Nigerian Elites are Cannibalising the Poor. It is time for Business Unusual

Ani Nwachukwu Agwu June 21, 2022 0

Typically, Nigeria’s fiscal position improves when oil prices rise. This economic phenomenon is called the ‘oil boom’ effect. The recent increase in crude oil prices (33% between January and March 2022) triggered by the war in Ukraine should ordinarily be beneficial to Nigeria’s fiscal position. However, in contrast to past periods of oil boom, two factors are eating up the opportunities presented by high oil prices.

The first factor is falling oil production. Oil production has consistently fallen below Nigeria’s Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) quota (1.8 million bpd). As of May this year, oil production stood at 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd) – the lowest in 15 years – stemming mainly from oil theft and production inefficiencies. The second factor is petrol subsidy payments. In 2020, the cost of petrol subsidy stood at US$0.3 billion. In 2021, it had risen to US$4.5 billion. In this year’s amended budget, petrol subsidy is estimated to cost Nigeria US$9 billion – higher than the combined budget allocation for education, health and social protection.

Whereas households in the bottom 40% of the income distribution account for less than 3% of all gasoline purchases in Nigeria, three-quarters of all gasoline sold in Nigeria is consumed by private firms, public transportation services, and government agencies and a substantial share is smuggled out of Nigeria for resale in neighbouring countries. Somewhat, the government is subsidising illegal trade (smuggling) while also preventing the formation of a legitimate market for cross-border petrol transportation and sale.

To keep it short, perhaps, the best way to understand the politics of petrol subsidy is to borrow insights from President Muhammadu Buhari who in 2015 described petrol subsidy as fraudulent payments. His position that petrol subsidy is a brainchild of political corruption cannot be truer because the benefits overwhelmingly accrue to wealthier households, and a large share is captured by smugglers and black marketeers. Under the subsidy regime, we are unconscionably sacrificing opportunities for critical investments in physical and human capital to fund some unholy appetites of the elites.

Where are the poor and vulnerable groups in all these? Where are their interests? Are they forgotten? They simply do not matter? For every US$1 billion paid to subsidy marketeers or oil smugglers, there are prohibitive opportunity costs. While petrol subsidy unforgivably constitutes unsustainable fiscal burdens on the federation, it disproportionately affects the poor and vulnerable groups. One specific way this happens is through inflationary pressures.

Before the war in Ukraine, higher inflation pushed an estimated 8 million more Nigerians into poverty between 2020 and 2021. In 2021, inflation averaged 17 percent, undermining Nigeria’s economic recovery by eroding the purchasing power of the most vulnerable households. The World Bank projects that the added inflationary pressure emanating from the war in Ukraine could push as many as one million more Nigerians into poverty, on top of the six million already projected before the war. Overall, the “inflation shock” is estimated to result in about 15 million more Nigerians living in poverty between 2020 and 2022.

Perhaps, the most frightening implication of petrol subsidy on public finance is the precarious fiscal position of subnational levels of government. This is because most states rely heavily on Federation Account to meet their obligation. As such, diminished revenue inflows to the Federation Account distort revenue integrity and jeopardise fiscal sustainability. For example, in Bayelsa State, Federal transfers account for 91 percent of revenues, and declining transfers caused a 22-percent drop in Bayelsa’s revenues per capita in 2021.

According to the World Bank, Nigeria’s fiscal deficit in 2022 is expected to grow to 5.8 percent of GDP, up from an earlier projection of 5.3 percent. Already, the results are trickling in with NNPC’s zero remittance to Federation Accounts for months going now – a situation that may lead to state governments’ inability to pay salaries and administrative expenses. Inevitably, this will lead to more borrowing.

We fear that the unholy appetites of the elites (petrol subsidy and its consequences) are fueling citizens’ distrust, cynicism and social grievances. Left unresolved for a longer time, they could crystallise into violent demonstrations and political instability. From catastrophic security experiences to tertiary institutions being closed down due to perennial industrial disputes, mass protests will be a dangerous path for Nigeria. In this likely event (may it not happen), the poor and vulnerable will be balkanised and further cannibalised – they are always at the receiving end!

For macroeconomic survival and stability to return, Nigeria needs the consensus of the elites on the future of petrol subsidies. As everyone already knows, petrol subsidy is regressive, opaque, costly, inefficient, unsustainable, harmful, and unfair. It has to go and the proceeds reinvested in critical sectors that would spur growth in a pro-poor manner. It is true that many Nigerians do not support removing the petrol subsidy. This is simply because they do not trust the government to use any fiscal savings for pro-poor causes. While petrol subsidy removal will remain politically sensitive, it is disproportionately benefitting the elites who need no subsidy. It has to go!

We must admit, however, that the poor and vulnerable groups would need to endure temporary hardships if petrol subsidy must give way to a long-term reform agenda. Since the buck stops on President Buhari, he must, therefore, summon the will to lead the conversation; overcome all constraints and generate the trust needed to pursue politically sensitive and hard reforms. Fundamentally, this does not require business-as-usual gloves.

The mix of politics and policy that will play out must be “business unusual”. The recalcitrant insistence and politicisation of subsidy removal arguments is a way the elites cannibalise the poor and vulnerable groups. By any means necessary, petrol subsidy has to give way. It is economic cannibalism!

Written by Hamzat Lawal; Founder/CEO at Connected Development and Ani Nwachukwu Agwu; Head of Research and Policy at Connected Development. For correspondence, please contact Ani at

This piece immensely benefited from the Nigeria Development Update. NDU is a World Bank report series produced twice a year which assesses recent economic and social developments and provides an in-depth examination of selected economic and policy issues and an analysis of Nigeria’s medium-term development challenges.

The New NFIU Policy Guidelines and Morality of Local Government Fiscal Autonomy in Nigeria

Ani Nwachukwu Agwu July 9, 2019 33

The world is debating local solutions to global problems using the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Agenda2063 as a benchmark in accelerating inclusive development that foster economic growth – Hamzat

A modern state must be capable of providing socio-economic services; driving structural reforms and economic transformations; and mobilizing citizens for social change. Conversely, an underdeveloped state is characterized by (at least) the following dysfunctions: a hyper-centralization of authority and administrative decision-making; an over-dependent citizenry, powerless and incapable of serious engagements with political executives. Inevitably, these dysfunctions produce corruption, clientelism and rent-seeking; neo-patrimonial redistribution of public resources; and opaque administration of coffers by officials which they consider a normal extension of their personal wealth. Indeed, great challenges present great opportunities!

In Nigeria, this is the picture of the Federal (central) government in general, and Local (grassroots) governments in particular. Public infrastructure in disarray; widespread and extreme poverty; and deep social inequality. Specifically, health care, basic education, economic opportunities, social protection, etc. are poorly delivered and/or broken. Critically, the situation is dire but neither hopeless nor incurable.

Since politics is local; solutions to broken politics are not unfamiliar principles. As far back as 1914, the British colonial masters had fully recognized the need for a local government system to serve as the foundation for a democratic political system at the centre. The system was to be efficient enough to run the services required by the people; representative so as to endure and local – close to the people, in order to be beneficial and meaningful. Therefore, local government system as we know it today in Nigeria can be traced back to the system of indirect rule instituted by the Lugard’s government in 1914. By simple logic, this was for convenience – to effectively govern the vast territory created by the amalgamation policy.

Consequently, in July 1975, as part of its political programme preparatory to the transition to civilian rule, the military government of General Murtala Mohammed announced a commitment to a systematic and deliberate re-organization of the local government system. Accordingly, General Olusegun Obasanjo, who took over from General Murtala reinforced the policy that “the local government reforms are based on the need to stabilize and rationalize government at the local level which entails the decentralization of some functions of the state government to the local levels in order to harness local resources for rapid development and ensure grassroots participation in our developmental process”. For the first time, the local government was officially recognized as the Third Tier of government in Nigeria. Such was the spirit of Local Government Reforms of 1976.

The 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (FRN) recognizes 774 Local Government Areas (henceforth LGAs). Financially, the LGAs are supposed to generate internal revenue through property, capitation and general rating. However, statutory allocation from the Federal and State governments form the main support of the LGAs. Under the current sharing formula, the Federal Government takes the lion’s share – 52.68% from the Federation Account. The 36 states take 26.72% while the 774 LGAs make do with the remaining 20.60%.

Howbeit, because the 36 state governments operate a State Joint Local Government Account (SJLGA) with the LGAs, state governors control the cumulative 48% of federation revenues that are allocated to the states and LGAs.  Although the 1999 constitution of the FRN recognizes LGAs as the Third Tier of government, it is not treated as an autonomous body in a great number of respects. First, the functions performed by the LGAs in most states are those “permitted” by the state government rather than those specifically listed in the constitution. Second, the Federal government’s channeling of local government budgetary allocations through the SJLGA (instead of sending it directly to the LGAs) is a tacit subscription to the notion of non-autonomy. This provision – fiscal non-autonomy, became the bane of local government administration in Nigeria, up till today.

It is in efforts to debottleneck administration of LGAs and ensure financial independence that the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) Guidelines of May 2019 was pronounced by the central government. Prominent Nigerians and legal luminaries have expressed informed views – both in morality and constitutionality, on the new guidelines. Under the current revenue sharing (Federal Allocation) arrangement, and obvious constitutional technicalities, state governors possess tremendous fiscal power and freedom but little accountability in the use of the monies under their control. There are few checks and balances because state legislatures are typically weak. State governors exercise undue influence and most legislators serve, regrettably, as political pawns.

Surprisingly, the constitution provides for immunity for governors while in office, making it difficult (almost impossible) to hold them answerable and/or accountable. In the 20 years of democratic government (fourth republic) in Nigeria, only a very few governors behave in a fiscally responsible manner as required of them by Nigerian statutes. They run their cabinet meetings and conduct official matters (budgets, strategic policy documents, audit reports, etc.,) like occultism or esoteric organizations. As active citizens, if you insist on a few hard questions on fiscal transparency through legal instruments e.g. Freedom of Information Act 2011, some governors do not mind sending armed personnel against you – for intimidation and suppression.

Generally, because of rabid politics, the legality of the new NFIU guidelines remains largely argumentative. In the meantime, permit that we defer the constitutionality of the policy to the courts since lawsuits have been appropriately instituted. Whatever the outcome of the judicial challenges, the moral foundation of the policy must not be hastily sacrificed. What is democracy without dividends? What is development without inclusion? Grassroots populations remain the most marginalized segments of the Nigerian society, abandoned and neglected in most instances. Propositions for fiscal autonomy of LGAs are not for semantics. From the history of national development, they are genuine and compelling. While they are not one-size-fits-all, it does possess potential as a game-changer.

For the second time, after 1976 Local Government Reforms, a government and/or regime appears passionate and committed to rapid and inclusive rural development seen by her policy interventions, notably by the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) and Fiscal Autonomy for LGAs. The point is simple: the spirited intentionality of Fiscal Autonomy for LGAs to strategically cause a disruption in the administration of the financially-starved third tiers of government will surely accelerate grassroots revitalization and rapid rural development. Another laudable policy option that needs widespread public support and reinvigorated political will is Financial Autonomy of State Legislature and State Judiciary.

At this very point in our national life, one of the obligations we – patriotic citizens, owe those we have entrusted with political powers is constructive engagements. At one time, we rebuke bad public policies, at the other time we provide popular support for transformative reforms and public choices. Such is the spirit and the very essence of  civic participation and democratic governance. For it is often said: precepts upon precepts, a house is built. God bless Nigeria!

Co-written by Ani, Nwachukwu Agwu and Hamzat Lawal. Nwachukwu is a rural development specialist and a Phd candidate at the University of Nigeria, Enugu while Hamzat Lawal is an international development campaigner; activist and founder of Connected Development, Abuja. For correspondence, please contact:

Why I’m advocating for potable water for deprived households in Nigeria

Ani Nwachukwu Agwu March 22, 2019 2

Access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) are crucial for good outcomes in health, nutrition, education, economic development and poverty reduction. The problems associated with inadequate WASH services affect virtually all aspects of human development, disproportionately affecting women and girls.

I grew up in the remote village of Umueziukwu in Onicha Local Government Area of Ebonyi state, Nigeria. In 1995, as a primary one pupil, I witnessed instances where classmates stayed away from school for days. Upon recommencement and during roll calls, many of them would be lined up for “beating” for absenteeism without permissions – usually in written forms from parents/guardians. On occasions, my friends would cry and appeal that they be pardoned, citing illness and incapacitation. It was a common phenomenon.

As vividly as I can remember, the commonest reason my classmates maintained low attendance in school was Dracunculiasis, also called Guinea-worm disease (GWD). A simple search on Wikipedia reveals that a person becomes infected when they drink water that contains water fleas infected with guinea worm larvae. After some time, the female worms form a painful blister in the skin, usually on a lower limb. Other symptoms may include vomiting and dizziness. During this time, it may be difficult to walk or work. Because of this usual incapacitation, victims stayed away from school for days, weeks and even months.

A parasitic infection – Guinea worm, occurring in parts of Africa without access to safe water. Picture: Unknown

Until I became 12 and left home for a boarding house, I “travel” about 10km everyday (with my elder sisters) to fetch water for domestic uses from Egu-Ugba. Egu-Ugba is a stagnant pond – a community-owned asset for Umueziukwu but it serves other adjoining communities. The name is derived from a deity that prevents the pond from drying up during dry seasons, until it is regenerated by another cycle of rainfall. The daily travel was conducted in phases – early in the mornings before we prepare for school and in the evenings before my mother comes back from the market. If you missed any of the sessions, you risked your breakfast or dinner as the case may be. My mother made the rules and enforced it devotedly.

To obtain water from the “cleaner” part of the pond, my sisters would walk into the pond up to thigh level, the part never stirred by fetchers before us. When we come back, my mother would add alum (aluminum sulphate) to cause coagulation and flocculation as a treatment measure whenever she had the time. But residents drank straight from Egu-Ugba without boiling it. That I was never diagnosed of GWD remains a mystery to me. However, I remain terrified that the entire household “played” with water fleas, unknowingly. Till this very day, nothing has changed quite remarkably except for boreholes (“pump” as it is called) scattered along strategic clusters in the community.

School children preparing for school in Uroh Uzea, Esan  North-East LGA, Edo State. This is a typical case of water crisis in most villages in Nigeria. Credit: Purpose

Crisis in communities – the issues are the same

In Nigeria, it is estimated that 60 million Nigerians live without clean water, 120 million lack access to decent toilet facilities and 46 million practice open defecation. More disturbing is the fact that annually, about 60,000 Nigerian children, under the age of five, die of WASH-related diseases. This could imply that with 12 years left to the attainment of the SDGs (Vision 2030), Nigeria will find it extremely difficult to achieve #SDGs Goal 6: Ensure access to water and sanitation for all. WASH is fundamental to health and well-being, forming an effective barrier against disease transmission.

Despite global progress on child mortality, courtesy of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), infectious diseases still pose the greatest threat to vulnerable children, especially children under five. According to the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP), 50% of schools in Nigeria do not have any water facility and 52% lack access to toilet facilities. In fact, if you walk around school facilities in any state in Nigeria, you would have reasons to argue that the issue is underreported. However, the crisis remains unacceptable and should be challenged.

My experience in 1995 had not left me. So early in January 2019 when an opportunity emerged that I lead a national campaign on WASH, I never hesitated. A major outcome from the project was that CODE mobilized a total of 36 House of Assembly; National Assembly and Gubernatorial Candidates in Edo, Lagos and Kano States to sign Pledge Cards, declaring to prioritize WASH delivery when elected into office. In the next four years and beyond, I would commit targeted efforts to engagement with authorities and office holders, tasking them on fulfillment of their commitments and campaign promises and of course improvement of lives especially in marginalized rural communities.

#Vote4WASH campaigners, standing in front of a signpost describing a SHAWN II Project (rural water intervention) in Dawakin Tofa L.G.A., Kano State

Taking WASH to the Grassroots is a national campaign (activities can be tracked on Twitter using #Vote4WASH) where Connected Development (CODE) in partnership with WaterAid Nigeria; demonstrated resilience and achieved a new record in the history of citizen engagement in Nigeria. We mobilized community leaders and non-profit stakeholders to promote WASH to the mainstream of political debates and conversations during 2019 electioneering and general elections. During engagements publicly declaring to revitalize rural/urban water schemes upon electoral victories was a high point and we documented outcomes, carefully. In turn, electorates were urged to perform their civic responsibility (voting) being WASH conscious and making considerations to candidates who had signed pledge cards to improve access to WASH services.

Although the support of the international donor community will remain critical in the developing world, it will remain incumbent upon national governments to dramatically increase investments. Accountability and improved financial performance can help attract additional external sources of financing and facilitate private sector involvement, argues United Nations World Water Development Report 2019.

Today, as the world marks International world Water Day, governments in Nigeria, national and sub-national, must support comprehensive investment and revitalization of rural/urban water schemes to ensure that public facilities – schools, health centres, markets and parks; are properly equipped with water and sanitation services. These services must be inclusive and affordable with special attention to disadvantaged or under-served groups in the society.

In summary, lack of access to potable water comes with a huge cost especially for the poor and vulnerable. Because they are excluded from central reticulated water and sanitation networks (where they exist), they rely on alternatives (usually more costly) such as water vendors. By implication, this is driving exclusion, entrenched power asymmetries, poverty and material inequalities in Nigeria. No child, in any part of the world should be allowed to contend with either Guinea worm or other water borne diseases.

Governance, let alone democracy, is facing grievous, structural challenges in Nigeria but WASH services should remain a priority sub-sector. From time immemorial, this cliché: Water is life, remains a popular oneTo end with a question,does lack of water mean death? Governments in Nigeria must answer this question. As we commit to local actions in pursuit of the SDGs, indeed, efforts must be coordinated that we “Leave No one Behind”.

#NigeriaDecides2019: Youngest Candidate for Kano State House of Assembly Pledges to Prioritize Water Programmes, Projects and Policies

Ani Nwachukwu Agwu February 16, 2019 3

High-Level courtesy Call to Comrade Adnan Mukhtar Tudunwada in his campaign office in Kano State, Nigeria

Over the last few years, especially since the launch of Universal Basic Education Act (UBEA 2004), a number of old and dilapidated schools have been rehabilitated and new ones constructed. However, 50% of schools in Nigeria do not have any water facility and 52% lack access to toilet facilities (WHO/UNICEF 2018). Without doubts, poor learning environment is one of the factors driving out of school syndrome.

For the girl child, inability to access basic services like water and sanitation has deterred some to maintain school attendance. For those young girls enrolled, they turn to open defecation in nearby bushes when nature calls. When open defecation is the norm, school children, especially girls, incur risk and vulnerability to physical and sexual attacks on their way to isolated bushes and pathways. At other times, girls spend quality time looking for and fetching water for household consumption thereby loosing productive time that would have been spent in schools learning.

Despite political commitments to reverse these discrepancies and combat Nigeria’s overwhelming out-of-school syndrome, investments in education is still low compared to other Sub-Saharan countries. In Kano State, government is struggling to contain her over 3 million children who are currently not enrolled in any form of formal education.

Children under the age of 15 account for about 45% of the total population in Nigeria. For national development, it is important to ensure that these groups of children are provided with quality education.

It is against this background that Comrade Adnan Mukhtar Tudunwada accepted the challenge to represent his constituents, Nasarawa Constituency, in Kano State House of Assembly. Being the youngest person running for a political position in the State, Comrade Tudunwada has vowed to concern himself with quality representation upon electoral victory.

Comrade Adnan Mukhtar Tudunwada publicly commits to prioritize WASH in Nasarawa Constituency, Kano State

Accordingly, on February 08, 2019; during a High-Level Courtesy Call by Connected Development on the need to prioritize access to water, sanitation and hygiene in line with Sustainable Development Goals, Goal 6 in particular; Comrade Tudunwada restated his commitment to quality representation and signed a pledge card that will have him prioritize or support water programmes, projects and policies in the parliament through his motions, votes and bills. The pledge card is a tool for accountability and civic engagement when Tudunwada finds his way to Kano State House of Assembly.

In the last quarter of 2018, WaterAid Nigeria in partnership with Connected Development launched a national campaign – #Vote4WASH, calling on the political class to increase budgetary allocation and releases to rural and urban water schemes. This is in realization that poor access to potable water and poor sanitation keep people in poverty. No country in the world has ever achieved modernity without good water, sanitation and hygiene. #Vote4WASH enjoins citizens to vote for candidates who publicly pledge to prioritize water programmes, projects and interventions in their states or constituencies.

Poverty Elimination: Five Presidential Candidates Commit to Revitalize Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Sector

Ani Nwachukwu Agwu February 16, 2019 1

Babatunde Ademola (Nigeria Community Movement Party), Mr. Emmanuel Ishie Etim (Change Nigeria Party) signing to revitalize WASH sector in Abuja

About 25% of Nigerians defecate openly, placing Nigeria No. 2 in the global rating on open defecation. According to Federal Ministry of Water Resources in Nigeria, access to improved sanitation has decreased from 38% in 1990 to 29% in 2015. In the rural areas, 46% of all water schemes are non-functional and the statistics is similar in the urban areas. 

More disturbing is the fact that annually, about 60,000 Nigerian children, under the age of five, die of WASH-related diseases. This connotes a full-blown crisis situation and implies that water supply has deteriorated and degenerated in successive governments or administrations.

Launched in November 2018, #Vote4WASH is a national campaign rooted in Goal 6 of the Sustainable Development Goals which calls for transformative budgetary provisions, funding and investment in WASH-related projects in schools and communities.  #Vote4WASH wants water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) to dominate 2019 election campaigns and political conversations especially at sub-national levels of government.

Ahmed Buhari of Sustainable National Party signs and adopts  #Vote$WASH in Abuja

However, since Nigerian government had declared a “State of Emergency on Nigeria’s Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene Sector,’’ it is therefore a national concern for all stakeholders. With the National Action Plan for Revitalization of Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene; all stakeholders are called to action.

On this basis, our team reached out to five presidential candidates under the historic #ReadyToRun platform. The movement had organized a town hall meeting at Channels TV, Abuja on February 10, 2019, for engagement and in-depth interaction with electorates. After due diligence and engagement, we secured overwhelming support from the five candidates as they signed up to the accountability tool (Pledge Cards) – publicly declaring to support and prioritize water programmes, projects and interventions if elected into office.

The five presidential candidates include: Mr. Chike Ukagbu (Advanced Allied Party), Mr. Babatunde Ademola (Nigeria Community Movement Party), Mr. Emmanuel Ishie Etim (Change Nigeria Party) Mrs Eunice Atuejide of (National Interest Party) and Ahmed Buhari of (Sustainable National Party).

Mr. Chike Ukagbu (Advanced Allied Party) commits to #Vote4WASH in Abuja

Water is life and lack of it means death. Access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) are crucial for good outcomes in health, nutrition, education and livelihood standards. When water and sanitation facilities are available and accessible to citizens, they act as primary barriers against disease transmission. Personal hygiene, particularly hand washing with soap and running water, has been identified as the most cost-effective disease control mechanism.

Nevertheless, Nigeria parades embarrassing statistics as highlighted above in relation to WASH. The implication of signing up to #Vote4WASH Pledge Cards is acceptance to be held accountable in terms of support and investment towards universal access to safe water and improved sanitation in our communities (urban and rural) in line with the SDGs, National Open Defecation Free Roadmap (ODF), Partnership for Expanded Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (PEWASH) and a State of Emergency in Nigeria’s WASH Sector.

In addition, signatories to the Pledge Cards mean support and investment to ensure that all public institutions especially schools, health centres, markets and parks have inclusive WASH facilities and/or services. And because poor sanitation keeps people in poverty, WASH would form components of poverty alleviation schemes and social welfare programmes.

We are reaching out to electoral stakeholders – political parties and their candidates for Gubernatorial, National Assembly and House of Assembly positions; community-based organisations; civil societies; and electorates, to recognize; influence and demand for remarkable budgetary attention and funding for WASH in the grassroots.

Mrs Eunice Atuejide (National Interest Party) pledges for #Vote4WASH in Abuja

Citizens are enjoined to vote for candidates who have to upgrade and prioritize WASH sector. With evidences, we ascertain that increasing access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) aids economic development, poverty reduction, education, good health and general well-being.

Why Governments Should Open Up Their Data

Ani Nwachukwu Agwu January 31, 2019 0

Running 21st century governments by the “old rules” is reinforcing information asymmetry, inefficiency, inequality and ultimately poverty. In 2016, the eight richest people in the world had as much money as the bottom 50 per cent of humanity – that’s three-and-a-half billion people. And of those eight, six were infotech billionaires. The world can no longer feign indifference on the pricelessness of public data in this age. Like these infotech billionaires, governments are stewards of public data and money. Their responsibility is allocating same to priority sectors in the society for policy-making. If data is so priceless, why then is the unsustainable concentration of power and wealth (data) in the hands of few individuals and government?

A group of active citizens, prepared to engage with state authorities, in a meeting, Abuja

Technological advancement such as computer, internet and airplane has not only demystified global challenges (e.g. transportation) to the point that one could fly from New York to London in six hours or less; technology has made governance and public policy increasingly participatory and interactive. It is believed that such interaction will ultimately result in more democratization of decision-making and getting citizens more involved in the allocation of state resources for public good. Democracy requires transparent decisions; so that citizens are aware of what is decided and how much money is being spent on which purposes.

In developing economies, e.g. Nigeria, one phenomenon driving political instability and economic stagnation is corruption. Stakeholders are unanimous that the incidence of corruption is unacceptably high and that open government – opening up government data and public processes, is the antidote. The importance of data-driven transparency is indisputable in combating corruption because corruption thrives in atmospheres of opaqueness and secrecy. Incontestably, transparency counteracts corruption and sharp practices in government circles.

A fundamental concept for understanding open government is information asymmetry. Information asymmetry is a situation in which one party has more information than another, for instance, when a government has more information than its constituents. One of the reasons why governments open their data is to reduce information asymmetry, but completely overcoming this is often not realistic. Somebody who is inside the system on a daily basis will always have more knowledge than outsiders do. However, easy access and a clear presentation of information are often necessary. By that, citizens can see a clearer picture, but completely bridging the information asymmetry is virtually impossible.

The second point why we should open up government data is civic participation and engagement. Among other forms of centralized governments, one distinctive characteristic of democracy is citizens’ voice or civic participation. Citizens can never be able to properly engage their elected or public officials without data or information about what is happening inside government institutions. World over, a military dictator can always build roads; primary healthcare centres; potable water supply; etc., but at any instance, military dictators lack legitimacy because they rule by the barrel of a gun. Ruling by the barrel of a gun is a measure of primitiveness.

Article 21 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads that: “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot or by equivalent free voting procedures.” Fundamentally, access to relevant public data inevitably guide electorates during elections, guaranteeing credible electoral outcomes among nations. Undoubtedly, under democracies where voices are present, human rights are best protected.

So there is relationship between open government, legitimacy of governments and trust. The importance of easy access to public data as a way of building trust is captured in open government ambitions. Commitments to open government should show that governments are not hiding anything from citizens. In the circumstance, the public can see how the government is functioning, and influence its working where necessary. For example, viewing how budget is spent and thereafter suggesting alternative ways of spending the budget better.

Challenging the status quo

No more Secrecy Act in Nigeria, it belongs to the past

For five decades (1962–2011), Nigeria operated a horrible law – Official Secret Act, which provided for the protection of official information from public interaction or scrutiny. The Act imposed restrictions upon public servants concerning disclosure of certain “privileged” information. Thus, for 50 years, Nigerian political environment was more or less a “black box” – citizens living in information blackout.

In the same year (2011) that Open Government Partnership (OGP) was launched, Nigerian government enacted a revolutionary law – Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), providing for free access of public information to citizens. The act also provides for the protection of personal privacy, protection of serving public officers from adverse consequences when they disclose certain kinds of official information without authorization. The Nigerian FOIA is considered a game-changer in the country’s long push for openness, transparency and accountability.

Global efforts at opening up government-controlled data for public participation and engagement birthed a multilateral initiative – OGP.  In September 2011, on the sidelines of a UN General Assembly meeting, Heads of State from 8 founding governments (Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, United Kingdom, and the United States) endorsed the Open Government Declaration. The OGP aims to secure concrete commitments from national and sub-national governments to open up government data and processes, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance among member states.

How civic organisations are disrupting service delivery using FOIA and OGP

For many years in Nigeria, corruption and cultures of opacity meant that resources meant for development were frittered away. According to a UN report, roughly $4.6bn is spent on bribes in Nigeria each year. Poor transparency and accountability have allowed corruption to flourish, but these civil society groups are trying to change the opaque environment.

Empowered by the provisions of OGP and FIOA, governments are under intense pressure to intensify fights against corruption; sharing more information about the way federal ministers or commissioners are managing public resources and increasing civil participation in public decision-making. A host of civic organisations: Follow The Money, Tracka, PPDC, SERAP etc are harnessing new technologies to strengthen governance especially at the grassroots. The activities of these above-named organisations are examples of how citizens (activists) can be part of the solution of nation building in a fragile or failing democracy. Therefore to increase civic participation, promote transparency, and strengthen accountability; governments must open up public data – hitherto administered in secrecy, for public perusal, consumption and ownership.

This article was originally published on Apolitical in December 2018.

[Project Overview] Taking #Vote4Wash to the Grassroots [CODE+WaterAid]

Ani Nwachukwu Agwu January 25, 2019 1

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve access to water, sanitation and hygiene; health and education; reduce inequality; and spur economic growth, among other transformations. In the 17 set of goals, people are central and foundational. There are people around the world who are still in need of the most basic necessities of life – everything from clean water to food, and healthy lives and well-being.

More than any other goal, Goal 6 – Clean Water and Sanitation, is one of the most interconnected goals. Undoubtedly, increasing access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) aids economic development, poverty reduction, education (particularly for girls), health and many more. As we speak, it is estimated that 60 million Nigerians live without clean water, 120 million lack access to decent toilet facilities and 46 million practice open defecation.

More disturbing is the fact that annually, about 60,000 Nigerian children, under the age of five, die of WASH-related diseases. This implies that with 12 years left to the attainment of Vision 2030, Nigeria will find it difficult to achieve #SDGs Goal 6: Ensure access to water and sanitation for all, if nothing is done urgently.

Rising to the challenge, WaterAid in partnership with Connected Development (CODE) are prepared to challenge the status quo especially at the grassroots in Nigeria. Launched in November 2018, #VoteWASH seeks to mainstream WASH in 2019 electioneering campaigns and political conversations at sub-national levels of government where grassroots populations reside.

Through #Vote4WASH, we are reaching out to electoral stakeholders – political parties and their candidates for Gubernatorial, Senatorial, House of Representatives and House of Assembly positions; community-based organisations; civil societies; and electorates, to recognize; influence and demand for remarkable budgetary attention and funding for WASH in the grassroots. This is can be achieved by conscientizing electorates to cast their votes only on candidates/political parties who sign up unto Pledge Cards and publicly commit to prioritize programmes, projects and interventions that are pro-WASH (SDGs Goal 6).

On implementation, the sequence of activities include:

  1. Pre campaign press conference: Here we would strive to secure buy-in of the media on robust reportage on campaign activities through the life span of the campaign.
  2. Mapping of communities affected by severe WASH crisis and preliminary visits: Across the geopolitical zones, selected communities with severe water-related crisis would be mapped and visited for human angle stories and perfection of community penetration processes.
  3. Community Outreach: At this stage, we would conduct in-depth interviews with families who are victims of WASH crisis and sensitize/empower community stakeholders on #Vote4WASH. The communities would be armed with accountability tools with which to engage elected officials and track campaign promises post-election wise.
  4. High-Level Courtesy Calls: We would map key House of Assembly, House of Representatives, Senatorial and Gubernatorial candidates of leading political parties in Edo, Lagos and Kano states and through strategic engagement, we would have them sign  pledge cards – committing to transformative budgetary appropriations and funding for WASH in rural communities upon assumption of offices.
  5. Media Engagements – Social Media, offline and online: We would deploy routine and targeted radio programmes, newspaper publications and other applicable media, to drive engagement and conversations among stakeholders in the selected states.
  6. Report writing: Among other elements of the campaign, a comprehensive report would be authored on implementation and published for public consumption and it would assume the status of a tool for accountability.

Achieving the SDGs is non-negotiable.  Goal 6: Ensuring access to WASH for all is a universal, integrated, and human rights based agenda for the prosperity for people and future of our planet. In your community, support #Vote4WASH to free the human race from the tyranny of poverty and deprivations occasioned by WASH-related crisis.

Decades of corruption have held Nigeria back — it’s time for change

Ani Nwachukwu Agwu January 21, 2019 9

Picture credit: Flickr/Fasasi Abbas

Nigeria has had a checkered political and economic history Like many other African countries, it won its independence in 1960, and went on to install a parliamentary democracy akin to Britain’s. This era, known as the first republic, lasted from 1960 to 1966 and was marked by ethnic tensions, poor governance and corruption.

Plotters used corruption as a reason to justify military coups in 1966 and 1967, whose aftermath threw the country into a civil war. Both the coups and the war paved way for almost three decades of military rule, interrupted only briefly from 1979 to 1983 when General Olusegun Obasanjo returned the country to civilian rule. Shortly after, the 1983 coup of General Muhammadu Buhari ensured that the military stayed in control of political power until 1999, when democracy returned to Nigeria.

The years of military rule were politically and economically disastrous for Nigeria. Corruption, already swelling under the early politicians, became entrenched under military rule, and a class of anti-intellectual politicians came into being. The impression is that military era squandered every amount of fiscal responsibility left by the British colonialists at the wake of independence in 1960.

One of the widely referenced international scale on the “purity” of countries is the yearly corruption perception index (CPI) published by Transparency International. Over a 18-year record, Nigeria hasn’t performed well. From this, it would be either self-serving or narcissistic to deny the claim by the former Prime minister of United Kingdom, David Cameron that: Nigeria is fantastically corrupt. Though harsh, the evidence is consistent that Nigeria is convincingly corrupt. So, who will bell the cat?

A table, detailing Nigeria’s ratings in the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) by Amnesty International

By the 2017 estimations of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC): after the high cost of living and unemployment, Nigerians consider corruption to be the third most important problem facing their country, well ahead of the state of the country’s infrastructure and health service. As Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala showed in her recent work, billions of dollars have gone missing under several administrations since as far back as 1978. What an iniquitous record of corruption!

Does corruption impede development?

Not only in developing nations, the extent to which corrupt practices affect markets and governments is difficult to ascertain. Nonetheless, the consequences of corrupt practices cannot be overemphasised. Corruption skews public investment away from service delivery and social amenities toward “lucrative areas” such as gigantic construction projects — dams, road construction, etc. It is an open secret that perceptions of rampant corruption contribute to public disillusionment and undermine both the legitimacy and effectiveness of governments. Corruption further degrades democratic values of accountability, justice and fairness.

The task of cleaning up the stench of corruption in Nigeria is monumental

A new report by the World Poverty Clock shows Nigeria as the capital of extreme poverty in the world. The failure to lift citizens out of poverty is an indictment on successive Nigerian governments which have mismanaged the country’s vast oil riches through incompetence and corruption. The 86.9 million Nigerians now living in extreme poverty represent nearly 50% of the entire population. In a related development, Nigeria also doubles as the country with the highest number of out-of-school children in the world — a ticking time bomb waiting to explode.

It is outrageous that Nigeria, a member of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the fifteenth-largest oil producer in 2016, with the world’s eleventh-largest oil reserves and the ninth-largest natural gas reserves, is one of the most difficult places to support shared prosperity.

Will Nigeria survive the corruption hurricane?

Nigeria’s natural resource wealth has not delivered the dividends of democracy because key institutions remain weak or non-existent. It is believed that kleptocratic politicians are hell-bent on exploiting institutional vacuums.

Drawing from abundance of diagnostics, for Nigeria to fight corruption successfully, concerted efforts must be made to build institutions, systems and processes that enhance transparency and make corrupt practices more difficult in the first place. It must block revenue leakages while adopting appropriate budget processes and mechanisms that permit transparency and inclusiveness. Political will must be seen and mobilized against pervasive corruption and lawlessness before the country slips permanently into irreversible coma or anarchy. The task of cleaning up the stench of corruption in Nigeria is monumental, not unlike the challenge of Hercules cleaning the Augean stables.

Due to size and economic importance, Nigeria matters, not just for West Africa or even Africa, but the world. This is why good political and economic governance is essential and why the world must lend its support to ensure that Nigeria moves onto the right development path. Domestically, Nigeria must pursue its unfinished economic reforms and, thereafter, commit to investments in critical infrastructure and human capital development. There must also be investor-friendly policies that will attract foreign direct investment, add value to primary products for export and drive economic diversification. These and many others are prerequisites for sustained growth and economic development.

To successfully overcome corruption in Nigeria and Africa at large, it requires the careful, determined, civic-minded and collective action of many members of the community.

*This article was originally published on Apolitical. Apolitical is a global network for government, helping public servants find the ideas, people and partners they need to solve the hardest challenges facing our societies.


Ani Nwachukwu Agwu June 25, 2018 9

It has often been said that corruption is the bane of any progressive society as it stifles development, good governance, professionalism, as well as entrepreneurship. Corruption erodes the values of hard work and honesty. Prior to the 2015 general elections, Nigerians perceived President Buhari and Prof Osibanjo as incorruptible leaders whom the country desperately needed. Three years after winning a popular election, to what extent has this reputation been sustained?

Image: President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo [Photo Credit: Novo Isioro]

Upon assumption of office, the President declared that the tripod upon which his mandate was secured in 2015 was: anti-corruption, security and economy.  Most Nigerians in euphoria of the peaceful transition of democratic leadership at the federal level looked forward to a surgical strike against pervasive corruption; endemic insecurity and a hemorrhaging economy.

To attack poverty and reduce the growing number of unemployed people, one obvious scheme or intervention the government has announced is Nigeria Social Investment Programme (NSIP). NSIP has four components: National Home Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP); Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT); Government Enterprise Empowerment Programme (GEEP) and N-power scheme. At the end of this year (2018), a total of NGR 1.5 trillion (One trillion, five hundred billion naira) would have been appropriated for NSIP according to the senate committee on appropriation. Between 2016 and 2017, NGR 1 trillion (one trillion naira only) was approved for NSIP. While N500 billion was appropriated for the NSIP in 2017, N100 billion was deducted from source for the Social Housing Scheme under the Federal Ministry of Finance. Having said that, N500 billion has survived as the yearly budget of the presidency for her ambitious social safety net programme as supported by development partners, notably the World Bank Group.

Available data suggests that the federal government has expressed unusual interest, at least budgetary wise, in taking millions of Nigerians out of poverty and vulnerability. How has social safety programmes worked in other climes? Any attempt to provide answers, sharply divides opinions along retentionists and abolitionists. Undoubtedly, this is not without heated-debates and controversies. A recent one being the government’s revelation that $322.5 million (N116.1 billion) recovered from Abacha’s Loot would be spent on the poor as conditional cash transfers under NSIP.

In a country with heavy burden of infrastructural deficit and majority of her population engulfed or stuck in poverty and lack, experts and public analysts have continued to provide  alternative opinions on how this N116 billion could be best deployed. One of such genuine concerns among stakeholders is the absence of a national social registry. “Nigeria has no valid social register of poor and vulnerable Nigerians upon which selection of beneficiaries could be based” Seun has continued to contest. This is true. There is no comprehensive social register detailing the poor or vulnerable across the 774 Local Government Areas in the federation.

In the event that a whopping sum of N116 billion is deployed as CCT to poor Nigerians who usually reside in thick rural villages, how can this money be managed without corruption or abuse? Popular opinions suggest that a participatory, open and transparent targeting system and register would need to be agreed upon by stakeholders, of which the methodology must be stripped of partisanship, religion and ethnicity. This is even so as poverty has no respect for a victim’s social characteristics.

The Nigerian health sector is an area that government can either intervene or risk further decay and shame. The mistrust in our health sector is such that it is impossible for even the President to submit to Nigerian doctors for medical treatment. On occasions, the President had sought the attention of foreign doctors abroad even on mundane issues like ear infections. As a matter of fact, the President has spent time and resources overseas, seeking medical attention, in a manner unparalleled in Nigerian history. Clearly, our healthcare system, especially Primary Health Care (PHC), must be fixed for the benefit of every Nigerian. Who says that our PHCs cannot work again?

Talking about educational crisis, annually, uncountable Nigerians are forced out of the country in pursuit of secondary and tertiary education in foreign soils, particularly Europe. In terms of educational tourism, Nigeria’s profile is the highest in volume in the whole world. This is a discrepancy, a departure from the normal. How long shall we continue in this diseased trajectory? Education is the engine of any progressive economy. Can any leader neglect it and still deliver on substantive benefits of democracy? I doubt.

Worrisomely, Nigeria is beginning to manifest symptoms and signs on possible untenability of Vision2030 – #SDGS. Consider for example, a report by Mr. Suleiman Adamu – Minister of Water Resources, more Nigerians had access to potable water in 1990 than 2017. In medicine, it is believed that the daily water requirement for an adult human is about 5 litres of clean water. In the open market, a 75cl of bottle water (Eva) costs about N100. Therefore, to satisfy the 5 litres daily requirement of water, about 7 bottles of water are required. This amounts to about N700 daily. With simple addition or multiplication, a Nigerian would need about N21, 000 per month if he or she is interested in potable water – Eva in this case.  Recall that the minimum wage in Nigeria is N18, 000 (eighteen thousand naira only). Graphically, potable water is a luxury in Nigeria. Meanwhile, the SDGs (Goal 6) aim to achieve universal access to safe and affordable drinking water for ALL by 2030. With budgetary shortfalls and inconsistency in implementation, is there hope that #WaterForAll can be achieved in Nigeria?

In all sincerity, we believe that a large part of the recovered Abacha’s loot should be used for special intervention in our sickly health and education sectors; supporting the attainment of #SDGs, and financing technological startups. In the circumstances of scarce resources with competing needs, we beseech the Federal Government to ensure that recovered loots are not plundered. Deploying N116 billion without a comprehensive, valid and transparent social register of the poor and vulnerable class would amount to a damaging blow against the government’s anti-corruption posture or body language, in the case that anything goes wrong. For now, the anti-corruption efforts must succeed. The President has my support. There is no other way!

Would the President listen and realign his spending tendencies to synchronize with his government’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP)? This is one thing Nigerians would be happy and celebrate the President for. Nigeria’s national and sub-national spending, for common good, must be retooled to reflect creative and deliberate investments in human capital development. On a daily basis, many households are confronted and brutalized by poverty. They cannot guarantee their daily bread. Governments must respond to these needs as a matter of obligation and responsibility. Social safety programmes are commendable but not at the detriment of investments in human capital and macroeconomic stabilization.


Authors: Oluseun Onigbinde is the co-founder of BudgIT while Ani, Nwachukwu Agwu works for Connected Development. For correspondence, please contact Nwachukwu via

Day of the African Child: Nigeria goes Mum over her 8.6 Million Out-of-school Children

Ani Nwachukwu Agwu June 16, 2018 3

In recent times, the Federal Government of Nigeria has been struggling to contain her 8.6 million out-of-school children (high figure in the world) through various interventions. One of such interventions is the National Home Grown School Feeding Program (NHGSFP) which seeks to provide at least one very good meal per day, to the pupils. Cheerlessly, due to obvious reasons, insecurity, in the country, experts contend that the figure at 8.6 million is highly conservative.

CODE visits Out-of-school children in Maiduguri, Borno State

For example, in Benue State, North-Central Nigeria, irked by the worsening humanitarian crisis occasioned by incessant farmers-herdsmen clashes, Governor Samuel Ortom announced that 70 per cent out of the over 170,000 internally displaced persons in Benue are children. He didn’t stop there. He alarmed that these children no longer have access to functional education. In a related development in Nasarawa State (yet in the North-Central geopolitical zone), it is recently reported that 20,000 pupils have been forced to abandon school over herdsmen crisis.

I purposely de-selected examples from the other five (5) geopolitical zones especially Northeast Nigeria where Boko Haram is proving stubborn against the armed forces, to highlight that our educational deficiency is widespread and endemic. Northeast has suffered a major setback in education and other dimensions of development on the account of Boko Haram which mounted a brazen campaign against Western education and later transformed to a terrorist network. Notwithstanding, every state have their own share of the problem. This has summed up to a measure of full-scale educational crisis at the national level.

The essence of Day of the African Child (commemorated on June 16, every year) is to honour hundreds of school children who were brutally mowed down by the Republic of South Africa. In 1976, school children had risen against a dysfunctional educational system in their country; demanding reforms and increased funding. What followed was a joint misbehaviour from the government and security agencies. Instead of heeding to calls for reforms which were dire (as we have in Nigeria today), the government resorted to violence – killing hundreds of school children who were “merely” exercising their fundamental human rights by calling on their government to reform for global competitiveness.

Consequently, on 16th June 1991, the then Organisation of African Unity (OAU), now African Union (AU) declared June 16 as Day of the African Child. It became a day for Member States to reconsider national educational policies and more comprehensively, commitments to the attainment of the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The theme for 2018 is: Leave No Child Behind in Africa’s Development. As a continent, how have we fared on matters of child protection; basic education; universal health coverage; etc. Africa must move beyond the fanfare of June 16 and pursue social and economic development with every vigour and rigour. Africa is not lame!

Nigeria cannot conveniently shy away from the problem. Without minding that Nigeria’s population explosion has put pressure on the country’s resources; public services and infrastructure, I maintain “there is no way to run”. A possible consequence of our dysfunctional education is best captured when the President of the Senate – Senator (Dr.) Abubakar Bukola Saraki warned that the situation is not only alarming but also a ticking time bomb. How else can I describe this dangerous situation to sound more convincing?

The above security perspective by Senator Saraki cannot be digested in isolation. What about the ability to secure jobs or employment that can guarantee sustainable livelihoods. In the science of genetics, organisms reproduce after their kind. The same is true of poverty. One big reap in education is the opportunity to acquire suitable skills for contemporary jobs. Google recently established an artificial intelligence (AI) centre in Ghana. As organisms, we either evolve and adapt to survive or we perish. This is a long standing scientific fact. There are even more convincing instances on why Nigeria must invest in her people – human capital development. National and international economic environment is quite dynamic or rapidly changing. Should the “giant of Africa” be left behind?

CODE and other CSOs in Press Conference, calling for #AmendUBEAct in Abuja.

In its traditional innovative solutions; synergy with Nigerian CSOs and in partnership with Malala Fund, Connected Development is currently leading a campaign on the urgency to amend the country’s Universal Basic Education (UBE) Act of 2004 to accommodate contemporary discrepancies and realities. For emphasis (at the risk of sounding trite), one “miraculous” way that the Federal Government of Nigeria can respond to the frightful of out-of-school figure is to amend the current UBE Act (please, track previous national conversations on twitter using #AmendUBEAct).

As I excuse my keypad for other itineraries of the day, let me conclude with a few sentences. As far as governments (at all levels) continue to keep mum over our 8.6 million out-of-school children, excruciating poverty is inevitable. Whereas it is no longer fashionable to abandon the business of governance to governments alone; citizens must support government officials in all possible ways for I consider bad leadership and poverty as our “common enemy”. By the way, my heart goes out to hundred of children in the Republic of South Africa that were murdered, gruesomely, on this day 1976. For this is the 28th edition of the #DayOfTheAfricanChild which you paid the supreme price, making it to be.

Written by Ani, Nwachukwu Agwu. Ani is a rural development practitioner. He can be reached via . He works with Follow The Money – the fastest growing social accountability movement in Africa.