It is a huge deficit in the public sphere that the mid-term report released some weeks by the federal government has not been robustly debated. While the nation is waiting to see if the National Assembly would succeed in making a law that would compel the President to address the parliament on the state of the union, the report is at least an opportunity for the President to tell the people how well his government is performing. However, the drawback is that the report has not been sufficiently situated within the context of governance challenges that are too glaring to require any expertise to decode. Meanwhile, even some random observations will do to illustrate the gaps between official statements and the reality of people’s lives.
In releasing the report, President Goodluck Jonathan was so upbeat in his mood that he even challenged critics to define their parameters of assessing the performance of the administration. The other side of the coin, however, is that the public mood is low about the welfare of the people and the development of the nation. For instance, those in the audience at the presentation of the report could applaud the rosy growth statistics rolled out; but no rational person would expect any applause from the millions of young men and women who have remained jobless for years in this “fast-growing economy”. Yet the nation seems to be moving on after the backslapping in Abuja waiting for another report.
That is why the report should be more rigorously scrutinised. The purpose of constantly relating this scorecard to the reality on the streets is simply to nudge to government to improve on its performance so that by May 29 next year the report will be less at variance with the public rating. This public rating will, of course, be different from the credit ratings of those institutions that are very distant from the reality on ground. The fact is that you don’t strive for excellence by celebrating under-achievements.
For clarity, the sort of discussion being proposed here is not a shouting match informed by crude empiricism. The government has published projects executed or being executed. The report is richly illustrated with data. While the quantitative data of projects may not be in dispute, it is important to examine how the execution of the projects could lead to qualitative improvement in the lives of the people. We must always insist on the big picture that would show how the overall impact of these numerous projects executed would advance socio-economic development. The progress of a society is not measured by merely listing contracts awarded or executed; it is measured by social development. The “marking scheme” that the President is asking from his critics can actually be designed on the basis of social development.
An example can be taken from the transport sector. Yes, the trains are back on track in some routes; but as the investigation of this newspaper showed recently the quality of services are too poor to justify the official celebration of this as “achievement” in the transport sector”. As a perceptive commentator once posed the question: since the government is doing so well with railways why are ministers and other government officials not opting for rail as means of transportation? In any case, how many middle class persons would think of rail as an option when planning their journeys around the country as it happens in other places? The fact of the matter is that the world has moved beyond the level at which government officials are talking about in rail transport. What development activists would find rankling is that the way the token efforts at the railways sector are being celebrated does not suggest that the nation is even aspiring to join the rest of the world in the age of modern rail system.
In the section of the report advertising “achievements” in roads, the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway is listed among the 561 kilometres of roads “paved with bitumen”. At the Apapa end of the road is the nation’s premier seaport where the government earns revenues daily. The road in question has actually collapsed for almost a decade now. As of today there are still scandalous potholes in portions of the road. In the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, a government official and reputed engineer told this reporter that what the road required as far back as then was “a total redesign and reconstruction” given the traffic on it. It should be stressed in this kind of discussion that the unpardonable neglect of this federal road was one of the low points of the Obasanjo administration.
The former President studiously neglected the federal infrastructure in Lagos, a state which he infamously described as “a jungle”. He was too busy fighting a war of attrition with former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, to remember the socio-economic consequences of neglecting a road that connects the premier port to the rest of the country. Therefore, as an example of the scrutiny of the scorecard of the administration, the President should order a special audit of this road if only for its central place in the economic map of the nation. It is an important index of how the government is performing. It is obviously not enough to list it as among the kilometres of roads “paved with bitumen”.
The situation on the road is simply unacceptable. Even the condition of roads in war-torn countries would not to be left to deteriorate in this manner. Trailers and fuel trucks often turn the road into a parking lot because of the problem arising from the concessioning of the port and the illogical location of tank farms on such a road. The traffic gridlock in Apapa often assumes emergency proportions. In order to tackle the meltdown in Apapa, for instance, the federal government should take the already initiated collaboration with the Lagos state government in this respect more seriously. All told, Oshodi-Apapa is just one of such shameful roads around the country.
There is also the central question of economic management. The report indicates that the economy is under the watch of good managers. However, there are developments that may impair the work of these managers not matter how much competence they could summon. For instance, the impasse on the amendment to the 2013 Appropriation Act has poignantly brought to the fore the shared responsibility of the executive and the legislature for economic management. The delay in the amendment will definitely not bolster confidence in the management of the nation’s economy. The Minister of Finance and the Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, must have infected not a few economic actors with optimism when the budgetary process began early in September last year.
At the beginning of the process, the government was deservedly applauded for a change of style that promised to help improve the state of things. Now in the second half of the budgetary year, the dispute between two arms of government on amendment to the budget’s law is yet to be resolved. The fact that the Appropriation Act has been signed by the President to be implemented is no valid excuse for this delay. If the amendments were not important enough as instruments of managing the economy, the executive would not labour to propose them in the first place. The administration and the National Assembly should forge an engagement that would show a sense of urgency. The longer the passage of the amendment is delayed the more the public becomes cynical of “budgets as mere rituals in Nigeria”. Amidst the battle of wits on the budget, Okonjo-Iweala has said that it might be difficult for governments to pay workers’ salaries by September. The massive theft of oil has also become a matter of grave national security. Although more oil wells are being discovered, even non-experts now talk about the development of Shale oil may shrink the global market in not-too-distant future. The Excess Crude Account is being depleted. These and other challenges would task economic managers anywhere they exist. In our context, the solutions to them should be part of the scorecard next year.
Perhaps, another way of looking at the scorecard of this administration is that politicians in power at all levels should not look at 2015 only as the election year in Nigeria. They should also bear in mind that 2015 is also the year the world has set as a target date for eradicating absolute poverty manifested in access to basic education, healthcare, sanitation and other welfare issues. It is indeed the year of Education for All (EFA) even when at least 10 million Nigerian children are out of school! These are some of the issues to discuss in a scorecard that puts the people at the centre. If in the next 18 months when 2015 will be history governments at all levels pay attention to these and other indices of social development, future scorecards will be worthy of praise from the people.