June 18, 2009

Sanusi spoke the mind of many

By Ahmed Mustapha

THE new Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi was reported to have told the Senate that there was an urgent need for government to address “critical infrastructure” if we must effectively address the problem of economic development in Nigeria.

He said: “My view is that until we address the infrastructure problem in this country we will not even begin to solve our problems”. According to Sanusi, the small-scale industry in Nigeria would hardly register any growth without stable power supply and without adequate focus on infrastructure as a priority.

Let me therefore seize this opportunity not only to welcome Mr. Sanusi on board and congratulate him on his new appointment, but also thank him for his views on the need for government, at all levels, to reprioritise in favour of infrastructure and forget about grandiose projects.

May God bless Sanusi. He has taken the right step forward. What he said was exactly what the Minister of State for Finance, Mr. Remi Babalola said in Uyo during a recent revenue summit in the state. It was the same thing Obong Victor Attah only tried to amplify with facts and figures in his open advice to Governor Godswill Akpabio. The days of profligacy are gone for good.

Let all tiers of government heed Sanusi’s advice so that we can move this country forward in real terms. Except one or two instances where one or two groups or individuals attempted in what were obviously stage-managed efforts to speak from both sides of their mouths in favour of the Tropicana project, the state government can be given a pass mark concerning the unusual mature way it has reacted so far to the issues raised by Attah.

When I hear of a figure N33 billion, I felt like running mad because this one project could pass for almost a whole annual budget of some of our states here in the North. This is why some federal law makers, though they have their own inadequacies, posited that the leaders of the Niger Delta have not been fair to their people.

However, in the interest of the voiceless people of Akwa Ibom State, in the interest of the once peaceful Akwa Ibom and in the overall interest of Nigeria as a nation, the PDP as a party and its Federal Government should not gloss over the issue of reprioritising projects in Akwa Ibom and other states. We must stop all bogus and flamboyant projects in favour of infrastructure enhancement.

It is unfortunate that before now, the Federal Government could not come out fully and unequivocally to intervene in this matter, but it is never late because Obong Victor Attah, as someone has rightly observed, did not say anything new. If anything, he was mainly echoing the well considered opinion of the Federal Government as hinted by the Minister of State for Finance, Mr. Remi Babalola.

Giving advice indirectly to any state government on how to properly manage resources is quite in line with the principle of federalism, but we have reached the stage in Nigeria where erring governors, especially in the volatile Niger Delta, must be forcefully called to order the way Attah has done, because doing so tongue-in-cheek as the Minister did, will lead us to nowhere.

Therefore may I suggest here that we subject the issue of Tropicana to a plebiscite if the PDP whose manifesto Akpabio is supposed to be implementing cannot stop him or if President Yar’Adua cannot intervene. Attah said that his administration in which Akpabio served for six years only needed about N6 billion to fix a project which would have ensured pipe borne water for half the population of Ibom State.

And I guess Akwa Ibom probably needs another N8 billion for the IPP transmission line from Ikot Abasi to Eket, into national grid. Meaning that with the N14 billion more than half of the entire Akwa Ibom State could be provided with pipe borne water and the much needed constant electricity that would have bolstered the economic and commercial activities, as in Kwara State today.

If it would be costly to subject Tropicana project to a plebiscite, the PDP should constitute a neutral panel which should be headed by the Sultan of Sokoto with Mr. Sanusi and others like David Dafinone, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, Prof. Pat Utomi, Gen. Jeremiah Useni, Chief Ralph Uwechue, Senator Udoma and one or two others, including an environmentalist, as members.

The panel should sit in Uyo for one week or so, visit the Tropicana site, sample opinion and make appropriate recommendations in the light of Attah’s arguments. I make this suggestion also because while Attah told Akpabio “I have poured out my mind to you which in fact, is the lamentations of your people”, Akpabio’s Commissioner for Science and Technology, Mr. Samuel John Efanga, believes otherwise.

Efanga, from a newspaper report I read recently, told Uyo Solidarity Movement that “Attah’s opinion if sampled might not be accepted by the majority”. Fine, whom should we believe between Attah and Efanga?

Were ours a parliamentary system we would have availed ourselves either of two options by which we would have found out where the tax payer stands on this Tropicana controversy. One is by resignation of the state government, calling for fresh election to either renew or cancel its mandate.

Two is by polling public opinion, which can be done by a specialised body or the press. Unfortunately for us, Nigeria is not blessed with opinion poll agencies. The press on its part cannot do much either, faced as they are, with other problems, including that of inability to make the freedom of information bill a reality. Otherwise, this Tropicana controversy would not have assumed this dimension.

I was in the United States in 1965, in my twenties, when Mr. Douglas Carter, a special assistant to President Lyndon Johnson published an article that centered on public opinion in which he highlighted the critical role of the press in projecting public opinion and moderating official policies.

“The priorities of the press can often be decisive; even reshaping the priorities of the government itself,” Mr. Carter said. Nigeria is yet to get there. In the interim, we can do with the intervention of either the Federal Government or the Central Bank when any particular project embarked upon by any government becomes a subject of controversy la Tropicana, as the Spaniards would say?

Dr.  Mustapha, a public affairs commentator,  writes from Katsina State.