I believe if Nigerians who consider themselves patriots all kept their eyes on progress being made on their own states of origin, spent half the time getting to know better and constructively criticizing their state governors, and local government chairmen, we’ll have more responsible state chief executives. Unfortunately, most people seem more interested in focusing on the tertiary tier of government which really should be the responsibility of their elected federal legislators who should report back to them. Isn’t this fixation on the FG retrogressive on our primary and secondary tiers of government which carry on, tenure after tenure, without impacting substantial changes on the lives of their citizens? Are we not carrying out our laudable intentions wrongly? Shouldn’t we hold our state executives responsible for our well being and for provision of facilities in our towns and cities? Isn’t it time we made it clear to them that we hold them responsible for our immediate security, for safeguarding our lives, property, our children? What messages, what signals do we send them when we perpetually bypass them as our primary providers, jump the gun and scream blue murder at the tetiary arm of government?
When Chief Melford Okilo was the Governor of Rivers State, he single-handedly sourced for technological know-how as well as pull in a plethora of exotic funds to provide the Old Rivers State (including all of today’s Bayelsa) with the Oil Gas Turbine Electrification Project. My hometown Odual that (till date) was not connected to the national grid suddenly had (free) electricity 24 hours, uninterrupted! Chief Melford Okilo dug several canals along our water ways, across the state in that my village which took about four hours of terror through the winding creek ways became shortened to 45minutes! This was in addition to the the fact that the installation of the gas turbine project actually led to the path-carving of an alternative motor-able route through the swamps which we use during the dry season till date!
Chief Melford Okilo built a world-class state university that for several years, had the best equipped faculty with state-of-the-art laboratories for chemical and petrochemical engineering, and other disciplines in engineering. He opened the Rivers State audio-training center which in these days would be called Business Schools. He built the ultra-modern civic center with 3 olympic sized swimming pools and football stadium attached to it. This is just mentioning a few examples as there are several more.
As an NPN Governor, Chief Melford Okilo succeeded in eliciting so much patriotism and self pride in the Rivers man. He established the award-winning and (for several years) unbeatable Radio Rivers 2 FM where the first news in pidgin English in the world was aired from, sensitizing the Rivers people on the objectives of the government and the progress being made in governance. Information was being disseminated and even little children became interested in listening to the news! He thoroughly bridged the information gap between the government and the governed. The youths in the state began to aspire high. Soon we had young people who wanted to study law or engineering because their able governor had provided those opportunities for them. Unfortunately the medical school was supposed to come at a latter phase in the development of the state university, but did not get see the light of day due to General Buhari’s coup. Even though they taught medicine at the federal university in the state (University of Port-Harcourt), the average Rivers state citizen didn’t consider it as much within their horizon as they considered the state-owned university provided for them by their state governor. As a consequence, the state records a far lower turn out in the number of medical doctors compared to lawyers till date! I think at a time the ratio stood at 12:1! Amazing isn’t it? That the simply input of a good State Governor could influence so much. There came a growing interest in mass communication, journalism and philosophy in young ‘Riverians’ as he stock huge quantities of resource on these subjects in libraries.
Growing up in that time, Chief Okilo was my governor, my president, my mentor. Alhaji Shehu Shagari in my mind’s eye seemed like a distant big figure, very gentle and always seemed to be in a far place. In fact I wasn’t sure about the role he really played. I knew I was Rivers. I was proud to be one because Governor Okilo ensured that. He provided books and desks in my school, paid my school teachers on time and that made them teach me my English, Maths, Science, Fine Arts, French, P.E and many other interesting subjects. Our libraries had story books, and work books were free.
Although a child, I was consciously aware that my state governor was interested in my studies, I felt he ‘cared’. I felt like a looked-after citizen and it gave me a sense of pride. His speeches at Children’s Day celebrations gave me hope: tangible hope. I lapped up every instruction he announced to my parents and my teachers during his broadcasts.
My city, Port-Harcourt was calm and beautiful. My state governor made sure the parks and gardens were cleaned up and children were able to go there and feel safe while playing. Watching the garden tenders at the large Isaac Boro Park from my classroom window across the road always inspired me to plant more flowers at home. No wonder I still go to the park here in London and almost always find I’m the only ‘black’ person among whites even though I have other Nigerians in my neighbourhood. ..
I started writing this as a 4 or 5 line post but there’s just so much to say about the benefits of a really effective state chief executive. The merits cannot be over emphazised. The earlier we lay emphasis on seeing tangible, verifiable and quantifiable development and look in the right direction for that, ask the right questions to the right parties, demand results rather than politicize our expectations and the source from which our expectations and demands are provided from, the earlier we might salvage this malignant situation our country is faced with.
We (objective) critics too need to fall in line: use the existing structures and make them work for us, otherwise we are almost as culpable as any group who insists on getting answers without following due process or working within the standard framework provided. We should task ourselves and get the structures to work without breaking ranks either back or forth or we stand as guilty and as indisciplined. Yes as we join and muddle issues, create a lot of noise causing emotional, mental and psychological stress within the polity, we are as guilty in our actions… but we are doing even much worse
The brazen attacks at the central government without as much as a corresponding examination on our state administrators is taking a toll on the very fine and fragile thread of whatever is left of what holds us together. We are loosing our country, Nigeria! No wonder a school of concern is desperate for an SNC (I’m not against it although I’m yet to buy into it sufficiently enough to advocate for it). The demand is a backdrop of our dysfunctional structures. Should we just accept it as an easy way out? How do we hold what we have now? How do we make the best of what we have on ground? Certainly not by the cacophony of individual and divergent disparaged voices and views that are NOT delivering the much needed answers but only sending out the the worst impressions about the state of our nation across the globe!
Perhaps, for the sanctity of our polity, for the sake of the cohesiveness of our nation, in the spirit of nationhood, for the love of our country, our fatherland, we should take a breath. We should re-examine our original framework and demand that it accounts to us and it works for us! That it works, it endures, it matures into a viable institution that commands respect. The office of the mayor of London is an institution. It’s not subservient to the random whims of the Office of the PM. This is so because it has been nurtured and empowered by the people to make it independent, to make it work, to make it deliver!
We must make our primary and secondary tiers of goverment function by demanding of them, by watching them and enabling them grow, labour and speak for us. How can we make out time to breathe down their necks if we are dissipating energy in the wrong place? How can we ever repair the endemic dysfunctionality and entrenched systematic failures in our civic life, social life and politics if we ourselves, patriots, are become agents operating disfunctionally?
We draw closer and closer to the moment of truth, every second and every word, every action counts. Seen and unseen forces fight against our peace, our unity, our sovereignty. Are we going to assist these forces by our inaction in making our structures work and balanced?