Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria: Repercussions of Government-On-Holiday (I)

The New Year,2013, has finally arrived with the usual challenges, hopes and expectations that characterise such occasions. Those of us that travelled to our different villages saw first-hand clear evidence that government is on holidays, so to speak.

In other words there was negligible improvement in most rural communities in Nigeria throughout 2012, despite the cumulative budgets of the three tiers of government for that year. Before we discuss particular examples of arrested development in our localities, it is important to say one or two things about the raison d'étre of civil society.

Ever since human beings began reflecting on the nature of political power and its relation to members of the society, there have been interminable disagreements among philosophers and political theorists with respect to the question: what is the ultimate justification for the formation of civil society and the state? The answers given to that question can be grouped into two broad categories.

On one side, some philosophers (we may call them collectivists) submit that the claims of individuals must be subordinated to those of the community "as a whole." Prominent collectivist philosophers include Plato, G.W.F. Hegel and ultra-orthodox Marxists.

But a sizeable number of political thinkers (individualists) posit that social groupings exist for the benefit of its individual members. J.S. Mill, Bertrand Russell and Karl Popper, for example, insist that the degree to which the fundamental human rights of each person are actualised is decisive in evaluating human societies.

Of course, human beings need well organised society in order to create institutions that will ameliorate serious defects of living in what the British philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, called "the state of nature." Now, in a democratic society, representatives of the people, usually selected through elections, exercise executive and legislative powers on behalf of the general public.

Thus, democracy presupposes a social contract between leaders and the led, because the former exercise power on behalf of the latter. In this connection, in a mature democratic set up, political office holders mobilise both human and material resources for the wellbeing of the electorate, due to the fundamental utilitarian character of genuine democratic society.

Specifically, in policy formulation and implementation, political office holders are expected to give priority to the welfare of members of the society, particularly the less privileged ones. Unfortunately, in Nigeria the utilitarian principle in democratic governance is completely ignored by the ruling cabals, while gross indiscipline, corruption and philistine disregard for the welfare of the poor and the downtrodden have become rampant among political office holders.

A recent trip to my village, Ishi Owerre in Nkwerre local government area of Imo State, has opened my eyes once more to the near complete absence of good governance in rural areas throughout the country, as if some evil genius had pressed the stop button on development in the countryside.

One of the purported reasons for devolution of government down to local councils is to bring development to the grassroots. However, after about fourteen years of democracy there is little on ground to justify the huge expenditure of running our distorted presidential system.

In my hometown, government at the federal, state and local government levels is almost nonexistent. Aside from poverty and rural-urban migration by the youth, there is chronic lack of basic infrastructure in our local communities. Because pipe borne water is unavailable, villagers still get water for domestic use from streams and water vendors.

Electricity supply is very epileptic. To give you a sense of the terrible state of electricity in a typical rural area, consider the fact that throughout my stay in the village for the last Christmas which lasted about nine days, cumulatively we did not enjoy power up to ten hours for the entire period. And most times the voltage supplied could not even power a refrigerator efficiently. I must say without mincing words that the quality of representation of my local government at both the state and federal levels is mediocre.

Since May 29, 1999, the legislators that have represented (and those still representing) my area in Imo State House of Assembly and Federal House of Representatives merely used the golden opportunity to take care of themselves, their families and cronies. For example Jones Onyerere (I am not quite sure about his surname), member representing Nkwerre federal constituency in the House of Representatives has his priorities as a legislator upside down.

At the moment an allegation exists that he is building for himself a cluster of mansions in his village. Yet the road that leads from Ukwu Egbu to Umudi road through which he would drive his exotic cars to his mansions has been in a deplorable condition for more than a decade.

He is now a nouveau riche with enough money to buy expensive generating sets to power his expansive country home, while most of his neighbours will be in darkness. From a wider perspective, after about two years in office, the senator representing Orlu senatorial zone in the Senate, Hope Uzodinma, has not attracted a single project to my local government, Nkwerre.

Therefore for politicians from my constituency democracy dividends are solely for themselves; they are not interested in working for the people that elected them. It must be remarked that Nigerian politics at all levels is overwhelmingly dominated by greedy, myopic, selfish and morally bankrupt individuals totally lacking in noble thoughts and deeds, people without a social conscience and compassion for the suffering masses.

Concerning Rochas Okorocha's performance since he was elected Governor of Imo State, I should say that his record is ambivalent. There are several road construction and expansion projects in different parts of Imo State.

But the problem is the quality of the jobs done by contractors handling the projects. For instance the road expansion programme in Orlu town is laudable. However the quality of the work done thus far is unsatisfactory.

The free education policy in Imo State, at first sight, appears populist and well intentioned. Still the dismal condition of teaching and learning infrastructure in public schools in the state, such as classrooms, libraries and laboratories is a matter for serious concern. Many secondary schools, I am told, do not have up to ten teachers, not to talk of having well-equipped laboratories and libraries.

To be concluded.

Of what use is free education when the quality of teaching and learning is severely compromised by poor funding and haphazard planning? The tempo of industrial development under Okorocha is low. I do not know if he has a blueprint or roadmap for developing Imo State. But one thing is clear though: at the pace Okorocha is working right now, he cannot attain the level of governance achieved by late Chief Sam Mbakwe.

That said, I implore the governor to reach into himself and come up with pragmatic and imaginative transformational agenda for the state. In order to achieve concrete results, he should avoid sycophants whose stock-in-trade is deception for selfish reasons.

The long suffering people of Imo State are yearning for good governance. If Rochas Okorocha is serious and determined to serve the people, he can make a lot of difference before his term of office expires in 2015. I believe that the best strategy is for him to identify a few critical areas for concentrated attention and maximum impact.

The problems of Imo State are deep and hydra-headed - no human being can solve them in four years. Consequently, Okorocha should tackle headlong those ones that have optimum positive impact on the welfare of Imo people. To be concluded.

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