Tuesday, July 23, 2013: Three Nigerian non-governmental organizations (NGOs), today called on the Federal Government and its relevant agencies to take urgent steps to comply with the eligibility requirements of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a global initiative launched on 20 September 2011 to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.
The three organizations working in the areas of transparency and accountability in governance – Media Rights Agenda (MRA), BudgIT Nigeria, and Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC) – are convinced that Nigeria’s inability to meet OGP’s eligibility requirements constitutes a major slur on the country’s image and reputation, particularly in the light of the fact that six other African countries are already members of the OGP.
In November 2012, Nigeria indicated its interest in joining the OGP. Since then, however, the country has been unable to meet the minimum requirements of transparent, effective and accountable governance to be eligible to join the multilateral initiative.
Countries intending to join the OGP are required to secure a minimum score of 12 points out of 16 to be eligible. The 16 points are shared equally across four areas in the country’s governance system and processes, namely Fiscal Transparency, Access to Information, Income and Public Asset Disclosure by Elected or Senior Public Officials, and Citizen Engagement.
Nigeria has only been able to muster 10 points and is thereby ineligible for OGP membership, although other African countries like South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Tanzania and Malawi are already members of the global initiative that currently has 60 member countries.
Nigeria’s non-qualification arises mainly as a result of the fact that there is no open disclosure of audit reports of public accounts; assets disclosures made by public officers are not publicly available while incomes are not disclosed; and government engagement with citizens is considered inadequate.
With the passage of the Freedom of Information Act in 2011, Nigeria has the full four points available in the area of Access to Information, which is an aspect of membership that gives effect to citizens’ right to information. Under the OGP framework, four points are awarded to countries with access to information laws in place; three points are awarded if a country has a constitutional provision guaranteeing access to information; and one point is awarded if a country has a draft access to information law under consideration.
However, Nigeria’s performance in the three other categories has been insufficient to enable it meet the minimum eligibility criteria.
In the area of Fiscal Transparency, Nigeria’s score is only two points out of a possible four points based on a number of shortcomings in its constitutional and legal frameworks as well as institutional practices.
Nigeria publishes the Executive budget proposals publicly with a sample available online on the Budget Office website; the budget proposals also conform to the Fiscal Responsibility Act while the 2013 budget was presented by October 2012. However, there is no explicit requirement under the Fiscal Responsibility Act for an audit report of public accounts to be made publicly available. Besides, in practice, there is no record of public availability of the audit report.
In addition, although the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation is an autonomous body under the 1999 Constitution, it does not enjoy fiscal autonomy like other independent bodies of the government while its budgetary allocation has recently faced decline with its audit reports not acted upon by the National Assembly.
With respect to asset declarations and disclosure of incomes, Nigeria has two points out of a possible four points under the OGP assessment because although it has a law which requires declaration of assets by elected and senior officials, the declarations are not made public or publicly available while incomes are also not disclosed.
Despite the provisions of Paragraph 3 of Part 1 of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution, which stipulates that the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) shall “retain custody of such declarations and make them available for inspection by any citizen of Nigeria on such terms and conditions as the National Assembly may prescribe” and the existence of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011, the CCB has refused to make declaration of assets available to members of the public, claiming that the National Assembly has not made any law or regulation for their disclosure.
Nigeria was also only able to muster two out of a possible four points in the area of citizen engagement, which requires that policy-making and the entire governance framework should be open to civic participation and engagement. We note in particular that even on the issue of Nigeria’s proposed membership of the OGP, there is hardly any citizen engagement on the issue with the result that there is widespread ignorance about it within the general populace as well as about its desirability benefits.
The organisations said in their view, Nigeria has a number of realistic paths for improving its transparency and accountability frameworks and bringing about improvements in governance. These will also enable it to meet the OGP minimum eligibility criteria and begin the process of membership.
They therefore called on the Federal Government and the relevant agencies to pursue these options with sincerity and commitment, namely:
- Ensure that audit reports of public accounts, particularly by the Auditor-General of the Federation, are proactively disclosed and made available to members of the public.
- Ensure that incomes of all categories of public officers are proactively disclosed as required by Section 2(3)(d)(vi) of the Freedom of Information Act and other applicable laws.
- The Code of Conduct Bureau should bring itself into compliance with the Freedom of Information Act by acceding to requests from members of the public for it to disclose asset declarations in its custody submitted by elected and senior government officials, which constitute information maintained by it as a public institution within the meaning of the Act.
- Improve citizen participation and civic engagement in policy-making and in all aspects of governance, including around the issue of Nigeria’s membership of the OGP.
Mr. Edetaen Ojo
Executive Director, Media Rights Agenda, Lagos
Ms Seember Nyager
Chief Executive Officer, Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC), Abuja
Mr. Oluseun Onigbinde
Team Lead, BudgIT Nigeria, Lagos