Promoting Evidence-based Governance: The Future Is Now

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My irregular pontifications on this back page have now given rise to a regular column on Sundays. From today, I will be writing a weekly column still focused on promoting the ideas that will build bridges across our fault lines as a nation. I will continue to build bridges of knowledge across ignorance, extremism, ethnic chauvinism, religious bigotry and rising social inequality. This column will not only dwell on analysing the trouble with Nigeria but will offer alternative views and solutions.

The objectives of this column will include interrogating our past to understand the present; measuring national and sub-national governments service delivery capacity; promoting openness in government business; monitoring government’s online presence and digital access; and proffering practical and value-based action plan for building a new Nigeria.

In my previous articles, I had laid the foundation for this column by analysing what I termed the post-civil war consensus, reviewed the debate between those I termed Structuralists and Existentialists and offered options on how to structurally adjust the country politically to enable economic development. In all my writings, I had taken the view that a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, bi-religious country as ours can indeed work if we can construct the foundation of the country on time- tested values that transcend resource sharing, geography and ethno-centrism.

The values that must underpin the new Nigeria would be akin to the words of Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now, we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.” The colonial masters who founded our country did so for administrative convenience. They did not conceive it on any high ideals or any proposition that can motivate or support the nation building process.

At independence, our leaders failed to define the qualities of an exceptional country so diverse yet so similar that other African countries can discern a Nigerian no matter the ethnic origin.  The emphasis was on replacing the colonial masters and enjoying the benefits of a distributional and extractive governance philosophy primarily designed to enrich the home government of the colonialist. In adopting that philosophy without the administrative competence of the colonial administration, it was only a matter of time before the vacuous organising principle of the new state led to Africa’s worst pogrom and civil war.

The end of the civil war offered an opportunity for the wining coalition to redefine the organising principle of the Nigerian state and propose new ideals upon which, a state exceptional in its combination of three strong and many other small ethnic groups that had overcome a civil war, can be founded. Yet, again, we missed it. Administration after administration, we have failed to build a modern Nigeria based on ideals that derive from our essence and quest for nationhood.

Today, confronted by a dire economic situation; antagonised by separatist agitations and religion – inspired terror; and challenged by weakening sub-national governments and global hostility, another opportunity presents itself to redefine the essence of the Nigerian State. This redefinition is not all about restructuring (if we can agree on the definition) but may include it, it is not all about governance structure and distributional formula, though it may be an aftermath, it is principally about a union freely founded on ideals of respect for individual rights, freedom to achieve individual potential and respect for multi-cultural, multi-ethnic union that allows for unity in diversity indeed. The Nigerian state so redefined and freely subscribed to by a majority would definitely endure and overcome all the challenges that plague any nation so constructed.

Notwithstanding my gaze firmly focused on the redefinition of the Nigerian state and unlocking its gargantuan possibilities, I am also aligned with the immediate need of improving outcomes for Nigerians. The philosophical and structural defects of the current Nigerian state should not inure us from the need to feed 160 million people, employ or economically engage a bulging youth population, build infrastructure that can drive growth, reduce cost of governance, improve transparency and eliminate corruption among all tiers of government and utilise current income to invest for a post oil future.

To focus on the immediate, I have decided to critically examine efforts by federal and state governments to adapt governance to global best practices and deliver service to its citizens. In today’s world, according to various experts, governments at national, sub-national, local government and city levels that are successful share certain characteristics that can be adapted and applied to improve policy outcomes. I will list some these characteristics adapted from various sources.

Governments that are successful have strategic goals, which all stakeholders can work towards achieving; develop initiatives for all categories of stake holders and have clearly defined infrastructure plans in key areas like education, health, transportation and environment.

Secondly, these governments develop systems to ensure that officials provide highest quality of service possible. The systems ensure that government maintain accountability in provision of public services; emphasise human capital development; enable agency collaboration in order to promote synergies and have a culture of continuous improvement.

Thirdly, successful administration prioritises stakeholder interactions, focusing on identifying and meeting stakeholder needs. This stakeholder interaction focuses on citizen engagement; providing stakeholders with a one-stop-shop experience in which stakeholders can reach different arms of the government through a single coordinated platform and also maintain multiple channels through which stakeholders can communicate with government.

This column would over the coming weeks evaluate the federal and state governments along four dimensions, through online search only, on key areas of governance. The dimensions are State Planning Capacity, State Employee Accountability System, State Stakeholder Engagement Strategy, and State Evaluation Mechanism under what I have termed State Transparency Index. The index is to ensure that while waiting for the future, we do not lose the present.

Under State Planning Capacity we would ask the following questions amongst others, does the state and Local governments have websites? Does the state have a strategic plan encompassing local government plans and subscribed to by key stakeholders? Are the state and local government budgets online? Does the state publish the report of the Auditor-General annually? Do the states’ Houses of Assembly have  websites?

State Employee Accountability System would enable us ask whether the states have a performance management system known to citizens? Do they have a citizen reporting platform for feedback? Do they state have online or phone-based platform for citizen enquiries? Can citizens perform basic services online or through one-stop shops?

Do the states have a Stakeholder Engagement Strategy? Do citizens have access to information on state long term plan? Did citizens participate in developing the plans? Do the states share information on status of plans and programmes with stakeholders?

State Evaluation Mechanism would entail evaluating state performance against stated goals. Does the state share information on budget performance? Project schedules and delivery timetable? Do the states have a reward and sanction procedure for performance? The coming weeks will be interesting, stay on this page every Sunday.

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