Expectedly, a rejoinder to my last week’s column, “A lesson from the ‘Little Jesus’ of Owerri”, came in just in time, and also from the right quarter, to counterpoint my praise of Governor Rochas Okorocha’s administration. However, it may be unfair to echo any word from mine as the readers may still return to the piece and take apart our line of argument. Our guest columnist, Suraj Oyewale, who is the economist mentioned in my take on Governor Rochas’ populist policies, is not only a vigilant follower of Nigerian politics, but a regular commentator in the train of Nigeria’s “awakened” youths, youths possessed by a passion for change. Suraj is currently a MBA student at Edinburgh School of Business. I yield this space to him today – Kakanda
Of Fashola’s ‘Elitism’, Okorocha’s ‘Welfarism’ and Kakanda’s Misjudgment
By Suraj Oyewale
My good friend, Gimba Kakanda, is a very brilliant fellow. For some time now, I have touted him as the next Abubakar Gimba, not only because he is a look-alike of this veteran writer, but equally because of his gift with words. Witty, yet hard-hitting, you cannot but marvel at this budding writer’s literary prowess. With sharp pen and an even sharper mind, Kakanda is not one to be equivocal about his convictions through his favourite medium – writing. Such is the stuff of my friend, who was recently brought aboard the Blueprint Newspapers as one of its columnists.
Kakanda was again at his satirical best when he wrote his piece titled “A lesson from the ‘little Jesus’ of Owerri”, published in his Blueprint column of Friday, January 18, 2012, only that this time around, as was the case a couple of times on his Facebook wall, he missed the point. Eulogizing Imo state governor Rochas Okorocha and subtly thumbing down his counterpart in Lagos, Kakanda wrote what I will summarize thus: Okorocha’s policies are welfarist and that is exactly what is needed to take the state out of the abyss past administrations had plunged it into. Governor Fashola, he wrote in contrast, is an elitist whose policies only benefit the upper class, further widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots. I have decided to pick just these two central postulations, ignoring the third – a jibe at economists – where my friend opted for the convenient path of puncturing controversial British clergyman-cum-political economist, Thomas Malthus’ theory on population.
The thing is, many Nigerians fall for cheap publicity stunts and our political class has effectively devised strategies around this and it’s working wonder for them. Let’s flip with Kakanda in commonsense: consider two political office holders, A and B. Mr. A goes to every household to distribute free bread, Mr. B constructs roads. In Nigeria’s political space, Mr A is more likely to earn more applause. That is the tragedy of our political understanding.
I am a longtime admirer of Okorocha. He has been a philanthropist for many years. I have known about his almost free schools, situated in different zones of Nigeria, for almost a decade now. He came to politics with a lot of goodwill. Fine. With such image, Owelle is the least person that needs populist stunts, wrongly taken to be welfarism. This is why I am disappointed in his approach to governance, which is more of needless showboating. Where do you situate wearing school uniforms a la primary school pupils and inviting press to cover that, in the context of good governance? Why must you announce that you would pay more than minimum wage to your workers when you knew your revenue can’t finance that, only to renege on this? Joining the regular queues in airports? Fine. But I need Kakanda to tell us whether this is a routine or just some one-off action to score a cheap point. How many times a month does Mr. Okorocha travel? How many times does he travel by this popular ‘queue’ route? While I don’t have any problem with a governor identifying with the common citizens, when such is done only to score points, the merit is lost. To me, the only faultless programme from the Imo governor to date is his free education policy, but probably unknown to Kakanda is the fact that public education is highly subsidised, if not free, in many other states as well. In Lagos state, registration of students for NECO examinations is free. I don’t know how much is paid as tuition fees in primary and secondary schools in public schools in Lagos state, but I am not aware of the fact that it is prohibitive enough to be a deterrent to schooling. In many northern states, what students receive as annual bursary payments in tertiary institutions is far higher than the cost of their education per year. The point here is, Okorocha’s free education policy, noble quite alright, is not something new.
Now, are Fashola’s programmes elitist as my friend would want us believe? The oshodi traders that suffered untold hardships in the hands of social miscreants before the Fashola clean-up are not elite sir; majority of the residents of my Langbasa domain here – who benefit from Fashola’s road construction – are not members of the upper class sir. Well, the elite are no less Lagosian and they deserve a value for their tax too, hence Fashola giving them Eko Atlantic city is not a misplacement of priority. And okada was never banned in Lagos, it was only restricted. The ‘lowly’ okada riders can continue to make a living from plying the permissible routes.
Okorocha has his high point no doubt, but when we rank joining queues in airports or wearing elementary school uniforms over massive long term development-enhancing capital projects like road constructions and expansions as we see everywhere in Lagos, then there is something fundamentally wrong in our assessment criteria. My final advice to my good friend is to shine his eyes, as we say in Fashola’s Lagos.
Oyewale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NB: KakandaTemple column is simultaneously run with ‘Flips of Commonsense’ in Blueprint Newspapers every friday. Follow Gimba Kakanda on Twitter: @gimbakakanda.