from Africa in Transition

Nigeria and Norway: Accountability Dilemmas

October 31, 2012

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Nigeria and Norway have little in common except the first letter of their names and the fact that they produce about the same amount of oil each day. Norway on a per capita basis may be the richest country in the world, while Nigeria is among the poorest. Norway has among the world’s best social statistics, while Nigeria has among the worst. Norway has been a democracy for a long time, while Nigeria is still struggling to attain it.

I was therefore startled to learn that an official spokesman for Rivers State, one of the Nigeria’s principal oil producing states, confirmed the purchase of a new Bombardier jet for Governor Chibulke Amaechi. It cost U.S. $45 million. The jet is for the governor’s “exclusive” use and replaces an older aircraft, which will be sold.

And, just out of interest, what would be the travel arrangements for the King of Norway and the prime minister? I learned from a good authority that the King flies commercial. The seat next to him, however, is left vacant. The prime minister is not accorded the privilege of a vacant seat next to him when he flies commercial. It is true that the King of Norway can use a military aircraft on official (usually state) visits. And the prime minister can hire a plane. These occasions are relatively rare.

It is an illustration of how the Norwegian leadership is accountable to the parliament, and through it to the Norwegian people. Nigeria cannot yet hold its leaders to that standard of accountability.

Even more than differing methods of travel, the two governments diverge on fundamental management of their nation’s oil revenues. Norway established the Government Pension Fund into which oil revenue funnels and is distributed to the people. It weighs in at U.S. $656.2 billion. Its management is based on Norway’s highly developed sense of accountability. As such, it operates in a very transparent fashion.

Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, on the other hand, is having a difficult time pushing a mere U.S. $1 billion past the state governors to establish a Nigerian sovereign wealth fund. It would be financed by excess oil revenues and eventually replace the Excess Crude Account, which weighs in at U.S. $8 billion. The governors fear the federal government will be unaccountable for how it manages the money; just as the current account is not managed in a transparent or accountable fashion. The governors believe the current system of distributing oil money to the states should be maintained. The state governments, however, have shown just as little enthusiasm for transparent, accountable spending as the federal government.