Information Minister, Labaran Maku, must be wondering what he should do to draw widespread support for his good governance tour of states to inspect federal and state projects. So far, the drumbeat of the tour is sounding loud but many people are not listening. Those who are listening are not paying attention. Some state governors have applauded the scheme while others have dismissed the tour as an unwarranted celebration of non-existing feats.
One of the criticisms directed against the programme is based on the huge financial burden placed on state governors to host the information minister and his platoon of support staff, including journalists. Leading the chorus of opposition is the Borno State Government, which said Maku’s tour group was not welcome in the state because there were no federal projects for the team to inspect or assess. That was an adverse vote of confidence on the Federal Government’s neglect of the state.
Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, said categorically he could not channel the state’s finances to host the good governance team. He said: “…It is not proper to use Edo State tax payers’ money to finance a Federal Government programme. If they pay me a courtesy visit, I will receive them but I don’t have a dime to spend on them because I do not need them to come to tell Edo people how I built roads and schools. My achievement speaks for me… So, I expect the Federal Government to finance its officials.” Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, said the good governance tour represented the Federal Government’s confidence trick on the states.
Like Soyinka, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) said the good governance programme was a scam. The party said: “To now have a team assembled by the Federal Government, inspecting projects being carried out by various states is not only fraudulent and illegal but amounts to a blatant waste of public funds… It is also a case of double jeopardy for the states, whose projects are made to look like they are being executed by the Federal Government while, at the same , they (states) are being made to pay for the meaningless tour.” These biting criticisms were not shared by two state chief executives.
Delta State Governor, Emmanuel Uduaghan, praised Maku and his team and said the good governance scheme was evidence of President Goodluck Jonathan’s manifestation of accountability and transparency in government. Enugu State Acting Governor, Sunday Onyebuchi, told Maku and his team when they visited him that the idea behind the tour was “a good one which… should be sustained periodically, which in its own way, will make the governors of the states know that there is a forum where they need to give account to the people.” Ever since Maku and his travelling troupe began to visit state capitals to assess federal and state projects, the good governance tour has received immense criticisms.
Some people have argued that the tour was unnecessary because, to use a tired cliché, a good product needs no advertising. I subscribe to that maxim. If the Federal Government has implemented meaningful projects that have positive impact on the lives of people, public opinion will spread the good news around. A government does not need to exaggerate its achievements because the people, the direct beneficiaries, will see through the charade. In an editorial entitled “Once upon governance” (Wednesday, 13 February 2013), the Vanguard raised serious questions about the good governance tour.
The paper asked: “Exactly what is the Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, expecting to see in order to qualify a state as following the dictates of good governance? How many states are doing these things? How would this tour be different from those Professor Jerry Gana and Frank Nweke Jnr. conducted when they ran the Ministry of Information? Some projects that won governors high marks then have been utterly abandoned or remain sheer drains on state resources. Others were commissioned though uncompleted.” The Vanguard argued: “Like in all things government, the indices for rating states during the tour are vague. The people are shouting that their governments are not doing well… Doubts persist.
Many believe that the tour is self-serving (to give a national veneer of good health to governments, even if they have abandoned the people) and, at best, a major distraction at a time dwindling national resources should recommend prudence in expenditure.” The Vanguard continued: “The waste that the good governance tour entails shines through platitudes that issue from evaluation of projects. In awarding the marks, nobody cares about costs, sustainability of the projects and their relevance to the needs of the communities they serve. The number of projects is more important than the relevance of the projects.” Is the ongoing good governance tour a spectacle designed to dazzle the public so everyone would accept uncritically whatever progress the Federal Government says it has made? Is the good governance Tour a mere propaganda or a genuine and independent assessment of federal and state projects? I use the term “independent assessment” deliberately. Surely, if the assessor – the information ministry – is a part of the federal institutions being evaluated, both the evaluator and the subject of evaluation will lose credibility.
I raised this concern in 2012 when I critically analysed the Performance Contract Agreement that President Goodluck Jonathan signed with his ministers. During the official launch of the agreement in Abuja, Jonathan said he was disappointed with Nigerian media and their owners because, in his view, the media lacked the capacity to dispassionately assess the performance of his government. He said the Nigerian media had become political instruments used by their owners to achieve selfish interests. The decision to use the information minister as an assessor of federal and state projects must have been informed by Jonathan’s doubts about the capacity of the Nigerian media to undertake fair assessment of the government’s programmes.
Jonathan and his information minister need to rethink the idea that government ministers and officials are better positioned to assess performance of the Federal Government rather than independent institutions, such as the media. When a government sets out basic standards for assessing its performance, that assessment must be performed by an impartial agency to avoid bias and conflict of interest. A just, open-minded and forthright evaluation cannot be achieved or reflected when ministers undertake appraisal of their own performances or the performances of the government they serve. It is meaningless for a government to engage in self-assessment of its own projects.
The public and the press are in a far better position to evaluate a government than ministers. The Nigerian public is not as unsophisticated as the government perceives it to be. The public is capable of distinguishing between an idle, undistinguished and clueless government and a high achieving government. A minister of the Federal Republic is not the best umpire to evaluate federal and state government projects. The ongoing good governance tour is a wasteful programme designed to create the impression that Jonathan, his ministers and state governors are miracle workers, who have done a lot to steer Nigeria to greatness.
The public does not need to be persuaded of the government’s achievements through propaganda mounted by a minister, who traverses the country with a diary in which he marks off with ticks projects that have been completed, abandoned or those yet to be completed. In terms of performance at the state level, a number of governors stand out from the pack. Babatunde Fashola is changing Lagos State quietly but he has not gone out to propagandise his achievements. In Enugu, up until his ill health set in, Sullivan Chime has built new roads and renovated crumbling roads. Residents of, and visitors to, Enugu are amazed that one man has achieved within one-and-a-half terms what his predecessors failed to achieve in their combined tenure.
And it is not only roads that Chime has used to showcase the extraordinary performance of his government. There are other governors but space constraints will not permit me to analyse their performances. Let me repeat: Maku’s tour is wasteful. For the minister to go around the states with a delegation of about 105 people, comprising journalists and the minister’s hallelujah singers is nothing but a very good way to fritter federal funds and tax payers’ money. It is even more disappointing that journalists have willingly joined the minister’s bandwagon of “fact finders” on a mission that lacks clear objectives and no clear criteria for assessing federal and state projects. Journalists have shamelessly abdicated their fundamental responsibility as members of an institution that should scrutinise governments and hold officials to account.
It is the responsibility of the media to probe, critique, examine and question the government. Journalists should never allow themselves to be used as the lapdogs of government. In every society, the media serves as an official channel for critical analysis of government as well as an official outlet for the transmission of news and information. Jonathan must demonstrate to Nigerians that he is accountable and responsible. Time is running out fast. Already, Jonathan’s defenders and those who feed on the crumbs that fall off the president’s table are talking about Jonathan, running for re-election in 2015 while we have nothing on the ground to judge his fitness to fight for re-election.