The Federal Ministry of Information recently designed a programme in collaboration with other agencies to tour projects in states across the country. It is said to be “a non-partisan tour involving the leadership of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ); the Radio, Television and Theatre Arts Workers Union (RATTAWU); leaders of women and youth organisations; National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS); National Council of Women Societies (NCWS); leaders of non-governmental organisations; operatives of security agencies; representative(s) of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum Secretariat; and reporters from the nation’s print and electronic media”.
The 120-member team led by the Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, attracted public attention when it was to visit Edo State. The Maku-led team had ostensibly sent a request to Adams Oshiomhole, the governor of Edo State, requesting him to provide accommodation, feeding and other logistics for the 120 delegates when they visited the state.
In response, Oshiomhole said, “It is not proper to use Edo State taxpayers’ money to finance a Federal Government programme. If they pay me a courtesy visit, I will receive them, but I don’t have a dime to spend on them because I do not need them to come to tell Edo people how I built roads and schools. My achievement speaks for me.”
Stakeholders, including Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, believe the tour of projects in various states is at variance with the responsibility of the Ministry of Information.
The team insists that it will go ahead with the tour, and it is. In defence, it asserts that the programme was designed to publicise the development programmes and projects of all tiers of government in the country, but Nigerians maintain that the assignment does not sit well with the Ministry of Information’s portfolio as there are other agencies that are responsible for project monitoring. To be sure, civil society should monitor these projects, independently.
In all the states it has visited, the monitoring team has been busy commending state governors for infrastructure projects, even when it is not armed with contract documents. It is curious how the team established if the projects were within budget and on-time. We doubt if these face-value commendations add any value.
Though the ministry has the function to inform individual citizens, civil society, the media and government, we doubt if monitoring projects and awarding marks fall under the function of information.
Good governance sells itself. And as radios, televisions and especially mobile phones become ubiquitous, citizens – at the state and local levels – are better placed to act as project monitors. Through the media, particularly social media, they are commending their government for good jobs. They have also directed government’s attention to neglected projects or social problems.
At this moment in Nigeria’s development, citizen-generated information can help with building strong institutions that enforce the rule of law, ensure fiscal responsibility and promote economic diversification. And federal, state and local governments need to focus on providing roads, schools, hospitals, etc. If these are done well, every other thing will follow.