How to make Nigeria better for all

By Paul Unongo
Published April 29th 2005

Designing appropriate Institutional mechanisms for strengthening the structures of democratic governance in Nigeria.

Presented to the NPRC by Wantaregh Paul Unongo, Delegate to the NPRC, representing Respectable Elder Statesmen/Women of Nigeria.

In this paper, we attempt to present an institutional (and governmental) blueprint for Nigeria.

We are encouraged to present these elaborate thoughts by the very critical, very unambiguous, topical statements (guidelines), of Mr. President, in his speech:

"Strengthening the Structures of Democratic Governance in Nigeria," delivered at the Inauguration of the NPRC in Abuja on February 21, 2005:

"The purpose of this Conference is to discuss and reach consensus on any aspect of governance arrangement for reinforcing the unity, cohesion, stability, security, progress, development and performance of the Nigerian Federation..." (President Olusegun Obasanjo... p.14-15).

"The National Political Reform Conference is NOT designed to dismember or disintegrate Nigeria... Rather the conference is about designing the most appropriate and relevant institutional mechanism for managing our diversity and difference... " (President Olusegun Obasanjo... p 16 -17).

"The conference is not a substitute for the executive or the legislature... Rather, it is a democratic path to consider all that is necessary to assist the constitutionally established legitimate structures of Government, the executive, judiciary and legislature — to grow, become more dynamic, more accountable and more capable of delivering service to the populace..." (President Olusegun Obasanjo... p.17).

"This Conference is not established to pull down, but to build; it is a gathering to uplift, enhance and strengthen, nurture and cultivate the best, most enduring, most ideal and lasting values that are central to our national growth, development and progress... " (President Olusegun Obasanjo... p.17).

Guided by these statements, which repeat themselves for emphasis, we present a governmental and institutional design, whose agenda is to enfranchise liberally, the Nigerian, in a manner which not only increases his scope of participation in the political selection process and ensure that all interests representing the entire spectrum of the Nigerian society have legitimate opportunity of self-actualization, through the democratic process, but also, to ensure that leaders have a strong incentive, to willy-nilly, seek out a broad-based coalition, in order to get into power.

Further, goaded and guided by the existent non-chalant cavalier attitude, publicly displayed .by most of those who have governed in Nigeria, so far, who without conscience, and without ceremony, quickly abandon development issues; abandon the social and economic welfare of those who elect them into power; and seriously turn and concentrate on castrating the sovereign people of Nigeria, and on amassing personal wealth; personal influence; and personal power; to the detriment of the now captured, impoverished, sovereign people of Nigeria, who are effectively held hostage by the governments they elect, we have ventured some thoughts on institutional provisions for enforcing the will, and realising the aspiration, of the sovereign people of Nigeria; for economic development, enhanced social welfare, progress and prosperity.

The thoughts presented here could be read along with, or together with, those presented in the summary debate on the Speech from the Throne, and the Paper on "Electoral Reform," both of which are circulated and tabled before this Committee.


We propose the following three major principles for Government and Institutional Design for Nigeria:

(1) Increasing the scope of democratic participation throughout the society

(2) Ensuring accountability and responsiveness of government to the people

(3) Positioning the Federation for Prosperity-based Governance.

1. Increasing the Scope of Democratic Participation

In the new Nigerian society which we must craft from our deliberations at the NPRC, the central cornerstone principle of our new all-inclusive Nigerian society must be that, in the new Nigeria, every individual member of the society should have the ability to be heard; to be considered, and to participate in its democratic system or/and governance.

Nigeria, we suggest, should operate popular democracy, characterised by an all-inclusive representative government, based on social justice.

Every hue and stripe in Nigeria must have its voice represented in the democratic process and every community in Nigeria, should have a voice and a stake in the national debate.

The cleavages agitating for resource control, regionalism and the likes of true federalism and devolution; all, underscore the essential condition for inclusion of all significant shades of opinion and groups in the legislature.

The often fractious nature of Nigerian politics makes it imperative that we remove permanently the "winner-takes-all," which always metamorphosed into war, in our failed system.

As briefly alluded to in our Electoral Reform Paper, if we create a system which requires the use of broad-based, inclusive political strategies in order to be politically successful in Nigeria, we would have hit on the most appropriate institutional design for Nigeria.

In our view, the best way to achieve this kind of democratic inclusion is via a hybridized system of proportional representation (PR).

This approach forms the basis for the system that we advance.

This new Nigerian governmental system, will have two components:

First, a President, chosen through direct national elections, using the instant-runoff voting (IRV) system. Second, a legislature, with its members, chosen through a proportional representation (PR) voting system in newly redrawn multi-member legislative districts with its leaders, within the assembly, chosen by a central voting rule.

The Basic Principle of Proportional Representation (PR)

The basic principles underlying proportional representation elections are that all voters deserve choices and representation, and that all political groups in society deserve to be represented in our legislature, in proportion to their strength (support), in the electorate.

In other words, everyone should have the right to fair representation.

In order to achieve this fair representation, our PR system must have certain basic characteristics that set it apart from our current election system.

First, we must completely redistrict the country and increase the number of people representing each district. These larger "multi-member districts" may be relatively small, with only three or four members, or they may be larger with ten or more members.

The seats in these multi-member districts, must be divided according to the proportion of votes received by the various parties or groups running candidates. A ten member district is more inclusive than a three member district.

Thus, if the candidates of a party win 40% of the vote in a 10-member district, they receive four of the ten seats — or 40% of the seats. If another Party wins 20% of the vote, they get two seats, and so on. A PR approach will include regional minorities representation and debunk the perception that politics is a battleground zero-sum game!

Also, the rules will tremendously increase voter turnout and democratic participation, because they will mean that no matter how small you are, your vote means something.

Not only will you be fairly represented through PR, but because of the preference ranking in instant runoff and central voting, leading candidates of whatever party, must seek out your support in the hopes of persuading you to pick them as.your second choice, on your ballot.

Also, this logic of greater inclusion, greater representation, and preference ranking for voting choices will influence the kinds of strategies that politicians adopt in order to be successful. No political group can be more than marginally successful, unless they adopt inclusive, broad-based political strategies and policy platforms.

Furthermore, PR will ensure that everyone*s voice is heard and their interests represented.

However, a choice by any candidate or party, to adopt a political strategy that is primarily focused on a narrow parochial or ethnic interest, is effectively a choice to limit that candidate*s potential for growth and success.

Within the current winner-takes-all system, politicians have an incentive to attempt, by whatever means, to "lock-up," or "secure," their particular ethnic, or bloc-vote, because doing so increases their bargaining leverage, and hence their prospects for political growth and career success.

However, within the more inclusive hybrid system we propose, with its redefinition of what it takes to win, politically, any politician who adopts a primary strategy of appealing to a narrow ethnic, or bloc-vote, has actually defined his own ceiling. He may win support because of PR, but his support will not go beyond his bloc!

This is because, PR guarantees that all other interest groups, can get their views represented, without negotiating with the ethnic group, or bloc-vote champion. They no longer need his bloc to win, because PR produces multiple winners. If a politician wants to form a broad coalition, he will have to bring something of great appeal beyond locking up the ethnic vote, or bloc-vote, to the table.



Direct popular election for President

Instant runoff voting (IRV)

The simple preference process:

• Each voter ranks the candidates, by marking first choice, second choice, third choice: 1,2,3.

• Next, we count the first choice votes.

• Then, if no one gets a majority of the ballots, the candidate with the fewest ballots loses.

* The loser*s ballots then go to the candidate who the voter selected as his/her next choice.

• Repeat the process until one candidate gets a majority of ballots.

Benefits of the IRV process

• A majority winner from one election emerges, so it is impossible for a winner to emerge who does not have a mandate.

• Since each candidate MUST appeal to his/her rival*s supporters to be selected as their second choice, there is less incentive for vicious violent campaigning.

• A voter*s 1st choice prospects are not hanned in any way by the voter selecting a different candidate as his/her second choice, because the 2nd choice does not count unless the 1st choice has lost.

• Voters have no fear that their votes may go to waste, since they can mark their true 1st choice and transfer their ballot to another candidate, if their candidate does not get the majority of the ballots.

• No spoilers, as votes for minor candidates move to each voter*s more popular choices.


Proportional Representation (PR) for Selection of Legislature

Parties receive seats in legislature in proportion to their share of the vote. Voters rank their choices of candidates who make it into the legislature. The choice is made first on party basis to determine party*s proportion of the vote, then second, the choice is made for which candidates within the party who will occupy the seats now proportionally won by preference ranking: that is, the ballot will be structured such that the voter ranks their choices of candidates first, second, third choices, etc.

In a situation where preference ranking does not produce a clear selection, then the candidate*s political party*s ranking of candidates (a candidate*s preference ranking determined by his/her party and announced in advance) will determine the selection of candidates who go into the legislature.

Central Voting Rule for selection of Legislative Leaders

For a voter, with this, and the other rules, voting is as easy as 1, 2, 3; marking first choice, second choice, third choice.

Benefits of the Central Voting Selection Process

• This voting rule elects the 1 candidate who can top each of the others. The candidate must win a series of 1 on 1 contests. If most voters prefer (rank) A and B, A wins that contest. Each ballot*s rank of A relative to B concerns us; the number of first-rank votes is not important.

• The candidate with opinions favoured by the most central voter, usually tops any other candidate by a clear majority (the central voter plus all voters on 1 side).

• A candidate must compete across the political spectrum — unlike plurality winners, who need and get votes from only one side. In this system, every voter can rank their candidate relative to other candidates. Therefore, all voters are "obtainable" and valuable. Thus a representative elected by this rule must be concerned with helping a very broad constituency. If the candidate appeals only to one segment of the political spectrum, the ignored voters on all sides of the political divide can give higher ranks, and the election, to someone whose appeal is wider.

• There is usually one candidate who can top all others. But sometimes no one passes all of their pair-wise tests. Such ties can be broken by many rules including the IRV rule described above.

• Expanding democratic rights.


- Protecting and advancing Nigerian*s democratic rights and freedoms, including freedom of speech, conscience, religion and association

- Ensuring that every Nigerian has access to the legal system and receives fair and equal justice before the law.

- Initiating programmes to ensure that ordinary Nigerians are educated on, understand, and exercise their democratic rights and freedoms.

Migration and Immigration:

- Rethinking Migration and Immigration from the approach of increasing democratic participation. Learning from the beneficial experiences of countries such as the US, China, Canada and Israel, Nigeria should adopt an open migration policy, encouraging people to become members of our society and participate in our democratic process and our economy. This should apply in both cases of emigration — Nigerians moving to other countries, and immigration — people coming to Nigeria from other countries.

- Allowing foreign-based Nigerians the right to vote.

- Allowing Nigerians to have multiple citizenship (look at how countries like China, India, and Israel have benefited from contributions of their Diaspora populations)

- Support and champion the cause of our Diaspora populations overseas to ensure they are not discriminated against and have access to opportunities in the distant lands they travel to.

- Make it easier for people who wish to move to Nigeria to work, live, immigrate and become citizens and participate in our economy and political life to do so (consider how countries like the US have benefitted from being able to attract people — including Nigerians to come to their shores and help make their countries better and stronger!)

- Also, immigrants are members of the society already. Democratic responsiveness and governance works best when ALL members of the society have a stake and a say and representation in the society.

2. Ensuring Accountability and Responsiveness to the People

• Reforming the electoral system to ensure the integrity of the vote (already addressed). • Freedom of Information Act (FIFA). There should be provisions in the laws of the nation to allow Nigerians access to political, social and public accountability information, and to protection from prosecution. This will enable them become more responsive to the people, on issues of corruption and accountability.

• Improved structure, increased openness and infonnation freedom, [feedback mechanisms that will get to a corruption/auditor-general.

• Strengthen the office of the auditor-general but bring it into the proper legal and institutional process, so that cases similar to that of the auditor-general who got removed 3 years ago, for being efficient and honest, should not happen again.

• Expand the role of the ministry of justice in addressing the issue.

• Form a direct and visible partnership with Transparency International and involve them in efforts to monitor and report on the effectiveness of on-going corruption reduction programmes.

• Accountability, auditing and checks and balances within the government system itself.

• Include constitutional provisions allowing for recall elections, and amendment repeal, of the Immunity clause.

3. Positioning the Federation for prosperity-based Governance Though we subscribe firmly, to the contention that, for any social order to be viable and enduring, it must meet some basic goals, including minimally, the following three:

(i) Provision of social justice and genuine welfare service for the people. In this context, the principle of social justice ensures an equitable distribution of benefits consistent with allocation of burdens and productive capacity.

(ii) Total involvements of all citizens in the structure and organization of power decision making process, regardless of their social status.

(iii) Maximization of production and the assurance of equitable distribution of resources, under a just reward system, it is our view that, over the long term, a framework where the Federal Government continues to statutorily, dole out funds to each state of the federation, with no request for performances or condition precedent, is neither desirable nor sustainable.

There ought to come a point in time, when States ought to be, and must be, "weaned-off," of placid federal allocations, and be allowed to determine their own economic performance, in specified critical areas of the State.

In pursuit of that goal, we contend and submit that, the National Confab, should recalibrate, by constitution, the way the finances of the Federation are allotted to the States, and insist on some quantifiable intervention, willy nilly, in some critical sectors of the States economy.

Restructuring Federation Allocation (Funding to advance the basic determinants of Nigeria's economic potential It is our candid opinion that the only way to successfully spur and sustain long term development is for the government to invest in our human potential, at the time of allocation.

To that extent, we recommend constitutional reforms, tying federal state allocations (by a certain, very high allocation: e.g. 75% - 80% of the Federal Government Allocated budget), to the following key growth stimulants: Education, Health Care delivery, and Infrastructural Development. Any spending outside of these primary areas will have to come primarily, from revenues outside of the federal allocation.

This means that, if governors have pet projects they want to spend money on beyond education, health care and infrastructure development, they will have to find ways to make their state economically prosperous enough to produce these revenues.

This will work for the people, because in any State where at least 80% of the Federal Government allocated budget, is going to education, healthcare and infrastructure, the people will see and feel that development and public policy benefit are being produced.

It will also become a serious incentive to State governments, because at such a high mandatory allocation as 80% funding, they will feel like their hands are effectively tied with respect to the budget.

That is a good thing, both for the development of the basic determinants they are funding, and for the future correct orientation when States would have been "weaned off" Federal Government static allocation (funding), which are routinely expected, and taken for granted!

The push should be towards self reliance and viability.  If they want more funding, governors and state legislatures will have to get creative about creating conditions where economic activity can flourish, and businesses can be attracted to their States.

That way, they can generate revenues within the States that will not be constrained to a few categories of spending by constitution and federal mandate.

Our federation must gradually be restructured for return to true federalism, where except for core issues, such as Defence, Foreign Affairs and so on, the States should be essentially autonomous.

On the other hand, if the States wish to continue to look unto the federation as a parent, to continue to act like a parent to the States, essentially breast-feeding the States, to keep them alive, then the Federation (FGN), has the right to say, "ok for as long as I am breast feeding you and you are under my roof you will eat your vegetables, you will do your homework, and you will keep your room clean. You can have a small allowance to play with. If you want to go beyond my requirements, then you must become economically more developed, responsible, and generate your own revenues and prosperity!"

If this is provided for in the constitution, there must be on-going periodic audits to ensure that the federal allocations are indeed being spent in these areas or else governors face the sanctions and consequences provided for such infringements in the Constitution.

We believe that this will go on for a period of time. At some point, in future, true federalism and the economic prosperity within the states, would render statutory federal allocations to States ridiculous, and at that time they should be completely phased out. From that point on, Stales will attract funding only through their representatives who sponsor bills to get federal funds for specific projects and initiatives within the States.

Expanding Economic franchise to allow the economy to flourish Economic Devolution Strategy:

We believe in devolution, but not at the expense of the weak and society. It should be introduced in phases.

- First Stage

Introduce competition into all economic sectors, let entrants in, especially medium sized businesses. However, separate ownership from control (e.g. the management of BBC. While BBC is owned by the British Government, its management is not answerable to the British Prime Minister! It is run for the benefit of the enterprise.

- Second Stage

Commercialization of government owned enterprises. This is already being done, but unfortunately not all government owned business or quasibusiness entities are being commercialized for the benefit of the people. Govenunent could still hold businesses in trust for the people, pending when they are strong (empowered) to take over. -

 Third Stage

Distribution of shares of all commercialized companies in public stock market auction. Communities where the commercialized entities exist should get first priority in buying the shares. As an effort to assist, Government should sell the shares to the communities at very cheap rates, and target the rich (e.g. in the case of the Oil Industry — sell 2 million N7NPC shares, for example, at 50 kobo, to the indigenous communities, so they too can become part-owners of NNPC.

- Fourth Stage

Take all commercialized entities public in and Initial Private Offering on Nigerian Stock Exchange to the general public and the international community and price the shares at the best going rates. For example, if you decide to take 10 million Naira worth of NNPC shares at say N200 per share, to the big gunslgroups, all will still buy them; probably even on the first day. This would make the lucky poor communities in the oil producing areas, who had also bought the now N200 per share of 50 kobo, very rich and very happy.

The benefits of this strategy will be increased productivity, industrial peace, and the take-off of real industrial activity that will be competitive, domestically and internationally. Also, real economic value will be created, as opposed to the continuous crippling reliance on government subsidies. Furthermore, the economic franchise will be expanded as a plurality of new entrants will gain access to participate in the economy and gain real ownership.

Responding to Federalism-Related Concerns in the Context of the Three-tiered Institutional Blueprint

We affirm the unity of one Nigeria, indivisible under God, a union of African promise and opportunity, for which precious lives have been given to secure. We contend that the underlying bone of contention agitating for "confederacy", autonomous, or semi-autonomous regions, is not an argument borne out of a desire to split the country, but rather, a plea for increased participation for ALL Nigerians in the governance of their country, and in the decisions which determine their economic prosperity in Nigeria.

In our view, the solution — the definitive permanent solution to both these issues lies in the successful implementation of a proportional representation system predicated on transparent independent electoral institutions, and the decentralization of economic control by the Federal Government and to eventual complete liberalization of the economy.

These steps will reduce tensions, acrimonious, bitter and violent conflagrations, and ensure an atmosphere of peace where commerce and governance follow an orderly ebb and flow.

Being memo presented by elderstatesmen and women to the national political reform conference, nprc