The prevalence of poverty in the land has led to the deterioration of the noble value systems which various Nigerians groups proudly upheld in the past. Where, for instance, our value system emphasised that human beings (especially children) were more valuable than money or material things, criminals now “sell” babies or steal (kidnap) people for money or ransom.
This warped sense of value has become a troubling fixture frustrating government’s efforts to improve the severely deficient infrastructure of the country. Whereas in the past people clamoured for “Federal presence” in their local communities, they now demand for monetary rewards or hold contractors to ransom when efforts are being made to bring “Federal presence” to their communities.
This situation appears more pronounced in the South East and South-South areas, probably because most lands belong to families and communities which had since time immemorial depended on them for their economic survival. Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, has complained bitterly about the troubles contractors have been encountering at the sites of the Second Niger Bridge and other projects along the East-West Road.
It was because of this that an angry President Muhammadu Buhari threatened that, henceforth, any community or state that creates unnecessary impediments to access to land for federal projects will be made to lose those projects to other states.
According to him: “The idea of chasing away contractors on site or making undue demands from them by local communities or the deliberate actions of state governments to frustrate the allocation of lands for Federal projects is an antithesis of people’s welfare”.
Much as we also find this negative attitude objectionable we however call for constructive engagements to solve the problem whenever it arises. It can be tempting to simply impose the power of the governor over land in the states, confiscate people’s lands and use them for projects in the overriding public interest. That would be impunity, which is not acceptable in a democracy.
Whenever this difficulty arises, there is a need for people engagement. It is primarily the job of the state governors to engage the communities on behalf of the Federal Government and settle matters amicably to enable contractors move in without molestation. Wherever lawful compensations are necessary they must be settled. Communities should also be educated on the new benefits that will accrue to them as a result of the projects.
It is only when there are clear cases of unpatriotic obduracy or excessively exploitative tendencies that the strong arm of government should assert firmly itself. It is highly irresponsible for state governments to stand in the way of Federal projects for any reason.
In all these things, patriotic intentions, constructive engagements and the responsible use of government authority are paramount.