Former Abia State Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Rev. Benson Ezem is a man of many parts – a renowned architect, contractor, consultant, industrialist and infrastructural development expert. He bares his mind to Emmanuel Ugwu-Nwogo on issues of governance and development
In states where governors are relatively doing well in the provision of critical infrastructure, can it be said that the people are enjoying good governance?
Provision of physical infrastructure is not an isolated indicator of good governance. To my own understanding, good governance encompasses other things apart from the availability of physical infrastructure and human development. There are other elements that must be present in the polity for a state or country to be properly identified with good governance. For instance governance must be participatory, consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, inclusive, effective and efficient This is because if you end up building all the roads, bridges, flyovers for use by the people and the same people cannot enjoy these facilities because they don’t have food on their tables, good education, quality health care, and security that are needed for complete human development, then you can’t be talking of practicing good governance
But we always hear governors boast of providing ‘dividends of democracy’ to the people, making it appear as the only yardstick for measuring how well a government is performing?
Every state is expected to be viable to provide the so called democracy dividends. In demanding for state creation one of the considerations or criteria that was advanced by the agitators was the viability of the state; in other words the state can fund itself by generating its own resources. So, no state should have reason to say state A or state B is doing better than us. It’s like life; you have different things happening to different people at different times. Every governor has the ability, the capacity to provide the development needs of their respective states. But it depends on the level of management of the finances; it depends on the level of management of the men and women put in charge of the various sectors of governance. Different states have different infrastructural needs, so you don’t copy from other states. Some states will be able to provide flyovers, maybe because they need flyovers because of traffic congestion. But in your own state is it the needed infrastructure there? For instance if your state is not densely populated you won’t be witnessing traffic congestion like we see in Lagos and Port Harcourt. These cities are bigger and their internally generated revenue (IGR) is also huge. So, you don’t compare yourself with those states. Your own state may be a rural based economy and in that case you need rural roads. For this reason you would embark on those things you need according to your strength to ensure that development is achieved. That’s how it should be. So, with the little income you’re getting you‘ll be able to provide those things that will make the people comfortable and happy. As long as you have limited flight of resources by controlling corruption you will have enough resources for developmental needs of the state.
Should the infrastructural needs of a state be tailored to meet just the present needs or should it take into account the future needs of the state?
Development should be dynamic. It should be vision based and there has to be a development plan. As a professional I believe in development plan, may be five years, 10 years development plan. There must be a master plan that takes into consideration the direction of development or expansion of the city. For instance, if there is a master plan for Abia State you don’t site projects half haphazardly, you don’t take a market that would serve 10,000 and put it at Oboro because if you put the market there it won’t serve the purpose because nobody would go there. Or if you look at it and locate it where the population of market users is concentrated then you will know the appropriate place to site it. If it is a leather market you don’t carry it and put it at Umuahia. You know the users are in Aba, like our dear governor has done in setting up a shoe factory at Aba. He did the right thing and I doff my hat for him. He did a good feasibility study, sent young people to go and understudy the Chinese, who have the experience in mass production of shoes and brought the technology here.
So any development must be research based. For your business to succeed you must look at what others have done; you must make a case study. As an Architect, I do a case study of the design I want to do before I start. Any Architect you give a design today and he starts immediately, even if he is an expert in that field, is not a good Architect because these things are dynamic. As an investor any business I want to set up I study the existing ones and find the niche I would carve for myself. That’s the way it is. Any governor that does not have the background information he needs for development will not achieve much.
Oftentimes shoddy jobs are done for government at very exorbitant costs. Is it not possible for government to get premium value at less cost?
First of all, it’s about manpower. The people that governors put in charge of things may not have the knowledge base to advise them on the cost of projects. The other thing is the choice of contractors. Apart from that, there is the environmental factor, like in Nigeria where prices are not stable; they are controlled by our oil based economy. The price of oil goes up and comes down and these things affect the price of projects. The project you awarded at a cost of N1 billion could attract contract variation in the next six months if there is government policy that affects the price of things.
Now, in most cases contractors are not adequately mobilized to the tune of between 80 and 90 percent of the contract sum. But then if you do that you’ll run into a hitch as some of our indigenous contractors will abuse it because they are not disciplined. From the position of knowledge as a contractor, consultant what I found is that they (local contractors) will go and buy more cars, houses not considering that the money was meant for the execution of projects Some of them even go and marry more wives and then they won’t use the money to deliver the project. When I encounter such people I know that when you are given 50 percent you are going to deliver up to 70 percent of the job before you start earning any money on it. I insist on my contractors and tell them it must be like this. You cannot take my client’s money and you go buying all the jeeps in town that will amount to nothing in the next one year because it would depreciate or one taxi driver will hit a car of N45 million and before you know it he’s lying down on the road begging and you’ll tell your client that N45 million is gone. So our mentality should change. I’m not just talking of government. The mentality of the populace of this country should change.
In a situation where you see somebody without an industry having 10 cars, 10 buildings, people should start asking questions. How many years have you been in business – one year, two years and somebody is coming out with a car of N100 million and he’s not an industrialist and there’s no business he can point to. Maybe the only thing you can point to is that the person is a politician, a politician of what? Oh, he’s a thug or he’s governor’s brother these are the areas we should begin to look at. We have to change our perception if this country must move forward. People must begin to do something. The era when people sing praises of people with money should go because it is even affecting our young people. If you ask five youths what they want to be, four out of them would say they want to be politicians. That’s why politics is made so expensive. That should change.
Despite the growing concerns about high cost of governance, political leaders appear not to be interested in cutting government spending on frivolities?
There is lot of burden on governance. The governor has a lot of burden on him because he has to pay people for doing nothing. He reaches out to people for doing nothing. Yes, people visit him and expect they will go home with N1 million for doing nothing, just because he feels there’s money you’re controlling to give out as gift to people. So, if you link it to contract awards, development aspect, to governance and all that, you see that we have a problem. And that is what is fuelling corruption in the society; that is fuelling unemployment. People don’t want to be employed yet they still want to make money and instead of setting up small cottage industry where they will employ two or three people they are buying cars at huge cost that can set up a factory. If you go to somebody’s house you can see a car that can set up a factory, so many of them. And if you ask what they do, they say politics. But that’s not the best; it pains my heart. But one day a governor would arise that would make people understand that this money is for me to manage it for the betterment of the people, to provide jobs, infrastructure, quality health services and good education.
We hear of hidden costs in contract awards, how does it affect government business?
There is what we call public procurement. It was working when Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was president. They knew the prices of things and publications were done by the ministries and parastatals and they were not allowed to award contacts without advertising the tender. Things were working and there were people who would bid for contracts and they will win the bid without knowing anybody. That’s how due process is supposed to be. But when you destroy due process and somebody sits in his office and awards contract you cannot control the cost. That’s what is happening. If you award contracts to Mr. A and Mr. B, oftentimes one of them is not technically qualified. So, you must do technical pre-qualification which we do as consultants. A lot of people that are getting contracts are not qualified as contractors, they don’t have the knowledge of the job, and they don’t have equipment either. So, if you follow due process, if you are not qualified you won’t bid for contracts. But you see a situation where a son of a big man that is just coming out of school would bid for a contract of N50 million, with no experience base and technical qualification.
Due process ensures that you must be technically qualified as a contractor and the cost you give must be appraised and they will know whether you are qualified for the job or not before they give you the contract. When these things are not followed you cannot hold on to the cost of any project at the end of the day. Our due process, procurement process must work from the federal to the states. The governors must strive as much as possible to follow due process. It opens up the states to more investment and more people coming to do business because when you advertise contract bids it is not for the people you know, people from other states would come and you will be able to choose the best. Even if you want to favour the people from your state you can still select people who are qualified for the job because in every state there are qualified people to do contracts. Due process eliminates portfolio contractors and gives no room for hidden cost.
But it appears that the system in itself encourages wastages. Or what do you think?
Well, that’s the system we’ve found ourselves but any governor that wants to work will work with available resources. Any governor that keeps funds for servicing of his constituency or hangers-on encourages wastage of resources. I think any leader who is worth his onions should desire to leave a legacy, something that people could point to, something that is bigger than his name. Somebody should be proud after leaving office and say that he was a governor at such a time and during that period this is what I did, these are the projects I implemented and these projects are speaking for me. Anybody that wants to be a governor should not be such person that wants to go and amass wealth. And if you want to bring development, if you want to change your immediate environment it is not only in governance. As a business man, what do you want to achieve, what do you want to leave behind for generations unborn since you’re not going to live forever.
One thing that everybody should understand is that we have a limited time on this planet. So, what do you want to leave for your generation and generations coming after you? That should be the bigger vision of any person that calls himself a leader, not just a governor or president. If you are a leader your bigger picture is to influence lives, change lives, touch lives, and affect lives positively. As a leader do you have legacy projects you’re leaving behind because that’s what counts for you even after death? It’s not the number of houses you have in London or in Nigeria. It’s not the amount of money you’ve stashed away but what you did with the money when you had the opportunity.
Today in Nigeria there are people we still refer to that touched human lives positively, that left indelible footprints on the sands of time, not just as governors or ministers, even as church leaders, as community leaders, as businessmen, as entrepreneurs. So, decide what you’re going to do with the privileged opportunity that God has given to you? Are you going to count the number of cars, the number of wives you have married with such privilege; are you going to count the number of buildings that would be of no value at the end of the day. Are you going to sit down and be seeing your name as a corrupt person and your children and grand children linking your name to one corruption or the other and you’re trying so hard to clean your name? That’s not why you are a leader.
You operate across politics and business; what’s your take on the widely held belief that politicians don’t keep agreements?
When you talk about politicians not keeping agreement you must look at the person’s character and pedigree. Keeping an agreement has to do with character. A man of character will keep agreement any day; a man of character speaks of integrity. It’s not just political now, we can speak of business. I don’t know in my over 30 years in business any agreement I have not kept and beyond. Any agreement I enter into I see it as unto death even if the person passes on you must honour that agreement. And politically if you say something with your mouth that you will do this, you are bound to do it. You don’t need to go to a shrine or an altar. If you say, ‘if you give you this I give you that’ that’s enough agreement. People see “politicians” as people who don’t keep agreement hence they are always fighting. But there is no need for that. If you’re a man that is worth your name you must keep agreement. In business keep your agreement. In politics keep your agreement. Or, don’t enter into the agreement in the first place because for me once you enter into an agreement it is a covenant, it goes beyond the two of you. There’s an unseen person listening at the time of the agreement. As long as the terms of agreement are being honoured by parties involved then you have every reason to honour your own.
Today in Nigeria there are people we still refer to that touched human lives positively, that left indelible footprints on the sands of time, not just as governors or ministers, even as church leaders, as community leaders, as businessmen, as entrepreneurs. So, decide what you’re going to do with the privileged opportunity that God has given to you? Are you going to count the number of cars, the number of wives you have married with such privilege; are you going to count the number of buildings that would be of no value at the end of the day. Are you going to sit down and be seeing your name as a corrupt person and your children and grand children linking your name to one corruption or the other and you’re trying so hard to clean your name? That’s not why you are a leader