Is Nigeria in a position to lead a sub-Saharan African renaissance? It was the world’s fourth-fastest growing economy between 2001 and 2010, but sustainable development is threatened by a dysfunctional state, Boko Haram’s violent Islamist insurgency in the North and “the number one structural issue” – corruption.
“Boko Haram’s increasing coordinated attacks reveal an insurgency group growing in confidence, sophistication, and ambition,” writes Oge Onubogu, West Africa Program Officer at the National Endowment for Democracy, who recently travelled to northern Nigeria:
It has evolved into a major security threat and the Jonathan administration will have to work twice as hard to restore faith in his government amid widespread criticism that not much has been done to identify and solve the root causes of the problem, or to prosecute individuals in the government alleged of being sympathetic to the group’s cause.
There is no military solution to the insurgency, as President Goodluck Jonathan’s government has recognized by proposing dialog to address the region’s underlying grievances. But the authorities should also engage the North’s vibrant and insightful civil society groups, she writes in ThinkAfricaPress:
Boko Haram might have a sizeable following, but it does not enjoy large public support especially in the north. There is a growing number of young men and women in civil society and the legal profession across northern Nigeria – many of whom I met with in Kano about two weeks ago – who courageously promote respect for human rights and government accountability in their respective states. They engage in civic education activities, conduct town hall meetings, voluntarily organise themselves as peer educators, and have established youth networks to interface with their local councils and state legislatures. Their approach targets youth at the grassroots who are most vulnerable to social vices and political manipulation, and those who are tech-savvy continue their advocacy online through social networking sites. These young men and women understand the region and the issues that drive youth into joining groups like Boko Haram.
“Resolving immediate security challenges will provide a much needed short-term solution,” Onubogu concludes.
“However, the government must ask itself if it has a well-thought out strategy for combating the root causes of these recurring violent trends that are premised on corruption and a growing sense of injustice,” she writes. “It is increasingly evident that security cannot prevail in Nigeria until corruption is effectively addressed, and a concise strategy for strengthening institutions is put in place.”
Boko Haram and the recent fuel protests are evidence of the problems holding Nigeria back…
But the number one structural issue, and a contributing factor to every other woe from poverty to the unreliable electricity supply, is what Muhammad Jameel Yusha’u, senior lecturer in media and politics at Northumbria University, calls “the C-word”: corruption.
In the latest case, a court today “dropped fraud charges against one of Nigeria’s most powerful politicians, former House of Representatives speaker Dimeji Bankole,” the BBC reports:
Mr Bankole was arrested in June 2011 on allegations he misappropriated tens of millions of dollars of government funds – charges he has denied. ….Bankole is a close ally of President Goodluck Jonathan, who has promised to tackle corruption.
It is alleged that Mr Bankole secured a 10bn naira ($65m; £40m) loan, which was then shared out among senior figures in parliament as a pay rise.
In addition to such rank fraud, Nigeria’s poor governance also suffers from waste and abuse of public resources, says Emeka Ononamadu, executive director of the Citizens Centre for Integrated Development and Social Rights. Civil society can be a valuable resource in helping to reduce the cost of governance, he argues:
When governance is open and transparent, it results in better quality and cheaper cost. But …. everything about government is shrouded in secrecy and the place stinks with corruption. If a government is transparent, it attracts free services and standard or quality services at reduced costs.
For instance, many civil society organisations or non-government organisations are willing, or will be willing to offer pro bono services if a government is honest and sincere. With secrecy, you can see that a government loses a lot. With secrecy, it is easy to cheat, steal and lie. Fraud, waste and abuse will strive easily. Fraud, waste and abuse of public resources are the major contributors of high cost of governance.
Nigerian democracy has acquired sufficient maturity that citizens are more confident about demanding their rights and well-organized enough to do so, analysts suggest.
“Gone are the days when the population would be quiet. They will demand accountability,” says a Lagos-based observer.
Citizens Centre for Integrated Development and Social Rights is a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.