Being speech by Atiku Abubakar, GCON, former Vice President, Federal
Republic of Nigeria, at the 2nd Annual Convention of the Abia State
Medical Association Alumni Association, UK, held at Doubletree by
Hilton Hotel, Dartford, London. 30 April, 2017.
If you are like me you would have sat around fellow Nigerians as they
discuss the many challenges facing the country and the many ways they
think those challenges can be met. And you likely participated in some
of those discussions. After listening and analyzing the litany of
challenges, one often hears the discussants bemoan the lack of
leadership/good governance or corruption or both as the key missing
ingredients in Nigeria’s quest for greatness. Sometimes people blame
ethnic groups other than their own as the cause of the
under-performance of our governments.
Often people reach these conclusions when they realize that other key
ingredients for a nation’s greatness, such as human and material
resources, have been available. And for those of you who have had the
privilege of living in better organized and better-led countries, this
single realization must be particularly jarring because unlike your
compatriots at home you have actually experienced alternative ways of
governing a society and the more positive outcomes from them.
So when the organizers of this event asked me to speak on good
governance, I quickly understood where they are coming from, even if I
am not entirely sure of all that is expected of me in this
presentation. Be that as it may, I have decided to speak on good
governance and development with particular reference to Nigeria.
What is good governance and what does it mean in today’s Nigeria? How
can it help Nigeria overcome its challenges?
Good governance, in a democratic setting, would mean that the
government effectively and efficiently delivers on its constitutional
duties and promises to the electorate in a fair and equitable manner.
It also includes meeting other challenges that emerge in the society
during the government’s tenure. And it includes government being
accountable to the people and recognizing the people’s right to know.
Good governance is a requirement for a country’s development which, to
me, means improving the society’s productive capacity, improving the
people’s welfare and enhancing their freedoms.
In contemporary Nigeria, good governance would involve addressing the
country’s economic stagnation and crisis, including transitioning the
economy to a post-oil/commodities trajectory, ensuring security,
fighting corruption and restructuring the polity, including the
structure of the federation and government institutions.
In a democracy, a vibrant and constructive opposition, including
opposition political parties and independent news media, are critical
in ensuring good governance because they help to inform and mobilize
the citizens and hold the government to account. And above all,
perhaps, good governance requires a vigilant and demanding electorate.
Good Governance and Nigerian Development
I think it has been very difficult to realize good governance in
Nigeria due to a number of structural, historical and socio-cultural
factors. But human actors are largely responsible for the current
state of affairs. A brief excursion into Nigeria’s history will help.
As we marched towards political independence our leaders chose a
federal system of government with three powerful regions and a central
government. They also adopted a revenue sharing formula that allowed
the regions to retain 50% of revenues generated in their
jurisdictions. These regional governments, relying mostly on taxation
of agricultural produce, built good schools, hospitals, roads, and
power plants. The University of Nigeria, Nsukka, the Obafemi Awolowo
University and the Ahmadu Bello University were established by the
governments of Eastern, Western and Northern regions respectively and
were centres of excellence.
In addition, security was a shared responsibility between the federal
government and the constituent regions, with the latter having their
own police forces. While governance was not perfect, the quality was
clearly good. Officials largely abided by rules and regulations and
followed due process in the conduct of public affairs.
However, with military rule beginning in 1966 and a civil war, coupled
with the rising importance of crude oil rent in government revenues,
our leaders centralized more power and concentrated more resources at
the federal level at the expense of the regions which were then split
into twelve states. The states have been further split to reach the
current 36 weak and mostly unviable states, with the associated
multiplication of running administrative and other costs. Military
rule for most of that period led to the virtual abandonment of rules
and regulations and due process in the planning and implementation of
The economic front saw the shift away from agriculture as the main
source of government revenues to oil rents. Here was a paradox. The
sector that employed the vast majority of our people became largely
neglected in terms of formal investment and as a source of government
revenues while the oil sector that operates as an enclave and
employing only a few, became embraced.
The consequences have been huge, including the disconnect between
government revenues and the economic activities of most of the
population; dependency on rent from a single commodity and neglect of
other sources of revenues, wealth without work, dependency of the
federating states on revenue allocations from the centre; dependency
of people on government largesse; huge unproductive bureaucracies at
the federal level and in 36 states, disregard for rules and
regulations, corruption and lack of accountability by government
Others include the high premium on political power as it is the
biggest source of patronage. We currently have broken infrastructure
all over the country, high unemployment rate, unacceptably high
poverty rate of up to 60%, over 10 million school-age children out of
school and human development indices such infant and maternal
mortality and life expectancy among the worst in the world.
What Should be Done?
As the old saying goes, nothing good comes easy. So it is with good
governance. Good governance will require a plan, not just for managing
day-day governance issues but to address emerging and anticipated
future challenges. The goals of good governance, after all, are
people’s security and welfare and the smooth functioning of society.
In Nigeria’s case what we do must include:
1. Going back to basics. We need to restore due process and respect
for government procedures rules and regulations. And we need to
enforce sanctions for their disregard. We really need to go back to
the basics of what makes for an orderly and smooth functioning
2. Good governance requires proper coordination of the organs of
government. You cannot have different agencies of the same government
working at cross-purposes or contradicting each other on very
important policy issues, and personnel selection.
3. We must address Nigeria’s economic stagnation/crisis. This will
include economic reform and modernization which privileges the private
sector as the engine of growth and employment generation. We must
continue to diversify our economy away from the excessive reliance on
oil, continue the privatization policy began more than a decade ago
and try to align monetary and fiscal policies for much needed
coherence, predictability and stability in order to attract
4. Good governance in Nigeria will include a relentless effort to curb
corruption in public life. And this should not be merely dealing with
corruption after the fact. Perhaps more important are efforts to
prevent corruption from taking place, especially through the removal
of opportunities for corruption and imposing strong sanctions for the
corrupt. Such efforts should also include ensuring the independence of
the anti-corruption agencies through such measures as funding them
through the first line charge in the consolidated revenue fund and
having them report to the parliament.
5. We also have to improve security, including anti-terrorism,
anti-kidnapping and anti-armed robbery, and efforts to end the
herdsmen-farmers clashes. Fortunately, progress has been made in the
fight against the Boko Haram insurgency by the Buhari administration,
but we need to also make progress on the others. All these security
issues are broadly linked to economic challenges, and improvements in
the latter will help in that regard.
6. To improve good governance in Nigeria we also need to restructure
the country’s federal system. This include fiscal federalism,
devolution of powers to federating units and the restoration of state
police to states that so desire. We might consider using the current
geo-political zones as federating units since they are large enough to
be more viable or we may consider a means-test for viability of states
such that existing states that are unable to generate a specified
percentage of their revenues from internal sources will be collapsed
into other states. This will encourage the federating units to once
more engage in productive activities and healthy rivalries.
7. On the whole, good leadership is critical for good governance. This
will involve leadership by example, a leadership that steers the
country in a clear direction, is competent; has integrity and
credibility; and is perceived as fair to all segments of the
8. Effective opposition is critical for the maintenance of good
governance and the deepening of democracy, which in turn, helps in the
maintenance of good governance.
9. Good governance will also require a vibrant and independent media.
Nigeria has done reasonably well in this regard. But threats to the
independence and vibrancy of the media do not always come from
government. Media organizations that rely almost exclusively on
government advertising patronage do not meet the standard of
independent media. So is “cash-and-carry journalism,” which some media
organizations unwittingly encourage through poor remuneration of their
reporters and other editorial staff.
I need to stress that these steps will not automatically take place.
People, organized as a collective force, must demand these changes,
deploy their democratic rights to select leaders who they believe will
meet their aspirations, protect and defend their freedoms and hold
their elected servants and governments to account.
I thank the organizers of this event, Nigerians in Diaspora in Europe,
for inviting me and giving me this opportunity to share ideas with
Thank you for your attention.
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