Friday, 16 September 2011

Editorial: Unravelling our inscrutable government processes

Hoarding essential information

Nigeria in terms is an obscure and inscrutable country especially when it comes to the government and the democracy we run.

Every once in a while we happen upon some gem of information about process, procedure or mostly the abuse of process and power of those who have assumed responsibility by hard work, graft, hook or crook but it is never freely obtainable.

The government media organs are so beholden to the powers that be that they have become propaganda tools of political potentates and their cohorts rather than disseminators of cogent information that is due the citizenry of the country.

Distracted by constitutional sleight

A case in point was when the UN Building was bombed in Abuja last month as every international media outlet was reporting in the matter, the National Television Authority was broadcasting the animist Osun festival and never got to reporting the national tragedy for hours.

The Nigerian Constitution which in terms should be the rulebook or maybe the guidebook of government and governance is as ambiguous as any interpretation will allow, where issues end up in the courts, the players obtain justice by SAN intimidation – SAN being Senior Advocate of Nigeria – any side can easily take up to 6 SANs to court as representatives, it is utterly absurd.

The cynical ploy employed by the disruptive element of the Presidential Special Adviser on New Media presenting reading the constitution as the panacea to democratic representation on Twitter is devious, disingenuous and without doubt knowingly a distraction.

We have had the Freedom of Information Act promulgated and signed but I have not seen people pick it up and use it with a vengeance, it is like once we got the Act signed that was the end as opposed to the means to an end.

No matter whose ox is gored

There are very few bold politicians or public figures who can put their heads above the parapet and simply speak out without dissimulation, from the erstwhile President Olusegun Obasanjo whose brutish expression is in need of a modicum of finesse to Sanusi Lamido Sanusi whose candour puts the frights in many especially the legislature when he exposed the atrocious cost of that lackadaisical cabal of blowhards.

Beyond the occasional exposé in the newpapers and the guerrilla press where proprietors risk running the gauntlet of the supine security services and thin-skinned megalomaniacs, the only other insight we have had into how we are governed has come from the US diplomatic cables leaked by WikiLeaks.

Somehow, the US Envoy to Nigeria engaged many of the political class whose inferiority complex in being invited to dialogue was evident in their inability to keep their counsel or be discreet – never have such a mob in aggrandising themselves with a foreign ambassador skirted what would be the boundaries of treasonable felony in other countries, it is a shame but for those of us who have sifted through the WikiLeaks troves we find some interesting anomalies in how we are misgoverned and the brokers that make Nigerian literally ungovernable.

An insider giving insight

Lastly, there is Nasir El-Rufai who at one time was the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory with a seat at the cabinet and for all intents and purposes an insider, a key figure in the inner sanctum of Nigerian politics.

Today, he is a member of the opposition, a somewhat strident opponent of the government with sheaves of information that the government would rather the citizenry had no inkling of and if they did, it would first have been processed by the propaganda mill that embellishes intention, misrepresents it as fact and spews out what is closer to fantastic fables.

Now, Mallam El-Rufai may not be the friend of many and there are some that are implacably opposed to the man, whatever he has to say – I for one cannot vouch for how he managed his tenure of service, I just know he was counted worthy to be asked to serve and he did his bit.

The verdict however will be down to a spectrum of perceptions from commendably excellent through rank hypocrisy to atrociously corrupt, none of which particular bothers me.

A service we should treasure

Where Mallam El-Rufai comes into his own is the incontrovertible data he is able to produce to support his opinions which could be objective, subjective or pandering to some ulterior motive.

One can so easily be distracted by all that and miss out the gems of information provided in the data and analysis – I for one think Mallam El-Rufai is providing an essential service in putting necessary data in the public domain until such a time that we can more easily find empirical data to answer questions we might have about our government structures.

It goes without saying that Nigeria does need a fact-checking service that assesses government policy and announcements for impact, truth, corroboration, propaganda peddling, vested interest, bias and so on.

Until then, we have to deal with snippets of information, tales, rumour and the crumbs of lax controls of classified material along with a few “good” men to unravel the beast of our democracy.

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