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Seriously, Government?

05 Feb 2013

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The Wig & Skirt  By Funke Aboyade. Email,olufunke.aboyade@thisdaylive.com

The vitriolic attacks on Dr. Obi Ezekwesili by first, the Minister of Information then the Senior Special Assistant on Public Affairs over the past week and a half do a great disservice to the Jonathan administration. But then again, one supposes it follows in the best ‘traditions’ of successive governments, of attacking the messenger and not the message.

A bit (or a lot, as you like it) of slander here, some roforofo fight there, some distortions of facts here, some innuendo there, some mud thrown here, a slight strain of truth there.

Dr. Okupe’s rebuttal might have set the right tone had he restricted himself to the facts and figures he gave. Rather, in what appears to be his trademark, he launched into a tirade about Ezekwesili’s character and competence – as if that was the issue. Worse, the numbers he then threw up did not necessarily disprove her assertions.

For some reason, scared stiff of engaging the lady, the duo could only come up with partial (dis)information laced with lots of innuendo.The issues they tried to raise about her 10-month tenure (which they disingenuously tried to make look like two years) as Education Minister were, unfortunately, quite farcical. So. She ‘collected’ billions of Naira. Really? Presumably in cash? Oh, it wasn’t? Paid into her personal account then? Oh, it wasn’t? Alright, one gives up then, but still one wonders when this ‘collection’ of largesse took place. One supposes that Maku has further and better particulars. And he being a Minister too should be able to tell us, with similar relish, when and where he ‘collected’ his Ministry’s allocation for instance of N19.9bn last year.


I daresay, if they put a fraction of the effort they spend on these sorts of attacks towards tackling the country's real issues we might be in much better shape.

Ezekwesili’s riposte that she would only dignify a ‘responsible response’ as well as challenging them to a public debate on facts was sheer class.

‘I demanded accountability and that's all a citizen asks of government. I will not stop asking for accountability’ she maintained, dignity intact.

As I recall, she it was as Education Minister who first drew our collective attention to just how abysmal the decay in the education sector was. Reeling out facts and figures to an astounded nation she impressed on us the shocking fact that over 90% of the education budget for secondary schools was servicing some 100 or so Federal Government Colleges (recurrent expenditure at that) consisting a minuscule percentage of the nation’s overall secondary school population whilst the remaining over 90% of that segment scrambled for the remainder. The story at tertiary level was no less despondent. She then unveiled her plan (controversial admittedly, but at least she had a plan) to restructure the FGCs and methodically reduce her Ministry’s recurrent expenditure. She certainly hit the ground running.

But then this is not about her stewardship or lack thereof as Education Minister, and she was right to insist last week on staying with the issues.

Rather than react like wounded lions thereby giving the impression that there was indeed something to hide Maku and Okupe would have done better by giving a calm and factual analysis of the contentious N67bn. They could have challenged her to provide more detailed statistics to support her assertions. They could then have disproved those assertions with superior facts and figures. They chose not to. And their hysterical flailing simply did not cut it.

But then again, the president himself has not exactly risen to the occasion when opportunity presents. Recall his surprise visit to the Police College, Ikeja last month. He appeared more concerned with the ‘deliberate attempt to disparage’ his government than anything else. That took considerable shine off an otherwise commendable move on his part.

A quick trip down memory lane. In the wake of Professor Wole Soyinka’s condemnation of the hanging (before the expiration of the period to appeal the judgment) of Ken Saro Wiwa by the Abacha government, then External Affairs Minister Tom Ikimi on television dismissed the Nobel Laureate’s views in these terms: so what if he’d won the Nobel, what was the big deal about the Nobel prize anyway, any one could apply for it and get it after all?! Those comments were televised for the world to know our shame! I still cringe when I recall his empty bluster.

In reaction to President Nelson Mandela’s warning on the hanging to Abacha that he was sitting on a keg of gun powder, the unbelievably rude retort that followed from the Abacha government and the subsequent pulling out of the African Cup of Nations hosted that year by South Africa (even though Nigeria was the defending champion), showed that government would stop at nothing, including insulting a revered global icon and cutting off her nose to spite her face, to make a (non) point.

So, government (military and civilian) has a long and unfortunate history of intemperate responses to criticism and side stepping demands for accountability by the citizenry. Any surprise then that we are where we are?

Once you criticise government or make legitimate demands for change and/or accountability or transparency you are in the line of fire, branded an enemy to be vanquished. No one is too big or too small to escape the attention of an ever ready army of rabid government defenders. For instance, this column after particularly robust views have been expressed has on occasion received some responses which can only be described as comical, you have to wonder: seriously? Totally bereft of common sense and intelligence (completely bereft as well of any liver as well) they occasionally hide behind a moniker. Rather than address the issues raised they attack the person, their guiding principle constant: throw some mud, it just might stick. Their thinking, or more accurately non-thinking, goes thus: For ‘attacking’   or for ‘embarrassing’ the President or his government (with, heavens of heavens, facts and figures!) we will ‘expose’ you. My view: so what, get a life. Please feel free to take out full page adverts if you wish in respect of same. Whilst you’re at it please indicate what laws of the land were breached - you know, for our further entertainment and/or enlightenment. Oh, none was? What was that? Oh, it’s just to obfuscate issues? Oh OK, I get it then. Well perhaps you’ll simply feel better having gotten it out of your system. And who knows, you just might get lucky, the heavens just might fall – right after hell freezes over.

And then the rest of us can get on with dealing with the real issues that arise from the legitimate criticism of poor or mis-governance, the legitimate demand for accountability and transparency from our public servants and elected officials, and helping government (and by extension, ourselves) by pointing out areas of poor or non-performance and/or proffering solutions – having not been distracted by the buffoonery and pitiful tomfoolery of a desperate, idling few - presumably government lackeys and hangers on funded unfortunately by taxpayers’ money.

The irony is: there are Ministers, heads of Departments and Agencies and Advisers in this government who are quietly doing their work and achieving some pretty decent results. Outbursts such as the recent ones by Maku and Okupe tar those public servants with the same brush and do the President a great disservice, portraying him as over-sensitive to criticism, undemocratic and un-presidential.

We are operating a democracy, not an absolute monarchy or a military dictatorship. Public servants, civil servants, elected officials, et al must accept that they can and will be taken to task by the citizens at whose behest they are there in the first place, over issues of accountability and transparency that pertain to governing them. This acceptance should then challenge them to rise up to the task of providing stellar governance rather than chasing after shadows, flying off the handle at the whiff of the slightest criticism and/or fighting perceived ‘enemies’ and ‘detractors’.

After all, if they succeed in governance we all succeed.

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