John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Nigeria and Norway: Accountability Dilemmas

by John Campbell
October 31, 2012

Workers, seen through a pipe, look on at the scene of an oil pipeline fire in Dadabili, Niger state 02/04/2011. (Afolabi Sotunde/Courtesy Reuters) Workers, seen through a pipe, look on at the scene of an oil pipeline fire in Dadabili, Niger state 02/04/2011. (Afolabi Sotunde/Courtesy Reuters)

Nigeria and Norway have little in common except the first letter of their names and the fact that they produce about the same amount of oil each day. Norway on a per capita basis may be the richest country in the world, while Nigeria is among the poorest. Norway has among the world’s best social statistics, while Nigeria has among the worst. Norway has been a democracy for a long time, while Nigeria is still struggling to attain it.

I was therefore startled to learn that an official spokesman for Rivers State, one of the Nigeria’s principal oil producing states, confirmed the purchase of a new Bombardier jet for Governor Chibulke Amaechi. It cost U.S. $45 million. The jet is for the governor’s “exclusive” use and replaces an older aircraft, which will be sold.

And, just out of interest, what would be the travel arrangements for the King of Norway and the prime minister? I learned from a good authority that the King flies commercial. The seat next to him, however, is left vacant. The prime minister is not accorded the privilege of a vacant seat next to him when he flies commercial. It is true that the King of Norway can use a military aircraft on official (usually state) visits. And the prime minister can hire a plane. These occasions are relatively rare.

It is an illustration of how the Norwegian leadership is accountable to the parliament, and through it to the Norwegian people. Nigeria cannot yet hold its leaders to that standard of accountability.

Even more than differing methods of travel, the two governments diverge on fundamental management of their nation’s oil revenues. Norway established the Government Pension Fund into which oil revenue funnels and is distributed to the people. It weighs in at U.S. $656.2 billion. Its management is based on Norway’s highly developed sense of accountability. As such, it operates in a very transparent fashion.

Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, on the other hand, is having a difficult time pushing a mere U.S. $1 billion past the state governors to establish a Nigerian sovereign wealth fund. It would be financed by excess oil revenues and eventually replace the Excess Crude Account, which weighs in at U.S. $8 billion. The governors fear the federal government will be unaccountable for how it manages the money; just as the current account is not managed in a transparent or accountable fashion. The governors believe the current system of distributing oil money to the states should be maintained. The state governments, however, have shown just as little enthusiasm for transparent, accountable spending as the federal government.

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by Chike Chukudebelu

    The problem with all these statistics is “then what?”.

    The statistics are true and all Nigerians are aware of the lack of accountability and corruption – I’ve heard the same song since I knew anything.

    A more useful analysis will deal with the causes of corruption in the first place. The author forgot to add that unlike Norway, Nigeria is an artificial state and artificial states and accountability generally don’t go together because there is little sense of collective ownership of public goods.

    He also forgot to add that Norway found oil long after strong institutions were established. On the other hand, Nigeria’s weak institutions were weakened by easy money from oil.

    Am I excusing the corruption and lack of vision? No, but having lived in Africa for as long as I have, I understand that reeling out statistics doesn’t solve many problems – it merely brings the problem to sharper focus, but the underlying cause of the problem is left untouched.

    Nigeria is on an unsustainable trajectory, something will have to give sooner than later. Nature abhors a vacuum, so the contradictions in maintaining the the current situation “as-is” will result in something – we don’t know what shape or form it will take.

    The next few decades will prove whether Nigeria is simply a haphazardly conjured entity – a fallout from the Berlin conference or a sustainable state. Events from the past few years point to the latter, but the Nigeria people (as always) will have the final say.

    Let history take its course – I’ve heard those statistics so often that I am tired of them.

  • Posted by Idris Yahuza Yakubu

    The comments help us to understand that Nigeria is still work in progress and that those of us in politics have our work cut out for us. When you have the chance try to make a difference. If you are not involved get in or ensure that those that are in politics only those that have the capacity to make a difference are elected. That is the only way we can bring change to Nigeria. Not through Lamentations.

  • Posted by Smart Okpi

    The state of Nigeria is really in an appalling condition. It is so painful that 99% of Nigerian leaders seem not to have a clue on what to do. Or probably know what to do but willfully decide not to do it.
    By my assessment, what Nigeria needs is a revolution. Not the military type, but a mental and psychological revolution. without it, Nigeria will inevitably collapse.
    Being a youth who has lived all his life here in Nigeria, I can tell you categorically that the current young people of Nigeria will be worse than their fathers. Though there are still some few good ones left.
    These few good ones will take us out of this abysmal state, just the way some few bad ones brought us all to where we are today. This is our collective hope as a people, and this hope must not die.

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