In ancient Greece where democracy originated from every man had a say and participated in the process of governance. However the complexity of modern society has made it impossible for all of us to directly participate in governance. Ordinarily we should be doing so through our representatives whom we have elected to public offices and the few men and women they have chosen to work with them.
They are duty bound to create different forums to interact with us and give us the opportunity to assess their stewardship, tell them what they are doing right or wrong while we jointly work out the way forward. However most of them only come to us when the next election is knocking at the door. And after getting our mandate, they simply ‘vanish’ only to come around again during the next round of election. It is therefore a welcome development that the Federal Government has not waited for an election year before opening its book to us. Citizens now have an opportunity to assess the performance of government and give feedback through the ongoing National Good Governance Tour.
The importance of the tour can also be viewed from the perspective that those in power hold their position in trust for the people and they ought to tell us how the power, which we delegate to them through our votes, is being used. Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed of Kwara State may have provided the best reason d’être for the tour. According to him, “Government needs to assess the impact its project have had in the country and how the resources allocated have been utilized.” That should therefore be the goal of all citizens wherever the tour berths. It should not be a time for subtle or open campaign or denigration of political opponents. It should also not be turned to an avenue to praise government functionaries at any level to high heavens when they are simply doing what they are elected to do. At all stops, the National Good Governance Tour should be a sober moment for close interaction between the governed and the government. It should provide relevant agencies an opportunity for self and external assessment. The interaction should open a window into the impact of government policies, projects and programs on the people. The tour should not be about statistics. It should be about real projects and real people.
Therefore the town hall meeting should be regarded as the most important component of the tour. The people must be allowed to bare their minds and the government must listen through the drivers of the tour and other relevant officials. We must be allowed to ask questions and seek clarifications about how we are being governed. This is the only way to break the vicious cycle of elected representatives of the people abandoning their constituents just after each election. Through this we will all be contributing to the deepening of democracy by making government accountable to the people.
For instance the town hall meeting that took place in the course of the Abuja tour was very revealing and engaging. It gave Nanadi Usman, a public affairs analyst, the opportunity to take Labaran Maku, the minister of Information, who is also the chief coordinator of the tour and Ngozi Okonjo Iweala,the minister of Finance to task on the slow implementation of budget. Bash Ali, a well known boxer also had the chance to publicly complain that the minister of FCT, did not givehim the opportunity to discuss his planto set up a sports academyin Abuja. The market leader in the FCT also asked for the quick completion of the Abuja-Lokoja road and the modernizationof the Kubwa and Karu abattoirs. From all indications more people will get the opportunity to speak and seek explanation when the tour gets to their state.
It is their right. And they can count on Minister Maku to ensure this. According to Maku, “Under military rule, there was no need to explain anything to the people. But under a democratic dispensation there is need to let the citizens know what government is doing to bring development to them. Good governance is the frank exchange of views between the government and the people. Nigerians now have the opportunity to challenge their leaders. The National Good Governance Tour is revolutionary. Leaders now know that they must give account to the people periodically.” By sanctioning the tour President Goodluck Jonathan has once again lived up to his promise to allow rule of law flourish under his watch.
From what we have seen so far there is something remarkably different in the organization of the tour .It is different from the way it’s been done before. Here we are not just talking about junketing from one state to another and showcasing projects. What is going on is a critical assessment of projects being executed by different levels of government and the people being allowed to have a say in the way the affair of their locality is being run. While the assessment of the performance of government at different levels may be regarded as critical, the major gain of the tour is that we are deepening the process of democracy and holding the government accountable to the people.
A word of advice here. The process of deepening democracy should not end with the tour. The end of the tour should actually signal the beginning of the task of those involved in the process. Government having collated responses and feedback from the people must task relevant officials and agencies at all levels to respond to the demand of the people. That they can begin to do now since some locations had already been visited. Efforts must now be redoubled to fix the Abuja- Lokoja Road. The abattoir in Kubwa and Karu must be modernized. The Abuja –Ilorin road that forced the Good Governance tour team to endure a 15 hour ordeal must be rehabilitated. Bash Ali too must have his day with Bala Mohammed ,the minister of FCT if he had not done so already. The federal government and the Plateau State Government must now begin to look at funding options for the rehabilitation of the Jos –Bukuru water project. And the progress seen in the rehabilitation of the country’s rail network and power projects must be sustained.
For now let the tour continue and let the people continue to have their say and benchmark the performance of governments at different levels . That is how to deepen democracy.
Adelaja Adebanjo contributed this piece from Ijebu Ode and can be reached via