Within this period of democratic or civil rule, some of the most profound laws that have been passed to promote transparency and accountability in the public sector include the Public Procurement Act (2007), the Fiscal Responsibility Act (2007) and the Freedom of Information Act (2011). The public procurement act sets up the regulatory authorities who monitor and oversees public procurement, as well as develops the legal framework and professional capacity for public procurement in Nigeria. The fiscal responsibility act provides for prudent management of the nation’s resources, ensures long term macro-economic stability and secures greater accountability and transparency in fiscal operations, while the freedom of information act makes public records and information more freely available.

These laws by their provisions have done much to create openness in the conduct of government business, ensure better access to information by the public and regulate state actors especially regarding their fiscal activities. However two distinct issues can be observed even with the presence of these laws. One of it is that the laws seem to be applicable only at the federal level, with scant attention paid to other levels of government. While the focus on the federal is not a bad thing in itself, Nigerians must also ask more of their states and local governments.

More searchlights need to be beamed at them to open them up to greater transparency, accountability and probity. These levels of government are supposedly closer to the people, hence can more readily affect lives by their policies and actions. The second issue is that rules and laws on their own will not necessarily bring about transformation, especially when they are not rigorously applied. Haphazard or selective implementation of laws will not bring about the intended effect of those laws. Such selective applications will at best result in tokenism or at worst, exacerbate existing schisms in the society.

For Nigeria to get maximum benefits from these and other extant laws, they must be implemented to the fullest. Citizens must be educated and made aware of their provisions, which is a task for the civil society organisations. Nigerians must learn how to leverage on these statutes to promote democratic principles and good governance. We must also learn to test the validity of such provisions in the law courts. Taking action against elected representatives will do much to discourage the ‘business as usual’ policy of these state actors. Lastly, we must overcome our fear of officialdom and begin to question the rationale for certain actions. Governments are not always right or infallible, especially when viewed in the context of the law.

Piece written by Oke Okpomo  Follow him on twitter@kpomskerio

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