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Governance in Nigeria: one standard deviation apart

July 31, 2009

Nigeria is said to have failed to make progress on good governance and in the fight against corruption, despite the present administration’s avowed stance on the rule of law. Governance matters. In the update on Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI), by the World Bank, rule of law is one of the six broad dimensions of governance. “In the dimension of rule of law” the report notes “one standard deviation is all that separates the very low ratings of Afghanistan or Zimbabwe from the still-low ratings of countries such as Nigeria or Paraguay”.

That Zimbabwe, a country stuck in a hyperinflationary economic rut, is considered better than Nigeria in terms of rule of law should necessarily raise eyebrows. However, before dismissing the findings, it’s important to put things in context. The report is based on hundred of variables from different data sources garnered from thousands of surveys from all over the world. That the report dates back to 1996 suggests consistency, either spurious or genuine.  We doubt if it’s the former.

Then again there’s the issue of standard deviation: statistical jargon that explains how a set of values differ from the average. In other words, the extent to which Nigeria’s score differs from the average value and view that reflect the rule of law. Such values and views will cover property rights, efficient judicial administration, free speech etc. Collected overtime from different sources for 212 countries helps tone down, though not entirely, subjectivity.

That said, Nigerians need not be told that governance is in retreat. Good governance is palatable and palpable. The lack of electricity; increasing insecurity (robbers dressed as soldiers or policemen are not uncommon); lack of good roads (Apapa-Oshodi expressway, Benin-Ore road and their daily yawning craters); environmental and economic degradation of the Niger Delta (the nation’s golden goose) and indefinite strike in the country’s ivory towers are clear and present signs.

Signs that reflect to varying degrees the absence of the six broad dimensions of governance: voice and accountability; political stability and absence of violence; government effectiveness; regulatory quality; rule of law and control of corruption.

To brush aside the report, because of the comparisons, would miss the point – nothing short of complacency. Zimbabwe for instance, is renowned for churning out the highest number of educated Africans and was an agriculturally vibrant economy before the ‘land reforms’. Zimbabwe is a case study of how bad policies and governance can ruin a country. Particularly one with immense potentials like Nigeria.

So which is more important: good governance or good economic policies? Sound economic policies are buffered by good governance. The report notes that “when governance is improved by one standard deviation, infant mortality declines by two-thirds and incomes rise about three-fold in the long run.” Such advances are not only achievable but constitute “just a fraction of the difference between the worst and best performer.”

Why then has Nigeria persistently stayed on a recursive path to poor governance? Our political elite, public officials and business cronies are self-regarding. They are in thrall to the road of rent-seeking; at the detriment of the majority of Nigerians.

The gain from Nigeria’s potential: a large population, resource-rich and not landlocked with bad neighbours, are evident but remain elusive. A large and educated population as well as a few good men and women are requisite factors for improving governance. Democracy ie, political rights, sadly doesn’t help much. The number of free and fair elections is a necessary but insufficient condition[1]. Checks and balances eg, courts, and independent crime commissions that bite more than they bark, will discourage shoddy politicians and their allies.


[1] I like this definition: Democracy is more than just elections. It is about education, tolerance and building independent institutions such as a judiciary and a free press. The Economist, July 23rd 2009 editorial on The Arab world: Waking from it’s sleep

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