• Saturday, July 13, 2024
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INEC: Nigeria’s malfunctioning institutions prove its fragility

Let’s not focus on what didn’t happen in Adamawa

Every nation fails or succeeds on the quality of its institutions. But every institution is as strong as the quality of its personnel, their competence and professionalism, their values and norms. Unfortunately, Nigeria is a country where state institutions are utterly malfunctioning , bereft of any sense of responsibility, and where public officials have perverse norms and values, lacking a sense of purpose to serve the national interest.

The latest instance of institutional failure in Nigeria is the abysmal performance of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, which dashed the hopes of millions of Nigerians, and the expectations of the global community, by conducting a presidential election universally condemned for woefully failing the basic tests of transparency and credibility. INEC’s failure reinforced the global perception of Nigeria as a failing or fragile state.

A large body of scholarly work and policy research inductively shows that no nation has ever made the critical transition from poverty to prosperity, from fragility to robustness, without strong institutions, underpinned by the right values and norms. And without public-spirited people, driven by a sense of purpose to contribute to something greater than themselves, to serve the best interests of their nation.

Nigeria refuses to build strong, independent institutions and a cadre of public officials with the right competence, professionalism and ethos to enable the Nigerian state to function effectively

Perhaps the most famous scholarly work on institutions is “Why Nations Fail” by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson. The authors drew on empirical evidence from many countries to demonstrate that nations fail or succeed based on the nature of their institutions, particularly political institutions, which tend to influence economic ones.

From a policy research perspective, a joint report by Oxford University and London School of Economics titled “Escaping the Fragility Trap” makes the same point, putting institutions at the heart of state fragility. Simply, a state is effective or fragile depending on the robustness or otherwise of its institutions.

These studies contain some critical insights. First, institutions matter. But institutions are not just formal rules, procedures and structures, they are also people who run them, and the values and norms that shape their day-to-day behaviour.

Second, leadership matters; only competent and visionary leader build strong institutions. Third, because some leaders may not want to create strong institutions that will constrain them, while some public officials may undermine institutions, every society needs a critical mass of well-informed citizens that can hold leaders, institutions and public officials to account and put pressure on them to do the right thing.

Now, you would probably say these are all common sense. Indeed, they are! But Nigeria continues to ignore the common-sense evidence of the nexus between strong institutions and strong nations. Nigeria refuses to build strong, independent institutions and a cadre of public officials with the right competence, professionalism and ethos to enable the Nigerian state to function effectively.

Of course, Nigeria’s problem is not lack of formal institutions. Every institution of governance that exists all over the world exists in Nigeria. Name it: a judiciary, an electoral body, a central bank, security agencies, anti-corruption agencies, etc. They all exist in Nigeria. And each of these institutions has enabling laws and rules, some drafted with the help of foreign governments and international organisations. Furthermore, each of the institutions has annual budgets running into millions of dollars, or billions of naira!

So, why are Nigeria’s state institutions malfunctional, despite their formal structures and humongous budgets? Why are they so bereft of competence, professionalism and a sense of purpose that, for example, INEC couldn’t conduct credible elections, which many countries, including in Africa, do successfully? Or that the CBN couldn’t successfully implement a currency redesign policy, which is a routine practice in many countries?

Well, since an institution is a team of people, the starting point must be the norms and values of public officials in Nigeria. And truth be told, most public officials in Nigeria lack the right values and norms. Rather, they behave irresponsibly, with utter impunity, with no care for consequences, with no concern for the public good.

Elsewhere, people are attracted to public service because of a deep sense of purpose to serve the common good: in Nigeria, the motivations are largely power, self-aggrandisement and corruption. This is why abuse of office and power is so prevalent in Nigeria’s public institutions; why public officials behave as if they are a law unto themselves.

Think about it. What public duty is greater than conducting a presidential election in which a country’s new leader would be chosen? Yet, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, the INEC Chairman, treated the task with utter levity. He blatantly ignored the electoral law that requires the use of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS, for voter authentication and electronic transfer of results, and the guidelines to upload results in real-time on the INEC Results Viewing, IReV, portal.

Put simply, INEC shunned the formal procedures governing the conduct of the presidential poll, shunned the norms of fairness and transparency, and went ahead to announce a “winner” of an election universally condemned as deeply flawed or, as the Financial Times put it, “badly mismanaged at best.” Little wonder the FT added: “Nigeria remains a democracy, but only just.”

Well, Professor Yakubu came up with excuses. He said that “issues of logistics, election technology and behaviour of election personnel at different levels” hampered the election. This was an election to elect Nigeria’s next president, yet INEC, which had four years to plan the election and had all the money it needed to do so, was telling the world after the event that those “challenges” were too insurmountable to be tackled and forestalled before the election. It’s a shameful evidence, likely to be confirmed by last Saturday’s state-level elections, that INEC lacks the competence, professionalism and integrity to conduct elections in Nigeria.

Read also: INEC has not improved, says AbdulRaheem

But, consider it. If the INEC Chairman admits that those manifold problems existed, including “behaviour of election personnel” (a euphemism for their connivance with electoral fraud), why is he pretending the presidential poll was free, fair, transparent, and credible? Well, here’s INEC’s response: “Aggrieved parties are free to approach the courts to ventilate their concerns and wait for the matter to be resolved.” Really? So, after knowingly conducting a sham election, INEC blithely said: Go to court!

Professor Yakubu effectively presented a fait accompli, knowing that Nigeria’s Supreme Court, another malfunctioning state institution, lacks the independence and courage, many believe, to nullify a fraudulent presidential election. INEC behaved with utter irresponsibility and impunity!

Of course, all of this points to another reason for perennial institutional failure in Nigeria: lack of accountability. Public officials don’t suffer consequences for appalling performance or behaviour. For instance, Professor Yakubu will probably continue as INEC Chairman as if nothing happened, even though his monumental failure has cost Nigeria dearly, both materially and reputationally.

But why would Nigeria’s public institutions be accountable when they’re deeply politicised? In its statement on the presidential election, the EU Election Observer Mission said among other things: “Abuse of incumbency by various political officeholders distorted the playing field.

That abuse of incumbency included corralling civil servants and staff of government agencies to campaign and rig elections for candidates of the ruling party, as many state governments did in last Saturday’s governorship and state assembly elections. But such abuse of incumbency won’t happen where there’s a critical mass of well-informed and active citizens that can hold politicians, state institutions and public officials to account.

Yet, ultimately, it’s about political leadership. Great leaders build institutions. But since 2015, President Buhari has undermined, rather than build, institutions. For instance, no president has eroded the CBN’s independence like Buhari. But if Nigeria must escape the fragility trap, it must, as part of wider restructuring, build strong, independent, and responsible public institutions.