DFID's Programme in Nigeria - International Development Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1 - 19)



  Q1  Chairman: Thank you, good morning and welcome. I wonder, first of all, if you would just introduce yourselves so we have that on the record.

  Dr Mustapha: My name is Abdul Raufu Mustapha. I teach African Politics and Development Studies at Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford University.

  Mr Peel: I am Michael Peel. I am a Financial Times journalist. I used to be the correspondent based in Nigeria and I have written a book on Nigeria and oil which is due to come out in September.

  Mr Unom: I am Sam Unom. I am an independent consultant. I used to work with DFID in Nigeria and the UNDP[1] and I have been a consultant to both in Nigeria.

  Q2  Chairman: We have got about an hour and a half. Please feel free, but you do not all have to answer all the questions so we move things along. Thank you very much indeed for coming. As you know, the Committee visited Nigeria earlier this month. Whilst it is a huge country and we could not really get anything other than a feel for certain aspects of it, I hope it has given us a better perspective than we had obviously before we went—that is the point of these visits. The big issue, and certainly being briefed by DFID and the British High Commission, is the issues of governance, the context of saying this is a challenging environment, which is a kind of euphemism for real difficulties. I just wondered if I could ask you collectively whether that is the biggest problem, the lack of effective governance? Indeed, within that context, what are the key failings of governance? What are the weaknesses? Is it the lack of capacity in terms of the quality of the ministers, the officials, or is it institutional failures? What are the real things? Is governance the issue and, if so, what aspects of governance is most vulnerable or most weak?

  Dr Mustapha: I think governance is certainly an issue in Nigeria. Maybe it is not so much lack of capacity, as lack of the organisation and the institutional business to pool the capacities together. The Nigerian elite for various reasons are divided and they do not have a common vision of where they want to lead the country. They spend most of the time quarrelling and fighting amongst each other. This has historically been the situation, but recently there has been a much more personalised element in this fight, as individuals fight for their own control over political and economic resources. So I would say that governance is certainly an issue, because the elite are not able to have a coherent picture of where they want to take the country. Some of them are more interested in their personal ambitions.

  Q3  Chairman: So it is a combination or division between selfish and perhaps less selfish aspirations of the rulers?

  Dr Mustapha: Lack of a plan to start with, and then the substitution of personal agendas for a collective agenda.

  Mr Unom: There has been no compelling vision to commit to a future that is broadly agreed upon amongst the elite and shared with the population. So the personal agendas that Dr Mustapha has referred to substitute for that lack of shared vision. They take the place of what should be a vision. DFID's mission is that they are willing to provide technical assistance to help Nigeria solve the problems that can be solved with international help, but the commitment of the country itself to doing that is patchy and uneven, so you find it in pockets here and there. You find that the overarching vision that will be the basis for mobilising a consensus for going forward has been a problem.

  Q4  Chairman: If it is an issue effectively of leadership and you mentioned vision, the President has his own vision—Vision 20/20—with his various points. I think we heard of a seven point agenda and then somebody said that it should really be a two point agenda. Is that a vision; and is it something that could deliver an improvement in governance and a more unified approach to leadership?

  Mr Peel: The answer to these questions is obviously complicated. I come from a very particular perspective which I think is nevertheless one that has a real broader importance, and that is the role of oil. Nigeria is quite unusual in an African context, in that the aid budget, of DFID or anyone else, is really miniscule compared with the revenues that are paid out from oil. In a sense Abuja can always take or leave a DFID programme or anything else, because of the dominant role of the oil industry. I think looking at the role of oil, which was first exported two years before the end of colonialism, it has come to dominate the economy. Despite little reforms around the edges, not much has changed in terms of the role that it plays. I think any solution to the problems of governance in Nigeria has to look not only at the Government and officials, but it has to look at the role that everyone plays in that oil industry; and that of course includes Western powers, China et cetera, multinational companies, right on through to everyone else who is involved at a local level, community leaders and so forth.

  Q5  Chairman: Can I pick you up on that. What is the role of an organisation like DFID? We accept that entirely—Nigeria is not an aid-dependent country—but there is a limited amount of aid and development programmes of which the UK is a reasonable part. The actual money situation over the last 10 years has risen from £15 million to £120 million. Now £120 million spread across Nigeria is not very much. The point is: can it be spent in a way that would be effective in building the institutions and the capacity? Is that a proper role for it? Is that a useful engagement, given what you have just said that Abuja can say, "Go away, we don't need you"; but, on the other hand, there does seem to be an engagement. Is there real potential for that to make a difference?

  Mr Peel: To look at a very specific example, a small part of the piece, which is the work that has been done on corruption over the last five years, in which DFID and EU money has gone in, there I think you see a microcosm of the problem; that—after some mixed but promising results in terms of investigations started, much better cooperation between law enforcement authorities in Nigeria and here, some high profile figures placed under investigation—suddenly, because of a change in the political temperature, a lot of those limited gains were lost; and suddenly you have a situation where joint investigations, which I think people both inside and outside the country see as very important in terms of improving governance, have been stymied. The question then is: what do you do about that? I think there is quite a strong case for saying, look at a country like Kenya where Britain has introduced travel bans against officials within the Government, whom it sees as demonstrably involved in corruption. Nothing similar has been tried in Nigeria. The question is: why is that? Is that because of the politics of oil and so forth? Is it because of an embarrassment here about the role of British financial institutions still in high level corruption in Nigeria? If you look at the case of the former governor of Bayelsa State, that is very informative in terms of the role big banks here still play post-Abacha. I think there is a sense in which certain tools which have been used in the context of other countries and have been seen to be quite effective—Kenya is one example, in a small way—are not being used in respect of Nigeria. I think getting the answer to that would take you some way to thinking how the problem could be solved.

  Q6  Chairman: Perhaps I could ask the other two witnesses if they feel DFID has a role to play?

  Dr Mustapha: I think the DFID project may be small relative to what the Nigerian Government gets from oil; but there is a role for it in terms of helping to improve the governance of the country. Despite the gloom, as it were, there are pockets of efforts across the board that can also be supported, along with the humanitarian support as well. I would say I think there is a role for DFID in Nigeria. With respect to your earlier question about a seven point agenda—I think it is not so much what is written on paper but what people actually do that we ought to take into account. I think there seems to be some slippage between what is done and what is promised on paper.

  Mr Unom: On that last point, that vision is truly the President's, but there is no indication that it is being widely shared across the board or owned for that matter, including even within his Cabinet. Even if he was committed to it, he would still have a job to do trying to get everybody lined up behind it. That is the difficulty of not having a modicum of consensus amongst the elite regarding the direction of travel. On the other question about what DFID can do—governance is the main challenge. That is the point we have been making. DFID, and not just DFID, but the international community more broadly speaking and the UK including the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as well which is represented in Abuja, there has to be a concerted focus on policy dialogue that persuades Nigeria—whether through encouragement or the threat of stigmatisation, or whatever it takes—to begin to sort out itself. There are many processes that are going on. The international community can insert itself into helping along reform that is on the agenda now. There are similar reform processes—the constitutional reform process and the electoral reform process—that are also on the horizon. The international community can help bring in useful ideas in this regard. It is getting Nigeria to a point where it has a commitment to do what is right and also can do what is right, and that the international community can do. These are even more critical than helping to deliver services on the ground, because Nigeria's resources if they were used well would travel much further.

  Q7  John Battle: If I go back to Dr Mustapha and Mr Unom and ask questions about whether the structure is right. There is the Government, as I understand it, and there is the federal state structure of 36 states with governors, and then you have got a whole raft underneath that of local government; and you have then got the tribal and village structure. I am just wondering whether there is any discussion of the institutional structure? Does that work against there being good governance? About 50 % of the budget goes down to the state level, but does it ever reach the local level which is supposed to be delivering schools, clinics and the rest of it? If one or two politicians or individuals siphon off the money there is no accountability back to the centre. Is there a structural problem; or is that even discussed as a means of tackling governance?

  Mr Unom: Thank you for asking. We have prepared something which we wanted to share with you, so we were hoping you would ask! We will leave this with you and I will be speaking to it. Dr Mustapha has done extensive research in this regard and has published a lot of material. We have just extracted a couple of his articles here and these things are discussed in depth here but we can speak to them here as well.[2]

  Q8  John Battle: Would you like to make some comment now on the record of whether the structure is right?

  Dr Mustapha: I think there are certain agreed principles that Nigeria has to be a federation but the units that compose that federation are in dispute. Some people want the 36 states that there are now and others want more—their own fiefdom as it were. There has been the argument that these units are too weak vis-a"-vis the centre, and that is part of the imbalance in the system. The argument is that we go to six zones, into which the country is informally divided as a way of building sub-national units that can have some effect. Federalism is agreed but the units into which that federalism is broken are in dispute. The basis on which those units are determined as well is in dispute. Some want ethnic units; others want territorial. Historically what we have had is territorial that corresponds with ethnic.

  Q9  John Battle: Especially in the west?

  Dr Mustapha: Yes, but they want an explicit recognition of the ethnic factor. Those are the constitutional aspects: but when we look at the way in which the current units work, what Obasanjo[3] did effectively in the eight years he was there was to weaken the parliament and the judiciary vis-a"-vis the executive at the federal level, and also to use federal might to weaken the states. The states have become beholden, not just because of oil money but deliberate policy and the use of federal institutions.

  Q10  John Battle: I would have thought it was the other way, because some states seem to have a weak budgeting system to account for the money that they get from central government. Should not the federal government impose conditionality and some exchange? The 50 % of the money they get from the federal system should be accounted for, and when they apply for it next year it should depend on how they have used it the previous year. Am I wrong to say there is not a proper budgetary and financial accountability between the states and the centre?

  Dr Mustapha: The argument is that the states have a right to those monies constitutionally, so it is their right to get it and when they get it it is the State Houses of Assembly who are supposed to impose that accountability, but they are even worse than the federal legislature.

  Mr Unom: Historically the executive has been very strong in Nigeria—the executive at the federal level and the state level. There have been no instances of checks over the executive. The states having the autonomy simply means that the state executives are free to use the money as they like; and the other institutions that exist on paper are either too timid or too corrupt to impose a check on this. By bringing in the federal government we raise all kinds of constitutional issues.

  Q11  John Battle: You have mentioned your paper which we will receive and read, but is there any public and political pressure within Nigeria at federal level, state level or government level for structural and institutional change; or is it coming from without? You have commented on it but is there a foment of concern about the structure not working?

  Dr Mustapha: My reading would be that many communities are struggling to get their own share—to get a foot in—in a complex situation they feel unable to control. That would be where the energies of most people go to, and the elites encourage that as well because it favours their own career prospects. Beyond that, among the middle classes there is certainly a feeling that things are not working well. If I may add on the earlier question, the current problem on the table is the way in which the states have made it difficult for local governments to function through appropriating all their resources and powers. If the local governments were much closer to the people and were able to function better, there would be improvements in some of the service delivery.

  Mr Peel: I have a couple of comments on that: the state versus federal disconnect. One thing I was very struck by, which I did some reporting on in my book, was at the time of the G8 summit here in 2005—when there were a lot of very warm words between Abuja and London about various reforms and so forth at a federal level—that what was going on at the state level was completely unaccountable. While there was talk of the federal oil money and the special fund that was being kept—I actually visited Rivers State, one of the richest states in the Niger Delta and I got hold of a copy of the draft budget for that year and it was absurd. There had been no effort even to cover over the fact that money was being used completely unaccountably; there were huge security discretionary budgets; there were things like fleets of cars being bought, the swimming pool budget for the Governor's residence had been raised by some huge percentage; and it was very striking that there was no attempt even to cover over this fact. Because there was no pressure, the state authorities felt completely unaccountable and they felt that they could just get away with this. One of the structural problems that is related to that—I do not know how much attention has been paid to these over the last couple of years—certainly a recurring theme I saw was that discretionary spending, some of it through structures I think inherited from the colonial era, the so-called Esta codes, the imprest funds which were basically funds of money into which officials could dip in order to go travelling, were still very actively used; and this was one of the things that led to this culture of complete unaccountability. That is something I found very striking and something that structurally could be looked at as a practical means of perhaps changing things just a bit.

  Q12  John Battle: I was not on this recent visit but I was in Nigeria three years ago when Hugh Bayley was with us and I remember our visit to a village and to a clinic was hijacked by a political candidate who wanted to film visiting MPs from Britain in his neighbourhood. He took us to a clinic and there was a gang of people around and I actually did not get inside the clinic, if I remember rightly, but was stood outside talking to a man holding a child and he told me the clinic had never been opened because there was no staff; it looked quite good from the outside but it stood there for two years and had never been opened and it was his flagship. He could show people there was a clinic but, in practice, there was not a clinic. I just wondered, why are the budgets from the centre not tied down through the state and then to the local government and saying, "Look, if we've given you money for health care, why isn't there a tracking of the allocation?" Why isn't there a demand on the ground from the people saying, "We don't just want a clinic that's a building we show tourists or visiting MPS. We want a functioning clinic". As well as revealing the corruption of people buying fleets of cars, what about the demands for public services at the local level and demanding that accountability? Is there no evidence of that in the system?

  Dr Mustapha: I think if you were to put yourselves in the shoes of the ordinary man in the village, to make an effective demand you need to make common cause with a number of people for it to carry some weight. Such people who go to that length of building empty buildings and then using it for show, will never tolerate that kind of political challenge. That one may be one reason. It is just a recognition that you do not stand a chance.

  Mr Unom: The elections would have been the mechanism for ensuring strict accountability. At every opportunity Nigerians have tried to use elections to insert themselves into the discourse, but they are hopelessly mismanaged; so they are nowhere near reflecting the will of the electorate yet. Public opinion counts; but it will not really count in Nigeria until elections start counting. So until public opinion counts, whatever actions the aggrieved citizens embark upon might be fruitless. As you keep losing you become disillusioned and many people just shrug their shoulders and reconcile themselves to fake governors. The electoral reform that has been promised by the Government has to be husbanded very carefully so that it delivers credible elections that Nigerians are yearning for. You need to have that to make an impression on the system.

  Mr Peel: I would agree with that. Perhaps I could just talk for a minute about my own experience. I covered both the 2007 and the 2003 elections in Rivers State, and I deliberately went back in 2007 to a lot of the places I had been to in 2003 to compare and contrast. What was interesting was that in 2007 there was a lot of publicity internationally about how flawed the elections were, which was absolutely right—they were. In 2003 it was just as bad as far as I could see. I was very struck by the strength of feeling that day which reflected what Sam said. There were thugs around; I saw ballot boxes being stuffed; there were tales of ballot boxes being taken at gunpoint; and people were coming and grabbing me and saying, "You know, the world must know about this. Write my name down. I want it to be known that I object to this". I and the other reporters, foreign, Nigerian and the NGOs, who reported on that election, were very struck by how, despite lots of these credible reports, internationally there was absolutely no appetite to really say, "Look, this was wrong", and we all know the reasons for that. I agree with Sam, when something like that happens no-one should be surprised when people take a very pragmatic view and say, "Let's just limit our losses. We'll just navigate the system because we are not going to change it".

  Q13  John Battle: Is DFID's strategy right, in the sense that if DFID commits itself to working with those states where it believes there is support for governance change—so working with the guys that are trying to make change and make it more accountable, transparent and make sure the resources reach the people—if DFID works with those states and not with the worst ones, is that the wrong strategy, because the worst ones might never be prompted to change?

  Mr Unom: It is what DFID has been struggling with in Nigeria, I suppose. There are trade-offs whichever way you lean. One might argue that working with the winners is safer and presents a greater chance of success; but the counterpoint to that would be that the main prize is to get the bad states to become reasonably sensible states. Picking winners might be helpful in the short-term but would leave the larger question of governance unresolved. Whichever way you swing there will be a trade-off. My view—and I do not know what the other witnesses might think about that—is to have a two-pronged strategy that looks at both; so you deliberately know that here you are up against it and your strategy is simply to get people to get to a point where they begin to commit to something sensible. While in the other instance you can straightaway deploy your technical assistance so you have a strategy that on the one hand encourages the poor performers to step up and, on the other hand, works with the better performers to deliver.

  Dr Mustapha: I think I agree there is a temptation to try to use resources best by concentrating on those who use it in the most effective way. In the Nigerian context that would immediately lead to certain ethnic or religious groups; so that you would then stand the danger of being accused of partisanship, which complicates rather than improves the effectiveness of what you are trying to do. On the electoral reform, that is key to getting anything done in that country. Across the board, the elites do not believe in elections; and until they are forced to take elections seriously I do not think we will ever get any accountability from them. It is quite an important issue.

  Mr Unom: Just to illustrate, the tensions in the Niger Delta one might venture to say would be reduced considerably if you had credible elections there because there have been additional, substantial resources over the last 10 years, and there have been policies and interventions other than the statutory allocations to the states in the region; but the difference has not been significant. It is clear that if you had more accountable or responsive governance in the region itself, part of the problems we are dealing with now would be addressed. That is how critical it is to have good elections.

  Mr Peel: I think it is very important to look beyond resources, and to look at measures which actually can be quite cheap but effective. The example I come back to is that of the law enforcement cooperation between Britain and Nigeria which led to tangible results. That is unprecedented. You had a situation where investigators from this country and Nigeria—and I saw it from both sides—grew to trust each other and actually to like each other in many instances. That has never happened before. That led to real investigations; it led to charges in this country; it led to criminal proceedings in Nigeria as well. That was something that had a tangible effect and obviously fitted in with the broader policy goals that we are discussing today.

  Q14  Hugh Bayley: Does this all mean that corruption in Nigeria is being tackled? What progress has been made, say, in the last five years?

  Dr Mustapha: I think there was an effort to tackle corruption by Obasanjo. I think whatever one may say about Obsanjo he took a lot of personal risks and has done much more for the country than most people of his generation have done. Unfortunately also, the system was abused, i.e. political enemies of the President were also targeted in ways that were inexplicable. There was the case of somebody called Ted Oshin in Ogun State who was never a government official, had never done anything with the Government and was being hounded for corruption and the basis was not clear at all either. The only thing that was obvious was that he was running for the Senate seat that Obasanjo's daughter was also running for! That was an unfortunate example. That notwithstanding, Obsanjo did a lot of good work for that country and those who are hounding him now intend to do much worse, so it is not a criticism of him as being irrelevant as such. What Absanjo did—which I think was quite important—he went for the big guns. He went for the governors at the state level. This also featured in Obasanjo's strategy of getting them under control. What it did was to make sure that everybody below then knew that they had no cover. What has happened since 2007 is that all those people have been let free. Before 2007 corruption at the federal level was hardly looked into, only at the state level; now they have concentrated at the bureaucratic level within the federal system, not even at the ministerial level. All the governors are going about doing their own things unchallenged; all the ministers are doing the same. It is the bureaucrats at the federal level who are taking the heat; which means they have to find the resources to confront maybe 2,000, 3,000 and 4,000 major corruption cases, rather than taking one person and using him to set an example further down the pyramid.

  Q15  Hugh Bayley: There is a great danger in generalising. I have only been to Nigeria twice, once as John has said four or five years ago, where it struck me that there was endemic corruption with senior officials quite brazenly touting for percentages, down to the man in the airport who suggested a backhander would make sure my luggage got on the plane. On that occasion we met people, probably the governors although I cannot remember, in government in Rivers State, in Enugu State and Benue State, and on our more recent visit we met people in government in Lagos State and in Kano State and met some federal ministers. I felt this time there were people who at least talked the talk whom you felt you could work with. Do you think we were led to see a few beacons of excellence; or do you think the quality of governance overall in Nigeria has changed in the last five years?

  Dr Mustapha: You went to Nigeria just this year—the anti-corruption war has slipped since 2007, that is the import of what I am saying, and Michael said that much also, regardless of what people say.

  Q16  Hugh Bayley: There was some progress, particularly at high level, and there has been some backsliding?

  Dr Mustapha: Yes, a different target has now been chosen for attack.

  Mr Unom: It is pretty complicated for the President because the impression is given personally that he is clean and wants to remain clean. It is not clear whether it is a question of him just having bad friends who are then hampering the work, or whether he thinks it is a risky strategy in the first term of his administration to go after the big guns but that is where we are.

  Q17  Hugh Bayley: My question is this: DFID has a large bilateral programme in Nigeria but is completely unlike the programme in Ghana or Tanzania. It is not providing welfare assistance; it is not addressing basic human needs. It is basically addressing the quality of governance. Is that a realistic strategy? Can well-meaning foreigners working with the administration change the quality of tax collection, the transparency of records presented to the public and to the legislatures; or is that a risky strategy for DFID? Would DFID be better to pull out and say, "This is an impossible place to work"?

  Dr Mustapha: That would not be my advice! I think it is a difficult and complex situation but it is a job that needs to be done, both in the interests of Nigerians and, let it be said, in the interests of the British public as well. Should the country unravel the whole of West Africa is gone and the consequences will ripple right across the globe. It is an engagement that is necessary and not always easy but I think needs to be done.

  Q18  Hugh Bayley: Why does the UK then see a need for a bilateral programme, but not many other countries? The Americans and Canadians have a bilateral programme but the Dutch do not really, the Germans do not and the French do not. Why do these wider security issues matter to Britain but not matter to Germany, the Netherlands or Sweden?

  Mr Unom: I thought the other Europeans were represented in the EU; certainly that is the impression that the EU gives in Nigeria, that other Europeans are represented in the EU.

  Q19  Chairman: The EU was so under-staffed on our visit they were not able to provide anybody to meet us!

  Mr Unom: Maybe it is a strategy because they implement mostly through government, or through government projects. This is a slightly different strategy to DFID's. All the others are engaged, even if they are not directly providing assistance; but the EU, US Government, DFID and the major international players, the Canadians, are punching their weight; but it is clear that all are interested for the reason that Dr Mustapha has given. Despite the frustrations, there have been indications of progress scattered around. Corruption, for instance, remains front-page news in Nigeria. It is simply part of the public discourse in Nigeria. You cannot escape it. That is an important development in itself. For eight years under Babangida nobody mentioned corruption but now there is a public debate going on regarding the fight against corruption. There have been indications that now the public is really tuned in. It is difficult to go back on the agenda, but there will be periods when the enthusiasm might wane on the part of the Government; but the agenda cannot be swept under the carpet; it just cannot go away any more. There is a chance that if Nigerians themselves keep plodding away something might happen. The joke in Nigeria is that the fight against corruption might be more critical over here in the UK than back in Nigeria, since the work of the Anti Money Laundering Unit here has had important repercussions in Nigeria, as Michael said earlier. That international contribution to that fight is very critical, and was never large. In fact it is because things are changing over here in the UK that Nigerians have hope; it is because there is a chance of arresting the Governors over here that Nigerians are interested.

1   UN Development Programme. Back

2   Institutionalising ethnic representation: How effective is affirmative action in Nigeria?, Journal of International Development 21(2009), pp 561-576 and Nigeria since 1999: A revolving door syndrome or the consolidation of democracy?, Chapter 5 from Turning Points in African Democracy, Edited by Abdul Raufu Mustapha, June 2009. Back

3   The former President. Back

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