NEITI should keep up the good work 

The board of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) recently adjudged Nigeria to have achieved Satisfactory Progress, the highest rating in the implementation of all the requirements of the 2016 EITI Standard. This positive news about our country and the increasing openness of its most strategic, and still opaque, sector is commendable. However, this rare recognition should lead to more, not less, transparency and accountability in the Nigerian oil and gas sector.

All EITI-implementing countries go through a process of validation every three years. This is a quality assurance mechanism designed to ensure that the implementing countries stay on track in their commitment to transparency in a sector prone to opacity while those found wanting are given an opportunity to improve or be suspended or delisted. The validation process includes review of EITI audit reports, documentation of processes, and stakeholders’ consultations. After being appraised against 33 requirements, the countries are ranked in terms of progress made in four ways: No Progress, Inadequate Progress, Meaningful Progress, and Satisfactory Progress.

In this particular instance, Nigeria was assessed against 30 requirements. It achieved Satisfactory Progress in 28 requirements and achieved “Beyond” in two. While Beyond is used to assess individual requirements to acknowledge areas in which implementing countries go beyond the requirements, it is not used for the overall assessment.

Nigeria’s overall ranking by EITI has pleasantly surprised many and is significant for a number of reasons. One, this is a country that constantly ranks low in most transparency and governance indexes such as the ones by Transparency International, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and the Natural Resources Governance Institute (NRGI). Two, Nigeria is usually seen as the opposite of Norway in terms of transparency and management of extractive resources. But in the EITI validation, Nigeria and Norway are placed as equals: they are two of the seven countries to have achieved Satisfactory Progress out of the 33 EITI countries that have gone through validation so far. And three, a country mostly mentioned in the negative in global circles is seen not just to be doing something right but also to have something to teach others.

The Chairman of EITI, Fredrik Reinfeldt, a former Prime Minister of Sweden, made this third point well. He said: “Nigeria’s implementation of the EITI Standard remains in many respects a model for implementing countries globally.” This is thus a significant moment for Nigeria and for President Muhammadu Buhari under whose watch this happened, and to all Nigerians. Worthy of particular commendation is the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), the national body that coordinates the implementation of EITI in the country. The contributions of other government agencies, companies, and civil society groups involved in the EITI process in the country are also worthy of praise.

For those familiar with Nigeria’s leadership and path-breaking role in EITI, this ranking would not have come as a big surprise. Since voluntarily signing on to the initiative in 2003 and commencing implementation in 2004, Nigeria has always gone beyond the minimum and has always raised the bar in the EITI community. This should continue. Nigeria also needs to learn from and catch up with others in enthroning transparency in contracts and beneficial ownership. It is also important not to buy into the fiction that this rating means that Nigeria’s extractive sector is now squeaky clean. No, it is not. There is still a world of things to be done to improve the transparency, efficiency and accountability of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), and the overall management of the sector. NEITI itself needs more political, operational and enforcement supports from the government so that it can do more for the country.

Above all, NEITI reports need to be taken more seriously by various stakeholders that should also endeavour to implement its recommendations.