Governance, insecurity, poverty and socio-economic development in contemporary Nigeria: Which way forward?

In contemporary Nigeria, as no doubt in many other developing countries, Governance and i) Security/Insecurity, ii) poverty/prosperity and iii) Socioeconomic development/ underdevelopment are intricately connected.

This is in the sense that, if governance is good, democratic, inclusive, participatory and predicated on principles of rule of law, justice, equity and equality of opportunity (what is here referred to as Good Democratic Governance), there is a very high likelihood of positive correlation with stability, economic growth, national prosperity, human security (not just physical security of lives and properties of citizens), peaceful coexistence, and overall socioeconomic development as measured by the Physical Quality of Life Index (PQLI) and/or the Human Development Index (HDI).

The experience of the Scandinavian countries in particular (notably Denmark, Norway and Sweden), and to some extent that of the so-called ‘mature democracies’ generally (notably Western Europe and the USA) illustrate and support this assertion.

In this regard, the experiences of most so-called developing, ‘transitional democracies’ most especially in Africa, provides ample illustration of these. Given this, it is desirable, indeed necessary, that transitional democracies such as Nigeria explore ways and means, and do whatever it takes, to ensure, indeed nurture and entrench, good democratic governance in their quest for socio-economic progress and development, as well as human security.

Conceptualizing governance, good governance, and good democratic governance

Although social science concepts are quite often opaque and ambiguous, I have attempted in this section to provide what I consider to be the best and most useful definitions and conceptualization of governance, and good governance, as well as the concept I prefer: good democratic governance.

Governance is often confused with government. But, as Heywood has noted,

“’Governance’ is a broader term than government [in the sense that it] “… refers, in its widest sense, to the various ways through which social life is coordinated [in a given polity]. Government can therefore be seen as one of the organizations involved in governance…” (2015: 84).

In this sense, government is the organizational platform of governance in the public sector, as “market” is the organizational platform of governance in the private/economic sphere, and “networks” are the organizational frameworks for governance in the civil society sector.

According to Schneider:

The broadest meaning of governance is the production of social order, collective goods or problem solving through purposeful political and social intervention, either by authoritative decisions (hierarchical governance) or the establishment of self-governing arrangements (2014, 130).

Governance in the context of a modern nation-state is first and foremost about providing for the fundamental needs and aspirations of citizens, through governmental institutions and processes, steered, driven and guided by chosen representatives of the people through competitive elections, which are free, fair and credible. Amongst what can be termed as the fundamental needs and aspirations of citizens in any country are: food, shelter, health, education, rights, wellbeing and human security, which is indeed paramount.

The World Bank popularized the concept of “good governance” in the 1990s, following the failure of the SAPs in the 1980s, emanating from the “Washington Consensus”, to address the economic crises in Africa and other developing countries. The notion of “good governance” evolved with the failure of SAPs to catalyze economic growth and development in the so-called developing countries. Since the 1990s, scholars have attributed the failure of the Washington Consensus strategy to the lack of functional, or weakness of, institutions and have been preoccupied with the search for measures and mechanisms of reforming public institutions and making the delivery of public sector services to the citizens more transparent, accountable, efficient and cost-effective through reform processes.

Conceptualizing human security

Human security is a fundamental right, it is at the core of survival and wellbeing and it is intricately linked with governance of a polity. As Kofi Annan has stated:

Human security can no longer be understood in purely military terms. Rather, it must encompass economic development, social justice, environmental protection, democratization, disarmament, and respect for human rights and the rule of law” (2001).

Furthermore, according to Kofi Annan,

Human security in its broadest sense, embraces far more than the absence of violent conflict. It encompasses human rights, good governance, access to education and health care and ensuring that each individual has opportunities and choices to fulfill his or her potential. Every step in this direction is also a step towards reducing poverty, achieving economic growth and preventing conflict. Freedom from want, freedom from fear, and freedom of future generations to inherit a healthy natural environment — these are the interrelated building blocks of human – and therefore national – security.

Read also: The political economy of Nigeria: Challenges and opportunities for reform

Nigeria: Contextual/situational analysis

Nigeria is one of about 25 federations or federal democracies currently in the world, on account of its use of a federal structure and power sharing arrangement between the national/federal government and the 36 subnational units, called the states, to manage its complex ethno-linguistic and religious diversity and its adoption of a liberal democratic constitutional framework, with periodic elections, which have been regularly conducted in the past 21 years.

The federal system evolved under British colonial rule, which saw the arrangement as the most suitable structure for the attainment of colonial objectives and interests, over this expansive territory which they conquered, and ‘amalgamated’ in 1914. Among the contemporary federations however, it has currently perhaps the worst example of management of diversity, characterized by constant, if not perpetual, ethno-religious conflicts and violence, threatening peaceful coexistence and undermining the core principle of federalism, which is unity in diversity.

Additionally, it is perhaps the worst case of asymmetrical power relations between the national/federal government and the subnational units, with deep-seated perceptions of inequities in fiscal federalism and exclusion or marginalization of minorities. The character and nature of power relations and fiscal federalism evolved under colonial rule, but were nurtured and entrenched during over 30 years of military authoritarian rule, which only ended with transfer of power to civilians in May 1999.

As the reckless politicians obtain their electoral ‘mandates’ through electoral fraud such as rigging or vote-buying, once in governance, they mostly become unapproachable, irresponsible, and indifferent or unresponsive to the needs and aspirations of the citizens as the electorate. They proceed to preside over, or engage with, the governance processes and institutions with personal / selfish objectives and dispositions. For example, they privatize public treasury, engage in corrupt enrichment, misapply resources, manage policies and programs incompetently and inefficiently, and mismanage diversity in a federal arrangement, through clientelism, cronyism, and deliberate exclusion of perceived opponents.

Challenges of governance in Nigeria

There are many issues and challenges of governance in Nigeria, some of which have been very well defined and articulated, and more recently, succinctly, by our respected senior colleague in the academia, Akin Mabogunje (“Nigeria: Issues and Challenges of Governance in Nigeria”, March 10, 2016). What has not been as adequately highlighted and documented, as the challenges of governance have been, is the nexus between governance and human security in Nigeria or indeed the nexus between governance reforms and human security.

A summary of the governance issues and challenges will suffice, to be followed by an articulation of the nexus between governance, especially good, democratic governance and human security.

Way forward: Structural reforms

Reform the Federal system, with an agenda divided into Short-, medium- and long-term.

Short-term: before 2023: devolve some powers and responsibilities, and commensurate resources, from the federal to the state governments

Medium-term: 2023-2027: Devolve more powers from the federal to the state governments, with a revised vertical and horizontal formulas for revenue allocation and substantial increase in the derivation principle, with some elements of resource control.

Long term: Beyond 2027: Do a fundamental review of the federal arrangement and the short- and medium-term reforms and do a final restructuring, with more powers and resources to the state, with a compact, if not small federal government and a revolutionized revenue generation and allocation system.

Other institutional reforms

Accelerate Electoral reforms, to engender electoral integrity, which in a democracy is the cornerstone of good governance and the quality of government. Short-term, review the Electoral Act and improve upon its democratic content and efficacy, and conclude it at least six months before the 2019 elections. Improve upon the structures and mechanisms of entrenching transparency and accountability in governance, especially in strengthening and empowering the anti-corruption agencies, the whistle blower policies, and the judiciary for speedy and impartial adjudication roles.

Reforming the Agents/Actors

Review/introduce and enforce codes of ethical conduct for public officials (in the executive and the legislatures), as well as for bureaucrats and technocrats.

Attitudinal re-orientation

Ways and means have to be found and institutionalized to change attitudes of Nigerians in the direction of accepting, imbibing and projecting a Nigerian national identity rather than seeking or taking refuge in the multiplicity of primordial identities.


Nigerians have for long, almost indifferently, abandoned politics and governance to reckless, self-serving, shortsighted, often clueless, faction of the elite and politicians. In turn, these fractious albeit greedy elite, and essentially ‘militicians’, have proceeded to personalized governance, bastardize electoral mandate, privatize public treasuries, undermine national economic growth and socioeconomic development, and essentially destabilize the nation, through mobilization of negative ethno-religious identities, as well as incompetent (mis)handling of challenges of insecurity, poverty, youth unemployment and citizens’ aspirations for socioeconomic development and human security. They have undermined governance, literally running the country aground.

In this state of things, it is still not hopeless. Although failure seems imminent, it can be averted, provided we get our act together, with unity of purpose, as key stakeholders in the Nigerian project, to urgently reform, redirect and reposition governance from poor/bad, towards good democratic governance; and to restructure the Nigerian federal system; as well as, to restructure and revitalize the Nigerian economy. Recruiting competent, honest and visionary leaders into elective offices in the next electoral cycle would facilitate and catalyze this. For this to happen, patriotic citizens can no longer afford to do “siddon look”; they need to get involved in and engaged with the political and electoral processes. It may seem a herculean task, but it is not an impossible one.

Excerpts of a presentation by Professor Jega, OFR, professor, department of political Science, Bayero University, Kano, Nigeria, at the 7th Goddy Jedenma Foundation Lecture at the MUSON Centre, Lagos, Tuesday November 30, 2021.

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