By Tonnie Iredia
Democracy is acclaimed worldwide as the best form of government but its features appear rather easy to bastardize. In a democracy, power is said to belong to the people and that they exercise it through a government that is made up of a group of persons selected by the people.
What this suggests, is that government ought to constantly feel the puluse of the people on public policies, projects and programmes. However, in many developing societies like Nigeria, this hardly happens. Indeed, the representatives of the people who ought to function as the servants of the people, more often than not, lord it over the people.
Quite often, these overlords operate above the laws of the land. For instance, in order to have an easy drive from one location to another, they use the instruments of power like the siren and law enforcement agencies to scare away from the public space, ordinary citizens who are going about their lawful businesses.
Although the Nigerian constitution clearly stipulates that the main purpose of government is the security and welfare of the people, insecurity has become a recurring feature of public life in the country. As for the welfare of the people, what appears paramount is the pleasure of the “rulers”.
This explains why our leaders – another name for the peoples’ representatives – make their own accommodation and feeding a priority. The Governor of a State for example, being the first citizen of the State lives in the best accommodation in the State.
Yet when a new Governor assumes office, the said best accommodation suddenly becomes inadequate and has to be renovated, if not entirely replaced with a new Government House. Even Akwa Ibom State, generally applauded for its many first class projects virtually began with the building of a new Government House.
The argument that what the immediate past administration in the State wanted to spend on renovating the premises was almost as high as the cost of a new Government House is not the issue. Rather, what we need to ask now is: for how long had the Government House been in existence to require massive renovations or the building of a new one?
The last time i sought to glance through government projects in Nigeria on the net, what many States pasted to have done or were doing were interesting. In Abia State, the government was busy with the construction of what it called a new and befitting government house at Ogurube layout.
The cost of fencing of the site alone was put at N175million. In far away Abuja, renovation, construction and installation work at the Abia house at a cost of N150million were also in progress. The state government was also spending N500million on quarters for commissioners. In neighbouring Imo State, Government demolished and renovated the existing Government House in Owerri.
The cabinet office, the office of the Secretary to the Government and the Governor’s office were all restructured. The old Multi – Purpose Hall was transformed to a mini conference Hall with state – of the art facilities. Meanwhile, the immediate past administration of Chief Ikedi Ohakim, had before leaving office begun the development of the permanent site of the Government House Complex at New Owerri.
That massive renovation would be undertaken in Ibadan from the day Otunba Alao Akala left office was not in doubt as Governor Abiola Ajimobi avoided the governor’s office in the state secretariat, Agodi. The programme for the handing over ceremony was supposed to hold in the executive council chambers but it ended up under a canopy erected at the parking lot.
The luncheon fixed for the Banquet Hall of the Government House was also shifted to a private location – the Ibadan Civic Centre. Interestingly, Alao Akala had before leaving office, worked not only on the Ibadan location but had also built an ultra modern liaison office at a cost of N170.9million for the State in Lagos. The edifice which has among other things 15 Guest room chalets was to serve as the new Governor’s lodge in Lagos.
On its part, the current Ekiti State Government is building a new Government House at a hilltop close to the present one. It has also awarded the construction of the second phase of the new Governor’s Office at a cost of N2.02bn. It is to be completed in 13 months according to the State Commissioner for Information, Mr. Tayo Ekundayo.
Of course, projects such as new office or residential accommodation for Governors are usually completed on schedule. Only last December when former President Obasanjo visited Katsina, one of the projects he inspected at the instance of Governor Shema was the New Government House which was at the time under construction at Modoji. The beautiful structure appears ready now for show casing to groups like the Good Governance Tour Team but the many questions that analysts would ask about the project may never be answered.
If those in government are there on behalf of the people, why do they build, renovate, refurbish and rebuild new Government Houses when many of those for whose sake they are in power are homeless? In the case of Katsina, there is no evidence that government felt the pulse of the people before embarking on the building of a new Government House.
Indeed, the story is that a local newspaper –AL MIZAN – had published the findings of its survey showing that the people were against the project. The government has however been touting some strange logic that the funding for the project was sourced from interests which accrued from the state’s resources, lodged in the different commercial banks and not from grants allocated from the federation account.
The other pertinent question concerns the use into which the existing Government House will be put when government moves to the new one. Is there a possibility that the speculation that it may be donated to any Governor as gratuity for serving the state will come to pass?
Whatever is the answer let our leaders remember that other nations that are not engaged in our kind of covetousness are no fools, hence successive British Prime Ministers for instance enjoy only No 10 Downing Street. They dare not waste public resources in restructuring customized Government Houses.