Stanley Achonu, the Civil Society Adviser for the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in Nigeria, speaks about the OGP process and ongoing efforts to implement it in Nigeria towards driving sustainable reform.
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What is the Open Government Partnership (OGP) all about?
Open Government Partnership (OGP) is a global coalition of reformers working in government, civil society, and the private sector who came together to identify challenges, proffer solutions and work together to implement the solutions. It is largely aimed at driving reform in government towards improving citizens’ engagement with the government as well as service delivery. In essence, at the heart of Open Government Partnership is improved service delivery to ordinary people.
The OGP process began in 2011; it was pioneered by 8 developed and developing countries during the UN General Assembly (UNGA). It was borne out of the experiences of people who have worked in government and civil society as reformers pressurizing governments to make changes. Essentially, the relationship between government and civil society is that of someone being inside a building (i.e government) and the other being outside of it (i.e civil society); with the one outside of the building shouting at the one inside it.
All the OGP process is saying is let’s all of us sit around the table and get to respectfully engage with one another as equal partners. So, OGP means an equal partnership between government and citizens – represented by the civil society, trade groups and private sector – with the aim of addressing issues that affect the common man. Before now, as civil society we were used to pointing accusing fingers at the government; the only time we get to sit down with the government at the table was after mass protests and strike actions.
What OGP is saying is from the word go, let’s not throw stones at each other, let’s not grind the country to a halt; instead, let’s sit down at the table and talk. The OGP process commenced with 8 countries in 2011 and has grown to 75 countries, 11 of which are in Africa including South Africa, Ivory Coast, Cape Verde and Sierra Leone, amongst others. The OGP process is not a magic wand but it provides the opportunity to talk which open up the doors to solving problems and that’s what is unique about the process.
The idea of the OGP process is to open up governance processes, considering the opaque nature of governance in Africa, how far do you think effective implementation of the process will go in making governance transparent and accountable in African countries?
The uniqueness of the OGP process is that countries are required to meet certain criteria set by the OGP process before they become members. So, Nigeria didn’t join the process overnight, it took 3 years of campaigns by the Nigerian civil society which required Nigeria to meet the laid down criteria for joining the OGP process which included the Freedom of Information Act (FOIAct); asset disclosure, as well as open budget, amongst others.
OGP can solve big problems but it can also solve small problems, OGP may just even help clarify misconceptions. For example, there is a municipality in Tanzania where land is very scarce and there was this perception that it was only the elites that had access to land. The perception was being fuelled by lack of interaction between the government and citizens.
However, as a result of the OGP process, the civil society and government agreed to open up a public register for all land owners in the said municipality. What did that do? It didn’t solve any problem; it doesn’t mean those who didn’t have land automatically had land. What it did was it showed everyone that there was a scarcity of land and availability was not only limited to the senior people in government.
I am proud to say that when Nigeria became a member of OGP in 2016 we designed a National Action Plan (NAP) and part of the commitment of the plan is improving the ease of doing business. One will wonder why ease of doing business; ease of doing business is at the heart of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Investors are interested in knowing whether or not the environment is conducive, it is easy to get government approvals and licenses and whether or not it is easy to pay taxes and access incentives rendered by government in relation to their businesses.
So, when we designed our National Action Plan our vision was to improve our ease of doing business ranking by 25 points by the year 2019; however, less than a year later the new World Bank index has shown that we have already improved by 20 points. It means we can boost investors’ confidence in Nigeria and also ease the pains local businesses go through in the country. So, the OGP process is a two-way traffic: it might solve big problems and at the same time solve small ones.
Nigeria has 14 commitments ranging from fiscal transparency, anti-corruption, tax transparency, access to information to citizens engagement. For example, at the national level we have what we call i–monitor which is an open platform that allows citizens to report feedback about project implementation at the community level as well as suggest what projects they would like to see implemented in their communities.
The OGP process has a lot to offer in terms of improving governance in countries like Nigeria. What are the major challenges inhibiting the effective implementation of the process in Nigeria?
Depending on what aspect you are looking at, for example, sometimes it is getting people in government to engage the process and that is why OGP requires high-level commitment, which was why it was the President that made all the commitments. There are also difficulties getting government agencies and representatives to understand that we have goals and time-bound commitments to meet.
There is again a limited capacity by members of the civil society and private sector to engage the process, and also a lack of understanding of what the process requires. There is the issue of perception that there is no way the government and civil society can work together which is diminishing overtime.
Moreover, there is lack of human and financial resources to implement the process. For example, the beneficial ownership register is a key commitment aimed at driving transparency and accountability in procurement process which will help eliminate corruption including instances where government officials award contracts to themselves using companies registered in their names but hidden from the public. It is an intensive work which requires huge amount of data mining; therefore people need to update their information.