The question of good governance has captured the attention of international institutions, including the World Bank and several inter-governmental organisations like the G-8. Both institutions have made this issue a critical prerequisite in their aid and donation policies to countries with poor records on governance.
But what do we mean by governance? There is a temptation to use governance and government interchangeably. Government is said to derive from the Greek word kyberman which means to steer. Being in the company of Political Scientists, I do not have any urge to define government in greater details. But, let us agree to define a government as a collective body of elected and appointed institutions empowered to legislate and adjudicate for the good of society, while governance is conceptualized as the processes and systems by which a government manages the resources of a society to address socio-economic and political challenges in the polity. Thus, a government is elected or appointed to provide good, effective and efficient governance. According to Daniel Kaufmann, governance embodies “the traditions and institutions by which authority in a country is exercised for the common good.”
A good governance system is defined by its relationship to some key prerequisites, including Accountability, Transparency, Participation, and Predictability. Let us briefly review these elements.
In a democracy, elected and appointed government officials, from the president down to the office messenger in a local government council, must be accountable for their actions and policies. They must provide answers for their activities to the general population. It is imperative that the population demands this from all government officials at all levels of the political system. One way of doing this is for members of each electoral constituency to construct a performance measurement framework compelling respective government officials to provide answers for their activities and policies. They must demand regular meetings with their respective elected officials at the constituency level.
Simply put, transparency is the easy and unrestricted access of government information by the population. The general public must have access to information on government policies and programmes. It is vital that ministers and bureaucrats ensure the unedited dissemination of such information as demanded by the general public, excluding information pertaining to a nation’s security. The general public should agitate for the enactment of an Access to Information Act that guarantees the unrestricted access of the public to information on government policies and programmes. The enactment of such an Act will compel governments to adhere to the tenets of transparency in their decision making process as well as limiting the chances of government officials engaging in corrupt practices.
This is a very important component of the elements of governance. It is imperative that citizens participate at all levels of their government’s decision making process. Their participation does not end with merely casting their votes on Election Day. They must insist and ensure that their votes are counted. For effective participation in public policy, it is essential for citizens to organize themselves into credible interest groups (professional associations, academic unions, students’ unions, labour unions, non-governmental organizations, etc) that constantly review government policies, articulate the positions of the general population, and engage elected officials in public debates regarding the rationale and impact of their policies and programmes on the population.
A democratic polity is governed by laws and regulations anchored on the Constitution of the country. Therefore, it is imperative that the application of these be fair and consistent, and thus predictable, within the boundaries of the Constitution. Any arbitrary application of the laws and regulations would vitiate the Constitution and inhibit good governance. A critical element of this is the recognition of the principles of jurisdictional responsibilities, especially in a federal polity like Nigeria. For example, can a federal government establish an Act empowering itself to review the finances, policies and activities of state governments and punish erring state officials?
The above elements presuppose an educated, politically conscious, enlightened and an actively proactive population. Where the population is ill equipped to engage in any of the above, it is a certainty that the rudiments of good governance will readily be compromised by the government of the day. This situation buttresses the view that a society gets the government that it deserves.
Excerpts of a lecture by Professor Natufe, who taught Political Science and International Relations in Canadian, Ghanaian, and Nigerian universities.