If Nigeria’s Open Contracting Commitments Are Effectively Implemented, Nigeria Will Eradicate Corruption, Says MRA’s FOI Programme Manager

Mr Ridwan Sulaimon, Programme Manager for FO, Media Rights Agenda
Mr Ridwan Sulaimon, Programme Manager for FO, Media Rights Agenda

Mr Ridwan Sulaimon, Programme Manager for Freedom of Information (FOI) at Media Rights Agenda (MRA) has said that if Nigeria effectively implements its Open Contracting Commitments contained in the Open Government Partnership (OGP) National Action Plan (NAP), the country would be able to successfully tackle corruption.

Speaking during “Galaxy Today,” a discussion programme on Galaxy Television, Lagos on September 24, 2019, Ridwan corroborated the claim by one of the country’s anti-graft agencies, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) that 60% of corruption cases in Nigeria are related to procurement.

Therefore, he said, “if Nigeria’s OGP commitments, especially the open-contracting-related commitments are effectively implemented, Nigeria will be able to successfully open up one of the biggest conduit for corruption, which is procurement and contracting, and by so doing, be able to block the major loophole that has been feeding corruption in the country.”

Ridwan said there are 14 commitments in Nigeria’s first NAP and at least 10 of those commitments directly address procurement and contracting openness and transparency. All the four thematic areas are directly or indirectly related to procurement or contracting transparency and accountability, he said.

He explained the idea of Open Contracting, noting that it involves making public the full chain of government deal-making, from concessions of natural resources to procurement of goods, works, and services for citizens.

“The idea is to publish and use open, accessible and timely information on government contracting to engage citizens and businesses in identifying and fixing problems. So open contracting is meant to achieve value for money in the delivery of public goods and services by disclosing all the information in the procurement and contracting cycle in a timely manner,” he said.

The FOI Programme Manager added that as part of the idea of Open Contracting, there is also something called the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS) which is a schema to provide shareable, reusable open data on public contracting across the entire cycle of public procurement.

When asked whether the concept of OCDS was not too abstract for a layman to understand, he said: “OCDS is an acronym that does not necessarily mean something complex. OCDS is a kind of template, a broad framework, a set of rules and global standards to guide the publishing and analysis of contracting information so as to reflect norms and best practices worldwide. The OCDS describes what, when and how to release data and associated documents at different phases of the contracting process.”

Describing the achievement of the OGP in Nigeria in the last three years, Ridwan said: MRA monitored the implementation of the commitments on open contracting and these have informed its public sensitisation on the issues adding “certainly, some notable progresses were recorded and there are a lot of gaps as well.”

For instance, he said, in the area of fiscal transparency, open budget initiatives were carried out by the Budget Office which published citizens’ guide to the budget, pre-budget statements including Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and developed the iMonitor platform for citizens’ feedback etc. The Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) also developed the Nigeria Open Contracting Portal (NOCOPO) and piloted it with eight Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDAs), he added.

Ridwan said: “Several other platforms have been developed by both state and non-state actors to facilitate transparent procurement processes, access to information and open contracting; some of such include the PPDC’s Budeshi, BudgIT’s Tracka among others.

“Consultations on the implementation of the Beneficial Ownership Register were also completed by Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), while the Company and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) was repealed and re-enacted in 2018.

“Under the Anticorruption commitment, the National Anticorruption Strategy (NACS) was developed with the Federal Ministry of Justice as the secretariat.

“In the Access to Information (ATI) area, currently, FOI Desk Officers have been designated in 135 MDAs. MRA has also worked with relevant stakeholders to develop administrative sanctions for civil servants and practice directions for the courts in the implementation of the FOI Act, efforts are on-going to engage the Head of Civil Service and the Chief Justice of Nigeria in the process.

“I also heard the Attorney General of the Federation at the NAP II retreat disclosed that the OGP Secretariat has also completed the production of FOI Act Uniform Mandatory Publication Guidance Document for use by Public Institutions in application of FOI Act. Commendably, he also noted that within the next few months, a service-wide circular will be published to set out the modalities for establishment of the OGP Units in MDAs.

“These are just some of the achievements; however, there are also a lot of gaps in implementation. The NAP 1 identified milestones and indicators, but many of these targets were not met,” he submitted.

When asked what real progress Nigeria made in concrete terms in improving procurement and contracting transparency, Ridwan said: “… although we have made some progress, in the least, for the first time, Nigeria has a holistic platform where all procurement and contracting information will be disclosed.

“However we also still have big challenges, and I will reference some examples. The NOCOPO for instance is supposed to be the biggest achievement of Open Contracting and procurement transparency in Nigeria recently, but, ironically, it’s one of its biggest disappointments.

“If you check the platform, www.nocopo.bpp.gov.ng, you would see that a number of sections are yet to be developed and even those sections that are developed are still on a test-running mode with historical data that are not updated when we are supposed to have implemented full open contracting in the eight pilot MDAs, at least. So, there’s even no data to use on the platform. Aside the fact that the platform has been created, no further progress has really been made.

Charting a way forwarded, Ridwan identified roles for all stakeholders including civil servants, politicians, the media, civil society organisations and the citizens.

He called on civil servants to realize that public access to procurement information is in the interest of the common Nigerian and that they should not allow themselves to be used as tools by some unscrupulous elements to sabotage the efforts towards ensuring transparency and accountability in the management of Nigeria’s collective resources. He reminded them that if they do, their pension fund will be stolen too and after working for 35 years, they will also have nothing to fall back on. He advised them to help the public to get access to information reminding them that the Oath of secrecy that they think binds them or the Official Secrets Acts have been nullified by the FOI Act and that as such they are protected for disclosing information in the interest of transparency and accountability, even if that information is tagged confidential or top secret.

Ridwan also urged politicians to support transparency initiatives, urging them to realise that Nigeria cannot achieve anything without political will but make efforts to see that the development agendas pushed by civil society are genuinely implemented and not just on paper.

He reminded citizens that it is important they realise that “the OGP presents us with great opportunity to be involved in government and we must take this responsibly.” He added that civil society needs to see and recognize the opportunity now before it and therefore needs to be organized and strategic in how it takes advantage of this opportunity. He also encouraged civil society representatives to empower themselves with information and knowledge about the issues and processes and be engaged and continue to push for effective implementation of the FOI Act which is the most important ATI tool in Nigeria, and follow-up with government to see that the Open Contracting commitments are implemented.

Ridwan concluded by reminding the media of the big role they have to play, saying:  “You have an even bigger role to play. No government wants to be embarrassed. The media needs to familiarise itself with the OGP processes especially the commitments that relate specifically to open contracting, access to information and anticorruption so that you can hold government to account in the implementation of those commitments.”