Nigeria: Yar’Adua Must Rekindle Nepad

Image: Flickr, Mad African!:(Broken Sword)
Image: Flickr, Mad African!:(Broken Sword)

Nigeria's recent presidential elections were marred with accusations of widespread electoral fraud, raising serious questions about governance in Africa's most populous nation.

To unite the nation again, the new president must take bold steps to restore Nigerians’ faith in democracy. The first feather in his cap may be to put the Nigerian African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) process on the right track.

The APRM — an offshoot of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) — is a voluntary mechanism that assesses governance strengths and weaknesses, and where the need to improve performance across a range of issues including election management and corruption.

Earlier on, Nigeria put in place its national APRM structures; including a Focal Point and a National Working Committee (NWC). According to the Nigerian APRM Secretariat, the long-delayed draft Country Self-Assessment Report (CSAR) is finally ready, with the last validation workshop planned for 2 May.

While the coordinator of the Nigerian APRM NWC (and close adviser to Obasanjo), Ambassador Isaac Aluko-Olokun, firmly maintains that ‘so far, the APRM process in Nigeria has been implemented in a professional, technically competent and transparent manner, and is free from political manipulation’, others argue that the process has lacked both transparency and rigour.

This led some technical agencies meant to assist with research and civil society organisations, such as the African Leadership Institute, to withdraw from the process in protest against alleged government manipulation.

The process was inadequately planned. Nigeria signed a Memorandum of Understanding in March 2004, yet the Secretariat failed in its plans to complete the self-assessment process well before the April 2007 elections.

The Nigerian experience highlights a key lesson for other APRM countries in the early stages: proper planning means factoring in elections. Ghana, for example, was particularly successful in designing its APRM process to isolate it from political influence and national elections, but this necessitates an independent, civil society-led process.

Nigeria has also failed to put in place a genuinely consultative process. Many of the civil society groups that sat on the NWC were seen as aligned to or largely dependent on government for funding. It ignored the advice of Ambassador Bethuel Kiplagat, a member of the APRM Panel of Eminent Person, who noted that ìthe leadership of [the] national commission should come from civil society or the corporate sector government cannot be driving a programme for which itself is being evaluatedî and put one of Obasanjoís closest confidants as the head of the NWC.

The leadership of the NWC is not the only contentious issue. This body – meant to be like a board of directors to oversee the process reports to the Focal Point, who operates from the Presidentís office, thus increasing governmentís potential influence.

There was also little civil society involvement in crafting the CSAR. ‘Unfortunately, civil society organisations had to be invited to be able to participate in the various workshops’, observed Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem, Former Secretary General of the Pan-African Movement, “this made it difficult for those who were not invited to make contributions”. Government dominated the process,’ noted another Nigerian analyst.

Some Nigerian academics noted that the absence of a comprehensive media campaign to publicise the APRM and ensure public participation meant that only a few knew about the process.

The validation workshops — meant to elicit public comment on the draft self-assessment — were an opportunity for the Nigerian APRM leadership to involve civil society. Yet, once again, they failed to do so. Some civil society organisations insisted that they were excluded, others simply boycotted the process, and the full draft text of the CSAR was not circulated.

In addition to refining the self-assessment, the validation workshops were meant to develop a Programme of Action (PoA) to address the governance gaps identified. The Nigerian APRM Secretariat indicated that the PoA is only due to be finalised in the second week of May. But because only carefully selected NGOs, arguably those broadly aligned to government, attended these workshops, the PoA may well fall short of tackling the most pressing governance issues.

The Nigerian experience illustrates that countries should not treat their POAs as an afterthought. For instance, when conducting national surveys, researchers should ask their interviewees to suggest solutions to problems, thereby giving the public greater influence on policy-making.

Despite all of these difficulties, Obasanjo confidently declared in January that Nigeria would present its review report in July 2007. ‘Mathematically, Nigeria cannot be reviewed in July’ contends Abdul-Raheem. ‘It’s in the middle of an electoral battle. The new president will only be sworn in on 29 May. This leaves little time to organise the visit of the Country Review Mission.’ With the presidency so heavily involved in both the inauguration process and running the APRM, it’s unlikely it will focus on the latter.

This is not necessarily bad news for Nigeria. It is an opportunity to restore the credibility of the APRM process by making sure that the editing of the CSAR is not done by the government, presidency or pro-government organisations. Civil society should be vigilant about who edits the report and how.
This ‘time-out’ should also be used to rethink the PoA. More civil society organisations, from different sectors, should be invited to make their contributions. A further six-month delay is preferable to a rushed process that cuts corners and compromises quality.