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Rotimi Fawole: I will make it my business to celebrate my sponsor

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Rotimi Fawole: I will make it my business to celebrate my sponsor

by Rotimi Fawole

Three to four years ago, when the Lagos State Government and the concessionaire of the Lekki-Epe Expressway made the initial announcement of their intention to commence tolling at the Admiralty Plaza, I was livid. At the time, I lived in the Abraham Adesanya Estate in Ajah and that road was the heaviest cross I had ever had to carry in my life at the time.

Due to the road works, anyone who lived from Victoria Garden City onwards (Epe-bound) needed to leave their homes between 4.00 and 4.30am to be sure of beating the morning rush. Leaving home at even 5am meant a guaranteed minimum of two and a half hours of traffic to get to Victoria Island. The return leg after work was also a guaranteed two hours unless one left Victoria island/Ikoyi after 9.30pm.

After the first phase of the road redevelopment was completed, journey times between the Law School and what is now the 3rd Lekki roundabout reduced significantly and, if you lived in Lekki Phase 1, this was great news. For the rest of us, however, whatever time we gained was completely lost over the remainder of the journey as several portions of the route had to first be narrowed before a third lane could be constructed, leading to severe congestion. Journeys still took the same times to complete. The net benefit of the glossy first section of the road, to us, was absolutely nil. However, as far as the government was concerned, law school to the end of ‘Phase 1’ had been widened and this was progress. We were ingrates.

The story is also told of the executive committee (‘exco’) staff cooperative society of a telecoms company accused, just before a new exco was elected, of mismanaging the society’s funds. Rather than responding to the allegations with facts and figures, the exco’s defence was that their predecessors-in-office were guilty of even larger misappropriation and that, at any rate, the cooperative society in a rival company had stolen twice what they were accused of stealing; that members ought to be grateful for the progress they had achieved, comparatively.

The current Federal administration, through its media triumvirate, has also frequently levelled allegations of ingratitude against Nigerians. The most recent of these accusations was on our insistence on not acknowledging the improvement in the supply of electricity nationwide (especially in discussions post-GEJ-on-Amanpour).

Electricity generation has improved by 40% since this president assumed office – why do we blatantly refuse to accept this?

The issue, again, is one of the net benefit. Generation may have increased by 40% but the real question, the sum of the matter, is by how much on the average has delivery to the consumer (transmission, if you will) increased? To adapt the President’s own expression, is your bulb lighting 40% more now than it used to before? Is your generator “onning” 40% less now?

This craving for adulation is not exclusive to the executive. A senator gave an interview on the television not too long ago and one of his “nuggets” for the viewing public was the proverb that “a child who shows gratitude for the little he receives today will receive even more tomorrow”. [Sidebar: if one also considers the recent Reno Omokri parable of the Old Wife, the New Wife and the Step-Mother, is the analogy to be drawn now that government considers us children?]

And only yesterday, the picture made the rounds on social media, of the billboard in Akwa Ibom State of “The Akwa Ibom Child’s Pledge” –

I will make it my business

                                To study my English Language

                                And master my Mathematics

                                Thus, find my future

                                And my own destiny

                                When this is finally done

                                I will celebrate my sponsor

                                Big Daddy, Chief Godswill Obot Akpabio, CON

                                Hip! Hip!! Hip!!! Hurray

This sycophant’s pledge is probably because a few schools have been renovated and compulsory primary education is being somewhat enforced. And this is a good thing.

However, we need to move beyond celebrating government for only perfunctorily doing what it should be doing. At any rate, I am yet to see proof that a paint job or even a general increase in the salaries of [poor quality] staff will lead to brighter, better educated pupils. But the government wants eternal thanks, by way of a daily ode to His Excellency the governor.

This attitude of “at all, at all, na im bad pass” confers very little net benefit (if any) and engenders mediocrity. In 2013, there are some state and local governments that want to be celebrated for digging boreholes or painting the alphabet on school fences. Yes, it is something but it is nothing close to what will truly empower people to break the shackles of poverty.

Government is a thankless task and we should no longer measure progress in comparison to what was previously obtainable. Progress needs to be measured relative to what our needs or requirements actually are.

Yes, electricity generation may have increased by 40% but if we need it to increase by 400%, is the gain not merely a flicker on the progress gauge? Yes, more public officials are being charged for corruption now than 5 years ago but without convictions or adequate sentencing, can it be said that progress is being made in the fight against corruption. Government says it wants to make doing business easier and liberalises its visa regime but if bureaucracy in the CAC increases (they want directors to submit passport photos with each form now) and tax regimes are not disentangled, what is the net benefit to businesses?

Let us not permit public officials to get away with simply making the right noises or shuffling along in what looks like the right direction. Let us demand that reasonable long-term targets are set, with definitive, measurable milestones and key performance indicators. Only then will we have a true idea of how well our public administrators are doing, in the scheme of things.

Rotimi is a professional cautionist (all practising lawyers are) trying to transpose the silicon valley dream into legal practice. Armed with nothing but his guitar, law degrees and sardonic wit and humour, he’s on a quest to make sense of it all – government, business, humanity and Arsene Wenger’s transfer policy.

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