TEARING DOWN INFORMATION ASYMMETRY — AN AGENDA FOR SEUN ONIGBINDE
As a campaigner for open government and data revolution, I am ecstatic on the appointment of Mr Oluseun Onigbinde as a Technical Adviser to the Honourable Minister of State for Budget and National Planning. Primarily, this is for two reasons: Seun’s activism for fiscal responsibility and active citizenry is unsurpassed in contemporary Nigeria. Two, to effect changes at policy levels in emerging economies (third world countries), it is advantageous or cost-effective to be an insider than otherwise. Being outside the system confers huge limitations or handicaps which so many activists are unwilling to publicly admit.
Howbeit, I don’t overshoot my expectations from public servants or appointees of government because of my familiarity with politics of public policy and another interesting factor — a factor which the world bank calls adverse political incentive. Politics of policy-making and adverse political incentives can defuse otherwise brilliant advisers in governments, and confer daftness on them instead. A very sound policy option, capable of transforming perennial revenue deficits, can be applauded but considered politically untimely, awkward or unfavourable. Having said that, let me quickly suggest to Mr Seun what he could do for Nigerians in the first six months of his stint in government.
All over the world, there is an imaginary wall that barricades citizens from details of what happens in governments. As such, transparency is a long-standing suggestion as an antidote. Debates around transparency are heated and dependent on stakeholders’ viewpoint. However, everyone agrees there’s information asymmetry. Information asymmetry refers to the situation in which one party has more information than another. For instance, when a government has more information than its constituents. For me, among the first set of tasks that Seun should pull off is advising his boss (The Honourable Minister) to reduce the information asymmetry gap. I am suggesting reduction because eliminating it may be unrealistic.
Not only that development activism in Nigeria would be transformed, it would cease being speculative and accusatory but rather, assume a desirable dimension of being data-driven. If his role and position can successfully influence more openness on the part of the government, he would amass public trust and goodwill as an indefatigable change agent. If reduction in information asymmetry gap can be achieved within your residency in Budget and National Planning, Nigerians would never forget in a hurry. Dear Mr Seun, tear down the walls!
In her book, Fighting Corruption is Dangerous; Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala argues that: Nigeria’s deep fiscal decentralization means that governors have tremendous freedom and little accountability in the use of monies under their control. She went further, there are few checks and balances because state legislatures are typically weak. If we further press her submissions, bearing in mind that, only a few states have signed up to Open Government Partnership (OGP) and even fewer have domesticated Freedom of Information Act of 2011; we would quickly realize, that subnational governments are averse to revenue transparency drives and/or anti-corruption.
Dear Seun, is there an existing framework or a legal lacuna that could be exploited to influence subnational governments into speeding up intentions and actual commitments to OGP and accelerating domestication of FOI Act in the 36 states of the federation, including FCT? To bolster transparency, OGP and FOI Act are two important instruments to be promoted to the mainstream. How you can get your ministry and your principal to honour and show more commitments to the OGP and FOI Act should top your to-do list.
I have limited my interventions to scaling down information asymmetry gap and consolidating on revenue transparency drives as what should form your low hanging fruits. In my estimation, opinions or ideas of citizens can be tactically harvested and used in decision-making in a healthy democracy. In so doing, citizens voice can be reinforced, better policy outcomes recorded and extreme poverty eliminated. In democracies, citizens participate in the work of government and influence policies which directly affect them. Currently, Nigeria is the headquarters of the wretched of the earth (extremely poor people) in the world. This is a distasteful status which must change with spirited efforts of great minds like you — Seun Onigbinde.
Hello Seun, congratulations on your appointment! Nigeria will be better for it, I strongly believe.
Ani, Nwachukwu Agwu is a PhD student at the Institute for Development Studies, University of Nigeria, Enugu. He can be reached via Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter: @NwachukwuAni