• Tuesday, February 27, 2024
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BusinessDay

Green shoots in governance

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With the daily stream of stories flowing from government and political circles recently, you might be forgiven for thinking you were watching a television drama or soap opera; Allegations and counter-allegations, defections and counter-defections, accusations, rebuttals, resignations, removals etc. As for politicians, we know that theatrics in the public space are often part of their stock-in-trade, but when government officials get involved, it becomes something of an unusual spectator sport.

 Beyond entertainment value, what should we make of these? The most common reaction one sees is a sort of head shaking, expression of distaste, accompanied by an unpleasant sense that we appear to be regressing as a nation. Perhaps though,there is a case to be made for a different response; for these very shenanigans may bear, in them, the seeds of our development.

  Take the recent spat between the CBN Governor and the NNPC. We know that the average Nigerian today is disengaged from the political process, and essentially lacks voice. The only mechanism that will ensure that the system is aligned with their interests is if the checks and balances that are built into the structures of governance, operate effectively. Put simply, for government to work, leaders must understand, and do, the right thing. Not just for people like themselves or their friends, but for the representative Nigerian. This is the trust that Office represents. Noblesse Oblige. Nobility Obliges.

A disengaged populace effectively cedes all its power, which then becomes potently concentrated in the hands of the “ogas at the top”. Crucially, to preserve the ideals of any democratic society, or to even approach basic social justice, extreme concentrations of power must be avoided. This was one of the pre-eminent concerns of the founding fathers of the American society whose governance architecture is replete with checks and balances.

 In Nigeria, The Petroleum Resources Ministry and NNPC remain among the more extreme examples of concentration of economic power you will find in any modern democratic society especially when viewed in proportion to the rest of the economy. To compound this, given the state of development of our institutions in Nigeria, and in particular transparency and rule of law, the boundaries between economic and political power tend to be amorphous. This situation has the intrinsic capability to do great harm to the public interest. With human nature being what it is, over time, it likely will, unless countervailing centres of power and influence act to moderate egregious behaviour.

 Viewed in this light, the face-off between CBN and NNPC under the auspices of the National Assembly’s oversight function is a constructive tension between centres of power that should ultimately work to the public benefit. Whatever quarrel we may have with the motivations and methods of the principal actors, the substance of this engagement is supportive of improved governance and transparency and Nigeria will be the better for it. I vote for more of the same.

 A second example is the palaver over the excess crude account which, we understand, is now in court with contention centered around its legality or otherwise and court injunctions being sought to prevent its operation by the Federal Government. The most strident commentary has been the condemnation of the depletion of the account which was conceived as a rainy day fund. But we cannot pick and choose the rules we follow and those we ignore based on arguments invoking public interest. Outside of what is supported by the constitution and laws, “public interest” can only lie in the eye of the beholder and is subject to challenge. I personally support the idea of a rainy day fund, and my preference is to accomplish this through the mechanism of a formally structured sovereign wealth arrangement. But more than this, we should be concerned with protecting the institutions of democracy, law and order and should avoid any situation where these institutions  are undermined in the interest of expediency. So, let the contending parties go to court and let the courts decide. Thereafter, if new laws or constitutional amendments are needed, there is a process for doing so.

 A final indicator is the recent rise of the opposition in the political sphere and the accompanying drama of daily defections and counter-defections. Perhaps its just coincidence, but doesn’t it appear that there has been an increase in activity all around, including from the seat of government, in ways that are more solicitous of the populace? Programmes being announced left and right, mortgage refinancing, social security, IWIN, YOULOSE? and, as they say, “ALL what not”. The critic would say elections are approaching and perhaps the motivations are less than noble.  That may or may not be the case, but even if so, it must help that the opposition is viewed as now being more formidable.

The year 1800 is considered one of the more significant in America’s political history. That year, for the first time, control of government passed peacefully from a ruling faction, the Federalists, to an opposition faction, the Republicans. Of this period, Dye and Ziegler write in “The Irony of Democracy”, that, “Despite bitter campaign rhetoric, Federalists and Republicans agreed to abide by the basic rules of the game, to view an opposition faction as legitimate and to accept the outcome of an election”.

This is an important rite of passage into mature democracy that Nigeria will likely go through at some point in our future and hopefully, when we do, it will be with grace and not disgrace.

 So, as perplexing and troubling as some of these developments in our polity may appear to be, perhaps there is the thread of a heartening sub-narrative woven through them. As these elephants fight, the grass will likely suffer some short term damage. But if they help get us to a place where the Yams (aka National Cake) and the Knives are in separate, or at least, accountable hands, I’m all for it.

And unless you are trying to corner both, you should be too.

 By: Funso Doherty