1 February 2013

Nigeria: Good Governance Tour - a Reporter's Diary

With high energy and expectation, the National Good Governance Tour train took off from the Federal Capital Territory, September 2012. A train, as we all know, is an articulated transport system moving on rail lines, and is powered to convey large number of persons and goods, safely, swiftly and conveniently. A train service goes with minimum discomfort or inconvenience to the overall well-being of the environment and life of the people where it is operated.

It was therefore poetically coincidental and significant that one of the very first projects seen by the Good Governance Tour team was the Abuja Light Rail Project, desired and designed to be the bulk mover of persons within and around the burgeoning city of Abuja. When accomplished, it will assuage the pains of commuters such as is associated with population explosion that Abuja, like many of the major cities in Nigeria, is currently experiencing.

Indeed the train analogy fits the travelling team comprising discernible stakeholders like journalists, civil society persons, the heads of various ministries, departments and agencies whose projects were being visited, host state officials, a few officers from the Federal Ministry of Information, the National Planning Commission, Nigerian Governors' Forum and security personnel.

Labaran Maku's order to the security personnel was clear: "be proactive, and hinder not any Nigerian at any of the functions because the tour is mainly for their benefit". At various points therefore, the people surged to engage with their leaders, especially at the Citizen's Forums convened for them to interact directly with their governors.

In the Federal Capital Territory, the Minister, Senator Bala Mohammed proved that the people are his primary consideration, with meeting their needs and aspirations as the fulçrum of his administration's development actions. He revealed his plans to impact the population directly with two items, water and housing, which are essential for their comfort as human beings.

Accordingly therefore, he has embarked on very bold and ambitious water projects to meet the city's water needs. The development of dams, the building of treatment plants and the reticulation schemes, expected to be completed within the next year, are such that would increase potable water volume by 44million litres per day, almost ten times the current volume in use.

In the same vein, the development of new districts and satellite towns which he is vigorously pursuing will provide mass housing for residents of the Federal Capital Territory and its environs and invariably force down rent charges. The far reaching effect of such feats would rub off on the quality of life of the people and stem the rampant incidents of diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea, typhoid, malaria, organ poisoning and other ailments associated with drinking contaminated water, and living in unhealthy environments.

The human angle, as it relates to the FCT, cannot be said to have been fully told without beaming the light on the person of the FCT Minister who exuded great energy as the team moved from one site to another. He talked very smoothly and boldly, even when asked questions on contentious subjects like the demolition of illegal structures.

Moving on to Kwara State was for me very thrilling. I was going to the town where I began my career over three decades ago. I was going to see people I know to be very hospitable, friendly and peace loving. Interestingly, I noticed that Kwara people of today, as those of the late 70s and early 80s have not changed much despite that urbanization has virtually taken over Ilorin the state capital and a few of the other towns we saw.

But the essential character of refinement, civility, openness was intact, as I took time to visit and relate at the popular Oja-Oba market, the ever busy Sabo Oke motor park, the scenic Asa dam area and a few of the surviving parks where we took walks in those days. But I lamented how the roads leading to my "beautiful Kwara" have metamorphosed awfully and monstrously.

The Governor of Kwara State, Abdulfatah Ahmed dazzled everyone with great erudition and communicative power. When he took the stage at the Citizen's Forum, his debonair look was going to deceive those who did not know his antecedents, but when he was done, persons around me said he came out much taller than he was at the beginning. They enthused that indeed Nigeria is endowed with many great brains that operate unobtrusively, and it takes finding them out, to be able to appreciate what quality of human resources Nigeria is endowed with.

In Niger State, it was exciting watching the people go about as naturally as they could be. The ordinary folks of Niger, the state of three former presidents namely Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida and Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, and which houses the bulk of Nigeria's power sources, are mostly farmers and characteristically warm, friendly and resilient people. This easily showed in their application to their daily tasks.

In all the places that we interfaced with them, like at the shea butter factory near Kotongora where women were diligently and happily processing butter, the Sabon Wuse and other district clinics, the primary schools, the old markets being renovated and the new international market in Minna, they did not count on their present day challenges but exuded great hope for a better and greater tomorrow.

The governor, Mua'zu Babangida Aliyu stole the human angle show. He stole the people's heart by his sheer gusto and display of patriotism. He had hardly returned from a duty tour elsewhere, and being informed that the National Good Governance Tour was in the state, he decided to host the team at a gala night, and had to keep "standing" till the team returned to Minna from Kotangora, close to mid-night after a hectic road travel, and stayed all through the function. What a commitment! At the Citizen's Forum, Babangida Aliyu spoke with uncommon eloquence. A renowned administrator, orator and a public speaker per excellence, he handled all the issues posed with effortless savvy and pedagogic clarity.

- Chikezie is the director, Public Communication, Federal Ministry of Information

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