Twenty years of UK governance programmes in Nigeria: achievements, challenges, lessons and implications for future support

November 3, 2021

     By Duncan Green     

This detailed (113 page main report, plus annexes) ODI study by Laure-Hélène Piron, Clare Cummings, Gareth Williams, Helen Derbyshire and Sierd Hadley digs into one of those celebrity/Potemkin governance programmes that you keep coming across (and which I keep writing about on these pages).

In this case a large UK investment in governance reforms in four states in Nigeria (Jigawa, Kano, Kaduna and Yobe), stretching back over 20 years. A series of 3 generations of acronym-tastic governance programmes (SLGP, SPARC, SAVI and PERL) were ‘doing development differently’ and ‘thinking and working politically’ before the terms even existed.

Being a superficial sort, I just read the 20 page (!) exec summary, and lots of things jumped out. First some background, then the interesting findings:

The Background

Jigawa, Kano, Kaduna and Yobe states in Nigeria

‘SLGP, SPARC, SAVI and PERL have been working consistently on relatively similar public financial management (PFM), public sector management (PSM) and empowerment and accountability (E&A) reform areas for between 10 years (Yobe) and 20 years (Jigawa). They supported the following state-level core governance interventions:

• policy-making and planning, and PFM;

• PSM, specifically organisational development of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and human resources management (HRM); and

• supporting citizens to influence State Government decision-making and hold the authorities to account.

These governance programmes indirectly, and sometimes directly, supported state-level health and education governance: sector policy-making, planning and budgets; recruitment and training of teachers, nurses and midwives; or civil society monitoring of school or health facilities. Governance programmes operated alongside much larger UK health and education programmes.’

Findings on ‘Thinking and Working Politically’:

‘For over 15 years, UK governance programmes in Nigeria have been at the forefront of seeking to understand the political economy of their contexts, tailor interventions accordingly, and work in politically smart and adaptive ways. They relied in particular on frontline delivery teams from these Northern states, who developed relationships of trust with State Governments and non-state actors, with deep contextual knowledge based on regular political economy analysis (PEA) and at times decentralised decision-making. This ability to ‘think and work politically’ (TWP) is the main reason why programmes were able to achieve the range of contributions to outcomes documented by the research. Based on these UK governance programme experiences, important and internationally recognised lessons have been documented and disseminated inside DFID/ FCDO, and globally.

In order to ensure that governance interventions contribute to sector outcomes, DFID/FCDO has also encouraged close collaboration between its governance, health and education programmes over the past two decades. There are many examples of programmes working together in a complementary and mutually supportive manner, and some results clearly derive from these synergies. There are, however, gaps and missed opportunities in cross-programme collaboration. The research’s main operational implication is that development partners’ governance and sector programmes need the capacity to TWP. This is not a new message, yet it is still not mainstreamed in development.’

But some real concern that UK Aid is losing the plot:

Contextual factors

‘In recent years, UK government development policies and processes, and the incentives they create for programme management and delivery, are increasingly preventing UK governance programmes in Nigeria from operating in TWP ways. The ‘authorising environment’ created by the UK Government has become increasingly constraining, for instance in demands to demonstrate short-term results and associated contract-management tools such as Payment by Results. As a consequence, UK governance programmes have probably achieved less than their full potential.’

And some excellent recommendations for aid agencies:

1. Invest for the long term – 10 to 20 years – combining support for both state and non-state actors. As the UK in Nigeria has shown, consistently investing in the same places and on similar issues contributes to results. Transformational changes can be achieved especially when interventions target how governments relate to their citizens, rather than only focusing on internal state processes.

2. Ensure programmes have the strategic level mandate, managerial capacity and frontline staff skills to pursue politically savvy opportunities. TWP requires not only programmes with the right staff and adaptive management systems, but most importantly, an ‘authorising environment’ to operate in politically savvy, adaptive ways. This means less time on upwards reporting, and more time on analysing, testing, learning and sharing. And in the new COVID-19 context which requires localising development now more than ever, successful programmes will be those with staff well embedded in states, cities or rural areas where they live and work, with enough autonomy and delegated responsibilities.

3.Take PEA to the next level by unpacking ‘causal mechanisms’. In some programmes, PEAs have at times become a tick-box exercise, even when staff have an in-depth understanding of the political context which shapes how they operate. This report has shown how incentives can be understood and used to design interventions that provide the reasonings or resources to make change happen. Monitoring, evaluation and learning systems can then assess the relevance of causal mechanisms at play, and inform strategic decisions.

4. Give governance programmes the ability to flex between core governance and service delivery issues. There is a tendency for governance programmes to focus on ‘upstream’ issues, such as state systems and processes, and not engage with how these systems actually influence the lives of citizens. The evidence shows more sustainable results are likely with E&A elements to the approach.

5. Incentivise greater collaboration between governance and sector programmes. Development partners can manage tensions and rivalries between programmes implemented by different companies or grantees by putting the right incentives in place. This can include, for example, results framework objectives shared by governance, health and education programmes. How development partners organise themselves also sends messages to implementers and programme partners. Technical advisers shared across governance and sector teams can contribute to greater coherence.

6.Incentivise greater attention to gender, and to social inclusion beyond disability issues, in governance programming. Governance programmes need to ask systematically: who benefits, who is excluded, why, and what can be done about it? They also need to differentiate between different civil society groups – whom do they claim to represent, and for whom do they actually speak? These issues should be explicitly embedded within the mandate of all governance programmes, broadening beyond gender and disability which are more commonly prioritised.’

And specifically to the Brits (FCDO):

7. Empower and resource FCDO teams to enable TWP programmes. FCDO must ensure that decision-making autonomy is maintained with country teams so they can respond to local priorities and retain advisory staff with the right skills and mindset. As the evidence provided in this report shows, this is likely to lead to a better use of UK taxpayers’ contributions, with more sustainable results that contribute to poverty reduction.

8.Re-imagine TWP for FCDO Nigeria. The significant UK policy and budget changes since 2020 mean that FCDO Nigeria must design and manage programmes in radically different ways. Protecting the most significant governance investments, such as PERL, from further short-term budget insecurity, and giving programme implementers and their delivery teams the space to operate in TWP ways, is most likely to achieve FCDO Nigeria’s objectives for these programmes.’

ODI also went to town on the report, organizing 3 ‘lessons from Nigeria’ panel discussions on

How does governance reform happen?

Working politically in practice

And ‘Does better governance lead to improved health and education?’ 

November 3, 2021
Duncan Green