• Thursday, July 18, 2024
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BusinessDay

Democracy @ 25: A call for accountable governance in Nigeria

UK general election: British democracy puts Nigerian ineptocracy to shame

Introduction

Undoubtedly, the uninterrupted democracy of twenty-five years is worth celebrating, bearing in mind our peculiar national history. Whether democracy is interrupted or not, it makes no difference to any Nigerian who, regrettably, is one of those living in the realm of multidimensional poverty. Truth be told, “lack of accountable governance relative to most citizens’ expectations is driving many to lose faith in democracy.” However, Nigerians have been told umpteen times that they should hope in electoral promises.

Read also: June 12, 31 years after: 25 years of democracy

But you may wish to ask: Of what use is an electoral promise of 25 years or more when most citizens have been living in a “cycle of poverty” for almost six decades? Electoral promises are of no value to a hungry and miserable man if there are barely any deliverables in an accountable and transparent manner. In the case of Nigeria, how can we describe a democracy that can neither advance the welfare of millions of people nor protect them from dying recklessly and needlessly in the hands of non-state actors? It was Thomas Paine, the author of The Rights of Man, who wrote that “a body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody.”

Q: “Electoral promises are of no value to a hungry and miserable man if there are barely any deliverables in an accountable and transparent manner.”

Accountability defined

The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, 7th Edition, states that one must be accountable to something or somebody. It further explains that you are “responsible for your decisions or actions and expected to explain them when you are asked: “Politicians are ultimately accountable to the voters. Someone must be held accountable for the killings.” Who is accountable to those who are poor and to those kidnapped?

Accountability is universal, and it’s of great importance in all aspects of human endeavours. In most parts of the world, people gloss over accountability. Accountability is not just “being called to account for your actions,” but it’s an account-giving relationship that exists between the leaders and the followers. There are different types of accountability, but this columnist will restrict my respected readers to only three, namely: political accountability, military accountability, and ethical accountability.

What is political accountability? Political accountability is the accountability of politicians and civil servants to the people and the parliament in a democracy. Because of the immunity clause in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, we observed with regret that most governors are not accountable to the people who voted them into office in their respective states. Why? Nigeria’s Human Development Index (HDI) still ranks among the lowest in the world. This is due to the country’s poor social infrastructure, institutionalised corruption, insecurity, and high prevalence of disease, among others. A traveller can verify this assertion by going around the 36 states, including the Federal Capital Territory.

Next is military accountability. The US Defence Department (USDoD) defines accountability as “the obligation imposed by law or lawful order or regulation on an officer or other person for keeping accurate records of property, documents, or funds. It must be stressed that the military as a noble profession has its nuances, which are different from those prevailing in other professions.

Read also: Nigeria’s democracy @25: Growth tainted by worsening electoral process

Who is to be held accountable when soldiers and innocent civilians are killed recklessly in internal security operations? Who is accountable when the welfare of soldiers and other security personnel is compromised? Who is to be held accountable when the number of internally displaced persons keeps rising in camps across the country? Many questions beg for answers.

Ethical accountability. Ethics are a system of moral principles or rules that say what is and isn’t acceptable. It’s the study of morality with the ability to discern between what is morally good and what is morally bad.

Ethical accountability is about responsibility, answerability, blameworthiness, enforcement, liability, and other terms associated with the expectation of account-giving. It’s about maintaining competence, safeguarding quality, and maintaining the standards of a chosen profession.

Ethical accountability demands that professionals such as engineers, bankers, soldiers, professors, lawyers, and accountants, to mention a few, maintain a high standard of morality in the conduct of private and government businesses. Importantly, Nigerians must ensure that their actions and behaviours conform to the highest standards of morality and accountability.

Effective governance

If Nigerians want to be respected in Africa and beyond, there must be accountability at various levels of government. For example, all governors must “dance the dance” of good governance, according to Professor Patrick Loch Otieno Lumumba in one of his homilies in Nigeria recently. By extension, our governors must dance to industrialization, the provision of quality education and healthcare, human capital development, the provision of basic infrastructure, etc.

One keeps wondering what could have been responsible for a state governor to misallocate loans taken on behalf of a state while the loan acquisition process often lacked proper procedures. And because there is a lack of accountability, misappropriation of loans becomes the order of the day in a country rated as the poverty capital of the world. It was disgusting and uninspiring to see a governor who could not pay the salaries of civil servants in the state he governed withdraw over a billion Naira from the state treasury to pay his children’s school fees.

What is the consequence of this misappropriation of public funds? More people are miserable, and more people are suffering. Internally generated revenue in most states of the country is below par. But there is a huge debt burden in almost all 36 states without much to show for loans collected. If there was a strong culture of accountability, public officials wouldn’t circumvent due process, divert public funds, and perpetuate money laundering in office.

A minister once said that 40 percent of Nigerians live below the poverty line. But who is accountable for this abysmal report? What about the $750 million NG CARE Programme of the FG to support the states? What happened to the programme at the state level? Experts and public intellectuals are curious to know how the country’s resources and economy are being managed. Some of these economic experts that this columnist has discussed are of the view that by holding our governments accountable, Nigerians can help improve the economy and reduce poverty. Given the enormous resources at the nation’s disposal, Nigeria should not be struggling with the high level of poverty that has plagued the country. Better management of our resources could help the country thrive.

Concluding remarks

Any democracy, whether liberal or conservative, participatory or representative, that doesn’t embrace the highest standards of accountability coupled with justice, equity, and fairness will ultimately fail. Belt-tightening philosophies without accountability will not make the citizens trust those in government. It’s accountability in public finance management and good governance that will strengthen democracy and boost trust between the government and the citizens. Thank you.

MA Johnson, Rear Admiral (Rtd).