The underbelly of our ‘good governance’
After writing my last article, I began to meditate on the direction of my next. I decided it would be about financial accountability as a critical pillar of democratic governance and I began to arrange my thoughts on how best to marshal my points for impact. That was before two videos went viral on social media.
The first was of an armed policeman squaring up to robbers at a bank in Owerri. He took out the robber that strayed towards the security post and then ran out of the camera shot, with another of the robbers emerging from the rear of the car, giving chase. That robber remained in the camera shot though, and the way he discharged the last few rounds led me to believe the policeman had been seriously wounded. News would emerge to confirm that suspicion. Further news is that he had seven children with his wife and there has been no intervention from either the bank he died defending or the service for which he worked. One surviving police officer is said to need millions of naira for surgery on the wounds he sustained during the gun-battle. He too is currently fending for himself.
The second video was of a eulogy cum press conference by a leading National Road and Transport Union Worker, ‘Taloskibo’, at the funeral and memorial procession for ‘Hamburger’, a fellow union leader who’d just been murdered. Surrounded by his caporegimes and troops, Taloskibo told the story of how the turf war between himself, Hamburger and MC Oluwo (both deceased) on the one hand and the faction of MC Oluomo on the other, led to the eventual death of his comrades and had left him a marked man as well. He alleged that all of them were also political soldiers for the ruling elite in Lagos State and that the nemesis of his faction, MC Oluomo, had bragged about having the State Commissioner of Police under his thumb. The video was a vivid reminder of Louis Theroux’s “Law and Disorder in Lagos,” in which he’d revealed some of the inner workings of the NURTW. Quite a few of the leaders featured in the documentary have died of the most violent and unnatural of causes since. And, following Taloskibo’s video, there was news of violence in Oshodi and the temporary proscription of the warring gang-unions by the governor of Lagos State.
Both videos, perhaps the second video in a much greater degree than the former, highlighted the failure of all our governments to date – failures in education, welfare, security and social security, arguably the real markers of development. Society frequently complains about extortion and indiscipline by servicemen but there is very little by way of a welfare package for those who pay the ultimate price in the line of duty and their families. This is a complaint that has also been voiced by soldiers in the frontlines of the Boko Haram combats, also in viral videos that have embarrassed the High Command to the extent that severe sanctions have now been announced as awaiting soldiers who post such videos going forward. There is the real question of the incentive for the few good eggs who pursue their work with diligence.
The transport union gangs are evidence of a failed and totally shattered public education system. The South West of Nigeria is frequently spoken of as the greatest beneficiary of free education, following Independence, but this teeming army of armed, violent, semi-literate, levy-collecting men masking as a union of public transportation drivers have clearly fallen through the cracks and are extremely frightening. These men fight for turf because collecting levies off the members of the union who do the actual driving and from members of the public who use public car parks (some unofficial and not demarcated at all) is extremely lucrative. This, in addition to the eye-watering amounts of money they are allegedly given by the ruling elite to hold rallies and so on, make the quest for supremacy a literal life or death affair.
What, then, is the point of any urbane, forward-looking politician campaigning in mainland Lagos, with promises of a brighter future? It was only in May that these same people disrupted the local council primaries in Lagos, tearing the clothes off the chairman of the primaries, a former Senator of the federal republic. What sort of rhetoric would allow free votes of conscience in those areas? How many generations of rigorous compulsory education and social welfare will it take to reverse the damage to the lives of the families in those areas?
“Good governance” has become a euphemism for roads and bridges only. A few bridges, a few kilometres of resurfaced roads and governors are deemed ‘great’. At least they’re not diverting the entire treasury into private pockets, right? Of course, it is a good thing when tangible, physical public infrastructure is developed or improved. However, if these become the sole measure of the government’s impact on the lives of ordinary people, then we have an even longer journey ahead than most anticipate. Nigerians provide their own security in their estates, provide their own water, provide their own electricity, fix their own inner city roads or buy bigger cars, educate their children outside the public education system, avoid public hospitals if they can afford to, and the list goes on. Who then are public facilities good enough for? The officers who die on the frontlines and their families, right? Right?