For the purpose of our exposition, I adopt the description of ‘governance’ in the European Union-supported paper, “Concepts and Principles of Democratic Governance and Accountability: A Guide for Peer Educators,” where governance was described thus: “Governance, simply put, is the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented or not implemented. Since decisions made can be good or bad, the analysis of the process by which we arrive at decisions is important in governance.”
The import of the foregoing is that governance involves legal control, steering and organisation of the people within a political setting, the exercise of political authority over members of a society. As earlier said, it involves certain persons being in charge, who are authorised to do the steering and hold the mantle of governance. Again, it is instructive to note the pre-eminent role leadership plays in the determination of what is good or bad governance.
Good governance, on the other hand, according to Barber B. Conable, one-time President of the World Bank, connotes “a public service that is efficient, a judicial system that is reliable, and an administration that is accountable to its public.” Free and vigilant press is said to be a component also.
The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific sums up good governance in the following terms: “Good governance has eight major characteristics. It is participatory, consensus-oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive and follows the rule of law. It assures that corruption is minimised, the views of minorities are taken into account and that the voices of the most vulnerable in society are heard in decision-making. It is also responsive to the present and future needs of society.”
You would agree with me that attaining all these requires quality leaders that serve as the operators of the system. This is where the system of government becomes important.
Nigeria purports to run a democracy. Has it engendered good governance for us? Is this system the best for the country? Have we been blessed over time with quality leaders under the system?
Before delving much into this area, let me state straight away that the system of government, to a large extent, does not matter much to an average Nigerian. What concerns him is the dividend of the system. To this end, I agree with my friend, Udombana, in his paper, “Constitutional Restructuring and Fiscal Federalism,” where he said: “Nigerians may not agree on such high-sounding philosophical and political theories as existentialism, metaphysics, idealism, rationalism, nationalism, or pragmatism, but Nigerians everywhere agree on, and desire, good governance, peace, stability, prosperity, freedom, justice and equity.”
Is this good governance and all these desires attainable only in a democracy? Or can we find the underpinnings of good governance equally in absolute monarchy or military governance, Oligarchy, etc?
In my opinion, good governance is achievable in any system of government. All that matters is how the society is steered. Where the leadership of the society has the interest of the people at heart and makes the best interest of the society its primary consideration, that sincerity of purpose will help in achieving the end of good governance. The United Arab Emirates is one of the most prosperous and fastest-developing nations in the world. It is a developing country, but it enjoys a buoyant economy and stable political life. It can be said that the leaders of the emirates that constitute the United Arab Emirates best exemplify our contention where the best interest of the people appears to be the primary consideration.
In a statement that mirrors the focus and pre-occupation of a responsible leadership, the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, in his book, “Flashes of Thought,” prescribes as follows: “What is the government’s job? Indeed, our daily work is all about achieving happiness for people. When governments evolve and develop services to make people’s lives easier, they contribute to their comfort and happiness. When governments create opportunities for people, this makes them happy.
“When governments offer the best education, they equip young people to build their future and so to achieve happiness for themselves. When governments develop infrastructure, they reduce the amount of time wasted travelling, which undoubtedly contributes to people’s happiness and comfort. When justice is served, the whole society is satisfied and reassured. There is nothing more beautiful than to create joy in people’s hearts. This is our aim in developing services, holding conferences and discovering the best government practices out there.
“We want to make people happy and we ask God to help us in our quest. When any official puts his mind to this purpose, his days, his decisions, his projects and even his interactions with people will change completely. Even his self-satisfaction will improve a great deal when he knows that he is contributing to the happiness of thousands of people.”
Interestingly, the United Arab Emirates is not a democracy. Qatar is another monarchy that runs a buoyant economy and, arguably, operates the tenets of good governance. In Nigeria, military government has been synonymous with bad government, and hence diametrically opposed to good governance, the saying in Nigeria is that “the worst civilian government is better than the best military government.”
As said earlier, there are still those who believe that Nigeria enjoyed its best economic periods during the military regimes. In this respect, references are made to enduring infrastructural developments that were put in place by the various military governments. They are also quick to point out that the so-called democracy has always put the nation on the precipice of a failed economy. Just recently, our President equally lamented several constraints under the democratic system militating against speedy development of the country and the fight against corruption.
Notwithstanding the foregoing argument, while it is possible for a military government to pretend to the principles of accountability, transparency and government effectiveness, it remains to be seen whether adherence to the tenets of the rule of law is compatible with military government. Consequently, although military government might exhibit some traits of good governance and carry out some people-oriented programmes and development, it cannot be truly said that military government and good governance (in the true sense of the word) are compatible, notwithstanding the fact that the excuse by which they come into power is rooted in failure of good governance in the previous, especially, civilian regimes.
Despite the underpinnings of good governance engrained in a democracy, one cannot still safely conclude that good governance exists in all world democracies (even with the aid of a magnifying glass). Where does this lead us? One may wish to check out Bulgaria, Greece, most African and Latin American countries like Bolivia, Venezuela, Colombia and Argentina. From the above analysis, what is most important is that the system adopted must be capable of producing good leaders that can midwife good governance for the nation.