Active Governance With Nothing To Show: Why Is It Here?

Nigeria has passed through several stages in its democratic expedition especially with the rigging of elections as a standard political factor. If an election is rigged and the constitution is subverted, a provision in the constitution should contain a ‘secret key-word” to make it possible for a caretaker government constituted by learned clergy at the federal and state levels to take over and steer the ship of state for a period not exceeding three months until credible free and fair elections are held. That this nation is suffering from leadership afflictions is partly because her leaders have deserted the principles of setting records in deed to selfish accumulation in need. A bankrupt ruling class committed to a present dominated by a past of non-achievement sacrifices the future of a nation for personal greed and glory. In about thirty years time when the oil runs out, Nigeria would be like Mars or Venus, wastelands devoid of life or a future.

It is generally the poor that suffer from bad governance. If anyone were to challenge that claim, it would be difficult to present them with overwhelmingly convincing factual evidence. There is no consent on what actually make up good governance; and we have few reliable issues in the quality of governance for this country. We cannot expect much consensus around the question of how closely poor governance and national poverty are connected. I am asserting a an evidence and argument to explain a rather more specific problem: why there exists within our government a substantial number of really poor performers: regimes that are both (a) ineffective – i.e. are unable to rule many of their nominal citizens or to pursue any kind of collective interest in an authoritative fashion – and (b) arbitrary, despotic and unaccountable.

This kind of political underdevelopment in Nigeria today is a major cause of poverty and ill-being for many of us. It is especially prevalent in the local government areas and rural communities. There are large ‘patches’ of political underdevelopment in these areas, but they do not always correspond closely with national issues. Misrule and state impotence are found in the poorer areas of some of the big cities and in some more rural tracts, including much of the uncivilized region and rural villages. The levels of political development are often relatively high in these areas, but with some clear exceptions.

By contrast, the standard of governance in Nigeria is much higher than for many other countries at similar income levels. The central argument is that these lie to a large degree in the ways in which interactions with the rich (or ‘metropolitan’) cities have shaped, and continue to shape, the states of the poor . ‘Bad governance’ is neither acceptable.

In the culture or traditions of the people of poor communities nor a product of poverty, It is rather the result of the ways in which state authority has been constructed – and is being maintained – through economic and political interactions with the rest of the areas. The policies and practices of such government and the pattern of international economic transactions could help sustain poor governance. International aid and development agencies have identified’ bad governance’ as a major obstacle to economic growth and to improved welfare in poor countries. They are putting significant resources into trying to change that situation. Increasingly, aid is being conditioned upon performance and intentions of recipients in relation to ‘governance’ issues, whether labeled corruption, institutional development, democracy, capacity building, transparency, rule of law, human rights, or something else. It is striking that this degree of intervention into politically sensitive issues has taken place without stimulating a more vigorous search for an explanation of the underlying causes of the problem.

Why should ‘bad governance’ be relatively concentrated in poorer countries? The aid and development agencies themselves appear not to have asked this question in a very sustained way. Answer to the question is implicit in their behaviour, it would appear to be some idea of institutional deficit: poor countries lack the appropriate governance institutions, that are found in rich countries, in the shape of auditor-generals, police academies, independent central banks, legislative committees, responsible municipal governments, freedom of information laws, judicial autonomy, public policy research institutes, and many other things. I do not suggest that the donor strategy of institutional transfer is completely misguided. My case is rather that it may fail to address the major causes of governance problems.

I suggest here that improved understanding of the roots of political underdevelopment could show us better ways of promoting good government. It is ironic that aid donors should focus on institutional transfer when the institutional configurations of poor states are in most cases already very similar to those of rich states. In historical perspective, the world never appeared so similar to one another as they do at present .This emphasis on institutional transfer of course in part reflects the absence of alternative ideas about how usefully to spend aid money to improve governance. But it does also stem from messianic views of the virtues of democracy in Nigerian culture and, increasingly, from the willingness and capacity of the African Union to project onto the poor as a whole the same governance agenda that it imposes, with success, on the countries aspiring to join the Union.

Certainly this nation suffers from poor administrative, inadequate judicial infrastructure and insufficient numbers of expertise. But these short-comings cannot explain the abuse and misuse of state power in the continent. For instance, we have a large number of highly-trained professionals, including accountants and constitutional lawyers. Laid down budgetary procedures, include provisions for checks and balances, and are adequate. But the fact remains that Nigerian rulers have ignored the provisions of the constitution and laid down administrative procedures are irrelevant to the actual workings of government.

Abuse and misuse of power and authority by Nigerian rulers have not been largely due any national lack of capacity for good governance. Nigerian leaders have not been ineffective and tyrannical because they are incompetent or ignorant. Neither has the lack of administrative or intellectual expertise to formulate and properly execute growth enhancing policies been the major problem. Quite simply, Nigerian leaders have acted in their own selfish interests in total disregard to existing rules and laid-down procedures.
The popular image of African rulers as bungling buffoons is not helpful. It obscures reality. Anyone who has observed the way in which the military has dominated politics in Nigeria would see that the generals are no fools. They and their advisers have shown themselves to be quite adept in the art of retaining political power. Since the early 1990s they have toyed with the civilian political class. General Sani Abacha has since seizing power in 1993, with remarkable political skill undermined the opposition – sowed confusion in their ranks and made them loss credibility in the eyes of the public. Judged by Machievellian standards, Nigeria’s ruling generals and their advisers have shown great political sophistication. It would be a mistake to approach Abacha and his cronies as a bunch of idiots, ignorant of the art of politics.

Export taxes, for example, are probably less earned than most income, sales, turnover and property taxes. But these kinds of distinctions are insufficiently explored and too fine for my purposes. I am focusing here on gross differences between states that live from earned income and those that depend to a large degree on the dominant sources of unearned state income found in poorer citizens among others: mineral revenues, especially oil wells; and aid. A more complete account would look, for example, at revenues from such sources as timber, diamonds, narcotics and agricultural commodity exports (coffee, cotton, cocoa etc.). These have all been significant sources of (relatively) unearned income for many poorer states of this nation in recent decades. But the extent to which these revenues are appropriable and appropriated by states depends very much on specific institutional arrangements that change over time. Government monopolies on agricultural commodity exports are now far less significant as sources of revenue for poor states of this nation than they were two decades ago.
These kinds of non-oil commodity revenues are relatively contestable: peaceful citizens and/or armed bandits and insurgents can often claim a large share .I focuses here on the main categories of unearned revenues – oil and aid – that, for different reasons, most of the time reliably accrues to the people that hold state power.

Rather than beginning directly with the dysfunctional consequences of dependence on oil and aid revenues, let us look at familiar, developed, states from an unfamiliar angle. What are the implications of the fact that they live from, and were largely constructed on the basis of, earned income? Living from earned income has the following consequences :(i) we have an incentive to recruit a capable and relatively honest public service, with internal financial and personnel controls, so that liability for tax can be assessed. This attitude gives rise to some interesting hypotheses. For example, Singapore levies scarcely any taxes. Most public revenue is ‘non-tax’, coming from charges on the development and management of public infrastructure and services: port facilities, public transport, property development, and public utilities. The arguments developed in the main text would indicate that the Singapore state apparatus should score highly in terms of the statistic values of competence and authority, but low interims of the liberal values of accountability and responsiveness to citizens. That indeed appears to be the case. As is evident from Tully’s work in particular, our income that derives from crisis would count as earned income within our framework. Such income significant for Africans is only witnessed occasionally: they financed their wars mainly from internal sources.

As long as African political rulers and administrators are drawn from this class of predators, no amount of preaching the virtues of good governance or tuition on public administration will fundamentally alter the quality of governance. This is not to say that constitutional reforms and increasing civil society infrastructure are not important. They are. But they are not the key to solving the problem of bad governance.

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