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Fashola: There is nothing to celebrate yet

Niran Adedokun, nadedokun@gmail.com

I recently read an article which queried the silence of the media on the “good work” that the  Minister of  Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, is doing on the Sagamu-Ore end of the Lagos-Ore-Benin Expressway and a number of other federal roads.

Titled, Fashola at work: Why is no one talking, the piece written by one Modestus Umenzekwe, apparently a Lagos-based businessman,  pointed out that Nigerians rushed into criticising Fashola for non-performance shortly after he was appointed.

It noted that these complaints were without consideration for his performance as the Governor of Lagos State for eight years. It also pointed out that critics took no notice of the fact that the minister needed time to take stock, make projections and mobilise funds for the task ahead of him as minister. Like he spends his own money! To the shame of the critics however, he noted that in less than one year, Fashola had begun to display his “legendary” effectiveness. He asked:  “Now that work is going on even in the rainy season on federal roads, why has even the media been shy to report it?”

Now, I concede that the writer is entitled to his opinion, but the attempt to recruit others left me wondering whether we understand the real value of citizenship to the growth of democracy.

French statesman, Charles De Gaulle, himself a politician, suggested that politics is too serious a matter to be left in the hands of politicians. The point being that politicians make lofty vows of impending Eldorado when they need our votes, but priorities change once they settle into office. They pick of their own agenda, which is usually orchestrated towards winning the next election for themselves or the candidate of their party.

I have argued now and again that this is not peculiar to the Nigerian politician; it is a tendency that you will find in those who ply the trade in Lagos, Johannesburg, London, Washington, Canberra or Ottawa. The redemption of any politician is in an alert citizenry, a populace conscious of and constantly ready to activate its citizenship right. The drive for politicians to perform is in the capacity of the electorate to discern and interject, even disrupt mis(governance) whenever that ugly head manifests.

This is why governments are more responsible and responsive in societies where people know their democratic place and hold same firmly. In such countries, the neglect of the interests of the people may cost a public official his job or precipitate the loss of an elected representative’s at the next election.

Here, I recall the uproar that followed the snide remark a former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, made about a voter, Gillian Duffy, in 2010.

Brown, who was caught on microphone describing the pensioner as a “bigoted woman” had to visit Mrs. Duffy’s house to apologise. After speaking with Duffy for the better part of one hour, he told journalists as follows: “If you like, I’m a penitent sinner…I wanted to come here and say to Gillian that I was sorry, I had made a mistake…”

Mrs. Duffy, a widowed grandmother of two, had protested Brown’s slander before this visit in these words: “I’m very upset. He’s an educated person. Why has he come out with words like that? He’s supposed to be leading the country and he’s calling an ordinary woman who’s come up and asked questions that most people would ask him… and he’s calling me a bigot.” This “ordinary citizen” got the first citizen of her country to apologise after his reprobate soul became penitent.

Public officers in Nigeria think they do us a favour. You cannot query them without repercussion. The other day, someone asked this same Fashola questions about the three ministerial portfolios that he holds. His reply was a cheeky jab directing the inquirer to the President.

Those elected or appointed into offices in Nigeria scarcely remember that they serve at the pleasure of the ordinary people. But there is something even worse than this official arrogance; it is the ignorance of the people about their inalienable right to query high office. In the quest to attain democratic and economic growth, our people must wean themselves of the permissiveness which encourages arrogance of power and turns public office holders into tin gods.

On the issue of the performance of Fashola on the roads, we should take a more conscientious look. While the decision of the Buhari administration to complete projects initiated by the past government is a commendable departure from the past, the construction of these roads is a duty that government owes us, so they do us no favour. It is like a husband demanding that his wife should call her family to show him appreciation for performing his conjugal duties; it is totally anomalous!

I am also about to suggest that Fashola needs to do a lot more of the yeoman’s job that the President has handed over to him if he plans to leave a legacy of achievement. One of the things that I expect of him as the works minister in an administration that desires to change the way things are done is to respect the dignity and time of citizens. I do not see this yet.

Were these in consideration, Nigerians would not encounter the torture that they have gone through over whatever is going on at the Warewa Long Bridge on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway over the past few months. I was told on Wednesday of how someone left Ibadan at 7am to attend an 11am interview in Lagos but did not arrive the Berger terminus until 1pm that afternoon. This is clearly not in favour of the people. This same experience is a daily occurrence on the Sagamu-Ore Expressway.

A works ministry with a modicum of respect for the people would have initiated a massive awareness campaign to prepare the people, insisted that the contractors designed alternative routes (and means of transport where possible), provided adequate visible, round the clock security (so criminals are not left in doubt) and a time-table that would give the populace an idea of when this inconvenience would end. In some instances, government should insist that construction work go on 24 hours of the day just to speed things up.

In addition to that, Fashola should activate the public works unit in the ministry especially as the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency appears to be comatose. We do not need to wait until our roads become impassable with massive craters before we fix them. The PW unit of the ministry should be in a position to fix these small portions and save lives and cost in the process.

I was told of an incident in which one of the articulated vehicles of a popular cement manufacturing company crushed an 18-seater passenger bus operated by a Lagos-based transport company on a bridge outside Imota on the Benin-Agbor Expressway last week.

Eyewitnesses said the lorry, descending from a sloppy part of the road, ran into the bus as the driver slowed down to avoid a ditch at the edge of the bridge. All lives were reportedly lost in that accident.

The level of dilapidation that you see between Okhaure and Ikhueniro on this same road is such that drivers now drive against traffic to access the Benin Bye-pass while driving from Agbor.

Ibadan-bound travellers have also suffered such long delays just because some potholes were left unattended to in the same Warewa area where Julius Berger has held Nigerians to ransom with its snail’s pace work for months.

The truth is that Nigerians are too tolerant and unquestioning. And this accommodating trait has made it easy for public officers to sink the commonwealth in their private corners, depriving us of good governance.  What we need is question the value of some of the contracts that are being re-awarded within the context of our current economic realities and monitor the effectiveness with which they are being executed rather than massage already overblown egos. If this set of leaders do not understand that their message of change should start with the subjection of their offices to the will of the people, Nigerians must make them see reasons.

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