12 June 2012

Nigeria: Governance and Political Institutions in Nigeria


In recent years, a lot of studies have shown that political institutions and governance can enhance or mar economic development. For instance, it has been suggested that within the discipline of economics, the 'new institutional economics' has broken with the conventional neoclassical focus on factor endowments and technology.

They further state that politics and institutions account for the wide variation in economic structure and performance throughout history and across the world.

An important insight is that successful economic development depends on a political and institutional environment that aligns the political incentives facing governments with the requirements of economic growth and improved social welfare.

The closer the alignment, the more likely governments are to make credible and sustained commitments to constructive policies and systems of public administration.

Conversely, where governments' incentives are at odds with developmental imperatives, policymaking and implementation are vulnerable to economically damaging political opportunism.

Arguably the strongest temptation for Nigerian politicians to jeopardize our country's economic development prospects is rooted in the persistent political insecurity.

Our politicians facing imminent threats to their hold on power often have shorter time horizons and are more preoccupied with placating the specific groups most pivotal to their survival. As such, they most often place high priority on the short-term interests of their narrow constituencies, at the expense of longer-term social welfare of the entire country.

Such tendencies, no doubt have been responsible for the myopic self-interested political interventions associated with policymaking processes and public administration, whose outcome, even if not told, are the economically damaging consequences that poor citizens live with.

The main potential checks on these temptations are strong political institutions with the propensity to force our politicians to 'internalize' the social costs of their opportunistic behaviour.

For example, we are all aware that institutions of political representation make governments responsive and accountable to broader constituencies through competitive elections, and often restrain governments' discretionary authority by creating multiple 'veto players' whose approval is required for policy changes.

Historically, such institutions have emerged from hard-fought struggles between governments and their constituents, as self-enforcing bargains in which governments accept limits on their authority in order to reap the benefits of presiding over secure systems of political and economic rights.

The bargains are 'self-enforcing' in that, once struck, politicians must find it to be in their own political interests to abide by them. Although, Institutionalizing limits on governmental authority in Nigeria will be herculean task to achieve given our present structural deficit socio-economic settings that allows political and fiscal restraints to be enforced authoritatively by an 'imperial power'.

Accounts of neo-patrimonial governance in Nigeria emphasize a phenomena associated with political insecurity and weak institutions.

The centralization of political power at the centre and its seemingly arbitrary exercise are symptoms of the state's weakness in a hostile environment. As such, political opportunism routinely drives policymaking, at the expense of developmental objectives.

For example, Nigerian politicians are fond of choosing policies benefiting politically threatening urban consumers over our poor rural farmers, and favour the clientelistic distribution of state patronage over the provision of welfare enhancing public goods.

With weak institutional checks on the private appropriation of public resources, patronage networks have continued to permeate the state's administrative structures, compromising public-service effectiveness and fuelling corruption.

This pattern so profoundly affects opportunities for social advancement that class formation comes to be determined by relationships more with political power than to economic resources.

Yet rather than assuming neo-patrimonial tendencies to be essential and constant attributes of the Nigerian state, the persistent variation in governance quality can be imagined. More accounts of neo-patrimonialism show how insecurity and weak institutions has led the 'vampire elites and politicians' to behave in an assumed politically sensible yet economically damaging ways.

As a student of new institutional economics, it is my belief that governance quality can conceivably be quite sensitive to prevailing political institutions.

For example, institutions improving the alignment between our government's political incentives and developmental objectives can produce more constructive policies and systems of public administration. They would, in this sense, provide political foundations for the organizational cohesion and social embeddedness of what are called 'developmental states.

A crucial empirical question is whether governance quality in Nigeria is in fact sensitive to political institutions. Although governance quality has been a major theme in political theory for centuries, one opinion is that any particular operational definition is bound to be contestable.

However, in spite of the contestations that may arise, it is my utmost belief that three key dimensions remain central to Nigeria's development prospects: economic policy coherence, public-service effectiveness, and limited corruption.

The earlier Nigerian politicians understands this, the better for all of us, if not the country's 20:2020 goal may end up a mirage like all other developmental agenda of the past.

Otaru wrote from Kudan Road, Kawo, Kaduna

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