ahmed

By Aminu Buba Dibal

I wish to humbly make my contribution to the enormous task of nation-building as a Nigerian citizen in an effort to add value to the remaining two years of the Buhari administration by recommending the following;

(1) An Agenda for Change Project, in line with your party’s slogan and

(2) a new Presidential Administrative Mechanism for Service Delivery & Accountability.

These are meant to accelerate the laying of a lasting legacy for your administration has given your genuine intentions for a better Nigeria and provides a framework for addressing the root causes of our nation’s underdevelopment. These two initiatives also resonate with your recent directive to Ministers to go and consult with their constituencies and return to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) post the #ENDSARS Protest by giving it an institutionalized approach as it also aligns with the pillars of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) which Nigeria is a signatory.

I would be discussing two key challenges to Nigeria’s development which are, “financial corruption” and “poor service delivery & accountability”. Insights from the two areas of discourse provide the framework for the two recommendations.

I focused on the two issues because of the following reasons;

1) their strategic importance and potential positive trickle effect in every aspect of our national life,

2) peacebuilding and managing the drivers/facilitators of civil unrest especially as frustration over governance-related issues began to take violent forms in Nigeria as witnessed by the #ENDSARS protest among others,

3) declining public trust/political apathy as shown by the 2019 general election which had only 28.6 million people voted out of 82.3 million registered voters by INEC, and

4) Nigeria’s score of only 21 points out of 100 points based on the international budget transparency index of 2020, when countries like; Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Sao Tome & Principe are doing better than us with 54, 39, 38, 38 points respectively.

The challenge of financial corruption 

It is disturbing to remind ourselves that in October 2019, Chatham House, a British think-tank, estimates that US$582bn has been stolen from Nigeria since it won independence in 1960. However, your administration has achieved some outstanding landmarks in the areas of policy and mechanisms to undermine corruption.

These include the implementation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA), Corporate Code of Governance (CCG), Whistle  Blowing Policy (WBP), the Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme (VAIDs), the bail-out condition to states,  the “Change begins with me campaign”, implementation of the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System  (IPPIS), Joining the Open Governance Partnership (OGP) and developing a National Action Plan, the Nigeria Financial  Intelligence Unit (NFIU) policy of ban on tempering with LGA funds, approval of first charge releases to the Judiciary and Legislature, the launch of the National Ethics and Integrity Policy and MSME and Agricultural policies to empower  Nigerians and thus mitigate corruption. The implementation successes of these policies are not a part of this discussion, but the initiatives demonstrate a deep interest in tackling corruption.

However, my point of divergence Your Excellency along the line of these good policies and mechanisms is that a policy and even law could all be reversed by any next administration if it does not represent the interest of the few elites in power as facilitated by an uninformed citizenry, even if it does represent an opportunity for good to entire Nigerians. Thus, if the possibility of reversing your achievements is possible, then the question arises of how can we comprehensively sustain the gains beyond your administration.

It is good to recognize that corruption slows down economic development, exacerbates grievances, stimulates class tension & struggle, destroys patriotism, diminishes citizen’s public trust, scare-off investors, enhances a culture of crude greed and individualism against a common good of society, and sets a nation on the path of gradual decline detrimental to our collective survival as a nation.

The challenge of service delivery & accountability.

The Projects Audit Commission report findings submitted to former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011, have it that an estimated 11, 886 federal government projects alone are abandoned in the past 40 years across the country, worth N18 trillion, despite budgetary allocations over the years.

The Chartered Institute of Project Management of Nigeria on its part based on its 2019 survey report detailed that there are 56,000 abandoned government (federal, state & LGAs) projects across Nigeria. In 2019, the Executive Secretary, Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA), Umar Gambo Jibrin has said that Nigeria needs US$3 trillion to solve the country’s infrastructure deficit and engender development. AT the root of this gruesome reality are poor budget implementation and lack of accountability.

Generally, capital budget implementation is poor across MDAs of government at all levels, and for many years since the return to democracy, it is hovering between 21 – 26%. Thus, Nigerians provide water for themselves, construct access roads and streets to their homes, form and pay for local vigilante security services, indulge in self-medication, are exploited by private schools because public schools have collapsed, largely provide electricity for themselves as we can only distribute a maximum of 5,000 megawatts for many years for our 200 million population as Egypt, for example, has 55,000 megawatts for its 98 million people, Ivory coast 2,200 megawatts for its 25 million people and,  south Africa, 51,300 for its 57 million people.

The failure in infrastructural development and service delivery in Nigeria is closely linked to poor budget implementation but specifically due to weak political will and framework for accountability, uninformed and poor citizens participation, the combination of all these elements on the positive aspect would have ensured the legal annual budget instrument is implemented to a greater percentage.

However, because of the paucity of the factors listed above, we have for example strategic national projects with a potential multiplier effect for our development being abandoned such as; the Mambilla project which has taken nearly 50 years but yet to be completed, the  Ajaokuta Steel company taking about 50 years still not completed, billions of dollars spent on refineries but we yet cannot produce a quarter of what we need domestically, thus remain the only oil-producing country in the world with no optimally functioning refinery, just to mention few. Not forgetting the deficit, we have had and decline in revenue realization at some points, however, even in the times of surplus (from oil revenue & or borrowings), the trend of budget poor implementation remains over successive administrations.

Ironically, Nigerians at the policy implementation level admire and cherish societies that work as demonstrated by the billions spent on vacations to societies where they have toiled to make their systems work and gave them beautiful streets, clean running water for all, housing, access to cheap food supplies, uninterrupted power supply, security and equitable distribution of national wealth through affordable and quality public services. Nigerians do not need much actually, but the simple implementation of what has been planned and budgeted for annually to 90% at least, to set us on the path of collective progress, however, it has eluded us.

In the background, the population keeps growing, the infrastructure deficit keeps deepening, tension for small resources keeps widening as only about 2% of the population in the service of coordinating governance directly or indirectly gulp about 75-80 % of our annual budgets over years in recurrent expenditure. It is important to recognize that public policies, plans, and budget implementation are conduits for service delivery and most importantly they set the foundation for infrastructural development and strengthen the social contract between leaders and citizens.

Recommendations

Your Excellency, I wish to make the following recommendations based on the two issues briefly discussed, as pragmatic approaches to combating financial corruption and improving public budget implementation and service delivery for development.

The challenge of financial corruption – An Agenda for Change Project

The government budget is a public document, thus internationally accepted accountability mechanisms such as social audits, public expenditure tracking surveys etc have citizens as a central requirement of the processes. Domestic instruments in Nigeria to make the budget an accessible document for example include the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, Fiscal Responsibility & Public Procurement (FRPP) Act, and budget public hearings. In terms of our international obligations regarding budget, one significant protocol Nigerian is a signatory is the Open Government Partnership (OGP), the pillars and approach of which require active citizens’ participation.

Sir, based on the above, I recommend the launch of a project that would be responsible for information dissemination, social mobilization, and coordination of dialogue across Nigeria on good governance & accountability. It could be at least a two-year project for the remaining years of your administration or more. The project could be domiciled in the Office of the Vice President and report to the President directly with structures in the 36 states coordinating the 774 LGAs of the federation.

The project should have a technical coordinating team at the national level with the key role of harnessing, simplifying, and disseminating information to a “good governance & accountability stakeholder platform” to be created across all 774 LGAs but with operations of sensitization across all communities in the councils. The platform should hold town hall meetings to have briefings from coordinators and discuss (and evolve) issues around livelihood issues – health, education, opportunities, infrastructure etc.

In terms of accountability, the issues should be about monthly budget releases to the Federal, State, and LGAs by recurrent and capital classification, what they are meant for, the complicity of citizens in facilitating corruption and the social cost of financial corruption, the functions of each arm of government, explanation on emerging policies, legislations as well as old ones as far as they have positive bearing for citizens, government programs and how to access them, ways to constructively hold elected officials to account, the role of citizens in project monitoring, basic rights and responsibilities of citizens, how to participate in the annual budget-making process, the functions of constituency office, which project is allocated to the constituency in the current financial year, company handling project and commensurate budget releases/ timeline for completion, what does the concept of social contract means, peacebuilding, and national integration/development etc.

Dialogue has proven to change perceptions of authority and popular sovereignty which is vital to fighting corruption in societies like ours where people do not understand authority and accountability in a balanced manner.

The stakeholder platform meetings in all LGAs should be co-chaired by representatives of civil society and youth leaders, Labour, NOA officers as well as members of the traditional and religious institutions with the active participation of government officials across sectors based on the tier of government. Nigeria has several governance structures across the LGAs for almost all key sectors, thus membership of the platform could be drawn from those platforms.

For example, in the health and infrastructure sectors, we have Local Emergency Routine Immunization Coordinating Committees (LERICC) and Ward Development Communities respectively. For Education is the School-Based Management Committees (SBMCs), Agriculture Farmer Cooperatives, for security the Police Community Relations Committees (PCRC), Youth, Women, the physically challenged, and minority groups. The project at the national level should also sponsor media programs, public sensitization, customized bulk text messaging with information on good governance & accountability, and initiatives that could emerge from the technical coordination team.

The technical partners for the project should be the following relevant MDAs at the Federal, State, LGA levels where relevant; Ministries of Information, Finance, Budget & National Planning, Communication, offices of media and publicity to the President/Vice, Due Process Office and Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP).

The technical partner MDAs should basically provide annual/monthly capital plans/budget information of the federal government, states, and LGAs in terms of releases and implementation projects along with names of companies assigned at all levels etc, and as requested by the technical coordination team at the national level for simplification and dissemination for LGA “good governance & accountability stakeholder platform” meetings.

In 2019 for example, the current French President, Emmanuel Macron announced his plan to lead a national dialogue for two months in the face of national outrage over his administration’s policy to increase fuel prices. Along with this, the French President sets out 35 questions to be debated in towns and villages across the country, between January 15th and March 15th, 2019.

Most often, the efforts of visionary leaders succeed not only because of the ideas they held but largely depended on how they are also been able to coordinate and mobilize people on the ideas and vision for a better society for all, shared and understood by the population through different forms of dialogue. Thus, it is significant to recognize that information dissemination and dialogue have been veritable forces for sustainable change.

An “Agenda for Change Project” would make all Nigerians own and drive the change agenda of your administration by creating a collective and shared burden for the need to defeat corruption and not just leave the entire burden to leaders alone. This is because the common Nigerian who bears the brunt of the social injustices suffered because of financial corruption could be the most significant constituency to sustain the institutions, mechanisms, and policies established by your administration to resist corruption if mobilized with the right information and the benefits of informed civic participation in democratic governance processes.

  1. Challenge of service delivery – A Presidential administrative mechanism for service delivery & accountability

Your Excellency, on improving service delivery and accountability, I recommend a Presidential Quarterly Sectors Retreat, where leads of MDAs as represented by ministers and permanent secretaries/DGs should attend. The agenda of the retreat should be only for presentation on the performance of MDAs around budget and policies implementation in a project management approach.

For each quarter, the Presidential retreat should start with a presentation by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, demonstrating compliance with the annual budget and relevant national planning/development frameworks, budget releases to MDAs, and levels of cash-backed. After this key presentation, each sector lead should make a presentation around five key points –

1) approved capital and recurrent annual proposals,

2) budget releases/cash-backed for the quarter,

3) MDAs’ Annual/Mid-Term Sector Strategy targets met or not met

4) projects, policies, procurements progress/completion status and or deadlines for completion and,

5) challenges & mitigation strategies.

For political purposes, before the implementation of this mechanism, the president should first reach an agreement with his Ministers that despite political party affiliation, the survival of any minister in office will depend on achievements around defined performance indicators, and when a minister/DG etc fails to achieve or on track to achieving set milestones and targets for two/three successive quarters with no verified and tenable reason, the minister will be removed from office. The Presidential Retreat should be chaired by the President, supported by his Vice, and facilitated by the Secretary to the Federal Government.

A non-state actor monitoring platform consisting of Labour unions, accountability CSOs, Constituency Projects Tracking Group (CPTG) members, international development partners, the Media should be facilitated and designated to serve as partners that would be saddled with the responsibility of monitoring, verifying, and communicating developments and report to the office of the President via the Vice President and the Nigerian public.

Findings of the non-state actor’s verifications report should also form the agenda of the quarterly retreat. The report will be presented by a few representatives of the platform at the national level, who will also participate in the sideline of the quarterly presidential retreat. Importantly, the project should be independently and well-funded by the government and open for funding support by national and international development partners.

In the spirit of federalism, national approach, and leadership, state Governors across party divides should be engaged by the presidency and appealed to consider replicating this “model” for our collective national interest. It could be made attractive to attach an incentive for replicating states to be provided by the federal government.

Conclusion

Sir, Nigerians know and have talked too much about the key challenges of our nation which are overarchingly around financial corruption and very poor service delivery across sectors due to lack of accountability.

Your Excellency, Nigerians believe you can change the fortunes of this country, thus the overwhelming support for you. You have high integrity in your personal, career, and professional life, electorate mandate, and history of being resolute, thus, have the moral authority to lead the transformation of our nation.

At this juncture of your life, we appeal to you to consider leaving a lasting legacy for your administration and country, thus becoming the Maker of Modern Nigeria if the needed political will is deployed to implement the recommendations proffered.

The recommendations would also answer the root causes of agitations such as calls for restructuring the nation at the root of which is ultimately a desire for service delivery and improved livelihood for Nigerians which corruption and lack of accountability have eroded.

If the recommendations are considered, they all serve our collective interest as a people – rich and poor, weak and powerful, not only in terms of better livelihood and society but also peace, stability, and development which are significant to the overall survival of Nigeria, as we draw and learn from the recent #ENDSARS protest, the root causes of which are basic issues associated with corruption and ill service delivery.

This line of thinking was recently (October 2020) echoed by the Senate President during the 2021 budget defense of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, where he stressed the need “to create opportunities for the youth” (which can be done through the genuine implementation of plans/budget and citizens participation), emphasizing that “we have survived the #ENDSARS protest now, but may not survive another re-occurrence”, God forbid.

As you probably consider this piece, crosscutting issues which could add value to the delivery of the recommendations are to cut the exaggerated cost of recurrent expenditure and reduce the inflated cost of capital budgets, improve the dare security situation, check revenue leakages, strengthen the LGA tier and systemically sanitize elections, give assent to the Federal Audit Service Commission Bill, strengthen the culture of accountability in public service and integrity, social justice & compassion for fellow countrymen in our society.

I wish to conclude by quoting one of your famous statements, “…If we do not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria”.

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