By Tonnie Iredia
The inability of government to persuade the people to embrace its policies is not new in Nigeria. During the Babangida days, the then Minister of Information, Prince Tony Momoh thought he could redress the situation through what became known as ‘letter to my countrymen’- a write-up by the Minister to his fellow citizens to change their perception of government.
Some years later, the ubiquitous Professor Jerry Gana took up the same challenge. This time he chose to facilitate a tour of the nation to create room for journalists to be better informed in their coverage of government. When Frank Nweke Jnr took over that same driver’s role he nicknamed his own tour “Lest we forget” to get Nigerians to appreciate the Obasanjo administration against the backdrop of the rot of the past.
Labaran Maku, the current Minister of Information has followed his predecessors by instituting what he calls the National Good Governance tour. Maku’s arrangement is probably more in-depth than others. Taking due cognizance of the criticisms of the Gana initiative, Maku solicited and obtained the blessings of the Federal Executive Council and the almighty Governor’s Forum before he began his tour.
The team has since been to several states in an engaging programme which begins at 8am and ends at 11pm daily. One credit no one can take away from the Maku style is the fact that it has shown beyond doubt that the charge of “nothing is happening” in government is not true. This is because the tour has thrown ample light on several federal and state government projects. Unfortunately, the initiative which ought to ordinarily bridge the gap between government and the people has a rather general enlightenment posture. That should not be so.
It is obviously not enough to show that government is busier than critics would admit. The tour should seek to address the specific and sometimes recurring issues which have left the citizenry in a state of helplessness. A week ago for instance, this writer had cause to visit two friends in Onitsha and Enugu. What I experienced in the journey left me in doubt as to whether the ‘patch-patch’route I took is the same one for the Governance Tour.
Thus, the tour would be more appreciated if it focuses on areas of discontent. Here, lets us recall the televised protest not long ago of Aba lawyers over bad roads in their city. Maku needs to lead his men on tour of the roads which agitated the lawyers. It would be useful for Nigerians to know if the roads have been repaired or if indeed the lawyers were mere alarmists.
The East- West Road is one that many people are aggrieved about. The tour should enlighten us all on whether the cost and pace of work of the unending project can compare favourably with what happens in other countries. Indeed, international construction companies in other parts of the world first provide an alternative route before blocking a road for rehabilitation.
Even at that, they create minimum discomfort by working at night and on weekends. Why do the same companies operate differently in Nigeria? Maku, a professional colleague for whom I have a lot of regard should not give any governor effusive commendation for presenting a new road that is nearing completion without telling us the cost, how many times it was re-awarded and whether it will, like the Lokoja-Abuja Road be under construction without end.
The Good Governance Tour should show us which one hospital in Nigeria is good enough for our leaders and why they always ignore it to attend hospitals abroad. It will also be nice to know why our public hospitals always require patients to go to commercial centres for items like x-rays and laboratory tests. Are the facilities for such items too expensive for government to procure? Is commercialized health care delivery a feature of good governance? If not, which public hospital is meant for the poor and low income citizens in Garki, in the over-developed federal capital territory, now that the Garki hospital is privatized?
Patriotic politicians of old used development to discourage the drift from rural to urban centres. In my part of the nation, a rather small village- Ughelli became a famous city because of a project like the government college that was established there. In later years, the city of Ede dwindled because the famous Queens School in the town was forcibly moved to the regional capital at the time –Ibadan.
It was to return to the good old days of developing rural areas that local government areas were created but today’s governors keep diverting their financial allocations into private pockets leaving the areas undeveloped. Maku and his team should ask every governor they meet to, in furtherance of good governance, show them local government projects. Legislators should also show them their constituency offices and their legislative aides. It would also be nice for the team to dialogue with the contractors of “constituency” projects.
To remove the devastating effects of politics on good governance, Maku and his team should enlighten politicians appropriately. For instance, opposition politicians in Kwara say no new roads or health facilities have been built in their state since 2011 meaning that the projects inspected by Maku’s team were completed before Jonathan became President.
Is it true? Why for example, did Borno State opt out of the project which all Governors reportedly accepted? In Kogi state, the scenario is even more intriguing as some distinguished elders not of the opposition parties but of the ruling party publicly accused their own governor of non-performance. In the words of the elders, Kogi “has acquired notoriety for unwholesome political practices, arrested development, deepening poverty and primitive state of infrastructure” Does the National Good Governance Tour team disagree?
Finally, Section 22 of our constitution mandates the media to ensure good governance by compelling the government to be accountable to the people. Now that the National Good Governance Tour which is arranged for the purpose is not the creation of the media but that of the government, will it not be a case of he who pays the piper dictating the tune, the song and the choir?