Let’s ask our governors questions by Martins Oloja

I would like to ask for permission to resist the temptation to join the debate on the very important detainee, citizen Ibrahim Yaqoub El-Zakzaky who just returned from a mission to India and the other detainee, Omoyele Sowore, who dared to ask for revolution now.

These are current affairs, which are full of sound and fury, anyway. These are relevant political and human rights issues that won’t go away in good time. But human rights experts and lawyers have been doing a good job on their coverage. I would like to ‘recuse’ myself from these distractions and other persistent executive procrastination this weekend. I would like us to step aside and think about how to ask questions about the often neglected, weightier matters of governance in the 36 states and Abuja.

 

I mean here that we should for this moment leave Buhari and all the president’s men alone and ask all our governors questions, for instance, about what they are doing to prepare the country for federalism and other allied matters in their states. We need to ask them what they are doing to develop their states and how they want to survive if there is no oil to sell to execute the most bizarre event every month – federal allocations account committee (FAAC) meeting in Abuja. I would like to align myself with a school of thought that even if a president-in-council thinks properly in Abuja without concomitant good thinking in at least half of the states across the six geo-political zones, the development will still be a mirage in Nigeria.

 

Doubtless, the pressure on Abuja, the federal authorities on the development of Nigeria has been too much and quite monotonous. And here is the thing, we (in the civil society including the media) have over-reported the failure of the presidency to develop Nigeria without including the concomitant failure of most of the 36 states and 774 local government councils. Come to think of it, the failure of the local governments can only be attributed to the stranglehold of the governors on them. I think, as we seriously advocate restoration of the ‘lost paradise’ called federalism since 1966, we should begin to appeal to the governors to begin to run their states as ‘federalism brand ambassadors’. It is time we began to focus on what should be happening in the 36 states of the federation and Abuja. We need to pile more pressure on state governors to be more responsible. We need to hold our governors to account. We don’t ask our governors questions on the funding of education, healthcare delivery system, transportation infrastructure, and even agriculture, small and medium scale enterprises, etc. The other day in Sokoto, a southern Africa journalist who heads an international non-governmental organisation’s country office in Namibia was enthused by a subset of my submission at this year’s African Media Barometer (AMB) Roundtable. The AMB 2019 (powered by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and fesmediaAfrica) is an in-depth and comprehensive description and measurement system for national media environments on the African continent based on homegrown criteria. On one of the discussion points, there was a constant reference to the over-coverage of Abuja as a national capital at the expense of the 36 state states and 774 local government councils.

 

At a point, the coordinator from Namibia was always referring to my contextual interpretation of Abuja, Abuja, and Abuja in covering Nigeria. The coordinator, a South African, went away with the impression that Nigerian mass media has been under-covering Nigeria by over-covering Abuja, the capital of the federation and seat of the federal government. This is an objective reality about our coverage of Nigeria. Most of our front pages and prime (air) time are dominated by events, people and places in Abuja. News analyses and editorials too are most times issues arising from politics and policies from Abuja. Even the economic capital of West Africa, Lagos, where most of the news media organisations are located is underreported because editors have to look up to Abuja hills for the big stories. Lagos, our Lagos whose economy is competing with the country’s, (Nigeria) South Africa and Egypt are grossly underreported by the Nigerian news media. This is where all of us have curiously ‘sinned’ and come short of the glory of good journalism, that International Press Institute (IPI) says still matters. The conclusion of the whole federation-coverage matters is that the honeymoon that all the governors have been enjoying since 1999, for instance, should be over as soon as possible. We (citizens) need to report the state of our states to the nation.

 

I would like to observe that the underdevelopment we see in Nigeria is a combination of critical factors most of which we can trace to failure of governance in most of the states in Nigeria. I want us to debate a fact that if most of the states in the south had paid serious attention to restructuring of educational institutions in Nigeria the way governor Peter Obi did in Anambra state, which the current governor appears to be sustaining, the state of education would not be where it is in Nigeria today. There are only 104 Federal Unity colleges across the 36 states in Nigeria out of tens of thousands. There are 152 colleges of education in Nigeria comprising only 21 federal, 82 private and 49 state colleges of education.

 

Why haven’t we found at least five of the governors of the 36 states of the federation since 1999, to have developed a world-class university that would have beaten all the federal universities? After all, there are 170 accredited universities comprising 43 federal universities, 48 state universities, and 79 private universities. Why can’t Lagos State University with the enormous resources at its disposal restructure its only university to beat the (federal) University of Lagos? Why can’t its Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) be an iconic African Centre of Medical Excellence? If the federal government can’t equip any of its (Teaching) Hospitals to take care of its leaders and its El-Zakzakys, why can’t a state government take up the gauntlet to equip one hospital as a reference point in Nigeria? What stopped a specialist hospital advertised in Akwa Ibom state that was to take away the reproach of Nigeria in Godswill Akpabio’s time? Why can’t the current governor of the state be encouraged by citizens to freeze politics and complete the hospital?     

Yes, so many Nigerians have wondered why neither President Umaru Yar’Adua nor President Muhammadu Buhari ever thought of paying special attention to even the National Hospital in Abuja where they could have been treated. It was a big shame that we returned President Yar’Adua home from a Saudi hospital and a few weeks after, he died in office in 2010. There have been reports that the Royalty in Saudi used to come to the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan when it was one of the best four in the Commonwealth – when there was a country!

 

President Buhari who has been travelling to the United Kingdom for medical treatment and examination has never been quoted as suggesting a restructuring of even the State House Clinic, Abuja where he could be treated. Wife of the President, Hajia Aisha Buhari once cried out about the parlous state of the State House Clinic. President Buhari doesn’t have it. We can only ask him what he can’t give us. But why can’t Lagos, or Rivers or Delta State government, for instance, take a step of faith and build one well-equipped hospital where even the president, other governors, and citizens can be examined? We, the people know these states can afford this.

After all, when Governor Idris Wada was in December, 2012, injured in an accident as governor of Kogi State, his brother who was then a senior physician incidentally at the National Hospital, (himself a proprietor of hospitals) identified a well-equipped (private) Cedarcrest Hospital, where the governor was treated, instead of evacuation to India or U.K. The point is that when we establish a well-equipped hospital in any corner of the country, there won’t be any dispute: the Nigerian Medical Association and other medical experts will know.

 

So, it is not only the president who should answer our questions on why we don’t have any good hospitals in Nigeria where El Zakzaky could have been treated. The cleric hails from Kogi state. When the governor, Yahaya Bello had a minor injury the other day in an accident, he was rushed to the ill-equipped National Hospital in Abuja. Zakzaky’s operational headquarters in Zaria in Kaduna state. It is thus shameful that the ABUTH can’t treat him. It is unacceptable that all the military institutions in and around Zaria can’t boast of hospitals that can examine Zakzaky who used to be Zaria resident. This is what I think the Kaduna State’s resourceful governor, Malam Nasir El-Rufai should reflect on this week. It is through this kind of emblem of shame and suffering we can begin to address our critical needs.

 

So, my specific objective this week is to enjoin all of us citizens to step aside and look at our environment and reflect on questions we can ask our local leaders who have been largely irresponsible, wasteful and negligent. We should begin the reflection with our local primary and secondary schools that produced us. What happened to the dedicated teacher and even headmaster and principal who used to be our guardian angels? We should begin to find time and courage to ask our local government councillors and chairmen why they are not even clearing bushes around us, not to talk of maintaining drainages and school premises. We should begin to ask our governors why they don’t care about schools, healthcare and inner-city and village roads that lead to farms anymore. We should ask governors, for instance in Yorubaland whether Buhari’s aloofness is responsible for why after 20 years of unbroken democracy, there are still no good roads from Lagos to Abeokuta, Abeokuta to Ibadan, Ibadan to Oshogbo and even Akure to Ado-Ekiti. We should also ask our governors in the East and South-South whether imminent Ruga Project is the only reason the link roads in the five Eastern States are in such bad shapes I saw two weeks ago. Should we continue to blame Abuja for why the road from Calabar from Uyo is still dreadful after 20 years of democracy? Why can’t a south southerner drive on good roads owned by NDDC from Port Harcourt to Uyo or Aba?

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