IDEAs 26th May 2023
The Buhari government’s IDEAs record: how should the incoming administration incorporate IDEAs?
Chuwudi Ezugwu introduced the guest – Mr. Joseph of BudgIT – with whom we would assess the outgoing administration as to its IDEAs record in relation to financing and budgeting. He handed over to Ayo Obe who said that Joseph Amenaghawon was the Strategy and Growth advisor of BudgIT, the famous NGO which had popularised the idea of making the nation’s finances comprehensible to ordinary people through infographics backed by deep deep research.
Ayo said that Joseph would – like Janus – be looking both back and forward. Without asking whether the economic policies have been successful or not, where did Joseph think that the outgoing administration had met up with the IDEAs issues of Integrity, Ethics and Accountability?
Joseph said that on the 19th of August 2020 the Federal Executive Council had approved the administration’s National Ethics and Integrity Policy. It has seven core values that are meant to advance the policy: human dignity, voice and participation, patriotism, personal responsibility, integrity and professionalism. Focusing on the issues of personal responsibility, integrity and professionalism, he said that if we consider whether the individuals who have been in power have done well in regard to those, it would be difficult to give them a pass mark. There had been failures in many areas, including on the part of those who were supposed to perform oversight functions. He confirmed that the policy applied to not just the executive, but also to the National Assembly – indeed, to everyone. It derived from existing laws in the country, including the Constitution, the ICPC Act and the National Orientation Act. The object was to revitalise the public and the private sectors while enhancing the qualities of Integrity and Ethics that could help tackle corruption in the country.
Ayo said that IDEAs got its name from Integrity, Democracy, Ethics and Accountability because it recognised that few people ever wanted to accept that their own conduct was problematic or corrupt, so it was encouraging to see that the Federal Government had a policy that emphasized the positive qualities. However, she asked, beyond having a policy and ideals that members of government should aspire to, what had been seen in terms of actual governance that had enhanced Integrity, Ethics and Accountability? She recalled that when the current administration came to power, it inherited things like the Treasury Single Account from the Goodluck Jonathan administration. There was also the Open Government policy with the portal accessible to the public. Had those worked? Was there something to build on?
Joseph said that we were very good at formulating new policies, but that the implementation of those policies was a continuing challenge for the country. For example, with regard to the question of oversight of major projects and seeing that the executive did its work properly, there had been instances where the National Assembly had failed to do its job. He agreed with Ayo that this was exemplified by the famous “Drop the mike” incident. He said that there was a huge responsibility on the elected officials to uphold the values outlined in the policy, but there had been gaps in its implementation, so it was important for the new administration to ensure that it was carried through including at sub-national level.
Ayo said that it was all very well to have policies and principles, but nobody was every going to come out openly and say that they didn’t subscribe to those principles. So what concrete things had been actually done? She recalled how former President Goodluck Jonathan had emphasised that technology should be used to defeat corruption. She said that the importance of transparency was that even if one was inclined to succumb, if the whole system was properly set up, one would have no option but to do the right thing, and it would be impossible to be corrupt. She asked Joseph whether there were some things that the outgoing administration had done on which the incoming one needed to build, or were there some areas where the outgoing administration had failed to act, which the incoming one would need to make a priority.
Joseph said that the major area that the incoming administration needed to address was engagement with the public, particularly around the issue of accumulating debt. There had not been sufficient engagement with the public with regard to taking of loans, and this had created a major trust deficit. At the tail end of the Buhari administration, we were witnessing major liabilities being taken on, with the National Assembly just giving approval. Our debt profile was being loaded up, and this would create a lot of challenges for the incoming administration as well as for ordinary Nigerians in future. He said that the incoming administration must engage with the public a lot more on these matters. For example, it was well known that the major issue of fuel subsidy would have to be dealt with. Such engagement would be an opportunity for the incoming administration to show that it had the interests of the public at heart.
In regard to debt, Ayo said that all we seem to hear is “The debt profile is rising”, but that when the National Assembly is asked to consider such matters, there was little relevant information, for example at what rate of interest was it being taken and what would be the burden on us. There also seemed to be a disconnect between borrowing money for infrastructure such as railways and trains, and the carelessness about ensuring that income expected from such infrastructure was collected, citing the way that tickets were only sold for cash, and how the income had skyrocketed once sales went online. This technology meant that there was no room to operate, even if one wanted to be a corrupt ticket clerk. She asked Joseph whether there were other areas like this where obvious and glaring loopholes could and ought to have been plugged, particularly when we know that we are supposed to repay our debt from the income from the projects for which we borrowed the money?
Joseph said that automation of payment systems and digitalizing payment processes was very important, as had been seen in the statement by the Minister of Transport in regard to railways. Another big issue that needed to be dealt with was oil theft, which had prevented us from being able to meet up with our OPEC-approved production quota. The incoming administration would need to deal with this because oil was a major source of foreign exchange. It should sit down with all stakeholders and get them involved.
Ayo said that that Joseph’s advice that the incoming administration should sit down with all stakeholders was interesting, because there had been congratulatory messages from some of the Niger Delta actors to the outgoing and the incoming administrations. What made it interesting was the background of theft from our pipelines, since when something is going wrong in such a way, there is bound to be a suspicion that somebody is benefiting from that chaos and disorder. What should the new government do to take it out of the realm of happenstance and chance?
Joseph said that Nigerians still had the ability to check the individuals benefiting from these thefts. It was important for the state to show that it was capable of prosecuting these individuals. People needed to see that those responsible could be prosecuted and brought to book for major economic theft, but that if those issues continued to be dragged, it would mean confirmation of the conspiracy theory that those involved were in government or under its protection, and the stealing would continue. So the incoming administration must demonstrate that it was fully prepared and could deal with issues of corruption, especially when it came to economic theft.
Ayo said that she supposed that this was why it is said that “Politics is the art of the possible”, because it was always a question of attempting to balance those interests, but that what Nigerians wanted to see was the balance shifting more to the side of the people and of transparency, so that our IDEAs principles of Integrity, Ethics and Accountability could be seen at work in our Democracy. What do you think the outgoing administration got right, and where do you think it has fallen short in regard to IDEAs issues? What should be the focus of the incoming administration? Why not post your vi