Nigeria, Democracy, and the Economy
11 Pages Posted: 21 May 2014 Last revised: 14 Jul 2015
Date Written: May 19, 2014
Nigeria fortuitously instituted democratic rule at home at a time of growing economic and financial ease abroad. A decade and a half down the road, it is clear that elected democrats have been at a loss on how to deliver economic outcomes commensurate with the global stimuli. Unemployment and poverty levels have worsened in the face of high growth and high liquidity. A democratic deficit has emerged as elected officials pass the buck of policy conception, design and coordination to unelected appointees that should ideally only implement. There is a divergence between conferment of powers through elections and the ability to exercise such powers between elections. On the eve of Nigeria’s fifth general elections, global economic and financial situations are favourable, and seem set to remain so in the foreseeable future. Thus, in spite of past misses, the window of opportunity for Nigeria’s democracy to deliver stronger economic outcomes remains open.
The 470 persons Nigeria elects every four years now have to be equipped to achieve a stronger link between favourable global economic and financial stimuli and domestic economic outcomes. Specifically, Nigeria now needs to embed strong policy making institutions in her fledgling democratic transition by redefining the roles that elected officials must play in economic management, equipping them to play such roles, and setting out the rules by which such roles must be played in explicit new pieces of legislation. We suggest five aspects of the economic management processes that must be reformed to overcome the huge democratic deficit in the Nigerian transition and ensure that the next decade and a half of Nigeria’s democratic transition yields better economic outcomes than the initial decade and a half.
a) First, until we know the facts about the economy in a timely fashion, it will be difficult to know when or how to boost economic outcomes, however well meaning we may be. There is a need for government to ensure that all agencies charged with responsibility to provide any type of economic data do so in a timely and orderly fashion, preferably on pre-announced due dates to ensure predictability. The President and the Parliament need to ensure that data provision mandates/legislation are updated to include comprehensive calendar and ensure sufficient funding is appropriated for data providing agencies.
b) Second, once necessary data are provided, Nigeria needs to have a neutral national economic intelligence agency to generate a central view of the trends and outlook of the key aspects of the economy, and provide the insights into ways to improve economic outcomes, oversight of national policies and programs, and foresight into long-term future economic trends, required to ensure that President, Parliament and all Agency Heads always stay focused on ways to make government work better.
c) Third, to overcome the growing democratic deficit in which elected Presidents come into office to pass the buck of economic policy conception, design and coordination to unelected appointees that should ideally only implement, Nigeria henceforth needs to oblige elected Presidents by law to provide an annual written articulation of their thinking about where the economy is coming from, where it roughly is, and where it is heading to; assign specific roles and actions to elected presidents; and provide them the technical backing to be more effective in providing active leadership in economic policy formulation. Elected Presidents must be equipped to take responsibility for defining economic realities and required policies in formal statements to the Parliament on an annual basis.
d) Fourth, to overcome the growing democratic deficit in which elected Parliaments merely pass the buck of policy economic policy conception and design to unelected appointees that should ideally only implement, Nigeria henceforth needs to oblige elected Parliaments by law to respond to the annual written articulation of the President on his thinking about where the economy is coming from, where it roughly is, and where it is heading to; assign specific roles and actions to elected Parliaments; and provide them the technical backing to be more capable to engage the President in economic policy formulation, articulate informed pre-legislative debate on the floor of the Parliament, and enact agenda-setting economic legislation.
e) Fifth, Nigerian Parliament must also be equipped with access to the technical personnel and expertise required for exerting greater impact on economic policies and outcomes by holding the ministries, departments and the agencies to account, and promoting public understanding of policy choices.
To ensure that Nigeria’s democracy becomes an effective means of actualizing the country’s huge economic potentials, it is important to push these issues to the forefront of national debate in the build up to Nigeria’s fifth general elections.
Keywords: Nigeria, democracy, President, Parliament, election, democratic deficit, democratic transition, select committees, oversight, economy, economic outcomes, unemployment
JEL Classification: H10, H11, H19
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation