MOST of the new governments in Nigeria have taken off once more on rather shaky grounds. We do not envy them, particularly with the myriads of problems and their inherited defaults from preceding administrations.
Nigeria is a torn and troubled nation where between the poor and the rich, the urbanites and the ruralites, the Christians and the Muslims, the Southerners and the Northerners – it seems scarcely possible to think of a single segment of our society that is not squared off against another.
Thus, we have an overwhelming array of problems that could occupy our collective energies for many years to come: poverty, insecurity, unemployment, health, education, energy, crime, etc. Yet, instead of confronting these problems, we confront one another – often directly and violently.
We have just emerged from the four-yearly war called elections but our problems are of such national crisis dimension that the electorates do not believe any longer that elections can do much to change the situation. The general belief among the people looks more like that of helplessness. They have voted and voted and it still appears that the end of their suffering is not anywhere in sight.
Can anything good come out of the new administrations? Our doubts are large. For one thing, the inherited defaults are many. In a situation where people have been complaining of the reckless squandermania of past governments; when the last National Assembly was beating a retreat from office, it jacked up its budget in the current appropriations by a whopping N30 billion!
It is still doubtful whether the President will accent to an appropriation bill, which contains many grey areas. Again, it is unhealthy that far into 2011, we are still struggling with the year’s appropriation bill. The diligence you put into a budget is what you get out of it. No magic in the world can make a budget that has been passed at the middle of the financial year to perform above 50 percent level.
This column has maintained, perhaps with monotonous regularity, that our approach to the appropriations process has been shoddy, at best. A situation in which the President throws his budget estimates into the National Assembly barely a few days to the end of the year is deplorable. The only way to avoid this ugly trend is for the National Assembly to establish a Budget Cycle by which it could compel specific actions in the budgetary process to be completed by specific dates. Herein lies the immediate task before the new National Assembly.
Evidently, resources do not make a nation, leaders do. As the new leaders embark on the business of governance, this is the best time to define for themselves what they want to get out of government. It might be advisable for them to borrow a leaf from the house Oshiomhole has built in Edo State. In this house, the following year’s budget proposals are submitted to, and passed by, the House of Assembly in good time so that the approved budget becomes operational on the first day of January; hence budget performance is always close to 100 percent.
The Edo State Government exemplifies a typical accountable government. For the first time in the history of any government in Nigeria, Edo State Government has published its audited accounts for the year ended December 31, 2010 in some national newspapers. This is an innovation in public administration; a lesson in transparency and accountability.
Who says you cannot put critics and cynics out of business? In Edo State they have been rendered incoherent. At first, they were so sure that the Oshiomhole Administration was engaged in mere flower planting. But too soon, the flowers metamorphosed into massive urban renewal programmes, culminating in beautiful roads, properly paved streets with fantastic drainages and properly manicured walkways; potable water and electricity projects began to spring up in hitherto neglected rural areas; in the education sector, hitherto dilapidated primary and secondary school classrooms started wearing the looks of modern university campuses; in the transportation sector, 100 new air conditioned luxury buses were put on the streets of Benin City in a single day; and indeed, no sector has been left out in Oshiomhole’s unprecedented development strides. The language of the critics has since changed.
Because they have never seen something like it before, these people now look at the Greater Benin City Erosion Control Project and conclude that the man is “digging trenches”. That is their new language.
Apparently, criticism has become a fact of life in Government. We remember Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) who said: “If I tried to answer all the attacks made against me, this shop might as well be closed for any other business. I do the best I know how. If the end brings me out right, then, what is said won’t matter. But if the end brings me out wrong, then, ten angels declaring I was right would make no difference”.
Government service can be likened to the bile of an animal, that small greenish substance below the liver. If you handle the bile carefully, you will enjoy the meat. Similarly, if you behave well in government, you come out honourably. But if you don’t, you will soon put yourself in a situation where you have to “borrow leg” at the approach of a successor like some lame ducks do and you may have to be running from pillar to post at the knock of the EFCC, just like the theatricals now unfolding at the door steps of Bros Dimeji and his co-travellers. The choice is yours.