Nigeria has been faced with the challenge of effectively utilising its resources to support equitable economic growth, effective service delivery and social cohesion. One of the major driving forces for the development blockade is lack of openness, transparency and accountability in governance. Therefore, if government and citizens embrace open government principles in a tailored stakeholder engagement, then the blockades will be dealt with and reform will take place that will lead ultimately to effective policy, effective budget and effective implementation. The move by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to join the Open Government Partnership is therefore a commendable one.
The Open Government Partnership was launched on September 20, 2011 to provide an international platform for domestic reformers to make their governments more open, accountable and responsive to citizens.
The partnership is governed by four key principles:
Transparency: Information on government activities and decisions is open, comprehensive, timely and freely available to the public, and meets basic open data standards.
Accountability: Rules, regulations, and mechanisms are in place that call upon government actors to justify their actions, act upon criticisms or requirements made of them and accept responsibility for failure to perform.
Citizen participation: Governments seek to mobilise citizens to engage in public debate, provide input, and make contributions that lead to more responsive and effective governance.
Technology and innovation: Governments embrace the importance of new technologies in driving innovation, providing citizens with open access to technology, and increasing their capacity to use technology.
The Buhari administration is committed to three top priorities of security, economy and fighting corruption. In its effort at fighting corruption, Buhari made a commitment at the London Anti-Corruption Summit on May 12, 2016 in three overarching areas:
Nigeria then started the process of producing a National Action Plan.
Nigeria OGP National Action Plan contains 14 commitments spread around four thematic areas:
1 Ensure more effective citizens’ participation across the entire budget cycle.
2 Full implementation of Open Contracting and adoption of Open Contracting Data Standards in the public sector.
3 Work together with all stakeholders to enhance transparency in the extractive sector through a concrete set of disclosures related to payments by companies and receipts by governments on all transactions across the sector’s value chain.
4 Adopt common reporting standards and the Addis Tax initiative aimed at improving the fairness, transparency, efficiency and effectiveness of the tax system.
5 Improve the ease of doing business and Nigeria’s ranking on the World Bank Doing Business Index.
6 Establish a public register of Beneficial Owners of Companies,
7 Establish a platform for sharing information among Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs), Anti-Corruption Agencies (ACAs), National Security Adviser (NSA) and financial sector regulators to detect, prevent and disrupt corrupt practices.
8 Strengthen Nigeria’s asset recovery legislation including non-conviction based confiscation powers and the introduction of unexplained wealth orders.
9 Take appropriate actions to co-ordinate anti-corruption activities; improve integrity and transparency and accountability.
Access to information
10 Improved compliance of public institutions with the Freedom of Information Act in respect of the annual reporting obligations by public institutions and level of responses to requests.
11 Improved compliance of public institutions with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) with respect to the Proactive disclosure provisions and stipulating mandatory publication requirements.
12 Develop a Permanent Dialogue Mechanism on transparency, accountability and good governance between citizens and government to facilitate a culture of openness.
13 Government-civil society to jointly review existing legislations on transparency and accountability issues and make recommendations to the National Assembly.
14 Adopt a technology-based citizens’ feedback on projects and programs across transparency
The four key areas of open government are transparency (open data); accountability (responsive government), citizen participation and the use of technology. Research and experience show that the programmes to achieve open government principles must be carefully planned and implemented otherwise the required results will not be achieved. First and foremost, it is important to focus on both tactical and strategic approaches. Tactical approaches are bounded, localised and information led while strategic approaches bolster enabling environment for collective action, scale up citizen engagement beyond the local arena and attempt to bolster governmental capacity to respond to voice.1
Secondly, open data should be made in a way that it is accessible to a good number of citizens who can use the information to make demand on the government. It has been pointed out that in some cases, the most likely immediate beneficiaries of open data are those with the most resources to make effective use of data.2 Thirdly, it is important to point out that the responsiveness of the government to the use of data by citizens is crucial to make open governance meaningful. Scholars are in agreement that Open Government Initiatives should ensure that there are more processes and relationships focused endeavours that aim to transform governance systems and behaviours by opening them up to a wider range of participants contesting and reconfiguring power dynamics.3 In this regard, the responsiveness of government depends to a large extent on willingness and capacity. Fourthly, citizen participation can make all the difference in Open Government Partnership.
Technology is key to driving Open Government Partnership especially because it can help a lot in eliminating discretion and prevent corruption.
Nigerian government and citizens need to do everything possible to ensure effective implementation of the Nigeria OGP National Action Plan. In order to do this, the following are key:
Change in orientation, approach and mindset: In order to implement the OGP principles and action plan in Nigeria, the Nigerian government and people must change their orientation, approach and mindset about governance and development. In the first one and a half years of the PMB administration, citizens and civil society did not participate actively in the governance process. Up till this moment, the President has no adviser on civil society.
The government announced that there is a committee preparing medium term and long term development strategy but there is no civil society or private sector participation. The economic team has no civil society or private sector participation. The Police Service Commission has no civil society representation. The President has not held any meeting with civil society since he assumed office. All of these are against the principles of Open Government Partnership. Operationalisation of the plan: The co-ordination secretariat and civil society need to quickly work together to operationalise the plan. The plan is already fairly detailed with the lead Ministry, Department and Agency (MDA), responsible persons, other actors involved in implementation, specific activities/milestones, source of funding, performance indicators and expected outcome. There is the need for a detailed operating plan.
Capacity building to implement the plan: There is the need to build capacity and support the co-ordinating secretariat, relevant MDAs as well as citizens groups to implement the OGP National Action Plan effectively and efficiently.
Engagement with citizens: Citizens engagement will be the difference marker for the success of OGP in Nigeria. Citizens and citizens groups need to advocate and campaign for adherence to the principles of Open Government Partnership that the government has voluntarily signed.
There is the need to immediately start the process of implementation with active involvement of citizens and civil society organisations.
• Dr. Igbuzor is executive director, African Centre for Leadership, Strategy & Development (Centre LSD), Abuja.