Walter Duru, Ph.D
One of the cheering news in Imo State today is that the administration of Governor Emeka Ihedioha has submitted a Letter of Intent to join the Open Government Partnership, Nigeria. This confirmation came from the Secretariat of OGP Nigeria, Abuja. The implication is that the state has made some commitments in the area of Open Government.
Imo State government sources identified some of the commitments made by the state to include: Access to Information, Anti Corruption, Open Budgeting, Fiscal transparency, Open Contracting and Citizens Engagement.
Enquiry at the OGP National Secretariat revealed that a Letter of Acceptance of Application to Imo State has already been signed by the Attorney General and Minister for Justice and will likely arrive Owerri, the State capital this week.
Open Government Partnership (OGP) is a multi-stakeholder initiative that focuses on improving government transparency, accountability and responsiveness to citizens through technology and innovations. It was launched in 2011 by eight founding member-countries, following their endorsement of the Open Government Declaration. The eight countries are: Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, The Philippines, South Africa, United Kingdom and United States of America.
Nigeria joined the OGP in July 2016, two months after President Muhammadu Buhari attended the Anti- Corruption Summit organised by the government of the United Kingdom in May, 2016. At the Summit, the Nigerian President reaffirmed his government’s commitment to strengthening anti-corruption reforms and bringing integrity to governance through leadership by example. He announced Nigeria’s commitment to Global Open Government Partnership principles and directed the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to implement the commitments made in London.
In July, 2016, the Federal Ministry of Justice, under the leadership of Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, organised a Stakeholders session on the OGP to identify members of the Steering Committee and to discuss the implementation framework of the OGP Principles. One of the highlights of the meeting was the self-selection of the Civil Society representatives at the Steering Committee. Subsequent meetings were held, where the Action Plan and other related issues were discussed.
For OGP to be operational in any state, such a state is required to implement commitments made by the state government; endorse a high-level Open Government Declaration; deliver a state action plan developed with public consultation (government and civil society); Commit to independent reporting on their progress and contribute to peer learning.
Now that the administration of Chief Emeka Ihedioha, pursuant to his electoral promise of entrenching good governance has commenced this journey, steps need to be taken to close the gaps identified in the process.
For the first time in eight years, Imo State annual Budget is online- on the state official website. This is part of the proactive disclosure obligations of the state government under the FOI Act. This, no doubt is a step in the right direction.
The giant strides of the Governor Emeka Ihedioha-led administration in the areas of ease of doing business and open contracting cannot also go without mention.
However, there is need for a stakeholders’ session for state and non-state actors on OGP implementation in the state. The need for members of the state steering committee to emerge cannot be overemphasized.
Again, pursuant to the commitments, there is need for efforts to be fast-tracked towards adopting the Freedom of Information Act in the State. The summary of commitments on Access to Information is implementation of the FOI Act in Imo State. Although the FOI Act is applicable in all states of the federation, having an Imo State version will further show the commitment of the present administration in Imo State to transparency principles.
There is no gainsaying the fact that the present administration in Imo State, led by Governor Emeka Ihedioha is committed to entrenching openness and accountability in governance. This indeed, is a new beginning for Imo State.
While we await a Letter from the OGP Nigeria National Secretariat, accepting Imo State’s application, the foundation needs to be laid for a smooth implementation of OGP principles in Imo State.
Steps need to be taken to make Imo citizens own the OGP process, to ensure effective implementation, lest it becomes another elitist initiative.
The time to act is now!