The talk about the Information Minister Labaran Maku-led National Good Governance Tour being a jamboree would be dismissed as careless by anyone who does a factual analysis of the exercise that has taken the team to five of the six states in the North Central Zone and four of the five states of the South East Zone of the country.
The tediousness of its modality alone could not under any serious consideration sum up to a jamboree. Neither could its tenacity of purpose with particular regards to the efforts to realize the tour's objectives be flippantly referred to as an excursion in self-glorification.
But one understands that this is the age of cynicism where all is not just politics, but the most deceptive form of struggle for political power. And so at these awkward times people not only see what they wish to see but also hear what they want to hear.
The other day an argument ensued among a presidential aide, himself a senior journalist, the group political editor of an Ibadan-based national newspaper and the nation's capital editor of a Lagos-based national newspaper over the poor state of infrastructure in the country. Whilst the presidential aide was making a factual presentation of the slow but steady pace of work going on, his colleagues in active practice insisted that nothing had happened in the two years of his boss in office. Meanwhile these editors either lived or had relations who lived in Kubwa, a suburb of the FCT metropolis, where a four-lane dual carriage way was giving way to a 10-lane expressway. Even as that road is about 90% completed, easing out completely the painful traffic gridlock hitherto associated with it, many news reporters living along that axis still write that nothing is happening in the country.
To show that things are certainly happening in the country, the Federal Government in collaboration with the Governors' Forum designed a programme that would bring together all stakeholders in the country, including the media and the civil society to embark on a nationwide tour of development projects of the three tiers of government. Termed the National Good Governance Tour, its main objective is to assess the success and challenges of the nation's 13 years of democracy by exposing and scrutinizing projects of government aimed at positively impacting the lives of the people.
The project at conception was viewed with suspicion by some stakeholders, particularly the dominant sections of the media. To clear the concerns felt by critical stakeholders, the Information ministry, the National Planning Commission and the Office of the Special Adviser to the President on Performance Monitoring had to fine tune the project. After a labourious negotiation with the Governors' Forum, the outcome was presented to the Federal Executive Council and the National Economic Council which eventually approved it for implementation.
The tour of the team in five of the six states of the North Central Zone and four of the five states of the South East Zone testifies to the fact that in spite of several challenges associated with nation building, significant efforts are being made to deliver the much desired dividends of democracy to the people. The federal and state governments have put on parade several projects, including education, health, housing, agriculture and social infrastructure. No doubt more could have, and would have to be done, but what has been seen is far beyond the "nothing-is-happening" reports in the dominant sections of the media. In many states, projects presented for inspection was far beyond what time available could permit for interrogation. Anambra State with its appreciable network of roads for instance wanted 86 projects inspected. Only 16 projects could be accepted for inspection.
The time available for inspection has had to be effectively managed, leaving the team with no time for frivolity. There has been no day the team returned to base before 11pm, all of its journey done by road. The trip between Abuja and Minna for instance took 12 hours with Minister Labaran and two aides of the President aboard a Toyota Coaster Bus with other stakeholders. The set out time of course is 8 am. Government officials and project contractors have had to endure rigorous questioning about project cost, execution and duration. And in a couple of instances team members have had to express their dismay at the quality and pace of work to the discomfort of government officials and their contractors.
It should therefore be worrisome that in spite of the objectives of the good governance tour and the team's attempt to open up the democratic space for a balanced scrutiny of the nation's development efforts, the dominant sections of the media still remain cynical about the advances being made by our democracy. For the reporters and other civil society stakeholders on the tour, cynical media reactions to their modest efforts at a fair and balance review of the gains of our democratic experience must have reinforced the growing quest for the redefinition of the nation's journalism practice.
-Adebiyi, is special assistant on media to President Goodluck Jonathan.