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Moving forward: A road to accountability?

Onno Ruhl's picture

In my previous blog post, I examined how the system of oil revenue distribution in Nigeria is likely to weaken accountability and the results focus at all levels of government. Some of my colleagues actually wanted me to be more forceful than I was and close the door on the argument. However, I did not want to do so, for having lived in Nigeria for almost three years now, I have observed signs of change.  



Let’s review some elements of this change:

A changing economy and developing middle class. Nigeria’s economy is roughly 80% non oil. The five years before 2009 the average growth rate of the non oil economy was almost 9%, whereas in 2009 it was 7.6%.  Projections are for continued strong non-oil growth. At the same time, the oil economy has been declining almost every year over the same period. A big part of the non oil growth has come from agriculture, but there is especially fast growth in more urban sectors like services, hospitality, construction, entertainment, finance, telecommunications and ICT. This growth is leading to the development of an urban middle class, especially in major centers like Lagos. My sense is that once the economic weight of the middle class is higher than that of the traditional elite that depends on oil money for its wealth, we can expect to see major change in society and different governance results. Some might say this phenomenon is already visible in Lagos today.

Non oil revenues: Manna from below? Many states in Nigeria experienced a painful 2009, when oil revenues dropped rapidly, leading to smaller allocations from Abuja and significant fiscal stress at the state level. Part of this has been relieved by withdrawals from Nigeria’s excess crude account, a buffer designed just for that purpose, but a buffer with an end.   At the same time, Lagos State had much higher internally generated revenues already and managed to keep growing those revenues. Lagos actually continued to show strong progress in infrastructure and service delivery in 2009. Many state governments now push to raise their own revenues using innovative mechanisms including TV spots using a Nigerian football star. Internal revenues are the opposite of oil revenues: they come from below and are paid by the same people who need services. These people are starting to demand better services. Could this be a road to accountability and results?

The Internet. Nigeria landed three new privately financed fiber optic cables in 2010.  Bandwidth will be ample and prices are falling rapidly. A little more than six dollars will buy unlimited Facebook, Twitter, e-mail and chat on a cell phone. The President is very active on Facebook and so is his challenger for the ruling party ticket.  We cannot be sure what this means, but I would bet it means change is on the horizon. Maybe this will help Nigeria know where the road is supposed to be so that it might actually be built.


Submitted by Brenda on
This is an excellent piece and coming directly from Onno who has spent time in Nigeria, one can not but agree. But my personal view as one has is a citizen is that Nigeria already knows where the road is supposed to be but just will not build it. The reason for this is not clear but what is actually clear is that where the road is supposed to be is known and so are the builders too. It is just not happening.

Submitted by Onno Ruhl on
Brenda, Have you thought about why the road is "just not built"? I think it is because most Nigerians, politicians and citizens alike, think of something being built by Government as a gift to the population rather than simply as Government doing its job. When this attitude changes, more roads will be actually built, I think.

the 2011 elections now ongoing presents a wonderful opportunity for Nigerians to be more involved in the process of deciding and selecting leaders. In previous elections that winners were largely decided by a few (through rigging), the political leaders are not compelled to march their electoral promises with action. This year, we have had an unprecedented number of young people that are participating in the election as voters, monitoring and reporting through several means such as a mobile application (see twitter using #nigeriadecides, and through several groups on facebook. If we get our elections right, Nigeria will take a few giant steps forward, i beleive, strongly!

Submitted by Onno Ruhl on
Dear Rotimi, Thanks for telling us about the election apps being used in Nigeria during the on-going elections. I had heard about them too. This is one of the developments that could really change accountability in the country. No matter which politician will be influenced by knowing that many people monitor what is going on and report back on it. It would be great if simlar apps were developed soon to monitor budget and project implementation and many other processes! Thanks for your interest, Onno

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