NIGERIA: When Accountability Matters

Nigeria's finance minister Zainab Ahmed. Image: Facebook

Insult to our Intelligence/Tragicomedy

Accountability is synonymous with good governance in a Democracy. The Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed’s justification for Nigeria’s gift of luxury vehicles worth about N1.5 billion to Niger, set me thinking about accountability, and automatically reminds me of a Yoruba saying which can be translated to mean that an individual should refrain from identifying a dog as a monkey to another person (“ma p’aja l’òbò fun mi) – meaning that such individual should stop trying to deceive the other. She said:”…..Over time, Nigeria has had to support its neighbours, especially its immediate neighbours, to enhance their capacity to secure their countries as it relates to us. This is not the first time that Nigeria has supported Niger, Cameroun or Chad….. It is to enhance their capacity to protect their own territory, as it relates to security also to Nigeria”.

While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with Zainab Ahmed’s statement on the face of it, especially if it was a gift that could truly enhance security, it is patently clear, even to the blind, that this is not the situation in this case. Pray tell, what role can luxury SUVs in Niger, play in protecting or enhancing Niger or Nigeria’s security? Are they weapons of mass destruction or tools to fight insecurity?

I therefore, didn’t know whether to laugh or cry (tragicomedy), when I heard Madam Ahmed’s statement. I have always believed that, in some cases, “silence is golden”; because, sometimes in such cases, it is better to keep quiet than to attempt any explanation, especially when the explanation is absolutely untenable, or an insult to the intelligence of any right-thinking person that is listening.

Lack of Accountability

The term Accountability has different types and elements to it; but in terms of governance, it is simply government being answerable for its acts or omissions, as well as being able to hold government responsible for same. According to Webster’s Dictionary, accountable is defined as “being responsible, liable, explainable, legally bound, subject to”. Clearly, this administration is extremely weak when it comes to Government to Citizen Accountability, no thanks for one, to Section 6(6)(c) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) (the Constitution) which ousts the jurisdiction of the courts vis-à-vis Chapter II of the Constitution, that is, the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy, which really is the essence of Government and governance (as I have said repeatedly), and the call to accountability as it sets the milestones that Government is supposed to achieve. See the case of Olafisoye v FRN (2004) LPELR-2553 (SC) per Niki Tobi JSC on the justiciability of Section 6(6)(c) of the Constitution. To be honest, with what Nigerians have seen in the last seven years, I’m not sure that it would have even made any difference to this administration (or any of the previous ones for that matter), if Section 6(6)(c) was not included in the Constitution, and Government could be sued directly to account, or for non-performance. The cases would have just piled up and clogged up an already congested court system, with no end of litigation in sight.

With only $300,000 left in our Excess Crude Account; with 99% of Nigerians crying out from the pains of suffering and hardship; with our children out of school for almost six months because of the ASUU Strike, it is shocking and disheartening that our Government can still play ‘Father Christmas’ to Niger – not only is it a misuse and mismanagement of funds, it is totally insensitive to the plight of Nigerians who the money actually belongs to. That money would have been better spent on boosting the salaries of judicial officers, or paying ransom to the Kaduna train terrorists to release our brothers, sisters and children who have been in captivity for over four months and counting, since one of the captives who was recently released, Professor Imam, stated in a television interview that Government did nothing to secure his own release, and doesn’t seem to be doing anything to secure the release of the rest of the captives.

Again, even if our Government insisted on playing Father Christmas at a time that it is not in a position to do so, at such an inauspicious time when it definitely should not, what is wrong with Innoson cars? Innoson also has SUVs. Why didn’t Government patronise a local manufacturer, so that it would not only showcase and advertise made-in-Nigeria products/vehicles to other countries, but also help boost Innoson’s revenue, and possibly create more jobs for Nigerians? Assuming that there was even a good reason for the car gift, what Government has done is akin to importing cement from China to ‘dash’ Niger, when we have our own BUA and Dangote Cement who could supply cement. Is Government not being a saboteur of its own economy?

Certainly, it is this culture of lack of accountability and recklessness, that allows Government to make imprudent, extravagant decisions. It seems that Niger has the same mindset as Nigeria anyway. It’s not surprising; are we not relatives? A country that needs luxury cars purchased for them, obviously requires funds for other critical infrastructure. But, here in these parts, having these expensive toys, is obviously more important to government officials than national development. I needed no further confirmation of Niger’s similar regressive mindset, when I saw the Governor of Zamfara State being decorated in Niger for security! Or did Niger mean for insecurity?! A State in which a wanted terrorist was recently turbanned as a Chief! Because, the last time I checked, Zamfarans were crying to be rescued from the scourge of terrorists and bandits that has hit them. And, instead of spending scarce resources more meaningfully on trying to secure the State, the Governor bought and distributed over 200 vehicles (foreign made, of course) to traditional rulers in Zamfara, ostensibly for them to fight insecurity, when we all know that this unjustifiable expenditure on the part of the Governor, is simply to curry favour and secure a second term come 2023!

It is also this culture of lack of accountability and apathy in governance, that gives Government officials and spokespersons like Garba Shehu, the temerity not just to make absurdly inaccurate statements that rile Nigerians, like ‘Nigeria is now a safer place to live’, when no one can go from Point A to B without looking over their shoulders, also trivialising what seems to be an insurmountable security problem in the country, but to give this administration glowing marks where they have failed abysmally. The non-admittance of facts, or the tendency to hide activities or events (opaqueness), does not allow for accountability, responsibility or redress.

Importance of Accountability in Government/Governance

While accountability does not solve all the problems in governance, it’s importance must be underscored, particularly in a democratic setting where it is a core principle. Without accountability, there cannot be good governance, public trust and promotion of the rule of law. Its absence translates to the fact that government and its officials, are not subject to the same laws as the people. Accountability is a concept in which performance is measured, and there are consequences for either success or failure to meet the desired or set out goals. Here in Nigeria, the overview of these goals are laid out in Chapter II of the Constitution, while specifics can actually be judged from government policies and actions, and the lives of the people being governed. Accountability improves the performance of government, especially when there are sanctions for non-performance. It inspires workers to act in the interest of the organisations they serve; in the case of government officials, it is an incentive to act in the best interest of the public. Accountability encourages transparency and oversight in governance. It also promotes better decision making.

Examples of Lack of Accountability

Accountability can be internal or external. In Nigeria, within government agencies, there is no internal accountability, let alone being accountable externally to the people. The National Assembly is not taking its oversight functions, as seriously as it should. If there was internal accountability, an Accountant-General would not be able to systematically misappropriate over N100 billion from his organisation and go undetected for so long. The Police would not be able to torture and kill suspects in custody, and get away with it. The Minister of Humanitarian Affairs would not be able to come out boldly to state that she spent billions feeding school children, when the whole of Nigeria was confined to their homes during the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020. The Governor of Central Bank would have to do better than come up with lame excuses, as to why the Naira is depreciating on a daily basis. The security agencies would have to explain why, despite knowing the whereabouts of terrorists and bandits, they are leaving them to continue to run amok with gusto and aplomb to brutalise Nigerians, instead of the National Security Adviser denouncing Governor El Rufai as a parrot for revealing these details to Nigerians. The Minister of State of Petroleum would not only have to tell Nigerians exactly how much fuel we consume on a daily basis, but explain why they supplied bad fuel to Nigerians, and why there has been a lingering petrol and aviation fuel shortage. And, if there was accountability and responsibility, all of them, would have had to suffer the consequences of their failures.

Sanctions for Lack of Accountability

Sanctions for lack of political and governmental accountability include public protest, sack, impeachment, or non-reelection of officials, civil action and criminal prosecution, amongst other sanctions available, in the case of failure or even corruption. On the contrary, in Nigeria, people are rewarded for failure and bad/criminal behaviour. Will we ever forget Danjuma Ibrahim and the gruesome killing of the ‘Apo Six’ in 2005? While the death sentence was pronounced on the two rank & file Policemen who were involved in the killing, Ibrahim who was alleged to have ordered their killing not only got off scot free having been found not guilty by the court, he was a Deputy Commissioner of Police at the time of the incident, and was subsequently promoted to the rank of Assistant Inspector General of Police, amongst other juicy rewards.

Ensuring Accountability and Better Leadership

A responsible government, is one that is accountable and responsive to the people. Apart from protest, the other way in which the public can demand accountability from government, is to vote out those who do not perform, and keep voting them out. Clear expectations from government, have already been stated in Chapter II of the Constitution, and whether they are directly justiciable or not, they are binding on all persons and authorities in Nigeria (Section 1(1) of the Constitution). Since politicians love to recycle themselves, it is easy to identify non-performers and those who place no premium on accountability and lack the necessary integrity, and not to vote for them. The masses whose votes are easy to buy because they have been so oppressed with poverty, must be educated about the dangers of vote-selling and its direct correlation with bad governance. Now that the 2023 election is upon us, the same way the skit on television about ‘Okoronko’ spreading fake news in the town of ‘Akamata’ appears 100 times a day, there should be one explaining the dangers and negative consequences that result from allowing rich and corrupt politicians to buy votes. There must be more transparency in governance, better mechanisms put in place to scrutinise the civil service, and better performance of oversight functions by the Legislature. The Judiciary must also play its part, not only by disposing of election petitions properly, but meting out the harsh punishment to corrupt government officials and politicians, to serve as a deterrent to those who may be tempted to err. My dear colleagues, kindly, share your thoughts on how accountability can be instilled into governance, and become a culture in Nigeria.