The event took place on the 30th of May, 2017, at the Terra Kulture centre, Victoria Island Lagos.
The theme was “Open Governance: Improving Transparency and Accountability in Government”. Three panel discussions, comprised of past leaders and young leaders in social and public analysis, provided insightful perspectives on the theme and on other issues that affect Nigeria, the Youth and the future.
The symposium began with the National Anthem, after which a welcome address by Bukola Adebakin of the Future Project was read.
The First panel was composed of Mr Peter Obi, former Governor of Anambra State, Seun Onigbinde, the Lead partner at BudgIT, Mr Salau Zakari, the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Transport, and Activist, Blogger and Social Commentator, Japheth J. Omojuwa which was moderated by Channels TV political news presenter, Seun Okinbaloye, the discourse on Open Budget and Government spending focused on how imperative it is for Governments at all levels to have the deliberate will to cut down on the cost of Governance.
According to Mr Obi, in a brief opening statement before the panel discussion proper, the present situation of Governance, spending and deficits may continue and get worse if we continue to navigate the way we are at the moment. He explained that our economic problems had to with our low reserves which were a consequence of the failure to save in the rainy days. He made comparisons between the economic state of Nigeria and seven (7) other emerging economies (Mexico, Indonesia, Turkey, Malaysia, Thailand, South Africa and the Philippines) which have high GDP values, large market Capitalization of their exchange markets and low inflation rates. He ended this introduction to the panel discussion by stating that countries are to be marketed as brands, in order to attract the confidence and interest of foreign investors.
The discussion proper began with the moderator, Seun Okinbaloye, asking if open Governance and Accountability was supposed to be a privilege which Government offers to the people. Seun Onigbinde of BudgIT, in his response, stated that despite the availability of the Budget at the Executive level, there were still over 300 agencies whose Budgets are still not publicly available. From the newly revealed National Assembly Budget, he stated find that the National Assembly spends almost ten (10) times what an average University spends, and about fifteen (15) times the budget of an average Teaching Hospital. According to Seun Onigbinde, the Datathon organized by the EiENigeria and BudgIT showed that the National Assembly does not need a budget of more than N52bn.
In his deposition on the question of Accountability as privilege, Mr Zakari, the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Transport, said that everyone has the right to ask questions about activities going on in every Ministry, Department and the Agencies of Government. In his defense on the existence of transparency in Government, he emphasized that the Budgets of all Agencies of the Federation are published on the website of the Budget Office of the Federation. He made effort to relate that there have been improvements as far as the transparency of Government agencies is concerned, explaining that the lack of awareness on the part of citizens of the due process involved in Government could be the main hindrance in understanding and following Government actions.
Social commentator, Japheth Omojuwa, answered the question of transparency, from the perspective that, being a country still under transition, “Transparency is not part of our culture”. However, he did say that there should be a place for shame if elected officials had to be forced to perform the duties for which they were elected. He recommended that Nigeria must be perceived and packaged as an economic entity and not just a political entity. Furthering the discussion, Mr Peter Obi blamed the lack of transparency in our society, not on culture, but on the fact that our Governments are more “transactional not transformational”. In agreement, Seun Onigbinde added that the Nigerian Political class has never tried to be transformational. “If we want to fight corruption pro-actively”, he said, “put down transparency”.
On the inquiry by the moderator on whether Nigerians have come to a tipping point for the issue of open Governance to amount to a disaster waiting to happen, Mr Omojuwa regretted that the bulk of Nigerians have not come to that tipping point, with divided factions still fixated on the fallouts of the 2015 elections. It is necessary, according to him, to begin to have the conversation revolve around the things we want as a country, as against emphasis on the things we don’t want. He decried the tendency to accuse persons of ambition when they seem to be making efforts at good performance in Government.
In concluding the first panel discussion, Former Governor Peter Obi reiterated the need for Government Budgets to be explicitly published, with specified prices of line items stated clearly for citizens to be able to make comparisons with market prices, to avoid inflated figures in Budgets. He noted that the role of leadership is crucial; “if the leader is not stealing, you reduce (stealing) by 75%”. Mr Onigbinde advocated for the need for active citizens to make more demands of the Government. In his words, “Transparency has to be comprehensive, actionable, timely, and accurate”.
The Second Panel was made up of former Governor of Cross-Rivers State, Donald Duke, a Chairmanship aspirant for Lagos Mainland Local Government, Dayo Israel, and Rinsola Abiola, a Special Assistant to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Yakubu Dogara.
Beginning with an opening statement, Governor Duke sought to draw the attention of the young minds in the audience to the need to make a difference in the prime years of their lives. The process of making this difference, he said, was not going to be handed over, but must be demanded. According to him, “There is virtue in Youth, once the Youth is schooled right”. He mentioned that the advanced age of most of the leaders as compared with the high proportion of the youth, which form the overwhelming majority in the country, amounted to disequilibrium.
Beginning the discussion, the moderator, Arit Okpo, asked if the knowledge of the political process was important for young citizens when making demands of Government. Governor Duke, in his affirmative response, said that while citizens are presently asking questions, they were not making demands. For the few who do, he condemned the “beggarly manner” with which the demands are made. He regretted the inability to check our leaders with consequences for every action they undertake or fail to, which leads to a situation where anything goes.
In her contribution, Ms Abiola opined that reforms in the Electoral processes across Party lines were necessary to get young persons more involved in the political process. This way, it will be possible to tackle the structure from which elected officials emerge with the input of the Youth. She explained some of the efforts made so far in moving the ‘Not Too Young To Run’ bill forward in the National Assembly, in order to get a legislative backbone for the Youth to take pro-active actions in their parties. Dayo Israel, complained of the apathy of most young people for the political process, sighting an example of the low number of persons willing to attend and sit through the tedium and boredom of weekly or bi-weekly ward meetings. However, he blamed the insistence on running with established parties, and not giving unhindered freedom for Independence candidacy.
In agreement, Governor Duke offered his support for Independent Candidacy, referring to the Constitutional provision for Freedom of Association as the supporting legislation. Reacting to the apathy and cynicism towards the political process, he shared the principle on which he made his attempt at the Governorship of Cross-River State in 1998, against the tide of the established order at the time: “if you run, you might lose, but if you don’t run, you are guaranteed to lose”.
Rinsola Abiola differed on the accusation that young activists tend to abandon advocacy when they gain political appointments. She said that it remained possible to work from different ends of the pole, with the same ideals and goals, without “selling out”. She encouraged all to be disruptive in the positive way, whether in political positions or as young independent advocates.
The conversation, which flowed organically and with thoughtful points made, came to a close with a challenge to the youth, by the former Governor of Cross-River State, Donald Duke: “Things don’t happen, people make things happen. You have the numbers, make it happen!”
The third panel was made up of Prince Deji Adeyanju, a former PDP social media strategist, Japheth Omojuwa, Demola Olarewaju, Abisoye Akinfolarin. The discussion was on the ‘Office of the Citizen’ and was moderated by Ayo Thompson of Nigeria Info and Wazobia MAX.
The moderator set the tone for the conversation with a quote from Chude Jideonwo: “The citizen is always right. The citizen has always been right. As long as democracy endures, the citizen will always be right.” After this, the question of the roles and responsibilities of the citizen was asked.
In his opening statement, Deji Adeyanju responded that the office of the citizen is the greatest office in the land, exceeding those of the President, Vice President and State Governors. In his words, “Until citizens realize Obasanjo has just one vote, IBB [Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida] has just one vote, Abdusalami [Abubakar] has just one vote, [President Muhammadu] Buhari has just one vote – he doesn’t have the 12 million votes he usually gets, they are not his votes, they are the votes of the people – until we realize this, we’ll continue going round in circles”. He noted that citizens were not yet fully aware of how powerful their office is. Deji added that the Offices of the Elected people is too far from the Office of the Citizen, and that until both are connected, we will not have progress.
Omojuwa, following from Deji’s statements, remarked that “the citizen is the essence of Democracy”. He stated that while the majority of citizens suppose their duties to end after elections, our responsibilities go beyond elections. In his words, “our main responsibility should be that we put elected people on their toes”. He emphasized the force of pro-activeness that comes with the mass of Nigerian coming together in one voice to achieve a cause, sighting examples of the deadlocked situation of the ill-health of President Umaru Musa Yar’adua in April 2010, when Nigerians demanded and got a transfer of Powers to then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, the botched third-term bid of former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the 2015 General Elections.
However, Omojuwa noted that it is not sufficient that the citizens only came together for electoral matters, calling for similar collective movements to be aggregated towards pushing for matters of daily matters of Governance and provision of infrastructure, such as water or access to electricity. He called for our conversations to transcend “consequentiality” and “escapist” mindset which only looks towards kicking out leaders at the next elections.
Demola Olarewaju took up the discourse from a historical viewpoint, describing the Roman origin of the idea and ideals of citizenship. In his deposition, he made the relation between citizenship and ownership; in other words, a citizen was one who owned something, and that this ownership was determined by the price paid and the understanding of the value and worth of that which is to be owned. According to Demola, “Far too many Nigerians are ready to trade the value of their Nigerian citizenship because they don’t understand the worth of it; you won’t buy something if you do not feel that it has any value, no matter how much it is worth”.
Demola noted that persons of the older generation who seem to lay greater claim to the ownership of the Country do so on account of the belief that they have gone through some battles for the country, making reference to participation in the Civil War by some past leaders. In other words, the Youth, if they claim to own the Country, must also be ready to “pay their dues” by enduring potential detentions.
Contributing to the roles of citizens, Abisoye Akinfolarin re-iterated the importance of citizens to know their rights, matters of Budgets and following up the Government. “When things are not going right” Abisoye said, “we are meant to have a voice. We are meant to speak out”.
On the moderator’s question about the need to have platforms with which citizens can hold the leaders accountable, Omojuwa mentioned the need for communities but decried the lack of it. In his words, “you cannot build a movement outside of a community”. On the conduct of ordinary citizens on matters of state in comparison with the ‘owners of Nigera’, Omojuwa drew the attention of the audience to the fact that citizens spend the majority of their time defending or arguing about the politicians, making issues not about Nigeria as a collective but on issues bothering on individual politicians, who eventually know how to come together and agree when they have common interests.
Furthering the conversation, Deji Adeyanju stated that “every Nigerian who collects money to vote does not deserve good leadership, does not deserve the dividends of democracy’. In stating this, he related that citizens should seek to effect change in the country but cannot do so with hands tied to the politicians table, with no tangible input from the citizen. Abisoye added that citizens needed to have a voice in their immediate environments to be able to have a voice in the greater public, and that this voice is worth more than any bribe that can be given.
On the matter of the possibility of a Youth President, Demola agreed to the possibility of a Young President but placed the ability to unify the country above the criteria of Youth. Omojuwa, following up on Demola, did not see the problem of lack of Youth participation in political systems as a consequence of the lack of laws. In his view, there should be a focus on understanding that the political process is a marathon, which requires preparation, persistence, energy, and potential bruises. He emphasized that “youth is not the currency of leadership”, sighting the example of the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, who in his opinion, did not do anything obviously outstanding. He called for a focus on the advantage the Youth have at the moment which is about the large number which can be aggregated for effective actions, rather than being fixated on laws and upcoming elections.
The conversation drew to a close after the last round of questions from the audience were answered by the panelists, with the main theme being that citizens should pay more attention to the ideologies of persons who come seeking for electoral positions and should not vote or offer support to people based on sentimental and material factors such as age, popularity or number of followers.
The Symposium came to a close with a vote of thanks given by co-founder of Red Media, Mr Debola Williams.