Today, our engagement is essentially about mistrust between government and the governed. As innocuous as the issue may seem, it is a major area of impediment to our nation’s growth. It must be realised that the discourse here is not just about the current government but, rather, an examination of what has become our public lifestyle for decades now. It is not only in Nigeria that the arrogant phenomenon to be discussed here operates but is something that characterizes governance in many societies where leaders operate below the datum line of conscionable best practices.
The radius of trust of a government within its people determines a lot of its achievements as no government operates in a state of elite autarchy but maximum cooperation of both the government and the governed. Most times, promises and pronouncements are made by the leaders of the country on policies and programs of the government which mostly end up not being fulfilled. In a whole lot of instances, government never feels ashamed of its failure and neglect in this regard as it has often become immune to public criticism by the thick shell of self-adulation which its sycophants and bootlickers have woven around it. They, most often, do not appreciate the damage such broken promises or pronouncements have on the government brand or the injuries inflicted on the innocent citizens that have acted to their detriment on such pronouncements or promises.
The pattern is so much established that citizens believe that when our government says one thing, they actually mean the opposite. A good example is when recently people feared that naira might be devalued and started panic buying, the Central Bank of Nigeria came out to categorically state that such would not happen, just for the apex bank the week following to pronounce devaluation by raising the official value of dollars up. Essentially, therefore, we are discussing the dashing of people’s hopes. Although Nigerians are used to fake electoral promises, they are yet to come to terms with fake pronouncements and policies not connected with electoral issues. An example is the several past pronouncements of the Aviation Ministry for a new airline for the country without any likelihood of realisation. The sad commentary here is that some innocent citizens relied on such pronouncements or policies to alter their positions, for instance, making an investment in anticipation of the implementation of the policy or programme. What becomes of the genuine step taken by such citizens is the Yoruba aphorism that speculates on the consequence of throwing away the dirty water in the family pot upon the rain-promising rumbling of the thunder. Unfortunately, there is failure of rain. To get water to bathe becomes an arduous task.
Regrettably, in a whole lot of situations, after making such policy statements or pronouncing on a programme, government goes into doldrums or somersaults, not caring about the impact on the citizens that have acted on such policies or pronouncements. This is how the country has succeeded in killing the dreams of millions of innocent Nigerians while consigning many to premature bankruptcy. Businesses fail and creditors swing into action for recovery of loans taken by speculative businessmen who made efforts to benefit from government policies that are in the process of being hatched. At times, favourable policies are in existence when some businesses take bank loans only for the government, either an incumbent or its successor, to take a devastating somersault that most times is never well-thought-out but meant to benefit a few cronies whose business fortunes are to service the interests of some government officials responsible for the policy capitulation.
My experience in Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) as chairman of its board is a catalogue of such stories in which thriving businesses with thousands of workers suddenly collapse as a result of an epileptic governmental approach to policy design, formulation, implementation and sustenance. This has resulted in thousands of erstwhile prosperous individuals and families losing jobs and means of sustenance the ricocheting effect of which is the pullulating elasticity of the fragile job markets and the resultant increase in the number of idle hands that serve the devil’s workshop of criminal enterprise. I can attest that, from the records available in the public domain, many of such businesses were trounced by policy inconsistencies of past governments which the current government must avoid as a whirlpool of destruction. This disastrous practice of government policy capitulation has equally been extended to government projects as they either never take off at the appointed time or concluded within the scheduled time. It is now history in Nigeria for projects to be commenced and completed within the scheduled period. Little wonder, therefore, that we have abundant abandoned projects all over the country. The agonising part of this is that every succeeding government relegates such projects initiated by their predecessors while commencing new ones just for those new ones to be abandoned in the same way ultimately. Why it has become a fad to take vengeance on one’s predecessor by abandoning public projects started in his regime baffles every right-thinking imagination. While it ought to be realized that such predecessor spent public funds and not his father’s money to erect the structures under construction, it is the taxpayers that are losing out and not the man whose only regret is probably the loss of vainglorious inscription of his name on a plaque as a monument of his period in government. In many cases when such constructions are even meant to alleviate public suffering, you wonder why a sane successor would abandon such project to take a pound of flesh on the ego of his predecessor forgetting that it is his own record that is being destroyed too. The sword exults while damaging the sheathe not realizing that it is its own home that is being torn to shreds. The shea butter rejoices while the rain melts the salt. The sharp rays of the sun that succeeds every rainfall will soon melt the shea butter too. A disturbing example of this is the Ilubinrin Housing Project in Ikoyi, Lagos, started by Raji Fashola, SAN, that is still in its shell formation till this moment. The Lagos rail project partakes of the same syndrome. There must be continuum in government policies save for the tested and failed ones. A project commenced by a previous government is a promise by government of provision of valuable amenities to the people which must not be broken by a successor willy-nilly. Government infrastructural activities are a story of demolition and re-construction ad infinitum in some places. Some enjoy making statements and promises for mass celebrations on the spot, knowing that such promises are only made to be honoured in the breach. They want to be seen as visionaries but their visions are never meant to be missions in fulfillment of public yearnings. In contemporary times, the slangs are the tentative ‘we will…, we are embarking on…., we are planning to…., we shall lay the foundation of… etc. etc.’ We can replicate this endlessly. Ordinarily, this shouldn’t be a concern if the new projects eventually become realities beneficial to the masses.
Regrettably, however, in Nigeria, it is now a deceitful mechanism by which public officials raise the hopes of the people unnecessarily. I must say that nothing could be more demoralising than that. At the risk of being harsh, such acts of failed promises and pronouncements are despicable, criminal and sinful. Hence, our advocacy or plea to the government is to henceforth desist from these malfeasances. Fulfilling promises is the surest way of engendering the confidence of the people otherwise, the mistrust will continue.
My advice, therefore, is for governments not to communicate intentions again until they are either ready to actualise the pronouncements or the accomplishment of their programs. As for the abandoned projects, the time is overripe for the parliament to enact a legislation criminalizing such acts of abandonment. This, I believe, is the way to go.
I am not unaware that Ekiti State legislature has made a good effort in this context, the National Assembly and other states need to emulate this laudable step. We must make it impracticable and illegal for successive administrations to abandon projects of the previous administrations. There must be continuity in government as it is by this that we can save trillions of naira wasting away in the name of abandoned government projects.
Except for evil spirit afflicting these people, no justification for their approaches. It is also by ensuring consistency in government policies that we can make survival of businesses and protection of our economy a priority. A stitch in time, they say, saves nine.