In the first part of this series, I talked about how the unreliability of government statistics in Nigeria has made it more difficult to assess progress in the country on many fronts. It is either the figures are cooked by officials or made up of imaginary numbers plucked out of thin air. No wonder many Nigerians do not see a similarity between their daily experiences and government figures. This is a problem at both state and federal levels.
I want to further challenge the government to stop the habit of making promises whose attainment can only be confirmed by itself rather than the citizens. In many areas of life in the country, the government couches its promises in manners that make assessment of fulfilment almost impossible and susceptible to tampering.
Let me give some examples. The government came out and said it will deliver nationally x KW of electricity by the end of 2014. So what does x KW mean to you and me? Absolutely nothing. Instead the government should be saying, “We promise every home connected to the national grid in Nigeria x hours of electricity every day.” This is measurable by every home and fulfilment of such promise is easy to ascertain. For government to keep couching its promises in ways that only it can verify is disingenuous. It is possible for the government to genuinely meet the x KW target it promises without any benefit to Nigerian homes. What if a few heavy industries take on the extra wattage? The government would have met its target, yet you and I will still live in darkness as before. Who can then be sure if indeed the government met that target?
Similarly, government tends to come and say things like, “We will invest extra x billion naira in education this year.” But what does that mean to you and me? Again, that figure means nothing. Rather it is easier for the government to say it would provide x number of new teachers in every government school this year. That is easy for us to verify and fulfilment of that promise will be apparent to all. But rather than take this easy route, successive governments seem addicted to making promises whose fulfilment is unverifiable by the general citizenry.
The root of this approach, in my view, is corruption. This brings to mind my challenge to a governor of one of the Western states a few years ago when we were on the same flight from London to Lagos. We met through a mutual friend. I asked why he kept saying his administration will invest x billion naira on roads instead of saying he would deliver x kilometres of good roads in the state. The latter is easy to verify by all, but the former is impossible to verify by the people. His administration could have spent x billion naira on roads (at least awarded the contracts), but the people may still fail to see any difference in their appalling road conditions. The governor was surprisingly frank in his response to my question. He said that promising x billion naira is easier for him to deliver. But the x billion could be used for x or y kilometres of road depending on how much money he wants to make. N1 billion could be used to construct 5 kilometres or 50 kilometres depending on how greedy or corrupt the governor is. So it is possible for the governor to have indeed spent x billion naira as promised on roads and yet no discernable improvement in most roads in the state.
Both federal and state governments in Nigeria are guilty of this deception. We should all begin to insist on clearer verifiable promises from the government. So, next time a minister says the government promises to spend x billion naira on anything, ask him to explain what that translates to in actual outcomes that we can verify and hold him accountable for. Giving out a contract for x billion naira is enough for the government to say they have fulfilled their promise. We should measure their delivery by tangible concrete outcomes as is done in the west.
In the UK, the Labour government promised to spend extra £2 billion on schools in 2001. But they then explained that it would mean the repair or rebuilding of run-down buildings in 500 UK schools. This promise later led to the “building schools for the future” programme. The schools were then named, area by area. At the end of the administration, people could go to these schools and see for themselves the new buildings. It was easy to verify the promise had been met. That is accountability. Simply throwing figures around is not enough.
This is one of the subtle ways the Nigerian government is making itself unaccountable. We should all insist from now on that all government promises should be expressed in concrete outcomes that we all can verify. This is one of the foundations of a just and progressive society.
Omole, a strategy consultant, is managing partner at Prodel International.
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