By Ochereome Nnanna
The Borno State Government, BOSG, recently added a new dimension to the controversy of the so-called Good Governance Media Tour led by Information Minister, Mr Labaran Maku, when it told the team to stay away from the state.
When I saw the headline of this story, I had thought Governor Kashim Shettima issued the warning to guard against members of the team being exposed to terrorist attacks in his state.
But on reading the story, it turned out that the Borno State Government was protesting what it described as lack of Federal presence in the state. According to Inuwa Bwala, the Borno State Commissioner for Information, Maku and his team of handpicked journalists have no right to tour the state since there was no Federal project – ongoing or completed – for them to inspect or commission.
I doubt that that the BOSG is correct to say there is no Federal presence in the state.
There are Federal roads in the state, and I am aware that the Maiduguri International Airport, which is often used for hajj operations, is neither a private airport nor was it built through self-help efforts by the government and people of Borno State, just like the Imo People’s Airport (Now Sam Mbakwe International Cargo Airport) the only airport in Nigeria built through the donations of the people of a state.
The University of Maiduguri is a Federal institution and there are prisons, Customs, immigration, Central Bank of Nigeria, police, military facilities, a Federal Secretariat and personnel there, which Boko Haram insurgents target for destruction.
Still, I agree with the notion that the Minister of Information has no right to purport to lead a team of journalists on a “good governance” tour of states. It is a pity that state governments have willingly submitted themselves to this abnormality.
It is even a greater pity that journalists have subordinated themselves to the leadership of the chief propagandist of the Federal Government when the Constitution gave them the power to hold government, including the Federal Government which Maku serves, accountable for what they are doing with the electoral mandate given them by the people, as well as the use of tax payers’ money.
Maku is repeating a wasteful expedition pioneered in 2001 by one of his predecessors, Professor Jerry Gana. At that time, the President of the Nigerian Union of Journalists was Smart Adeyemi, an employee of the Federal Ministry of Information. Gana and Adeyemi colluded to take selected journalists round the 36 states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT. At the end of the tour they voted Governor Peter Odili as the highest performing governor and handed him a golden trophy. The new democratic dispensation was only two years old!
Adeyemi was fond of giving out awards to politicians and by the time he had finished his two terms he was sufficiently armed up enough to win a seat in the senate in 2007. Now, we are being treated to a déjà vu. Garba Mohammed, the incumbent NUJ President, who has comported himself with relative dignity, has started another collaboration with Maku. Just like the Gana-led tour, they always end every state round with effusive commendation of the governor.
At the end, perhaps another governor that collects the highest oil revenue from the Federal Government and does not mind dishing it out with reckless abandon just like Odili, will win a gold trophy? We wait to see. This tour is wrong for so many reasons.
Firstly, the Minister of Information leading journalists on a tour of states to assess their performance is preposterous! The constitution gives journalists the power to assess the performance of all levels of governmental function. Who gave the minister the power to assess governors? Maku has no right to “lead” journalists because he is a federal appointee who should be part of those assessed.
Former Governor Odili defeated the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, three times in court by proving the point that a federal agency had no constitutional right to force the State House of Assembly to act upon trumped up allegations to remove a state governor.
In a similar vein, a federal minister has no power to assess a state government. Do not mind that the same former Governor Odili still glories in the Golden Governor tag placed upon him by Prof Gana and his pack of selected reporters.
Now, after Maku has finished assessing governors and awarding them marks, who will assess Maku and the federal government he belongs to? Will it be state information commissioners travelling round federal installations with journalists?
Journalists and the media should evolve a credible and foolproof means of holding governments to account. If it has to be through a media tour of the country, it should be an assessment of federal, state and local governments.
The criteria for assessment must be spelt out while the selection of those to carry out the assessment must be transparent and credible. The tour must be independently funded to prevent the current situation where the highest performance award, as some allege, goes to the highest bidder.
A scientific method of assessment will portray performance in view of available funds and other variables.
For now, these tours are circuses; jamborees that contribute nothing to the public interest.
The heavy presence of government sector workers in the NUJ is largely responsible for the ease with which information ministers impose themselves on the Union and hijack their constitutional right to hold government accountable.
Some of these people cannot openly say no to Maku’s role as “leader” of journalists because ultimately Maku is their boss!
The circus must end now. If Maku has no work to do in his office let him give way to more serious-minded people.