Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Funso Doherty’s Bold Challenge

Recently, Mr. Funso Doherty, the gubernatorial candidate for the African Democratic Congress (ADC) in the March 2023 Lagos State Governorship elections posted an open letter to the Governor of Lagos State, in which he shared his thoughts and queries on some curious and potentially fraudulent line items in the schedule of awarded contracts for the second and third quarters of 2023, as reported by the Lagos State Public Procurement Agency.

While some have argued that Mr. Funso Doherty has demonstrated active citizenship, others are saying that he is an example of how to play “active opposition politics,” whatever that means in the present context of things. Undoubtedly, this appears to be newsworthy because of the longstanding lack of transparency associated with how public finance has been managed in Lagos State since 1999. Having been a one-party state since Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1999, successive administrations in Lagos state, as presented by the All Progressives Congress (a party that has only morphed in nomenclature over the years) have simply latched onto a “governance blueprint” ostensibly said to have emanated from Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who was governor from 1999 till 2007.

What this means is that no one has been able to successfully query government expenditure in Lagos state over the last 24 years, and tax-paying residents in the state are often brow-beaten into submission and looking away either through intimidation, strawman arguments generated by the administration’s supporters, or some other distraction. This aversion to openness stems from a complex interplay of factors, including a desire to avoid scrutiny and protect personal interests, both within the government and among its associates. When public finance expenditure is shrouded in secrecy, it becomes easier for government officials and their cronies to divert funds for personal gain. This corruption can erode public trust in government and hinder the delivery of essential services.

Transparency, the cornerstone of good governance, is often anathema to governments, particularly when it comes to the accounting of public finance expenditures. Funso Doherty’s commendable scrutiny, however, should not make the issue unique to Lagos state. Generally, governments worldwide often grapple with the challenge of maintaining transparency for the simple reason of political expediency and control. For countries and sub-nationals with prolonged periods of single-party rule, transparency is always perceived as a threat to the status quo, as it could expose mismanagement or corruption, thereby jeopardizing the ruling party’s grip on power.

To address this issue, several measures can be implemented. Firstly, independent auditing bodies should be empowered to conduct comprehensive and regular audits of public finances. These audits should be made publicly available, allowing citizens to hold their government accountable.

Secondly, Governments must intentionally make it easier for citizens to access information about public finance expenditures. This includes publishing detailed financial reports, providing online access to financial data, and responding promptly to public inquiries.

Thirdly, citizens and residents should be actively encouraged to participate in budget formulation, monitoring, and evaluation. This can be achieved through public hearings, community forums, and online platforms for feedback and suggestions.

Additionally, public procurement should be conducted in an open and transparent manner, with all contracts and bidding procedures made publicly available. This can help prevent corruption and ensure that public funds are used effectively. Anti-corruption laws should also be strict and realistically enforceable. Beyond the establishment of new bodies, existing ones should be equipped with sufficient resources and powers to investigate and prosecute corruption cases.

The sad reality in Nigeria is that elected and appointed public servants have failed to realize that transparency in public finance expenditure is not merely an administrative procedure; it is a fundamental principle of good governance that safeguards public resources, promotes accountability, and fosters trust between citizens and their government. This cannot be overemphasized. In the context of Lagos State, and indeed many other states facing similar challenges, the call for transparency by individuals like Funso Doherty represents a crucial step towards breaking the shackles of government opacity.

Precious Ohaegbulam is a columnist and an African Liberty Fellow 

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