Labaran maku and Jerry Gana
By Kingsley Osadolor
Two recent editorials---one by the NIGERIAN TRIBUNE (Wednesday, Oct. 24); the other by LEADERSHIP (Wednesday, Oct. 31)---disparaged the on-going National Good Governance Tour, dismissing it as a profligate red herring in the face of the more acute challenges besetting the country. By both innuendo and reckless assertion, the papers imputed, uncharitably, improper pecuniary motives as the underlying rationale for the Tour. Thus, according to LEADERSHIP, “When cash-strapped and on the brink of irrelevance, our leaders usually resort to projects that have nothing to do with either the government or those they govern. Such projects end up serving only the pecuniary interests of the officials concerned....The ‘Good Governance Tour’ is one of them.” In a similar vein, the TRIBUNE declaimed the current Tour as a rehash of the Media Tour undertaken more than a decade ago when Prof Jerry Gana was Information Minister, noting that “if the tour (under Gana) had any benefit, it was reaped by those involved in it.”
Impassioned as the editorials are, their misguided conclusions were bound to collapse, because of the huge fault lines in their assumptions, and the pathetic misapprehension of the facts of the current exercise. The Tour is not a sole Federal Government undertaking; nor is it one that involves journalists alone. Rather, the project involves the collaboration of the Federal Ministries of Information and National Planning, together with the office of the Special Adviser to the President on Project Monitoring and Evaluation on the one hand, and the 36 state governments, on the other.
In April/May, this year, ahead of the First Anniversary of President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, the Federal Ministry of Information ratcheted up the accountability stakes by staging the first-ever Ministerial Platform, broadcast live on radio and television, and streamed in the social media. Ministers made their presentations, and faced a barrage of questions from the live audience at the National Press Centre, Abuja, as well as from contributors world-wide through the various platforms deployed for the coverage of the six-week event. A well-advertised promise that echoed throughout the platform was that, in the succeeding months, the Federal Ministry of Information would lead a verification visitation to the sites of the projects and programmes claimed during the presentations. But that was only part of the raison d’etre for the Tour.
For far too long, the Nigerian public space had been dominated by a cascade of increasingly horrible stories---terrorism, insecurity, murderous political conflict, unremitting economic woes, one tragedy upon another, and a pervasive sense of hopelessness, as if we were the worst human beings living in the worst place on earth. Cheap political talk had also gained currency by which the next nonentity would claim with authoritative ignorance that “nothing is happening in the country”. A cynical public is a danger to itself.
If, for heedless partisan advantage, implacable political opponents would not relent in their bashing of the Jonathan administration, the country’s entire image was nevertheless besmeared by the overwhelming focus on unpalatable tales, in spite of the abundance of positive stories, from different corners of the country, which show unmistakably, that in spite of everything else, we as a people and a nation are not where we were in 1999. There is progress, but it would require the removal of blinkers for the cynic to notice, and perhaps appreciate, the signs and echoes of progress around.
With the Federal Executive Council approval of the draft strategy for the Tour, the next step was to seek collaboration with the state governments. At a subsequent briefing of the National Economic Council, all the state governments enthusiastically welcomed the idea of the Tour and its rationale. Meetings were later held with the Nigerian Governors Forum to harmonize and fine-tune the final strategy for the Tour, which kicked off with the Federal Capital Territory on September 20. It is, therefore, amusing to read the ill-informed view in the LEADERSHIP editorial that “the federal government and its officials are not in a position to play the senior prefect role over state governments even if they were of the same party”, with the undisguised implication that the Tour is an imposition on the states. No, please. The states are partners in the project.
In conceiving the current Tour, the strategy team, of which I am a member, was well aware of the Media Tour organised in 2001 under Prof Jerry Gana. Luckily, some of the staff of the Federal Ministry of Information who took part in the 2001 exercise are now Directors, so it was easy to bestir the institutional memory, to build on the strengths of the 2001 Tour, while avoiding its pitfalls. We conducted private interviews with some of the journalists who participated in the tour 11 years ago---again, to maximize the strengths while skirting the shortcomings. At the Annual Nigerian Editors Conference in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, in September, this year, editors were apprised of the impending National Good Governance Tour, with a robust interaction that laid bare the modus operandi of the Tour, and addressed likely sources of reputational concerns.
The Tour is non-partisan; it is not about North or South, nor is about Christianity and Islam. The Tour passed its acid test of non-partisanship when the team visited Nasarawa State (the only state in the country with a Governor elected on the platform of the Congress for Progressive Change [CPC]), and the focus was on development---its progress and glitches and how to fix them. The Tour strategists recognise that the country’s dynamics have changed in the past 11 years. The Tour is taking advantage of ICT for instantaneous coverage on radio, television, social and print media. In the social media, this has enhanced the opportunity for citizen participation through various interactive nodes. The Tour team is composed of journalists (whose editorial liberty and discretion are untrammelled), civil society members, security personnel, and other stakeholders, who are fully conscious of the non-partisan nature of the Tour. No grades are awarded to governments, and so there is no giant trophy to be lifted at the end of the Tour.
In the course of the Tour, the Citizens’ Forum is the high point of visitation to a host state. It is a town hall meeting at which no question is forbidden, save for decorum and slander. Broadcast live on radio and television, as well as streamed on social sites, governors and the Tour team have had robust interaction and faced tough questions that cleared doubts, put matters in perspective, and generally provided a rich source of information that is a critical adjunct of democracy.
The Tour, which at the time of writing had covered the FCT, Kwara, Niger, Plateau, Benue, and Nasarawa states, has not been a mere corroborative excursion, to try to match claims with reality. We have seen terrible infrastructure; and we have seen evidence of the shoddy work of some Nigerian contractors, which was why on Friday, November 9, the Minister of State for Works announced the revocation of two projects (the Panyam-Bokkos-Wamba road in Plateau, and the Agaie-Katcha-Baro road in Niger), which the Tour team had visited with shocking disbelief over their level of execution. But the Tour team has also seen many positive developments undertaken by the Federal and state governments. Each state visited so far has a remarkable face of development that has been ignored in the din of general bad news being bandied about the country.
Obviously, the TRIBUNE was recycling the fossilized notion that “nothing is happening in the country” when, among other fallacies, it claimed in its editorial that “the collapsed rail system is still waiting to be revived, while internal waterways transportation is virtually non-existent”, and that “agriculture has suffered prolonged neglect”.
While in Kwara, the Tour team rode a train service operated by the Nigerian Railways Corporation from Ilorin to Offa, and back to Ilorin, while the other wagon continued to Lagos. In Niger, the Tour team also rode a train from Zungeru to Akare, where a critical link bridge has been fixed. In the coming months, according to the phased roll-out plan, train services will run from Lagos to Kano. The humongous Shonga mechanised farm in Kwara, the Doma dam project for irrigation in Nasarawa, and the on-going Oturkpo Dam project in Benue for irrigation and electricity generation, as well as the Agric Services, Training Centre and Marketing Ltd, tri-located in the three senatorial districts in Plateau, are living proof, to the Tour team, that agriculture is receiving attention.
• Osadolor is the Special Assistant to the Minister of Information Labaran Maku.