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Nigerians, Government And The Right To Know!

By Osilama Okuofu

Sixteen unbroken years into our present democratic experience and Nigerians are none better than what transpired under the military regimes where the likes of WalterOfonagoro, the late Senator Uche Chukwumerije and Wada Nas held sway as information managers dishing out half-truths and bare-faced blatant lies to a nonplussed populace who watched, mouth agape, at the turning of truth on its head.

The reality on ground

Question a government policy, action or plan today and you will have a horde of ill-tempered officials swarming around you with insults rather than dealing with the issues raised.

One begins to wonder if, by the actions of these information managers, Nigerians have a right to question those they elected.

Nothing brings this to fore presently than the recent request by the Edo State government for the release of USD75 million being the second tranche of a World Bank facility which the President sent to the Nigerian senate for consideration.

The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state led by its chairman, Dan OsiOrbih, kicked against the request demanding to know what the government of AdamsOshiomole did with the first tranche to justify this request.

The argument put forward in opposing the loan draw-down is that the state is presently overburdened with a huge and seemingly unserviceable debt overhang, given its dwindling resources as well as a scattering of so many abandoned projects littering the state with special reference to the flagship project of the government: the Benin Water Storm Project.

Rather than deal with the issues raised, the state’s commissioner for information, Louis Odion, came out swinging with a blistering write up using unprintable and indecent expletives you would not expect from a public official and especially one who, having been a managing editor of a Nigerian newspaper house, should showcase the fine ethics of journalism.

The question that tugs my mind is, if we cannot get responses to our enquiries as citizens, how then do we buy into government activities and be patriotic in defending our elected leaders?

I believe that the right to ask questions and receive correct answers in return are inalienable in the social contract between the government and the governed, else accountability would be thrown to the dogs.

I t is also my conviction that no society will emerge politically, economically and socially if a people are starved of the right information as information breeds knowledge and that in return, power!

We look today towards America as the shining light of democratic ethos but this would not be if Americans were treated with disdain in the area of information dissemination.

The truth about bad governance

Imagine what that society would be going through today if the culture of telephone tapping, sleaze and other forms of corrupt cover-ups that took place during the Richard Nixon presidency had two ordinary journalists, eventually supported by ‘Big Throat’, not been given the free hand to investigate that government opened up bad governance that led to a senate hearing and eventual resignation of President Nixon from office.

The culture of impunity would have been entrenched, and progressively, leaders would stop being accountable to those who voted them in and the greatness of that society would have been undermined.

I would therefore implore those saddled with managing our public information services to be decent and forthright in dealing with enquiries by the public as we are all stakeholders in this entity called Nigeria and differences in political affiliations should not divide us to the point of being obnoxious and disagreeable as is presently playing out in Edo State. You do not win debates that way and certainly not friends.

Now while the debate rages on in the blogosphere, pages of newspapers as the Nigerian senate prepares to look into the request sent by President Buhari, I, even at the risk of being maligned by those who think they have more right than I do in the running of the affairs of my state, would like to know what the government of Edo State did with the first tranche released by the World Bank; as this would give me an indication of how the second tranche requested would be spent, should the approval be given.

How Nigerian leaders mismanage money

The argument by some that the World Bank has expressed satisfaction with the utilisationof the $75 million does not wash with me. Whether we utilise it well or not, the money is covered by sovereign collateral and will surely be paid back. After all, this country has been saddled with previous such loans that were badly managed but still had to be repaid, and in this wise, one may question the real intent of that international agency in the developmental strides of our country.

Nigerians’ right to know cannot be questioned and reduced to a ‘need to know’ basis. The Freedom of Information bill has taken care of that and government officials should stop acting like they are doing us a favour, behave with unbridled arrogance but only become contrite and humble when going around asking for our votes.

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