Notably from 1960 till date, approximately US$400 billion has been siphoned by corrupt Nigerian government officials. Similarly, the country also has great challenges in ensuring open government, conspicuously in the area of public finance management. Public finance has been hugely mismanaged and public records are mostly inaccessible. In furtherance, citizen participation in governance has been so impecunious, primarily because of secrecy in government’s operation, owing to the weak social contract in the country, and the high-handedness of different tiers and levels of the Nigerian government.
Each and every activity in the world today requires information and without information, the world might return to stone-age. So think of a world without information, what becomes of our financial institutions, stock markets, trade, commerce and industry, security architecture, electoral processes etc. More so, think of the world where information is readily available but not open to the public. This will amount to a high level of unprecedented corruption and secrecy that will envelop daily running and activities of government.
Information is power, concrete openness and free access to information is key to development. A nation that aspires for inclusive growth and development, most especially collective oversight on public funds must ensure open governance as a countermeasure to corruption and encourage public oversight.
It was on this platform that the Open Government Partnership (OGP) was established. It is an international multi-stakeholder initiative which was launched on 20th September 2011 to provide an international platform for domestic reformers to make their governments more open, accountable and responsive to citizens. The partnership is governed by four key principles, namely, Transparency, Accountability, Citizen Participation, Technology, and Innovation.
The Nigerian Federal Government in 2016, reaffirmed her commitment to strengthening anti-corruption reforms through implementing programs aimed at exposing corruption; punishing the corrupt and providing support to the victims of corruption and driving out the culture of corruption. This led to Nigeria joining the OGP in July 2016 as the 70th country.
OGP brings together governments and civil society organizations as true partners at both the national and international level. At the national level, governments work with civil society organizations to develop and implement their OGP National Action Plan. In addition, OGP aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. In the spirit of multi-stakeholder collaboration, OGP is overseen by a Steering Committee including representatives of governments and Civil Society Organizations.
Following the established, a two day training of Open Alliance members on the OGP, alongside several initiatives such as this, was convened by the African Centre for Leadership, Strategy and Development (Centre LSD), as an activity under the project, “Promoting Accountability in Nigeria through Engagement and Implementation of the Open Government Partnership”. The workshop was supported by the John. D and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and was designed for all Open Alliance members amongst other things to have a deep understanding of OGP, its processes, and procedures.
The training started with goodwill messages from both government representatives and civil society organizations. At some point, we breaked for tea, this gave room for further interactions amongst participants and a good time to network. There were stellar presentations from renowned resource persons drawn from mainly the civil society space. Amongst are Dr. Otive Igbuzor Ph.D., who in his presentation, took the participants through the four principles of OGP, the history of OGP, eligibility criteria and OGP process. In another presentation, he pointed out the essence of the Nigerian OGP National Action Plan with four key thematic areas, Fiscal Transparency, Anti-Corruption, Access to Information and Citizen Engagement of which Nigeria made 14 commitments along these lines.
Other resource persons that presented were Uche Igwe, who made a paper presentation on “Understanding the NAP”; Stanley Achonu of BudgIT who made a presentation on, “the Concept of Co-Creation”; Edet Ojo who presented on “the Civil Society and OGP in Nigeria”; Juliet Ibekaku, “Sub-National OGP”; and the DG of National Orientation Agency, Garba Abari, who took us through “Citizens Engagement and OGP”. The last session was a breakout session on the 14 commitments in the National Action Plan.
Key Outcomes from the workshop include:
- CSOs to build the capacity of OGP representatives in their organizations.
- Identification of key challenges that could hinder the achievements of OGP objectives.
- Identification of creative ideas and ways to prompt the government to work their talk.
- Identification of benefits that would accrue to sub-national (state) governments for signing on to OGP
- Identification of countermeasures towards the NGO Regulation Bill.
- The need for government to promote access to information in the area of the FOI.
- To carry off multi-dimensional civic engagement on enhancing OGP process through the new/traditional media, consultations, and stakeholder gatherings.
- CSOs should hold government accountable for every commitment it has made to the OGP process.
While I commend the bold step of the present administration in its efforts to stamp out corruption and in a bid to use open government as a tool for effective public oversight, there should be a holistic approach to it, access to information is paramount and sincere adherence to her commitments in the NAP. For Basic Rights Watch, this training is key and has enhanced my knowledge towards the OGP process. We will step down this training for our volunteers in Tertiary Education Institutions for effective tracking, monitoring of project implementation and provide public awareness and oversight in the management Tertiary Education Trust Fund’s annual disbursements to tertiary institutions, to ensure service delivery and accountability.
Austin Ekwujuru is the Chief Executive Officer of Basic Rights Watch. He is a human rights activist, a public speaker and at best spends most of his time reading and researching. Follow him @austinchinonye1, contact him at email@example.com