Measuring Governance in Africa

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By Chukwuma Charles Soludo

Nigeria operates a peculiar kind of federation (unitary federalism) with overwhelming concentration of powers on the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN). Its fiscal federalism is also peculiar, with about 50% of the Federation Account shared among the 36 states and 774 local governments, and each armed with constitutional powers to spend without supervision by, or accountability to the federal government. Yes, the FGN has control over monetary, financial and exchange rate policies, taxation, external trade and finance, wage policy, and a monopoly of internal and external security. But the size, composition and quality of public sector spending still exert the greatest impacts on the economy and the welfare of citizens.
Thus, given the enormous spending powers of the other tiers of government, it means that if they do not “perform”, efforts at the federal level to improve the welfare of citizens could amount to clapping with one hand. If the local governments create prosperity at the local communities, the huge rural-urban migration and the frightening urban youth unemployment could be averted. But in over 20 states, there are no elected local governments, and the state governments also run the councils. Unfortunately, all eyes focus on the FGN and the states escape intense scrutiny.

How do we know if the states are ‘performing’ or not? We are constantly inundated with self-advertisements and propaganda by various states on what they term “unprecedented” accomplishments. Of course every new public office holder usually starts off by painting a gory picture of what he or she ‘met’ on assumption of office. Everyone starts by announcing that “nothing had been done until I arrived”. His successor also starts by stating that he only met rot and ruin, and been busy cleaning the ‘mess’, and the circus continues.
The Good Governance Tours organised by the Minister of Information has gone round some states to “see” what was on ground, while the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) has instituted States Peer Review Mechanism (SPRM) to evaluate performance and share experiences. Almost every media house or NGO now has one award or another for ‘best performing’ governors. But what exactly do they measure?

At the international level, the first effort to codify and universalise the concept of good governance was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly (December 10, 1948 at Palais de Chaillot, Paris). UDHR consists of 30 articles which have been elaborated in subsequent international treaties, regional human rights instruments, national constitutions, and laws. More particularly, the International Bill of Human Rights which took on the force of international law since 1976 consists of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its two Optional Protocols.
Since then, the discussion and debate relating to governance found some common anchor, albeit that the communist countries and some Islamic states challenged some aspects of the Bill of Rights. In spite of these, the apparent legitimacy and colouration of ‘international best practice’ given to the UDHR and its Bill of Rights have changed the global discourse on governance and given us some universal benchmarks against which to compare performance of governments across time and space.

Chapter Two of the Nigerian Constitution on the “Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy” is Nigeria’s adaptation of the UDHR, its Bill of Rights, and Covenants. King Hussein I had once argued that “the quality of life of the individual citizen is the ultimate yardstick by which to measure the success of any government”. Chapter Two of our constitution agrees, and states that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”. It goes on to make extensive provisions on what should constitute the contract between Nigerian citizens and their governments. Sometimes I wonder how many public office holders have studied Chapter Two of our constitution. Ideally, the manifestoes of the political parties and the programmes of respective governments should spell out HOW they would actualise the blueprint for good governance as detailed in Chapter Two.

Defining or even measuring the constituent elements of the “quality of life” or “security and welfare” of the individual citizen can be subjective. Most people would however agree that the ‘quality of life’ would encapsulate a person’s spiritual, physical, social, and economic wellbeing. The Bill of Rights guarantees the individual liberties, freedoms, as well as voice and participation in how he is governed. Socialist countries or dictatorships largely ignore these universal (metaphysical) aspects of the human person and focus almost exclusively on his material wellbeing.
After all, according to this school of thought, what do liberties, freedoms, and democracy mean to a hungry person? But as we have seen from the violent protests in the Arab world and other repressive regimes in recent years, people need more than food on the table. For societies like ours where the private sector drives wealth creation while the government is the enabler or promoter, the importance of the Bill of Rights, rule of law, freedoms, voice and participation is decisive for sustainable prosperity. Unfortunately, some state governments run their fiefdoms as emperors, stifling opposition and run the elite out of town with thugs and threat to life. In those states with high insecurity, you can tar all the roads, provide the infrastructure, and have a thousand pages to advertise “dividends of democracy” and yet private businesses are on the run and poverty is on the rise.

The World Bank has recently produced its worldwide governance indicators summarised in three broad categories as follows: (1) The process by which those in authority are selected and replaced (voice & accountability; political stability & absence of violence); (2) The capacity of government to formulate and implement policies (government effectiveness; and regulatory quality); and (3) The respect of citizens and state for institutions that govern interactions among them (rule of law; control of corruption). In attempting to produce quantitative indicators of governance quality, each of the six sub-categories is further explained by several variables. Evidently, the three broad categories encompass political participation, accountability and security of life and property; the capacity of government to deliver services to the people and business; and the capacity of institutions to restrain excesses and enforce contract.
How many states will measure high on the basis of the above criteria? Check out the conduct of local government elections even in the few states that allow elections to hold. Check out the quality of institutions especially whereby the governor in most states is the chief procurement officer, and literally the sole approving authority for all matters pertaining to money. Commissioners are mere advisers without executive powers. Don’t ask about due process or value-for-money audits. The parliament is mostly co-opted and embedded within the Executive, and the governor acts as a sole administrator.
A major missing link is the absence of robust framework for measurement of performance among Nigerian states. The pioneering attempt to provide comparative state-level quantitative indicators of sound economic governance is the Business Environment and Competitiveness among Nigerian States (BECANS) produced by the African Institute for Applied Economics (AIAE), Enugu (now The African Heritage Institution). Its indicators can be grouped into five clusters: business environment index; infrastructure and utilities; regulatory services; business development support and investment promotion; and security. The data on the performance of the states over time are very revealing. Ideally, the states that score highly on good governance indicators ought to score highly on improvements in the living standards of the citizens. But do they? I am not sure the states pay any attention to the standards of living. If they do, I have not seen the numbers.

Self-evaluations of governance are done by states in terms of artefacts and intermediate inputs. Governments dole out statistics on the amount of budgetary allocations to specific sectors and programmes (without any sense of the value-for-money in the spending); kilometres of roads tarred even if most don’t survive two rainy seasons; number of chairs donated to schools or number of hospitals and schools built; etc.  There is competition among the states as to which one would outshine the others in terms of the propaganda on performance. Pages of newspapers show bungalows and buildings, bridges, roads, etc as the ‘dividends of democracy’. Some even advertise on the CNN. My guess is that the expenditure of many states on performance propaganda, including paid live TV events could exceed their expenditures on ensuring security for the citizens of their states.

Tragically, performance evaluation has become show biz. No mention is made of the final outcomes in terms of impacts on the “quality of life” of citizens. We have no information on the number of new jobs created by the private sector; what is happening to per capita income, incidence of poverty; what percentage of the citizens now have access to adequate health facilities and how is the average life expectancy improving; impact of educational spending on student grades (especially in Maths and, Science); etc.
How many states have baseline data on key performance indicators at the start of the regime and periodically publish progress or retrogression? For example, what percentage of secondary school students obtained five credits including English and Maths in the SSCE before you took over, and what are the annual percentages since you came in? What was the rate of youth unemployment in your state when you took over and what is it now? What was the statistics on number of armed robbery or kidnapping before you took over and what are they now? I have not heard any state governor beat his chest about how drastically his regime has reduced the incidence of poverty or rate of unemployment in his state. But these are the ultimate measures of performance.

In democracies with informed citizenry, no government has been re-elected if these two key indicators worsen dramatically, irrespective of any progress on physical development. If the recent statistics from the National Bureau of Statistics on state-by-state poverty incidence are correct, then even the states with the most loquacious propaganda machinery on performance should look themselves again in the mirror. What I find most amusing is that ‘performances’ are flaunted without stating costs.
Most state governments actually have more than three to four times the resources available to their counterparts in 1999- 2007, even adjusting for inflation. Do they have 3-4 times their performance even in terms of infrastructure? Also, we compare states with very poor allocations with others that have four times their resources. We sometimes compare apples with oranges.

We understand the political pressures on state governors with short, four-year electoral cycles and a largely poor population to concentrate governance on what the people can “see”. Governance is about here and now. Only very few governors focus on long-term sustainable development or projects whose impacts would take time to manifest. Everyone wants to launch “his own” programmes which the people can ‘see’ and attribute to him. Continuity of projects embarked upon by previous regimes is rare.
Dead assets or abandoned projects adorn most states. We can’t go on this way. If performance is solely about physical projects that we can see, then only states with huge resources (Lagos, and the oil-producing states) will be star performers. But if jobs, security, poverty incidence, life expectancy, quality of institutions, citizen participation, etc become the ultimate measures, a new governance framework will emerge and finally a consolidated national development will begin.

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