This week, we meet Idayat Hassan, Director of CDD West Africa, based in Abuja. As part of the ACE Research Consortium Idayat is reviewing the effectiveness of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in Nigeria, and scenario planning for its future combatting corruption. We find out what brought her to this work.

Tell us about where your interest in democracy and development came from – what guided your career in this field?

I started to become interested in democracy in high school, during the Abacha era and the activities of the pro-democracy movements in Nigeria. This directed me to look deeply at democracy as a form of government and in fact the best form of governance, particularly with the oppression suffered by Nigerians, the detention of journalists and activists, consistent extra judicial killings… When I reflect today and I see how different things look as an adult compared to growing up and witnessing this, I feel overwhelmed and more determined than ever to protect democracy.

This informed my career – qualifying as a lawyer and working on rights promotion, and subsequently anti-corruption, before joining CDD. However, my work at the CDD has exposed me to democracy and development promotion on the African continent and across the globe. Working in West Africa means we are daily working to promote democracy – to deepen democracy as we say in CDD – and ensure there are no unconstitutional change of governments in the region.

How has this work on democratic transitions developed recently?

Recently it has become more and more evident that while elections have become a norm in our region, the link between election and democracy is fast becoming a farce: what we have are elections without democracy in itself.

More and more ‘hybrid regimes’ have become the norm rather than exception in the region. We have elected oligarchs or simply electoral authoritarianism, as elections is used as a tool of legitimising political powers.

But more importantly, there is a rising disenchantment with elections not delivering development to the people. By development, for the average West African this means the delivery of basic public goods and services. This region hosts majority of the world poorest countries, and also the most corrupt countries on the Transparency International index and the most fragile states. Those three things – poverty, corruption, conflict – are triggering demands for greater accountability and certainly drives me in my work on democracy and development.  

What are you working on at the moment?

Accountability mechanisms, elections, political parties and security (good governance). I’m currently quite excited about the debates on deconsolidation of democracy, authoritarianism, illiberalism, social media and democracy.

I’m also doing some really fascinating work with colleagues across continents on decentralisation, multi-level governance and corruption. The work is revealing patterns of corruption and anti-corruption strategies not previously envisaged. With ACE, I’m excited to scope out some of the future scenarios for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, and to learn and share experiences with other experts around the world.

Read more about ACE’s projects in Nigeria.