Nigeria: A powerhouse in decline

By IndepthAfrica
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Oct 18th, 2012
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Uche Igwe

I was not so surprised to read that Nigeria has joined the ten bottom governance performers in Africa. The latest Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s Assessment of Governance in Africa ranked Nigeria 43 out of 52 countries assessed – slightly above Equatorial Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Cote d’ Ivoire and Zimbabwe. These ‘bottom’ countries are either failed or failing states with about the lowest values of per capita gross domestic product in the world. Cote d’ Ivoire, for instance, is just recovering from war. Equatorial Guinea and Zimbabwe are bastions of ‘kleptocracy’ and cronyism with the worst global human rights records. So how did Nigeria come about this disgraceful ranking?

Mo Ibrahim himself defined governance thus: ‘governance is about harnessing resources to achieve the results that any citizen living in the 21st century has a right to expect’. By implication this means that in countries like Nigeria where natural resources are abundant, good governance should be a right and not a privilege. How come that, instead, governance indices have steadily declined leading to a drop from position 37 in 2006 to 43 in 2012?

A deeper analysis will offer clarity to the depth of the decay. Let us re-examine the four sets of issues examined by the Mo Ibrahim Report. The first category measured safety and rule of law. Probably one thing that is known to every toddler in Nigeria is that no one can take safety for granted anymore. From kidnapping and armed robbery in the South to Boko Haram insurgency in the North, to other ‘mystery’ events that resonate in between the two, the countrywide situation is fast snowballing into a Hobbesian state. Violent crimes and social unrest have become the order of the day. Political acrimony and vendetta have allegedly metamorphosed into religious violence as mutual suspicion deepens among the population who hitherto coexisted in harmony. Interestingly, these wicked onslaughts do not seem to respect class or position. Everyone seems to be at risk.

On the rule of law, with minor exceptions, justice is available to be procured by the highest bidder – he who pays wins. Judicial independence is increasing becoming an impracticable theory as corruption seems to have permeated all facets of our national life. From our politics to our bureaucracy, if you cannot join the plunder, then forget it!

The second category measured participation and human rights. Arguably, elections have been neither free nor fair as political parties have been partially or completely hijacked by political contractors. The power to govern has therefore been hamstrung by the shenanigans of those whose duty it is to frustrate competition and celebrate coronation. Incompetence has been elevated in the guise of loyalty. The knowledge and political will that drives political liberty and legislative vision is either absent or only exists among a minority. Gender balance in our politics has been shamelessly substituted with spousal appendages – slots are filled with wives, concubines, sisters and daughters of the same vampire elite to continue to suck our collective patrimony. The marginal gains in the area of human rights have been eroded by political impunity. Many alleged high level political assassinations remain unresolved and young people (many of them former political thugs) become frustrated and wreck mayhem in their communities where their political masters used and dumped them.

The third category measured sustainable economic opportunity. As a country almost wholly dependent on rents from natural resources, the word sustainability is not yet in our policy dictionary. Statistical data for planning have been continuously manipulated to produce pre-determined outcomes. Critical figures are either unavailable or incomplete. Public revenues leak directly to private pockets. Budget is a dubious technical aggregation of dry figures. Reform has become repetitious rhetoric. Planning is by conjecture and bureaucracy is bloated to service geography and celebrate profligacy. Though digital connectivity continues to flourish, consumers pay dearly for services they never get while regulators allegedly continue to cover up. The climate of fear has engulfed the entire social and political space. Citizens that dare to travel by air, do so in mute apprehension. Others that go by road are at the mercy of criminals, rapists and other marauders. The rail networks remain a political promise to hoodwink a gullible electorate – endlessly in the pipeline. Rural areas are forgotten except where it matters for selfish political ends and the dialogue between the political elite and non-state actors is sterile. Non-state actors themselves are often mere extensions of the rot that has invaded the political arena. Critical issues like disaster management are left deliberately ad hoc to pave way for duplicity.

The forth category measured was human development. Poverty has grown in leaps and bounds that it has become the excuse for everything from petty corruption to kidnapping-for-ransom and even suicide bombing. Everybody and anybody could be the next target. Nigeria still ranked 156 out of 187 in the Human Development Index as at 2011. Educational standards have become so bastardized that even teachers now take their children abroad for school. Innocent children going to school have become targets of attacks by ‘unknown gunmen’ ostensibly to express one grievance or another.

Millions of dollars are paid out annually to schools in United Kingdom, Canada, South Africa and even Ghana in search of good education for Nigerian citizens. Graduates from indigenous universities brandish doubtful even forged credentials. The disdain for institutions based in Nigeria even manifested in the Mo Ibrahim Foundation Report. Not a single organisation from Nigeria was allowed to contribute data to the surveys. The dividends of development like drinking water are available only to the rich and lucky in my country. In 2011, UNICEF estimated that about 33 million Nigerians do not have access to toilets. Maternal mortality is still estimated at 40,000 per annum, higher that the rate in Democratic Republic of Congo. Infantile mortality at 88 deaths out of 1000 live births remains the highest in Africa. What a shame!

What do we then do with all of these? The Mo Ibrahim Index is a reminder of how far things have decayed in our country. Are these reversible? Yes. But, we must fix our institutions to translate the rhetoric of reform into verifiable action codified by law. We must do away with the current crop of misguided political elite – somehow. Yes, somehow. These figures clearly show that they have failed woefully. Our bureaucracy must be depoliticized and professionalised for effective service delivery. An emergency should now be declared once again in the educational sector. Civil society groups and the media must rise to their responsibility of keeping vigil on our democracy. The governance decay in Nigeria is threatening our position in the continent. South Africa is 5th on the Index while Ghana occupies the 7th position. This powerhouse is declining and, sadly, time is running out.

Uche Igwe is a governance expert at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex. He can be reached on ucheigwe@gmail.com

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