Progress Report or Situation Report?




In nine days from today it will be May 29, the biggest political anniversary in Nigeria when the Federal and most state governments will be marking the first, fifth or in one case, the last anniversary of their stay in office.

On Wednesday next week, President Bola Tinubu’s federal administration will be marking its first full year in office. So, in the North West zone, will be the Governors of Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna, Kano and Jigawa. All of them, that is. In the North East corner, the Governors of Borno, Yobe, Gombe, Bauchi and Adamawa will all be celebrating their fifth full year in office. The JJC among them is the Governor of Taraba, who will be marking his first anniversary. In the North Central axis, first anniversary celebrations will be on in Plateau, Niger and Benue while the Governors of Kwara and Nasarawa will be marking their fifth full year in office. The Governor of Kogi, who is the baby governor in the country, has just celebrated his first 100 days in office and does not have anything to mark on May 29.

In the South West region, unless the Yoruba Elders’ renewed clamour for restructuring drowns it, Governors of Lagos, Oyo and Ogun will be marking their fifth year in office. However, off-season elections have disorganised matters in Ekiti and Osun, so May 29 is not an anniversary date in those two states. Nor, over in the South East, is it an anniversary date in Anambra or Imo, both of them thrown off balance by off-season elections. In Enugu, Ebonyi and Abia however, governors will mark their first full year in office. In the Niger Delta too, May 29 will be celebrated as the first anniversary mark in Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Delta and Rivers, but not in Edo, where the governor is already packing his bags to leave in November, or in Bayelsa, where the governor has just started his second term in office.

It is a long-standing tradition in Nigeria for federal and state governments to present reports to the public on the anniversary of their coming to office. Even the old military governments did that. In fact, some military regimes promoted their coup anniversaries above the October 1 Independence Day, such as the Babangida regime with August 27 and the Abacha regime with November 17. While the military regimes had no terminal dates of rule that we knew of, we now know that all the first term Federal and state administrations have chopped 25% of their four-year tenure while the second term state governors have already chopped 62.5% of their maximum eight-year tenure.

So, what are we to expect next week? Lots of reports, many of them published in the newspapers and online media, while the airwaves will be awash with them. The late Major General Joseph Garba said in his book Diplomatic Soldiering that when, as young officers they were being sent to Congo in the 1960s, the General Officer Commanding the Army, Major General J.T.U Aguiyi-Ironsi, told them at a departure parade that, “You must write reports, lots of reports, but reports are reports!” To our Presidency and our state governments, you must write anniversary reports but anniversary reports are anniversary reports!

What kind of reports should we expect? All of them will be described as Progress Reports. Which set me thinking about a passage I read nearly 30 years ago in Frances FitzGerald’s classic 1972 book Fire in the Lake. It wasabout thedisastrous American military involvement in Vietnam in the 1960s and early 1970s. Sometime in 1967 or so, with the war going on badly for the Americans and with student-led anti-war protests reaching new heights, US President Lyndon Johnson asked a well-respected Harvard University professor to undertake a tour of South Vietnam and to submit to him a “progress report” on the social and political effort “to win Vietnamese hearts and minds,” as a corollary to the military effort to defeat the Viet Cong Communist insurgents and their North Vietnamese backers.

With ample logistic and security support from the American military, the professor undertook the tour and studied such things as the “strategic hamlets program” which the American military built all over the South Vietnamese countryside. When he returned to Washington, he submitted an upbeat report to Johnson and listed in detail all the progress that had been recorded.

President Johnson was very happy. After receiving the report, he asked the professor to brief the ever-cynical White House press corps on his findings. This the Prof did, but as he recounted his optimistic assessment of the Vietnam effort, one cynical reporter shouted, “Come on Prof! You know very well the situation is not as rosy as that!” The Prof’s face suddenly darkened and he said, “Listen! The President asked for a progress report. He did not ask for a situation report! He asked for a progress report, and that is what I gave him. Who is talking about the goddamn situation!”

Next week, let’s keep our eyes and ears open for progress reports. The brand-new Governor of Kogi State has already kick started this year’s round by widely publishing his 100 days in office report two weeks ago. While he detailed in it the many meetings he attended with fellow governors and with the President’s National Security Adviser, some critics said he did not mention his biggest achievement yet, which was to spirit former Governor Yahaya Bello through the dragnet that EFCC agents spread around his Abuja house.

Many of the progress reports we are going to read this week are likely to list, for example, the number of hospital wards that were built, how much money was spent in providing drugs and dressings to the hospitals, and how many big hospital equipment were imported. Now, that’s a very good progress report, but it is not a situation report because a giant hospital block may have been built that has no running water, electricity or beds and dressings. Or maybe it has all those, but it could be that there is no doctor in the hospital, or maybe there is a doctor but all the drugs supplied had been diverted to private pharmacies.

Similarly, many of the progress reports we are going to read this week about the education sector are likely to enumerate the number of classroom blocks built, the thousands of furniture pieces procured, maybe the number of teachers employed and the millions of naira spent on laboratory chemicals, textbooks and school equipment. This is also a good progress report but it is not a situation report because it will never mention that many classrooms are still overcrowded, or that many pupils still sit on the floor, or that many pupils run round for hours because there is no teacher to teach them. Or perhaps there is a teacher, but he is not qualified to teach because he did not pass his own Grade II or NCE examinations. Or maybe he is qualified to teach, but does not do so because he is poorly motivated and the old arrangement of the much-feared Visiting School Inspector no longer exists today.

One of the most misleading elements in progress reports is that government officials put too much emphasis on amount of money spent. A report will state, for example, that so many billions were pumped into health care, on scholarships, on school feeding programs, on infrastructure etc but all that is nearly meaningless given the level of waste and corruption in our government agencies. One of the most discredited government programs in modern times are poverty alleviation schemes. They are often so opaque and so disorganised that officials in charge greatly enrich themselves, instead of alleviating poverty. It is apparently a world-wide problem; the right-wing American writer George F. Will once wrote in Newsweek magazine that “if all the money voted by New York City for anti-poverty programs actually went to the poor, they will be rich by now.”

Hehe! If all the money voted by our governments at all levels for fertiliser subsidy, tractors hiring schemes, provision of improved seeds, irrigation schemes, mass housing schemes, poverty alleviation, skills acquisition, Anchor Borrowers, transport subsidy, rural water and electrification schemes, decongestion of ports, revival of railways, new national carrier, mass literacy, hajj subsidy, Ramadan feeding, school feeding, clean-up of oil spills, mass vaccination, erosion control, National Identity Card and public enlightenment programs to mention but a few, had been properly channelled in the last five decades, governments would be happy by now to provide Situation Reports instead of misleading and half-truth Progress Reports.

Since what all the governments will be publishing are Progress Reports, we must leave it to Civil Society Organisations, trade unions, the mass media and opposition political parties, where they exist, to fill the gaps with Situation Reports. If a state governor says he has built 5,000 classrooms for example, remind him that 40% of school age children in his state are still out of school. If CBN says the naira is the best performing currency because it rebounded from 1900 to the dollar to 1200, a CSO should remind it that it leapt from 750 this time last year. If the Minister of Women Affairs says she successfully went to court and stopped a mass wedding of allegedly underaged girls in Niger, an NGO should remind her of the number of out-of-wedlock partnerships and births that took place in Nigeria this month alone.

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