from Africa in Transition

The Cost of Nigerian Governance

August 27, 2013

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Oby Ezekwesili on August 19 in Abuja said that Nigeria spent over one trillion naira on National Assembly members since 2005. That is about U.S. $6.2 billion. Mrs. Ezekwesili is a former minister of education, former minister of solid minerals, and World Bank vice president for the African region. She went on to say that 82 percent of Nigeria’s budget goes for “recurrent expenditure;” essentially keeping the doors open. She noted a recent UK report that identified Nigerian legislators as the highest paid in the world.

Her remarks were made in the keynote address at a conference on the “Cost of Governance in Nigeria.” The conference was organized by the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Center (CISLAC), a Nigerian non-governmental organization, with help from the Federal Public Administrative Reform Program in the UK.

Ezekwesili’s remarks also contained thoughtful observations about Nigerian governance and her service in the Obasanjo administration that are well worth reading. She offers suggestions for moving forward that are thought-provoking. One of the latter is to move to part-time legislators as a way to bring down costs. She observed that to be a part-time legislator, “you must have means of livelihood so that you won’t have to depend on public funds.” That might also help address the endemic problem of corruption.

Predictably, some members of the National Assembly are utterly rejecting Ezekwesili’s remarks and dismiss her figures out of hand. Others, in effect, claim that the executive is worse than the legislative branch. One legislator accused her of “blackmail, the sole aim is to seek headlines.” Ezekwesili has long campaigned for improved governance in Nigeria. Often the response has been vicious personal attacks against her.

Ezekwesili’s basic point seems to me to be irrefutable. The costs of Nigerian governance are exceptionally high, and the benefits of that governance accrue to a small number of elites who demonstrate too little concern for the welfare of the Nigerian people.

Ezekwesili brings impeccable credentials to a discussion of the costs of governance. She is a chartered accountant who trained with Deloitte and Touché, the international accounting firm. She has a Masters of Public Administration from the Kennedy School at Harvard. She is a confounder of Transparency International. She has also worked with Prof. Jeffrey Sachs at the Center for International Development at Harvard. Her ministerial tenures in the Obasanjo administration were genuinely reformist. She is a senior economic adviser to George Soros’s Open Society Foundation. Among the boards she sits on is a telecommunications firm, the World Wildlife Fund, and the Center for Global Leadership at Tufts.