In this business of writing, sometimes getting a caption that would adequately convey your thinking and feelings can be a difficult exercise. I had wanted to put forward a piece titled “Distorted Democracy”, when I looked at the calendar in my office and realized that this is “democracy” month. Every May 29, at least, in recent times, we come out to celebrate democracy day during which those who rule us roll out the drums to dance over what they say is their achievements. They tell us what it is they have been doing, hit the gongs, eat additional good food and with a voice of finality, say how they have excelled. Their conclusions never have a space for our own contributions and assessments. Where they remember this angle, they get men and women who foolishly follow the process without any transformation in their lives and those of their families to give false impression of the people’s appreciation of what is going on.
The strong affirmation of excellent performance from those who rule over us many times too, is irrespective of whether the policies and programmes they executed within a time frame had direct relevance to our everyday living or not. What matters to them is that something has been done and the pauperized citizens “must” be happy for the intervention of a Daniel, who supposedly decided out of great benevolence to come to judgement. So, looking at the season, something told me this is the season of stewardship accounts and the right thing would be to fulfill a promise I made earlier by taking a look at it. It is important I restate this here. For democracy to have real meaning, three cardinal features must be seen. The first is conception stage, where if things are properly done should include meeting with the people to find out what they desire. The outcome is intelligently merged with the vision of the leader to produce a workable policy outline with some work plan. Good work plans should have specific programme outline and verifiable benchmarks. The ordinary citizen looking at it should at a glance know what to expect and when to see progress and conclusion. There is always time zone for all that is to be done.
The second is the execution stage and the last is the accountability period when leaders in well-calculated fashion, reel out what they have done on behalf of the people using their funds. It is gradually being believed that the accountability level is becoming the most important, because it forms the basis on which democracy draws real life. If the leader likes, he or she can waste all the time attending parties, summits, and fighting superficial political fights, but as soon as this stewardship account period comes, it carries with it the great verdict as to whether the leader in question has done well and is qualified for new trust, or has performed woefully and deserves a recall to go back and retrain himself or herself with whatever he or she was doing before gaining public trust.
This is what real democracy is supposed to be and that is what gives democracy its true essence, where it is practised in full. Here, do stewardship accounts matter? How many of our leaders care about feedback mechanism? In places where real democracy is in practice, we see elected officials particularly the President and governors mount the rostrum within their offices to talk to the people over important meetings, policy positions, results, fears and anticipations. How many times do we see that happen here? Even the spokespersons become tin-gods and run away from core responsibilities. Many would not answer calls directly, that is if their phones are open at all. Most times they are “busy”, so busy they never return calls. Some of them say they can’t talk to purveyors of news, creating a rule that whatever you desire, get about it by text: if you get a reply, fine.
I know this period of assessment would come, and given what I know about what we should do to promote democracy, I set about it on time. In this column, many weeks back, I requested that aides to the President, Ministers, and Governors send into my email box whatever it is their principals were doing. To the point of writing this first part, not one of them responded. That was partly why I had a little problem casting my headline. I thought about Report Card, report card from where? What about Democracy Governance and Accountability, I was almost settling for this when a group of very intelligent friends saw my dilemma and said, “You want to write about stewardship; why do you want to waste your time on that? What have they achieved?” You can now guess how I came about the title for today’s piece. The question came down like a thunderbolt and left deep impression on my subconscious.
Consequently, I began to ask myself, could it be true that our leaders are just there and don’t have any achievements? Can this be possible? I told myself it is not possible. Mere occupying the seat is an achievement, do people not undertake elaborate ceremonies for being elected or appointed into high political offices? Even no achievement is an achievement; I am sure not many of us know this. On the other hand, I tried to figure out whether such views are because our leaders work, but the people either don’t know or can’t comprehend the significance. I told myself there could be some points here. The Minister of Works, whom I can now confirm is doing very well of recent, was on Channels TV the other day, he said the Minister of Information, Labaran Maku’s team on Good Governance was on the much talked about Benin-Sagamu Expressway and they were surprised at the degree of rehabilitation work that has been done. I heard it and laughed. Not too long ago, I overheard a presidential spokesman, Bolaji, say on Radio Nigeria that “my principal is working, look at what he is doing at the Kubwa-Abuja road, and those using it still say he is doing nothing.”
When I hear such positions, I laugh. Why? Information management in a democracy is a scientific venture. You gauge the mood of the people to determine the strategy for transmitting the message. A hungry man whose major concern is food, does not care how much roads you build. So, he may walk on them or even stand on them, and still be saying you have done nothing. In this instance, it is the responsibility of governments to tell their stories and show how those programmes change the story of hunger, lack, and want. Whatever the situation, it is the big responsibility of the leadership to tell its stories and to a reasonable extent give the facts motivating the action and the accompanying interpretations. The stories told at the appropriate time receive better attention and appreciation. The absence of this accounts, perhaps, for why majority of the citizens ask questions in the negative almost always.
I must commend some leaders who have done well in this regard. Governor Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State is a leader in this direction. He has used various avenues, including hosting conferences to tell his story well. Few weeks back, he celebrated his May Day using all communication means to great effect and advantage. Fashola, too, has done very well; his stewardship ventures are mature, well prepared and timely. They have substance. It has shown in his ratings. Rotimi Amaechi has shown effectiveness in this regard to some extent. From the East, Okorocha is moving strong except that he generates controversies that muddle the gains. From the North, I see only Sule Lamido, yet, he’s not giving it his all.
If our democracy would have meaning, the leaders must have a deep synergy with the led, and this bond will not come unless the people at all times know what is happening, why it is happening, the implications and the cost. History has shown that the veritable channels for realizing this, is effective and credible communication. Communication is capital intensive, even then, no amount devoted to it is a waste. After all, development is not only about constructing roads and building gigantic buildings: it is more about those things that can’t be materially quantified. Silence is not all that golden. It may make sense at the individual level sometimes, and I am certain it is not at all times, but it does not apply at the level of governance. Leaders who close their mouths end up closing their destiny. Why? It is communication that bridges that gap in distance. A man in Aba can hardly know what the developments are in Sokoto except he has the right information. This is made very real by visuals. For indeed, only fools doubt proofs. Our leaders must therefore learn to talk, especially if they have something tangible to talk about. Let me stress this point; talking is good and of great value when there are clear evidences of practical performance. No need repeating that media aides must be creative in providing ways they can talk back to the people. If we can’t create new formats, we can at least match what we see others do elsewhere. It would be great if we learn how to fill emails with activities of our leaders or even use text messages. I will count it a vast improvement the day I see media aides begin to respond to inquiries in written forms.
I have tried to dissect the challenges of proper assessment of our leaders in public offices so far; next week, I will touch a few more obstacles to effective feedback system, then Jonathan period (two years in office), what I know and what my position is. This is wishing my readers, Happy Democracy Day celebration in advance.