The African story abounds with great women whose achievements are often reduced to prurient anecdotes
Until lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter. So, says the Igbo proverb, which became a rallying cry for a generation of post-colonial African historians. But what of the lionesses? Are their tales being told? But enough with animal adages. Neither lions nor lionesses write history, while people do. The key question is: do the current written histories of Africa adequately include the experiences of the continent’s women?
Depends where you look. And who you ask. Since the 1960s, the university-based study of African women’s history has become a dynamic, global field. Where once the economic, social and political contribution of African women was regarded as an historical terra nullius – with women either entirely absent or relegated to minor roles in textbooks and tomes – there is now an ever-increasing body of research that includes analysis on a wide variety of societies, over 50 countries and hundreds of thousands of years.
Academia is acknowledging that African women enter the historical narrative from a variety of geographies and climates and that they carry diverse status, education, culture, age and other attributes. Moreover, all of the above can change or stay the same or circle through a combination of both within the endless ebb and flow that is human life and lives over time.
Academic historians recognise that what they study is not the past per se but rather an interpretation of the past, which is subject to revision and reinterpretation whereby distinct interest groups apply different standards, priorities and values and reach different conclusions. There is general consensus that interest groups with more social, political and economic clout have the power to dominate the narrative.
There is now widespread acknowledgement that the gendered nature of modern power is such that male stories are disproportionately present and that women’s stories are often assigned less value. The growth of African women’s history as a discipline demonstrates that spaces can and have been created to examine and challenge such power dynamics.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that almost all such scholarship sits behind paywalls on university websites. Non-professional historians are largely excluded from this information and the debates that such study stimulates. Outside of ivory tower academe, what passes for historical “knowledge” in the general chitchat of daily life more often than not either ignores them entirely or depicts women in terms of their perceived impact on men.
Historical evidence of African women is as old as humanity. Sometimes older. Humans evolved in Africa and so it is Africa that provides the backdrop for the first minimising of prehistoric women in the paleoanthropological corpus. Until the early 1980s archaeologists overlaid modern Western gender norms and sexual divisions of labour onto pre-historic, sometimes pre-human hominid peoples. Man the Hunter was widely considered to be the key evolutionary driver of human brain development and subsequent tool-making innovation.
Frances Dahlberg’s 1983 monograph, Woman the Gatherer, set forth a strong case for an alternative evolutionary trajectory in which Woman the Tool Inventor played an equal part in the human story. Which is all well and good – but for the fact that, over three decades later, that message doesn’t appear to have gotten through to the masses. Museums are the point at which the public and professional historians ought to intersect, but Africa’s pre-historic women are all but invisible at such sites. Androcentric stereotypes abound. Almost invariably, graphic material explaining the hominisation process depicts individuals of the masculine sex making their way from australopithecine to homo – thereby rendering the earliest African women invisible.
As Myra and David Sadker argued in Failing at Fairness (1995), “each time a girl opens a book and reads a womanless history, she learns she is worth less.” How much more so if she isn’t even in the diagram exploring the essence of our species?
Yet it is debatable as to whether exclusion is preferable to defamation. African women who achieved scientific, political or economic success have often been pulled into warped morality tales masquerading as history, which reduce a plethora of complex characters to wicked women who drew men into their beds and on into their death. The deeds of women in times past are subjected to such treatment worldwide but the practice seems particularly prevalent when it comes to telling tall tales about successful African women, who are almost invariably subjected to what amounts to a form of “ye olde” slut shaming. The accompanying character assassination is seldom supported by the sort of historical evidence-based scholarship found on the other side of the paywall.
Consider Cleopatra. Mary Hamer’s Signs of Cleopatra: Reading an Icon Historically (2001) offers us vast quantities of contemporaneous written records demonstrating the diplomatic, naval, linguistic, cultural and philosophical skills of Cleopatra VII Philopator (69-10 BC), the last active ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt. Her tenure alone speaks to such skills. She ruled for 21 years and at the height of her power controlled virtually the entire eastern Mediterranean coast. She was incomparably richer than anyone else in the region. And yet she survives in the popular imagination through a distorted depiction of her romantic relationships. She built fleets, suppressed several insurrections, controlled a currency and guided a nation through plagues and famines but she is remembered as a bare-breasted seductress bathing in milk.
Linda Heywood and Louis Madureira’s 2015 article, Queen Njinga Mbandi Ana de Sousa of Ndongo/Matamba: African Leadership, Diplomacy, and Ideology, 1620-1650 offers chapter and verse on their study subject’s skills as a military leader, strategist, diplomat and exponent of realpolitik par excellence. Research reveals the woman who defined and dominated what is now Angola in the 17th century to be a complex and contradictory character. At times, she profited from the trans-Atlantic slave trade, while at other times she protected escaped slaves. For over 40 years, she successfully limited the Portuguese colony at Luanda to a few square kilometres. How is it that her achievements are less well known than gratuitous and unsubstantiated gossip about her immolating a harem of male lovers?
Publicising the achievements of African women from previous generations has the potential to impact on the development of self-respect for African girls and women going forward. There is inspiration in knowing about the trials, tribulations and triumphs of Asante-born Nanny of the Windward Maroons (c.1686 – c.1755) who escaped from slavery in Jamaica, led a successful armed rebellion, freed more than 1,000 previously enslaved people and achieved a 1740 peace settlement with colonists, under the terms of which she negotiated a land grant of 500 acres at what became known as Nanny Town.
In the face of Boko Haram’s terror and intimidation tactics, which threaten girls’ access to education across West Africa, there is strength to be drawn from knowing that in 859CE an African woman, Fatima bint Muhammad Al-Fihriya Al-Qurashiya, founded the University of Al Quaraouiyine in Fes, Morocco. UNESCO describes it as the oldest existing, continually operating and first degree-awarding educational institution in the world. Female alumni include Fatima al Kabbaj, member of the Moroccan Supreme Council of Religious Knowledge.
At its most pernicious, observations of a past that never was are used to support patriarchal practices that exclude women from power in the present. During Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s 2016 visit to German Chancellor Angela Merkel he responded to a question about his wife’s political opinions with the comment that, “I don’t know which party my wife belongs to, but she belongs to my kitchen and my living room and the other room” because he could “claim superior knowledge over her”.
Indeed, 2016 was a banner year for Nigerian patriarchal put-downs. In the same year, that country’s senate rejected a Gender and Equality Bill that included equal rights for women in marriages, divorce, property ownership and inheritance. Several senators stated that they opposed the law on the grounds that it was “un-African” and “anti-religious” to accord women equal rights with men.
Such statements invoke tradition, but the historical record shows otherwise. Kamene Okonjo’s studies of women’s political participation in Nigeria show that pre-colonial West African women were often much more economically, socially and politically independent and powerful than modern “traditionalists” would have us believe.
Their disempowerment came about by way of colonial Eurocentric, not indigenous African values. Chima J Korieh’s Gender and Peasant Resistance: Recasting the Myth of the Invisible Women in Colonial Eastern Nigeria, 1925-1945 (2003) offers evidence that while Nigerian women had historically participated in the government, the British colonial authorities saw these practices as “a manifestation of chaos and moral disorder” and would only engage with the political institutions headed by men.
Struggles over alternative views on the desirability of female political and economic power sparked significant anti-colonial revolts, including what modern historians tend to call the Women’s War of 1929 (Ogu Umunwanyi in Igbo), which was described by colonial authorities as the Aba Women’s Riot.
A watered-down version of the Nigerian Gender Equity Bill was subsequently passed in 2017 but the claiming of tradition to support female subjugation illustrates how a patchwork of patriarchies can cross the hunter/lion duality. There are times when hunters and lions form alliances around their common predator paradigm and call on faux history in support of shared interests. As we recognise and rectify the exclusion and misrepresentation of female African lives from the study of history, let us take cognisance of life’s complexity.
Even if certain sorts of lions and lionesses now have/are historians, accounts of their times past are likely to be incomplete unless the experiences of the earthworms and the elephants and the E.coli are included. Not to mention the valuable perspectives provided by the trees and the reeds. And the wind and the rain. Ultimately, ours is an interdependent ecosystem.
- Government should guarantee the right to vote by providing for it under Chapter IV of the constitution while also making it a civic duty for citizen to vote.
- Nigeria’s political and social stakeholders must work together more concertedly to enable the judiciary’s independence, better to actualise enhanced voting right in a revised constitution.
- Nigeria’s in-coming parliament must expedite legislation to enhance the use of technology in the electoral process, which should facilitate the process for voter registration, the collation of a comprehensive voters register, and make voting more transparent and less onerous.
- Government must explore creative avenues such as partnering with telecommunication companies in order to leverage the information of registered customers, which can be supplemented with the data of citizens without mobile phone access.
The conduct of regular elections and the guarantee of the fundamental rights of citizens lie at the fulcrum of democracy. One of the major problems with Nigeria’s democracy is the absence of a cast-iron protection of the right to vote. The right to vote, though an inextricable part of democracy, is not enshrined in chapter IV of the Nigerian 1999 constitution, alongside the other fundamental rights. In practical terms, this makes the legal enforcement of citizens’ voting right cumbersome.
From the beginning of Nigeria’s 4th republic in 1999, different election cycles have witnessed serious obstacles in the way of the citizens’ right to choose at the polls.
A functioning democratic system of governance must provide an avenue for the larger part of society to take part in choosing political leaders. Arguably, one of the most important role of government is to establish a transparent, well-functioning and participatory electoral system that ensures the universal involvement of citizens of voting age in the electoral process.
The right to vote has its roots embedded in the social contract theory, and it can be argued that this is probably the most important right of all. This is because government is legitimately formed only after citizens have gone to the ballot to choose. The social contract theory prescribes that once members of a society agree to give up some of their rights and freedom to an authority duly chosen by citizens, such chosen authority must in turn protect the rights and freedom of citizens from encroachment.
The right to vote is the foundation upon which this participatory right rests. To be truly part of a given society, members must have an inalienable right to participate in the good governance of that society. Chapter IV of the Nigerian constitution guarantees a list of fundamental rights which are enforceable in the courts. Where a provision of chapter IV is contravened or a fundamental right is trampled upon, section 46 of that chapter allows for citizens to approach the high court for enforcement proceedings.
However, the omission of the right to vote under chapter IV renders this right unenforceable in a strict legal sense. Such an important right that allows citizens to participate in the periodic change of their leaders should be in chapter IV alongside the fundamental rights of all Nigerian citizens.
Although some provisions in law such as section 7(2) of the constitution and section 12 of the Electoral Act may be deemed to have touched on voting, these sections in no way provide a fundamental protection or guarantee of the voting right.
The absence of a guarantee for the right to vote allows for the abuse of this right by the state. Fundamental rights under chapter IV of the constitution enjoy guarantees that protect them from interference by the state and other citizens. Having no form of protection in the constitution for the right to vote therefore leaves room for the government to remain lackadaisical in its duty at actualizing the citizens’ right to vote.
These governmental duties in respect of effective actualisation of citizens’ votes include the efficient registration of voters; providing adequate logistics for voting; instilling the sense of duty to vote in citizens; and such other measures that can make voting possible, meaningful and reflective of the popular will.
Safeguarding the vote
One of the attributes of rights under chapter IV of the Nigerian constitution is that they are open to legal redress, allowing individuals whose fundamental rights have been encroached upon to seek their legal enforcement. With no provisions for the right to vote under the chapter IV of the constitution, there exist no form of legal redress for citizens. Successive administrations since Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1999 have done little to address this.
Also, there has been no concrete plan to solve the recurring problems encountered during the registration of eligible voters and collection of voters’ cards. The time usually allocated for the registration exercise is wholly inadequate and the process is cumbersome.
Moreover, electoral malpractices and willful disregard for the provisions of the electoral act have become notable features of the political climate in Nigeria. These are among the most serious obstacles to the efficient conduct of elections.
Election season in Nigeria are often marred by acts of disorder and lawlessness, which act as barriers to citizens’ participation. Most citizens generally view election days as public holidays and stay in the safety of their homes away from voting centres. With the myriad electoral malpractices including voter intimidation, ballot box snatching and vote buying, the feeling among many citizens is that their vote is inconsequential. This widens the gap between the majority of citizens and the governance process.
As a result, turnout during elections is on the decrease. About 43% of registered voters participated in the 2015 general election compared to 57% in the 2007 elections. This constitutional reality of voting as less than a fundamental right contributes to government’s ineptitude, manifested for example in the inadequate logistical provisions for voter registration. In Lagos state alone, the electoral commission reports that about 1.38million permanent voters’ cards are yet to be collected by prospective voters. As a consequence, millions of eligible voters continue to be disenfranchised.
Without any clear avenue for redress, citizens have no way to hold the government accountable for failing to perform its duty with regards to enabling citizens to vote. Assimilating the right to vote into chapter IV of the constitution would open up the avenue to seek legal redress as necessary and also encourage more citizens to see voting as a civic duty that is both incumbent and relatively easy to perform.
The challenge of youth participation
With the youth making up more than half of the Nigeria’s 182 million population, they play a vital role in the electoral process. Before the 2015 election, the youths comprised about 63% of the eligible voting population. However, the influence of the youth in governance before, during and after elections remains marginal. This exclusion of youth from governance, coupled with the high unemployment rate in the country, has resulted in high levels of frustration which may inevitably turn young people to civil disobedience and violence.
With youth unemployment standing at 33.10% as at 2017, most Nigerian youths are caught up in the daily struggle for survival and view political participation as secondary. The system operated by most political parties in Nigeria fails to provide much needed opportunity for youth participation in politics. Although the passing of the “Not too Young to Run” act reduced the age for contesting for various political offices, most political parties are yet to willingly concede their platforms to young people.
Moreover, one of the ways that political parties continue to stifle youth participation is through the high cost of nomination forms for political office. Issues such as this require urgent redress to enhance popular participation in the governance process.
As the 2019 general elections approaches, the general tendency for government is to focus on winning at the polls. However, one duty that remains sacrosanct is for the government to ensure successful conduct of the polls in a free and fair manner. In the bid to achieve this, the right of every citizen of voting age to vote should be protected and guaranteed by the state, preferably in the chapter IV of the constitution alongside the other fundamental rights. Effective participation by citizens during elections, and their involvement in decision-making even beyond the elections, remain fundamental to foster good governance.
The right to vote is recognized under Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Right (UDHR). Article 21(3) which states that: “the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government. This will be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures”.
Taking steps to enshrine the right to vote in the chapter IV of Nigeria’s constitution will open up avenues for citizens to mount effective pressure for the actualization of voting right and the establishment of a more transparent and accountable system of government.
- Nigeria needs to focus attention on procedural anti-corruption, embedded in the impersonal application of the law, institution-building, and matching of appropriate expertise to functions across the public oversight agencies.
- The statutory anti-graft bodies require a root and branch overhaul to strengthen their mandates and capacity. These include the Auditor-General and Ombudsman, and the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission among others.
- Also, revamping the judiciary is key to set correct incentives and combat impunity through exemplary, regionally-balanced prosecution of high-level corrupt officials, past and present.
- Nigeria’s leader should emulate African best practices such as the Ghanaian president’s choice of a respected opposition figure to head Ghana’s anti-graft agency.
- Sustained citizen engagement and pressure is the bedrock of effective anti-corruption, with constant vigilance over functionaries untainted by the ethnic and other divisive distractions.
Nigeria is grappling with both historic and recently self-inflicted difficulties in its anti-corruption war. Stumbling blocks have proliferated to thwart the effectiveness of government’s efforts to revamp institutions, tackle mismanagement and wilful theft from the treasury. The operational challenges span institutional weakness, defective personnel, disregard for due-process and a proclivity to create media spectacle to the neglect of serious anti-graft investigations. There exist legion political failings too, such as the government’s lack of political will, questionable sincerity and the naked politicisation which has created sacred cows whilst damaging President Buhari’s credibility. Analysts will likely look back in a decade from now and adjudge his floundering anti-corruption drive as a case-study in how not to combat graft.
The immediate spur for this article is the N1.4tn, which according to Nigeria’s junior oil minister, is now being spent annually on oil subsidy outside the regular budget. Essentially, the difference between the N171 cost of importing petrol per litre and the regulated N145 pump price is being funded from the accounts of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) as “under recovery”. It is a regrettable moved away from a not very transparent subsidy system towards one that is even more opaque in the extreme. The NNPC spends what is effectively billions of dollars on petrol subsidy, without any detailed account being rendered publicly or the underlying mechanisms transparently explained.
Little wonder that the NNPC has retraced its steps from its widely commended move in 2016 to publish monthly accounts of its financial position. With much of the earmarked subsidy disappearing into private pockets in years past, Nigeria now has even less of a chance at ensuring accountability with the present arrangement. The extant NNPC subsidy programme and the obfuscation over how it is financed away from legislative oversight is the biggest economic corruption scandal that Nigeria has seen in the past three years. And that is leaving aside the currency subsidy in the form of the N285 concessional rate at which the NNPC accesses dollars from the central bank for fuel importation.
Widespread apathy on the part of citizens has not helped to create effective pressure on public functionaries. Nigerians must be more willing to transcend the ethnic and other distractions better to maintain effective vigilance over politicians and bureaucrats. One example is the March 2018 revelation by Senator Shehu Sanni of the unappropriated N13.5m paid to each Nigerian senator monthly and a slightly lesser sum given to those in the lower legislative house as “running expenses”. This was just one in a series of scandals that should normally cause outrage. Nigerians though have failed consistently to leverage such opportunities for mass action to drive change. The bar for anti-corruption is set so low in Nigeria that citizens willingly credit Buhari’s mediocre achievement on graft.
The logical and procedural flaws bedevilling Nigeria’s battle against graft are legion and threaten to drown the nation. The Buhari government’s lack of consistent attention to strengthening procedural accountability remains all-too-central to the difficulty dogging fiscal administration and reform. Changing this will be vital to improve our perception in the Transparency International ranking. For a government that prides itself on its anticorruption stance, the “invisible” subsidy represents a regrettable step backwards in terms of embedding transparency in the workings of government. Efforts to recover loots or to name and shame perpetrators are necessary. More important though is the reshaping of institutions and fine-tuning of processes throughout government to make it difficult to divert or intentionally mismanage public funds in the first place.
Nigeria’s government recently mandated the anti-corruption agencies to investigate violations of the Public Procurement Act of 2007. Many observers doubt the sincerity or even the political neutrality of this sudden show of interest in regularising procurement. It normally should be a routine process overseen by statutory bodies such as the Auditor-General’s office. The latter, however, has been of marginal relevance even as Nigerians agitate unsuccessfully for the public disclosure of the emolument package of national lawmakers. Neither the demand side petitions using Nigeria’s Freedom of Information Act of 2011 nor the supply side relying on the discretion of the Auditor-General’s office have led to this information being published. The Public Complaints Commission (the Ombudsman) remains moribund, which arguably suits errant functionaries. Similarly, the limitations of the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission Board have been evident through episodes such as the Senator Shehu Sanni revelation on compensations not earmarked but illegally taken by Nigerian lawmakers.
The dominant incentive pattern determines the morality of a society. Alleged mismanagement of Nigeria’s treasury is left unpunished. From the outgone president, Goodluck Jonathan, to his predecessors, all remain immune. It is inconceivable that Nigeria could deter would-be offenders when current and past misdeeds are papered over. A bold anti-corruption leader would take risks in seeking exemplary prosecutions that touch errant public office holders from all of Nigeria’s geopolitical zones. That surely would give the lie to politicians who have always exploited our dysfunctionality and ethnic and religious fractiousness to allege that anti-corruption prosecutions are sectional or biased. Brazil’s former president Lula recently began a twelve year jail term for corruption. Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s immediate past president, is being swiftly brought to justice. In Nigeria, those who pocketed multiples of Zuma’s corruption proceeds still walk free.
Weaknesses, especially procedural ones, have been evident in Buhari’s anti-corruption style from the start. He began brightly by implementing the treasury single account initiative introduced by his predecessor. His government then controversially created multiple windows for foreign exchange. This remains one of the biggest lure to unearned income and large-scale arbitrage ever seen in Nigeria. The damage is only being partly mitigated by the recently introduced and more transparent investors and exporters segment. In legislative terms, the idea of a special anti-corruption court has been mooted but its lethargic consideration by our lawmakers contrasts sharply with their enthusiastic pursuit of the death sentence for kidnapping and hate speech crimes leading to the loss of victims’ lives.
The duplicity in Buhari’s anti-graft fight are littered all around for objective observers to see. This covers cases such as that of Babachir Lawal, former scribe to the government, and his alleged diversion of N220 million intended for those displaced by Boko Haram in the northeast. Ambassador Ayo Oke, former head of the National Intelligence Agency, allegedly hid $43million of government’s fund in a Lagos apartment. The National Health Insurance Scheme’s boss, Professor Usman Yusuf, was reinstated despite being under investigation for fraud involving N919 million. Abdulrasheed Maina, who escaped being arrested for a N2.7 billion pension scam, was brazenly reinstated into the civil service with a promotion. Although directives have been given by President Buhari that all personalities involved in the cases should be investigated, the delayed action from the top came mostly after public pressure.
For those seeking serious examples in prosecuting graft, the recent announcement of a partial and politicised list of so called treasury looters by Nigeria’s information minister is unlikely to inspire much confidence. By contrast, Ghana’s president set a good example in his surprising appointment of Martin Amidu, a respected and uncompromising anti-corruption crusader from the rank of the country’s opposition, to head his new anti-graft agency. With this appointment, Ghana’s president won the public over, sending out an unequivocal message about the genuineness of his effort. A few public figures once considered untouchable from both side of Ghana’s great political divide have since been hauled before the special courts for corruption.
Ghana’s achievement here is not a one-off. The revelation in 2015 by a brave investigator, Anas Aremeyaw Anas, who secretly filmed justices receiving bribes, led to the jailing and the premature termination of the career of several judicial functionaries. Nigeria, by contrast, was lethargic in dealing with revelation of justices stashing away corruptly obtained funds, including in a bathroom in one of the cases. The best that Nigerians got was obfuscation and a rare guard action of the sort that has effectively left disciplinary procedures for errant justices in the hand of the National Judicial Council. The body itself is perceived by many to be far from neutral and it can, in any case, only dismiss judicial officers. Its power does not extend to meting out sentences for wrong doers. What incentive patterns are being created when incidents of corruption involving judges cannot be prosecuted in normal courts presided over by one of their own peers but hushed away within disciplinary procedures?
Accepting the obvious
After clashing over the EFCC head, Ibrahim Magu, Nigeria’s president and lawmakers began an economically damaging standoff, which prevented the Central Bank’s monetary policy committee from meeting for months as lawmakers refused to conduct confirmation hearings for nominees to a slew of public offices. In the national interest, why didn’t the squabbling political actors save face by requesting the secondment of a top anti-corruption technocrats from the UK to replace Magu?
The UK’s Serious Fraud Office has been almost exclusively in charge of the corruption cases successfully pursued against Nigerian functionaries in the past two decades. British prosecutors helped to nail Nigerian politicians from Alameseigha to Dariye, through Ibori to Deizani Alison-Madueke. The latter’s case is still ongoing in London. A top level international hire to lead the EFCC will inspire younger Nigerian prosecutors to high professionalism. Exposure to a different managerial culture may also encourage them to prioritise professional investigation over the useless media trials.
Defects in the EFCC’s operational culture reflects the background of its heads to date. From Nuhu Ribadu to Farida Waziri all the way to Ibrahim Lamorde and Ibrahim Magu, each has been a career police officer. Leading the EFCC effectively requires skillsets beyond the core policing functions. Serious damages have been incurred as government unwisely side-steps the rule of law. Examples include the continuing detention of Sambo Dasuki, former National Security Advisor, in disregard of court orders. Nothing is more injurious to Nigeria’s bid to instil discipline, probity and accountability than a government which undermines the law in its ill-conceived and incompetent pursuit of justice.
A foreign EFCC head will operate in the full glare of the international community, likely enhancing their immunity from political pressure, manipulation or even blackmail. This is not to suggest that Nigeria lacks suitably qualified citizens who can do the job or that a foreign recruit will approximate a saint. Rather, it is a call for the closing of the circle, to welcome direct and constructive inputs from better-equipped partners that have given Nigeria copious anti-corruption support in recent years. UK prosecutors are especially well-positioned with the unrivalled wealth of financial intelligence they possess on corrupt Nigerian individuals. If Buhari dared, he might find in a foreign anti-corruption czar an invaluable counsel that could boost his ostensible bid to save Nigeria from corruption. That might also strike fear into a few corrupt figures in high places. In the meantime, Nigeria’s future success is increasingly less certain as its self-serving elites pay lip-service to anti-corruption whilst immune from popular pressure.
* Dr. Ola Oladiran Ola Bello, holds MPhil and PhD degrees from Cambridge University and is the Executive Director of Good Governance Africa Nigeria (GGA). @drolabello. Copyright©2018 GGA Nigeria. All rights reserved. Click here to download
- State governments should be deprived of the constitutional powers to unilaterally dissolve elected council officials, divert council revenues and/or illegally deduct funds meant for local councils.
- Implement a 3-tier governance model that is properly backed with unambiguous laws to ensure non-interference but cooperation and collaboration between the various levels.
- Explore the earlier practiced regional system, perhaps with a little tweak in its structure and operations, and make it relevant to the current context.
- Frame local government actions in terms of the public choice theory to stimulate more experimentation, true competition, innovation and better citizens’ participation and inclusion.
- Make the conditions of service for local councils employees more attractive and at par with those at the state level so that councils can attract top professionals and not be seen as mere administrative out-posts of the state civil service.
- Replicate the anti-corruption bodies that exist at the federal and state levels within local governments to entrench accountability and strengthen anti-graft efforts at the local levels.
Nigeria has six geopolitical zones with a total of 774 local government areas (LGAs). Contrary to what obtains in most federal system, Nigeria’s 774 LGAs are listed in the Nigerian 1999 constitution. This renders the state governments powerless to abolish or create new ones without recourse to the National Assembly. The local government in a majority of contexts exists as the lowest tier of governments that act within powers delegated to it constitutionally or by directives of a higher level of government. It is meant to set the agenda and direction for growth and development in its municipality through the long-term planning and effective use of resources to benefit citizens. The LGAs are constitutionally responsible for deciding the needs of the community and providing services such as primary health care, waste disposal, creation and maintenance of markets, park lands and other recreational sites, etc.
Whereas the lines of authority and roles for the three tiers of government are clear, in practice, the local government has over the years been dominated by the state government. This has rendered it ineffective in discharging its constitutional roles. As far back as 1966, following the first military coup, all local government councils were abolished and sole administrators were appointed. This laid the foundation for the perennial interference in the affairs of local government by higher levels of government. The autocratic position of sole administratorship, which was introduced to local governance by the military, did not allow for participation by the people. Consultations and the building of consensus were jettisoned and local autonomy was systematically eroded.igeria has six geopolitical zones with a total of 774 local government areas (LGAs). Contrary to what obtains in most federal system, Nigeria’s 774 LGAs are listed in the Nigerian 1999 constitution. This renders the state governments powerless to abolish or create new ones without recourse to the National Assembly. The local government in a majority of contexts exists as the lowest tier of governments that act within powers delegated to it constitutionally or by directives of a higher level of government. It is meant to set the agenda and direction for growth and development in its municipality through the long-term planning and effective use of resources to benefit citizens. The LGAs are constitutionally responsible for deciding the needs of the community and providing services such as primary health care, waste disposal, creation and maintenance of markets, park lands and other recreational sites, etc.
The local government system has witnessed various “reforms” under the four civilian republics: First republic (1960-66), Second Republic (1979-83), Third Republic (1990-92) and the Fourth republic (1999 till date). After the Nigerian civil war (1967-70), major reforms of the local government system in Nigeria were carried out and mostly in an undemocratic fashion. For example, according to one of the military-imposed guidelines, 25 percent of members of the council were to be nominated by the state military governor. In addition, the election of the chairman of the council was subject to ratification by the state military governor. In spite of the aforesaid, the 1976 reforms remained arguably the most impactful in the history of local government reforms. The federal military government saw the need to stabilize and rationalize local governance and developed a uniform local government model for the whole country.
Decentralization was inevitable in the wake of the reforms as some significant functions of state governments were devolved to local councils to harness local resources for development. As the third tier of government, the local administrations received statutory grants from federal and state governments, and is expected to serve as development agent especially in rural areas. The federal and state governments made efforts at other reforms targeted at making development planning and service delivery more responsive to local needs. Such reforms improved participation of citizens at the grass-roots and the cultivation of local leadership. This also enabled a two-way channel of communication between local communities and government at both state and federal levels.
With the passage of time, successive governments have continued to introduce other reforms with wide-reaching impact on the local government system. Some of the tweaks served to weaken the system. For example, section 7 of the 1979 constitution provided for a democratically elected local government councils, but this constitutional provision was neglected by the Shehu Shagari regime (1979-1983). Elections were not held, with sole administrators instead being appointed.
Likewise, between 1983 and 1984, the Muhammadu Buhari military regime continued with the system of appointing sole administrators. For the Ibrahim Babangida regime (1985-1993), enhancing the autonomy of the local government took centre-stage. The Ministry of Local Government was abolished and the executive and legislative arms were established in local councils. Federal allocations were also paid directly to local government without passing through the state governments. The regime also increased local government statutory allocation from 15 percent to 20 percent.
The 1999 constitution limited the tenure of political office holders at federal and state levels to four years. It did not make provisions for the tenure of local government office holders. The constitution’s concurrent legislative list gave the National Assembly the power to make laws “with respect to the registration of voters and the procedure regulating elections to a local government council.” The same constitution empowered the State Houses of Assembly to make “laws with respect to election to a local government council”. These contradictions are often exploited at will to circumscribe the local government system.
The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria does not in any section provide for reform procedures in the local government structure. The implication of this is that any move toward reform must proceed in the form of a National Assembly bill. In his book, Politics and Administration in Nigeria, Prof Ladipo Adamolekun, observed that “the intergovernmental relations between the Federal, state and local government has been characterized by both co-operation and conflict; but it is conflict that has predominated State-local Government relation”. He averred further that: “some state governments have been known to hijack and divert Federal government’s allocation to local governments. This conflictual relationship often put (sic) a seal on development at the local level as the councils become a battle ground for political gladiators”.
The States vs LGAs
In 2003, the forum of the 36 state governors in order to gain total control of the local councils in their respective states sought a constitutional amendment empowering governors to appoint council chairmen and councillors. This desire later led to the setting up of a technical committee on the review of the structure of local government councils in Nigeria. A traditional ruler, Alhaji Umaru Sanda Ndayako (the Etsu of Nupe), was appointed chairman of the committee. Other members of the committee were drawn from the six geopolitical zones, the Senate, the House of Representatives and women and youth groups. The committee was mandated to examine the problem of inefficiency and high cost of governance with a view to reducing the costs and waste at the three tiers of government. It also reviewed the performance of local governments between the year 1999 and 2002 and considered the desirability or otherwise of retaining the local government as the third tier of government. It was also mandated to consider, among other options, the adoption of a modified version of the pre-1976 local government system; examine the high cost of electioneering campaign in the country and consider among other options, whether political parties, rather than individual office seekers, should canvass for votes in elections. It was to consider also other matters which in the opinion of the technical committee are germane to the goal of efficient governance structure in Nigeria.
Reform was undoubtedly needed in the areas identified. However, it was not the big issue at the local level. In the analysis of the terms of reference given to the committee, the problems were not unique to local government. In simple terms, the conquering of the third tier of government by the governors was the ultimate aim. Curiously, a traditional ruler headed the committee which was deemed a potential conflict of interest. Unrestrained exercise of powers by traditional rulers and the appointment of officials were the main features of the pre-1976 model being canvassed for by the governors. This runs contrary to the promotion of participation of ordinary citizens in local governance.
The challenges of poor financing and limited revenue, limited autonomy, poor political leadership, lack of basic social amenities such as electricity, transport and telecommunication facilities have hobbled governance at the grassroots. In addition to these is the inexperienced and unqualified personnel, corruption and misappropriation of funds, lack of accountability and transparency, lack of local plans and weak programming capacity. Also, political instability and deficient good governance models have all compounded the effective running of local governments. These are challenges holding down the system, which need to be resolved in order to revitalize it for effective service delivery.
Respite on the way?
The most recent attempt at local government reform was made by the 8th National Assembly. The Fourth Alteration Bill, No. 6, 2017, aimed at strengthening local government administration in Nigeria by guaranteeing its democratic existence, funding, and tenure of local councils. The reform moves by the 8th assembly is not unconnected with the failure to observe the principle of separation of powers between the state and the local government. The role of the National Assembly in this matter is clearly stated in section 7 (6) (a) of the constitution which urges the National Assembly to “make provisions for statutory allocation of public revenue to local councils of the federation”. This perhaps is the most audacious attempt to revive and make relevant the local governments. The bill, once passed into law and effectively implemented, will allow the local government to live up to its roles as enshrined in the amended 1999 constitution. It becomes mandatory that the federal and state governments abide by the constitutional provision for the political and economic autonomy of the local government.
The debate on the functionality of our federal system should be on the front burners in the context of which tier of government is closest to the masses to ensure maximum efficiency. Constitutionally, Nigeria has 3 tiers of government but in practise, two – the federal and the state have domineering powers. Working in collaboration, the federal and state governments increasingly take more power and roles in the concurrent list in addition to the federal government’s own exclusive list. The two thereby leave little or no breathing space for the local government. At present, many local governments are merely provided funds with which to pay salaries with very little substantive governance at that level.
Revitalising the local government system
The challenges above are cogs in the wheels of the efficient running of local government in Nigeria. Experts have lent their voices to the fact that the local government as a third tier of government should not be scrapped or reduced to a mere state appendage. Rather, it should be strengthened and democratized as envisioned in the constitution. It is pertinent to ensure that its officials are always elected and not appointed or selected. It must be seen as the bedrock of citizens’ participation in governance.
While interference from the federal government has been very minimal, the state governments have consistently encroached on the exclusive powers of the local government council. This interference and overbearing attitude of the state government is condoned within the sphere of contradictory rules, financial oversight and supervisory powers granted by the constitution. The lopsided intergovernmental relationships that exist between the states and local government councils is rarely seen in the federal-state relationship except in extreme conflict situations like the stand-off between Lagos State and the Federal government in 2003 over the creation of additional local councils in the state. In order to revitalize the local government system, it is imperative that state governments be deprived of the powers to unilaterally dissolve elected councils, divert their revenues and/or illegally deduct local council funds. This will boost stability and professionalism in the administration of the councils and enhance service delivery. As with the other levels of government, there is a need to put in place mechanism to promote transparency and accountability at the local level too. Pursuant to this, it will be crucial to strengthen the existing institutions of accountability within the councils and localize other anti-graft bodies that exit at the federal and state levels.
Time to act
The time may be ripe to try out a modified models that will impact at the local level with more devolution of powers. It may be worthwhile to explore the earlier practiced regional system, perhaps with a little tweak to make it relevant to the current context. This will drastically reduce the clamour to grab power at the centre. If more resources corresponding to the devolved powers are made available to the local councils, it will hopefully attract credible individuals with the right skills to the local level. It is also a way of ensuring that those who go to the centre as representatives have been locally tested, especially with regards to trust and accountability in the management of funds.
The local councils should not be seen as a dumping ground for unqualified and unskilled individuals nor be used as ‘reward’ to party and political allies. Rather, the training and equipping of the manpower should be taken serious.
There should be a deliberate attempt to introduce fresh and dynamic experts into local administration by providing the enabling environment that will attract such individuals. The conditions of service for local government council employees should be made attractive and at par with those at the state level. This will raise the stakes for the councils as a political institution and service provider at the local level. Being seen heretofore as administrative out-posts or appendages of the state civil service has not helped. The bold path to putting life back into the local government system is to follow the public choice theory. This advocates placing governmental actions and expenditures at the lowest possible levels of government. The idea is that the local government would provide more experimentation, true competition and innovation. Citizens at the local level could have better access to appropriate information with which they could process. For example, they can readily compare the levels of taxation to the quality of services they received. Thus, they could then reject inefficient or unresponsive governments by exercising their voting rights on budgets, voting out wasteful spenders or even moving elsewhere or not moving into the local area at all. In essence this encourages better participation and inclusion of the citizens. Likewise, the citizens must be organized at the local level through civil society actions where they can be empowered to hold elected officials accountable.
Implementing a new three-tier model properly backed up with unambiguous laws to ensure non-interference but cooperation and collaboration will put governance at the local level back on its feet. With adequate access to resources, local governments can also speed up development across the nation. The various laws from which the federal government draws its powers to control the finances of local governments would need to be reviewed and all the clauses that have hampered local government administrators removed. This will create a breathing space for local councils to function and drive rapid and meaningful development at the grassroots. It must be understood that ineffectiveness and inefficiency at the local level will eventually lead to pressure, economic and political, on the state and federal levels.
*’Fisayo Alo is a Senior Researcher at Good Governance Africa Nigeria Centre. Copyright©2018 NGI Vol 3, No 4. GGA Nigeria. All rights reserved. Click here to download