In the quest for a better Nigeria, the need for a robust system of accountability stands paramount. Public officers, whether appointed or elected, must understand their role as servants to the public, ensuring that the resources entrusted to them are used for the public good and not for personal enrichment. This understanding must be crystal clear among the populace: public officials are there to serve, not to be served. Yet, the remnants of a colonial mentality still hinder our progress in holding leaders accountable and demanding transparency in their stewardship.
This week’s announcement by the Lagos State Governor of several commissioned projects in Surulere, including the Femi Gbajabiamila Conference Centre at Lagos State University (LASU), the reconstructed Babs Animashaun Road and Census Bridge, the 80-bed Femi Gbajabiamila General Hospital, and the Sam Shonibare Youth Development Centre, drew attention not for the projects themselves but for the audacity to name them after the supposed sponsor, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila. These projects, evidently constructed with public funds, raise critical questions about allocation, appropriation, and the propriety of naming rights for public projects. This reflects a broader issue of accountability where leaders view their service as a privilege or favour, not as a duty to the public. It is imperative that the handling of constituency projects by senators and other members of parliament be thoroughly reviewed and seen as a public service rather than personal empowerment projects.
Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, known for his advocacy for due process and integrity, notably rejected a national honour because he felt that he had not achieved enough to merit such an award and was concerned over the integrity of the honours’ list. His actions in naming public projects after himself seem incongruent with his stated values and advocacy for due process and integrity. This is reminiscent of the criticisms he leveled at former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who in a few hours as a sitting president raised several billions from government contractors and state governors for his private library, employing quid pro quo tactics. Just as it was wrong then, it remains wrong now for any public servant to name projects built with public funds in their names.
This incident is emblematic of a larger culture of impunity where individuals commit acts of injustice without accountability. Public service is about stewardship of public resources and making decisions that benefit the public interest over personal gain. A functional public service system is characterized by transparency, accountability, and a commitment to the public good.
Looking at accountability in other countries, there are instances where public outcry and legal frameworks have led to significant consequences for corrupt officials. In some European nations, politicians found guilty of corruption or malfeasance have faced public shaming, legal repercussions, or even been physically thrown into dumpsters by protestors as a symbol of public disgust and demand for accountability.
To build a similar culture of accountability in Nigeria, several steps are necessary. Strengthening of legal frameworks to ensure all public spending is transparent and accounted for is crucial. This includes rigorous auditing systems and legal consequences for misappropriation of funds or corruption. Fostering a culture of public scrutiny and participation in governance is also essential, where citizens are educated and encouraged to hold their leaders accountable. This can be facilitated through the media, civic education, and open government initiatives. Finally, setting precedents by actually holding public officials accountable when they falter will serve as a deterrent for future misconduct and reassure the public that the system works.
For Nigeria to progress, a shift from a culture of impunity to one of accountability is essential. Only then can the public truly trust that their leaders are serving their interests, leading to a more engaged, informed, and empowered populace. As Wole Soyinka stated, “The greatest threat to freedom is the absence of criticism.” This quote underscores the importance of accountability through the act of criticism and questioning, which are vital for the health of any democratic society. Furthermore, Chinua Achebe’s words resonate deeply here: “One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised.” This speaks to the heart of accountability, emphasizing the importance of maintaining integrity and refusing to be swayed or compromised.
In conclusion, the path to a better Nigeria lies in establishing a strong accountability framework, educating the public on their rights and responsibilities, and ensuring that leaders are held to the highest standards of integrity and public service. It’s about changing mindsets, strengthening institutions, and collectively striving for a nation where public resources are utilized for the common good, and where public service is carried out with the utmost responsibility, transparency, and dedication to the welfare of all citizens. This is not just a vision but a mandate for all Nigerians, as we work together to build a nation that truly reflects our collective aspirations and values.