August 6, 2012 – Ghana Lessons For Nigeria On Governance
Ghana, Nigeria’s calmer cousin, offers a number of lessons on how the business of government should be conducted
For the better part of last week, Ghanaians were involved in an impassioned debate over the Flagstaff House, in Accra, which served as the residence and home of Ghana’s first post-colonial leader, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. The Flagstaff House had sparked controversy in the past, most recently in 2008, when it was reconstructed and commissioned by the government of Mr. John Kuffuor, Ghana’s president at the time.
It was then renamed Jubilee House and designated the Presidential Palace.
The Kuffuor government had defended its decision with the explanation that Osu Castle, the current seat of government, was unbefitting for a Ghanaian president because of its link to the slave trade, a dark epoch in African history. Osu was one of the many castles used by European slave traders to hold their captives before transportation to foreign plantations.
The decision to upgrade the complex, which is located on an expansive piece of land and has an imposing façade, was met with a huge dose of public anger. The reconstruction had been carried out with a $30 million loan from the Indian government.
This coincided with a period of economic gloom in the country. “There was fuel shortage, stratospheric inflation and dire need of infrastructure, particularly in the rural areas,” said Arthur Baidoo, a businessman. In the run-in to the 2008 presidential election, the complex, widely viewed as a symbol of unaffordable vanity, provided the National Democratic Congress, NDC, represented by the recently deceased Professor John Evan Atta Mills, plenty of ammunition to shoot at Kuffuor’s National Patriotic Party, NPP. According to the NDC, the money used in the construction of this building should have been utilised in rural Ghana, which was crying out for infrastructure in health, education and other areas.
And on 7 January 2009, when Mills was sworn in as president after defeating Nana Akufo-Addo, candidate of the then ruling NPP, he refused to use the Flagstaff House as the seat of government, preferring Osu Castle. The Flagstaff House was given to Ghana’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for temporary use, after its offices were gutted by fire.
Last week’s raging debate over the Flagstaff House was sparked by the announcement that President John Dramani Mahama, Mills’ successor, had ordered that his predecessor be buried at the complex, which he criticised as a symptom of waste while he lived. The opposition NPP merrily seized on Mahama’s directive as an evidence of hypocrisy, given that Mills refused to live in the complex, which he branded as not socially relevant. Those who do not want Mills buried there argue that all the country’s dead presidents were buried at their hometowns and want Mills buried in his hometown of Tarkwa in the Western Region.
Those who want him buried in Flagstaff House argue that it is the honour he deserves, having stabilised the country’s economy and put it on the path of growth in the three years he spent as president. Mills’ rejection of the grandeur of the Flagstaff House was not a one-off. Having inherited a pallid economy, there was a clear need to trim much of the extravagance around political office. While campaigning, he criticised Kuffuor’s convoy, which Mohammed A. Abu, a journalist and business consultant, described as having multiple vehicles. Mills brought his down to five vehicles. The five regional ministers (equivalent of governors in Nigeria) bought into that. They have two-vehicle convoys, one aide and a policeman as security detail.
Ghanaian presidents also demonstrate a lot of modesty and humility. Former president John Kuffuor’s humility is legendary. He demonstrated this during the 2008 CNN/Multichoice African Journalist of the Year Award in Accra, Ghana. At the Gala Night where the finalists would be announced, Kuffuor appeared in a convoy of just two cars. There was neither security cordon nor ear-drum-blasting sirens.
“Is this all the security that Ghana can give its president?” a Ugandan journalist asked, adding that “Yoweri Museveni would not even attend a gala night!” The Ugandan added that if Museveni was going anywhere, “there will be a huge security blanket.”
Months before the gala night, a car had run into Kuffuor’s vehicle as he was driving to his private residence, near the African Heritage Hotel, Accra. He did not reside at Osu Cattle or the Flagstaff House. He went to work from his private residence. In other words, he was living among the people.
This is in sharp contrast to what happens when President Jonathan or his wife, Patience, travels either by land or air: everywhere is shut down. Whenever the plane of the President or his wife wants to land or take off, no other aircraft lands or takes off. Recently, the first lady visited Lagos, shutting down the commercial city in the process!
With regard to the retinue of staff and official vehicles that Nigerian rulers use, Ajayi Opeyemi, an analyst, wrote that government at all levels spends so much monthly without any significant impact on the general well-being of the citizens. An average local government chairman in Nigeria today, according to Ajayi, has four Sport Utility Vehicles, SUVs, attached to his office, that follows him to and from work daily. He also has Chief of Staff, Senior Special Assistant, Supervisor for Special Duties, Personal Assistant for Political Matters, Personal Assistant for Community Matters.
As Ajayi put it: “The ones for the office of the First Ladies of the 774 LG councils across the 36 states are different. Each of these aides has at least two SUVs – one official and one utility – and enjoys fat salary/allowances. An enormous amount of money is spent monthly to cater for the expensive lifestyle of these political functionaries. The truth is that by the time the councils pay staff salary and caters to the expensive lifestyle of the political office holders, there is usually little or nothing left to spend on developmental projects for the council area.”
Then Ajayi moved to the state governors who have bullet-proof official vehicles with surveillance camera and bomb detectors attached to them. An average Governor, as Ajayi argued, has one official car and two utility vehicles attached to his office. The convoy of an average Governor moves around town with: one official car, two utility vehicles, two escort vehicles, one Chief Security Officer vehicle, one State Security Service vehicle, one police van and others.
“Apart from the cost of running the office of a Governor in Nigeria, the retinue of personal staff is also a source of concern,” wrote Ajayi. These are: Chief of Staff, Deputy Chief of Staff, Special Advisers, Senior Special Assistants, Special Assistants, Executive Assistants, Assistant Special Assistants and others.
In fact, Governor Isa Yuguda of Bauchi State attracted criticisms when he appointed over 1,070 aides. According to Adewale Maja-Pearce, a writer and social critic, in a piece entitled, “Yuguda’s 1,070 Aides and the Nigerian Malaise”, these aides are confined to hanging about the streets of the capital waiting for an audience with the man they are supposed to be advising.
He added: “Given the sheer number involved, even the governor himself must sometimes be confused by the conflicting advice on this or that issue that must surely be the result of such rich pickings at his disposal. After all, it will be incumbent on each of them to ensure that they come up with a fresh angle to the particular area they specialise in, lest they be thought to be simply parroting one another.”
The writer argued that it is possible, of course, the governor himself is “unaware of what many of his advisers even look like, never mind what they are supposed to be doing as they report for work each morning, hoping to get an audience with the exalted one”.
Ghana’s government, by Nigerian standards, is a considerably lean one. There are 10 government ministries and the constitution provides for not less than 10 ministers and not more than 19 ministers of state, who are permitted one aide each. But Francis Kokotsu of Associated Press explained that aides also tend to acquire huge powers and draw privileges. He added that it is wrong to assume that the Ghanaian politician is averse to patronage, saying “there is very little to spread around here”. In Kokotsu’s view, resources are so lean that there is not much to fritter on providing “jobs for the boys”.
The calmer disposition of the government in Ghana, explained Kojo Pumpuni Asante, Senior Research Officer, Ghana Centre for Democratic Development, is partly cultural. According to him, Ghanaian cultures, with the exception of Ashanti, take a dim view of display of extravagance in any form. “It is a huge political issue if you are perceived to be extravagant. You could be voted out of office just for having a long convoy. People feel a certain inequity and conclude that leaders don’t care about them when they see long convoys or other signs of extravagance. This has created in our politicians a need to be restrained,” said Asante.
Exactly what a Ghanaian legislator earns is largely a subject of speculation. According to Asante, the base pay of an MP is 10,000 Ghana cedis (about $5,000) a month in basic salary. That works out at 60,000 Ghana cedis or $30,000 per annum. And that is the only taxable part of what the legislators earn. MPs who are members of commissions or boards earn more money through part-time work from sitting allowances. They also, like their Nigerian counterparts, get housing allowances estimated at $3,000 per month or $36,000 per year. Vehicles are provided for their use. After four years, the government writes off the cost of the vehicles for them.
A senator’s annual salary, according to Osun Defender, is over N182 million. In addition to the regular and legitimate salaries and allowances of over N17 million ($113,333) and N14.99 million ($99,933) which senators and House of Representatives members get yearly and the irregular allowance of estacodes, duty tours etc, the medium reported that “they were also getting over N192m ($1.28m) and N140m ($0.93m) respectively in illicit quarterly allocation”.
It added that effectively, a Nigerian senator was taking home at least $1.40m ($1.28m quarterly allocations plus $0.113m regular salaries and allowances) as against the $0.174m an American senator takes home. Hence, a Nigerian senator earns at least eight times as much as an American senator and more than three times the American president.In a newspaper article entitled ‘An Assembly for looting’ written by Musikilu Mojeed with Elor Nkereuwem, the authors claimed that each of the 360 members of the House of Representatives was getting N35 million in quarterly allocation while each of the 109 senators pockets N48 million.
Beyond this, as it is the case in Nigeria, there is great opaqueness around earnings. According to an analyst, legislators, ministers and heads of boards are thought to earn inappropriate sums from contractors.
A lot, however, has improved about its electoral process, which has boosted its credentials as a democratic nation. In December, the credentials will be put to test in another round of general elections. Political competition and its associated rantings and raging, particularly by Ghana’s two leading parties – NDC and NPP – is creating some discomfort, but many observers, local and foreign, believe that peace will prevail. Ghana has built a reputation for credible elections, as evidenced by the defeat of the candidate of the ruling party in the last presidential election, which was free of the kind of spite that is a fixture on the Nigerian electoral circuit.
And very recently, Ghana offered another lesson when Vice-President, Mr. John Dramani Mahama was sworn in as president less than 24 hours after the death of President John Atta Mills on 24 July. Before his death he had travelled abroad for medical check-up and made sure he handed over to his deputy before travelling. This sharply contrasted with the grim circus that the Nigerian public was made to watch in 2010, when President Umaru Yar’Adua became incapacitated and incapable to continue to rule as president. The government was hijacked by certain personalities, who showed indifference to the constitutional provision that the vice-president should be made acting president when the president is incapable of discharging his duties.
In 2006, when the government of Ghana budgeted $20 million (about N3 billion) for the celebration of the country’s 50th Independence anniversary the following year, it was called a misplaced priority and heavily criticised by many Ghanaians as too high. But this turned out to be very modest contrasted with what Nigeria budgeted – N10 billion (about $67 million) – for its 10th Independence anniversary in 2010. In fact, Ghana’s total expenditure on its anniversary was slightly higher than the N2.65 billion Nigeria budgetted for building what the government called “a befitting Golden Jubilee Plaza” in the Federal Capital Territory.
In the expenditure outlay submitted to the National Assembly for the occasion by President Goodluck Jonathan, he said the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation would spend N6.4 billion; the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, N600 million; Ministry of Information and National Orientation, N1.2 billion; Ministry of Women Affairs, N105 million; and Aso Rock Presidential Villa, N510 million.
In addition, the President said N100 million would be spent to replace the carpeting at the International Conference Centre, Abuja and N2.65 billion to construct a Golden Jubilee Plaza, also in Abuja, while N1 billion would be spent on ceremonial uniforms for all military and para-military agencies including the Army, Navy, Air Force, Police, Customs, Prisons, Immigration, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC, and the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC.
Not unexpectedly, the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, criticised the N10 billion budgeted for the celebrations, calling it “wasteful”.
“…We are of the view that the details of the over N10 billion Independence anniversary expenditure in the supplementary appropriation bill submitted by the President to the National Assembly contain very frivolous and extravagant items in the context of the mass misery and poverty in the land particularly under the prevailing cash squeeze due to the global economic crisis, which government uses to deny labouring people their legitimate rights,” a press release by the NLC read.
While the Labour body acknowledged that such Jubilee warranted some degree of jubilation, it, however, said that “given the popular national gloom due obviously to our stunted growth in many aspects of our political economy, our leaders ought to use the 50th Independence anniversary as a genuine platform for deeper self-examination and commitment to the structural and institutional development of our nation”.
It is not that Nigerians or the presidency are not aware of profligacy in governance. In fact, General Theophilus Danjuma, as head of the Presidential Advisory Council, counseled Jonathan to cut down the high cost of governance. But the President waved this advice aside, arguing that his appointment of 42 ministers was a constitutional matter. Analysts argued that if he actually wanted to heed the advice, he would have sent a bill to the National Assembly for an amendment. With this obstinacy, it is as if Nigerians are up the creek without a paddle!
Ghana is not the prefect democracy, but it seems to have conquered a few demons that Nigeria is still battling with. A 2009 survey report by the Ghana Centre for Democratic Development rates Ghanaians’ ranking of the country’s democracy as satisfactory despite the fact that the pace of economic growth is not as quick as they would have wanted. “Based on the findings, we conclude that the Ghanaian democratisation process is advanced in comparison to many African countries and is generally on a safe course. In addition, Ghanaians continue to endorse many aspects of democratic practice and appear to be attached to democratic values such as electoral choice and limited government,” said the report.(TheNews Magazine)