As I surfed the social media last Wednesday morning, something quite interesting popped up on my Facebook page. It was a post I had made on January 20, 2019 ahead of Nigeria’s presidential polls. This was Facebook, two years on, reminding me of what I had said on that day. The post read: “An old Italian proverb, referenced by Voltaire in ‘La Begueule', states that ‘the best is the enemy of the good’. The idea is that perfection is difficult to reach, and by striving for it we may overlook small incremental improvements which are feasible right away. Indeed, in some cases, calls for wildly utopian social changes may compromise other feasible improvements and ironically end up preserving the status quo — Carlo Burelli, ‘The Good and the Best: Being realistic about social change'." I ended the post with: ‘Dear Nigerian friends, let this sink as we face another general election in the coming weeks. Thank you.’
Whatever the challenges of the Muhammadu Buhari years, and there have indeed been a couple of them (as are common with developing nation states trying to shake off the past), I am convinced that our country has made serious progress. It can get better. And it will get better with everyone doing their bits.
But there is more to this Facebook reminder — that is, the quote about the ‘best being the enemy of the good’ and a need for architects and beneficiaries of social change to be wary of events that naturally follow it. That quote speaks to the development in Kwara State at the moment. A few days ago, some opposition elements charged Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq to fish out and punish his appointees who they claimed were guilty of contract inflation. Some accused him of sleaze. Quite interestingly, the only reference they adduced for alleged contract inflation and sleaze are reports of a social audit birthed by the same Governor! Until now, people only sniffed around to get details of government contracts. However, the Governor acknowledged a need to deepen accountability and transparency by letting members of the public and civic groups to audit ongoing projects of his administration and some he inherited (and would pay for). The social audit, which is the first in the country, gives third parties and apolitical entities a free hand to examine adherence to contract terms and quality of jobs done with public funds.
The agenda is simple: the public deserves to have value for their money. So far, contractors have been blacklisted following audit reports. Today, officials are not in doubt about a need to sit up. Contractors know that somebody else, other than resident engineers, may be licensed to check up on what they are doing. Revelations from such exercise can never be an indictment on a man who offered official documents and the right atmosphere for third parties to scrutinise things. He cannot be everywhere. It is not his job to prepare or vet Bill of Engineering Measurements and Evaluation (BEME). Certain officials are tasked to do some jobs. It is to the credit of the Governor that he birthed a process to enhance transparency and subtly inspire institutions, entrenched interests, and government contractors to embrace a new dawn.
Indeed, the birth of social audit is a realistic acknowledgement of institutional gaps and a need to put mechanisms in place to check excesses — while investments are made in training and retraining of officials and strengthening institutions (such as the recent activation of the procurement agency) amid reorientation efforts to let people know that cheating the system rubs off on everyone.
So, anyone gloating over revelations from social audit either does not understand where the state is coming from or is being insincere. These revelations are helping the Governor to save public funds. It does not end there. Errors are being corrected. People are getting flagged and punished for screwing up!
But the audit is just a fraction of the social change expectedly sweeping through the state. As I once observed, Otoge was not just a campaign chant. It is one word with far-reaching consequences for everyone in the state. For instance, many people expected to be handed SUBEB forms to give their relatives to go teach in our classrooms, whether competent or not. That would shut the door against people with no official links. That is against the spirit of Otoge. For a change, let everyone earn their medal through a truly fierce and transparent process that is ongoing.
Enugbe (a Yoruba coinage that roughly means we are hungry) gave rise to the fierce and sometimes condescending intra-party opposition to the Governor. Behind this proverbial term (enugbe) is a nostalgia about what it meant to be in the ruling party in Kwara State where government and party officials competed over who was the richest or had the latest automobiles. The trade-offs were many: schools without roofs, hospitals without the most basic equipments, expansive arable lands without access roads, and a population left in squalor and conditioned to fight for crumbs from political lords. Ironically, there are doubts today that some forces who fought to uproot the political status quo did so to allow for development. Words and actions from various forces seem to suggest that some had fought for other reasons.
This was a state where armed thugs walked the streets unchallenged. This was a state where urchins enjoyed official shield and got stipends from the till. Here was a state where public water was not running. Here was a state where Colleges of Education lost their accreditation and graduating students risked having their certificates turned down in the labour market. Here was a state where to speak against the establishment — without necessarily committing blameable slanders — could land you in the gulag or lead fearsome men to your house in broad day light! Here was a state where the civil service was without running cost and basic facilities. Here was a state with glaring evidence of enclave development with serious consequences for inclusive growth and rural-urban migration. These are challenges of development now being tackled, while several ugly features of the old era have disappeared.
But dangers lurk ahead. Those who sought the social change in Kwara must realise the role of patience, sincerity, sacrifice, forgiveness, and constant reappraisal of their journey in order not throw the gains into the bin. Everybody should seek accommodation under an atmosphere of mutual respect that is devoid of name-calling or blackmail. Similarly, Kwarans are understandably thirsty of rapid development. However, schools and hospitals left to ruins for many years can’t all be fixed at once. Even with the N14.2bn to be committed to fixing basic schools in the next few years, only a little above 500 out of estimated 1400 decrepit schools can get varying touches. Apply the same logic for health, water, and road infrastructure. In responsive leadership, respect for public opinion, and provision of basic amenities, the state is clearly moving in paces hardly seen before. Everyone only needs to benchmark these incremental improvements against the past, available resources, and peculiarities of the state. Everyone has a duty to not allow a relapse to the status quo.
- Ajakaye is the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor