By Tonnie Iredia
Last week, President Muhammadu Buhari commendably made public his awareness of the low rating of his government by critics. He also scored a high mark with his understanding of the true nature of democracy when he acknowledged the right of citizens to criticize the government. He however pleaded with such critics to endeavour to be constructive.
This request by the President is certainly not the first of its kind. During his first tenure, he similarly pleaded with Nigerian critics to desist from harping on government’s lapsesand challenges only but to also highlight achievements correspondingly especially in areas such as agriculture where he claimed to have enabled bumper harvests in many parts of the country.
Unfortunately, President Buhari appears unaware of how government officials upturn his acclaimed achievements. For instance, in the Agric sector he referred to, food prices have remained high amidst increased productivity. Reason? Monies illegally collected from farmers and middlemen by ALL uniformed government officials on the highway that have to be added to production costs naturally raise prices.
In other words, whereas government makesample efforts to aid farmers to increase production, her officials surreptitiously compel same farmers to increase prices. In many other areas of public affairs, this type of insider abuse in government makes it hard for critics to decipher where praise is due. Even where performance is poorly handled by sub-agents, government remains the only organ that cannot escape blame from failure to protect the citizenry
Not long ago, government in a bid to ameliorate the pains of high electricity costs decided to provide free metres to her people. Populist policy no doubt! But notwithstanding that the concessioners were fully briefed on this, they coerced people to pay for the metres. Their reaction to a government clarification which insisted that the metres must be free was to promise refunds in kind rather than by cash- an arrangement that is clearly subject to extortion.
In any case, in rented apartments where the metres were paid for by landlords, how will refund be done through services when consumption is by tenants? This complication which can raise rents would hardly arise where the relevant agency of government appropriately monitors a concessioner who cherishes charging fees for no light, and withholding refunds in furtherance of a general disposition to cheat consumers.
One factor currently attracting strong criticisms is the trend whereby several agencies make decisions that are not informed by data. A good example is the directive to all schools in the country to reopen tomorrow. Considering that many interest groups such as the Nigerian Medical Association and the Academic Staff Union of Universities, have on health grounds openly opposed the directive, the media would obviously be replete with negative comments by many critics.
Indeed, many more critics would join the queue as government’s decision on the reopening was made without explaining the rationale. Have our school authorities provided any evidence of comprehensive plans to ensure compliance with covid 19 protocols? If not, what influenced the directive at a time when the second wave of the pandemic has allegedly been on the increase in the last few weeks.
Again, why must every school especially those in areas with reports of greater infections resume same day? If the intention is to avoid the adverse effects of another lockdown, what has been put in place as safeguards? Except questions such as these are answered, government cannot avoid knocks from critics.
Perhaps the greatest policy decision that many are unable to buy is the deadline to Nigerians to get registered with the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) or get cut off from telephone services. While the merits of having a national identification number are self-explanatory, it is difficult to defend a policy which encourages large assemblies at a time when government is supposedly campaigning against huge crowds.
Sadly, the agency set up to implement the policy has provided no convincing explanations for the development. The other day, Minister Isa Patanmi who supervises the agency reminded Nigerians that the crowd was caused by refusal of people to play their roles in public policies at the appropriate time. Isa says Nigerians had been given notice to get registered since February last year- a notice which on its face value appears adequate.
But when properly examined, it becomes obvious that the directive came at a wrong time because since the said February 2020 till date, everyone including government has been more concerned about covid 19 than anything else. What is more, nothing shows even as at today that NIMC was or is now ready for the assignment.
How can a body charged with such an assignment over a year ago show even as at today that the crucial resources both human and materials needed for successful implementation are grossly inadequate? How can the last-minute rush which caused large crowds at NIMC gates for which citizens are being blamed account for poor working tools over which a strike was called by the workers?
As the cat and rat game between NMIC authorities and workers subsists, large crowds are daily convened at the commission’s gates. We hear many new centres are now being opened in some parts of the country which validates a criticism of poor planning. The question of what informed the number of centres earlier opened is one that can validly be asked in respect of virtually every policy.
Only last week, the National Primary Health Development Agency (NPHDA) that is mandated to share the first set of expected covid 19 vaccines in Nigeria released a distribution list. Some critics have since described the list as a laughable document which lacked rational thinking because it failed to send more vaccines to the most infected areas in the land.
In fact, every critic can rightly shout at a distribution list which allocates any vaccine to Kogi state – the highest contributor to public disbelief in the existence of the pandemic since its outbreak. Even if the vaccines were an aspect of our national cake, it is irrational to give more to Kogi than anywhere else.
Many of the issues listed above certainly deserve better approaches. But a change of style ought to accommodate both government projects and activities as well as the direction of the nation’s politics. We are now in a period of governance and not electioneering. If other politicians are using politics to distract government, the All Progressives Congress which formed the government should act differently.
The South West House Speakers past and present who converged in a rally in Ibadan a few days ago to campaign for a presidential aspirant in an election that is two years away can wait a bit, more so, as they say the aspirant is yet to show interest. Also, millions of youths who are allegedly pressurizing Governor Yahaya Bello to show interest in the 2023 elections should be discouraged from further distracting the man and energising critics especially political opponents
Finally, it is expedient to point out that not every agency is unduly criticised. For example, it is hard to criticise Professor Is-haq Oloyede’s good performance at JAMB. Even at that, government needs to be less sensitive to criticism because that is an attractive hobby of people outside government just as the APC members did before 2015.