When citizens are to govern their own affairs, either directly or through representative government, they must be informed about how best to determine their affairs and how best to represent and execute them. In a democracy, the principle of accountability holds that government officials whether elected or appointed, those who have been elected are responsible to the citizenry for their decisions and actions. Transparency requires that the decisions and actions of those in government are open to public scrutiny and that the public has a right to access such information. Both concepts are central to the very idea of democratic governance.
Governments that are truly accountable can more effectively prevent corruption. Some public officers use positions of power or privilege for personal enrichment. Indeed, corruption is possible in all systems of government, and democracies are not immune from it. Still, democracies have several advantages in dealing with corruption. One advantage is that elected representatives in a democracy have a direct relationship with the country’s citizens, whose votes encourage the winner to act honestly in representing the people’s will. Indeed, the various laws, constitutional provisions, and internal regulations found in democracies reflect the idea that those who work for the government, whether appointed, elected, or hired, owe a high level of accountability to the public. Accountability advances the concept of responsibility and infers that an individual should be able to explain and answer for their actions and may be legally obliged to do so.
By contrast, dictatorships have no such protections or safeguards. Leaders in a dictatorship do not have the same incentives as leaders in a democracy to avoid violating the law and abusing power to their own advantage. The 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index compiled by Transparency International (TI), a global organization committed to fighting corruption, demonstrates how corruption can correlate with dictatorship. ..
The very basis for government’s responsiveness is the assurance that citizens would have sufficient knowledge to direct it. It allows for a continual check on policies; it also aims to enhance the responsiveness of agents to those whom they are expected to serve by so doing these mechanisms improve the quality of representation, including subjecting policy choices to deliberation/ consultation and seeking referenda on some decisions.
Governance Describes the process of governmental decision-making and the manner by which decisions are put into practice (or, in some cases not put into practice). Governance consists of the traditions and institutions by which authority in a country is exercised. This includes the process by which governments are selected, monitored and replaced; the capacity of the government to effectively formulate and implement sound policies; and the respect of citizens and the state for the institutions that govern economic and social interactions among them.
On the other hand, democracy is a political arrangement which the people in a country rule through any form of government they select to establish. In modern democracies, supreme authority is exercised for the most part by representatives elected by popular suffrage. The representative may be supplanted by the electorate according to legal procedures or recall or referendum, and they are responsible to the electorate. Simply put, democracy is the rule by the people. It is the primary principle by which government and governmental systems have sought to justify their existence.
While Accountability is a component of good governance , it has to do with the institutionalizing of the system to checkmate excesses or abuse. Public service. It has to do with the business of government at all levels including the politicians, elected and appointed officials, the elite leadership, the armed forces and other law enforcement agencies and not just the civil service or the parastatals. Accountability is an all compassing concept which has to do with the full and faithful discharge of assignment, responsibility, covenant or trust in both public and private sector. This is considered central in all social relations, whether between individual or between servants of the state and government or between public servants and the people they are meant to serve. Accountability therefore, implies that the government is accountable to her citizens.
The problems of governance are also problems of management. The crisis of accountability has to do with the recognition of the fact that accountability in Nigeria has been challenged to a crisis point. The crisis is now exerting an adverse impact on the national polity and a resolution of the crisis should definitely have a relieving impact on the national politics. It is important to note/highlight some challenges of good Governance as they relate to Nigeria -which in turn affect democracy and accountability – thus but not limited to:
- Weak institutions, with poorly defined remits
- Insufficient checks and balances
- A system of law, but not rule of law
- Overly bureaucratic institutions
- Rigid decision-making structures
- Lack of leadership at appropriate levels
- Fragmentation of society
- Lack of trust (perceived lack of professionalism)
- Inability or unwillingness to share information
- Poor human right issues
James Madison, the author of the U.S. Bill of Rights wrote a Letter to W. T. Barry, August 4, 1822 and I quote “A popular Government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.”
In a democracy, the principle of accountability holds that government officials whether elected or appointed by those who have been elected are responsible to the citizenry for their decisions and actions. Transparency requires that decisions and actions of those in government are open to public scrutiny and that the public has a right to access such information. Both concepts are central to the very idea of democratic governance. Without accountability and transparency, democracy is impossible. In their absence, elections and the notion of the will of the people have no meaning, and government has the potential to become arbitrary and self-serving
The Right to Know
“This legislation springs from one of our most essential principles: a democracy works best when the people have all the information that the security of the nation permits. No one should be able to pull the curtains of secrecy around decisions which can be revealed without causing disorder to the public interest.” In the absence of these instruments for accountability and transparency, government is likely to succumb to corruption; this has occurred throughout history when no controls have been placed on governmental powers and leaders have sought only to retain power through dictatorship.
Accountability also involves the separation of powers, which is the principle that no arm of government may dominate another, and that each arm has the power to check fundamental abuses by other arm. The parliament authority granted by the Nigeria Constitution, for example, gives it the power to hold other arm accountable through legislative oversight.
Human right issues
Nigeria’s human rights record remains poor and government officials at all levels continue to commit serious abuses. According to the U.S. Department of State, the most significant human rights problems are: extrajudicial killings and use of excessive force by security forces; impunity for abuses by security forces; arbitrary arrests; prolonged pretrial detention; judicial corruption and executive influence on the judiciary; rape, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners, detainees and suspects; harsh and life‑threatening prison and detention center conditions; human trafficking for the purpose of force labor; societal violence and vigilante killings; child labor, child abuse and child sexual exploitation; domestic violence; discrimination based on sex, ethnicity, region and religion; restrictions on, movement, press, speech and religion; infringement of privacy rights; and the abridgement of the right of citizens to change the government.
It is evident that some progress has been made in the Nigerian democratic process. It is important to note that Nigerian democracy is still transforming from the transitional process that its used to be and people are resistant to change in whatever form its comes. And there is high level of mistrust between the citizens and government; Even when the government tries to implement sound policies in the long term national interest, it is often met with resistance. A typical scenario is the fuel subsidy crisis January 2012, when the government wanted to remove the subsidy on fuel and re-channel the savings to develop other sectors of the economy. It was a reasonable step. But citizens revolted, seeing the fuel subsidy as one of the few benefits they get from the government. Nigerians reasoned that the government had the moral imperative to reduce the cost of governance first. This resulted to a nation-wide strike and only worsened the mistrust. Thus, there are certain Key elements that have to be in place for good governance and democracy to take roots in a nation, they are as follows:
Participation by both men and women is a key cornerstone of good governance. Participation could be either direct or through legitimate intermediate institutions or representatives. It is important to point out that representative democracy does not necessarily mean that the concerns of the most vulnerable in society would be taken into consideration in decision making. Participation needs to be informed and organized. This means freedom of association and expression on the one hand and an organized civil society on the other hand.
Rule of law: Good governance requires fair legal frameworks that are enforced impartially
Transparency: Transparency means that decisions taken and their enforcement are done in a manner that follows rules and regulations.
Responsiveness: Good governance requires that institutions and processes try to serve all stakeholders within a reasonable timeframe.
Consensus oriented: There are several actors and as many view points in a given society. Good governance requires mediation of the different interests in society to reach a broad consensus in society on what is in the best interest of the whole community and how this can be achieved.
Equity and inclusiveness: A society’s well being depends on ensuring that all its members feel that they have a stake in it and do not feel excluded from the mainstream of society irrespective of groups or vulnerability.
Effectiveness and efficiency: Good governance means that processes and institutions produce results that meet the needs of society while making the best use of resources at their disposal.
Accountability: Accountability is a key requirement of good governance. Not only governmental institutions but also the private sector and civil society organizations must be accountable to the public and to their institutional stakeholders. Who is accountable to whom varies depending on whether decisions or actions taken are internal or external to an organization or institution.
In order to enhance accountability in a democracy, public office holders are expected to building blocks of trust (and) consistency, clear communication and willingness to tackle awkward questions.
Good governance is achieved when a political system conducts public affairs, manages public resources and guarantees the realization of a range of human rights in a manner that is (mostly) free of abuse and corruption and with due regard to the rule of law. In doing so, people will respect the potential of others.We need accountability, not blame.
Rosemary A Effiong,Email:[email protected]
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