Welcome Remarks At the National Steering Committee Meeting of OGP Nigeria and the Donor Coordination Meeting

By Edetaen Ojo Executive Director, Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and Civil Society Co-Chair of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Nigeria

Held at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers, Abuja On Tuesday, March 14, 2017

  • Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice and Government Co-Chair, OGP Nigeria, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN
  • Honourable Ministers
  • The Special Adviser to the President on Justice Reforms and Coordinator of OGP Nigeria, Mrs. Juliet Ibekaku-Nwagwu
  • Directors-General and heads of various Federal Government Departments and Agencies
  • Permanent Secretaries and Directors of various Federal Government Ministries
  • Distinguished Civil Society Colleagues
  • Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a great honour and privilege for me to welcome you all to this inaugural meeting of the National Steering Committee of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Nigeria. We thank all those who have chosen to prioritize this meeting over other matters and have accordingly been able to make it to the meeting.

At both the international and national levels, the OGP Steering Committee consists of equal numbers of government and civil society representatives who together oversee the development of the OGP, providing guidance and direction for the process, maintaining high standards for the initiative and ensuring that it is sustainable. That is our role as the OGP Nigeria National Steering Committee.

The OGP also has a rotating leadership group which also comes from both sectors, with government and civil society co-chairs of the Steering Committee.

For the benefit of those of us who may not yet be completely familiar with the OGP initiative, permit me to explain briefly that the OGP brings together governments and civil society organizations as equal partners at both the national and international levels.

The OGP process requires the government to consult with civil society and citizens. As a result of this, the OGP can help to ensure that civil society experts have access to critical discussions around open government reforms and are able to engage with public officials to implement such reforms.

At the national level, government has to work with civil society organizations to develop and implement the OGP national action plan, which contains priorities that have been jointly agreed upon.

Within the OGP framework, the private sector is seen as a part of civil society. But in Nigeria, we recognize that the private sector is a critical stakeholder in this process. We are therefore striving to ensure that it has more prominent recognition. So we will be referring to non-state actors to cover the private sector and traditional civil society, so that the private sector is not lost in the reference to civil society. In addition, we will also strive to ensure that the private sector always has a representative among the four OGP Nigeria co-chairs.

The OGP process also encourages member countries to establish institutional mechanisms for ongoing dialogue and collaboration between government and civil society, which runs throughout the process. This is known as the Permanent Dialogue Mechanism (PDM) and it helps to ensure that the partnership is real and not merely symbolic; and that the engagement is meaningful and effective. In this way, government always has a system of feedback from citizens.

In addition, within OGP, there is an Independent Civil Society Engagement team that works to broaden, strengthen and engage a strong civil society network to participate in OGP, particularly at the national level.

This Civil Society Engagement team supports national civil society actors to help them make better use of the OGP process, including the design, implementation and monitoring of the OGP national action plan, to ensure that they achieve their objectives.

This involvement of civil society and citizens in the reform agenda is the essential difference between the OGP and other processes or initiatives that have been undertaken in different parts of the world in the past to improve governance.

Previous processes and initiatives have essentially been run on the assumption that government knows everything, understands the needs and priorities of the people and can therefore make all the decisions about what is best for the people and implement government plans on that basis.

We all know from experience that this is frequently not the case. We know that in most cases, government officials alone really do not have all the answers and in many cases, can completely misjudge the people’s needs and priorities.

We also know from such situations that development plans or other initiatives have not often responded to the peoples’ needs.

The other flaw in that approach is that there was little or no involvement of citizens in the implementation of such plans or in monitoring the implementation. So, obviously, those plans and initiatives failed because of what I would call these fundamental design and conceptual flaws.

My civil society colleagues and I are therefore delighted at this opportunity to engage with government officials in a more systematic fashion, through the OGP platform and to contribute our ideas for the reform of many aspects of governance for the benefit of our people.

It is our hope that our partners in government would also see the relationship in this light, that you will see this arrangement as an opportunity to tap into and leverage the vast resources available within civil society, across a wide range of sectors and allow us to work together to improve governance in Nigeria.

This arrangement has another advantage, particularly for government. Civil society partners in the OGP process can serve as a sounding board for government to test policy initiatives and ideas before they are implemented. Through this process, government can more easily win civil society support for many of its policies and programmes, in contrast to the sometimes rancorous reactions that have greeted such initiatives, including from civil society.

I am confident that if we adopt this approach, we can reduce the mutual suspicion on both sides. We can be frank but constructive in our interactions and engagements, bearing in mind that the ultimate goal for both sides is a better Nigeria.

In closing, I want to welcome you all once again and thank for coming. I hope that you would find your experience in the OGP process enriching, and your time here rewarding. Finally, permit to also extend our gratitude to DFID Nigeria for its support for the OGP Nigeria process so far, including for convening this meeting.

Thank you for your kind attention.

Edetaen Ojo

Co-Chair, OGP Nigeria

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