Empty Promises Full of Corruption
Recently, I wrote (as part of this series) a blog on how the unreliability of government statistics in Nigeria has made it more difficult to assess progress in the country on many fronts. It is either the figures are cooked by officials or made up of imaginary numbers plucked out of thin air. No wonder many Nigerians do not see a similarity between their daily experiences and government figures. This is a problem at both State and Federal levels.
In this follow-up article I want to challenge the government further to stop the habit of making promises whose attainment can only be confirmed by itself rather than the people of the country. In many areas of life in the country; the government couches its promises in manners that make assessment of fulfillment almost impossible and susceptible to tampering.
Let me give some examples. The government came out and said; we will deliver nationally, x KW of Electricity by the end of 2014. So what does x KW mean to you and I. Absolutely nothing. Instead the government should be saying; we are promising every home connected to the national grid in Nigeria x-Hrs of electricity everyday. This is measurable by every home and fulfillment of such promise is easy to ascertain. It is disingenuous of government to keep couching their promises in ways that only they can verify. It is possible for the government to genuinely meet the x KW target they promise, without any benefit to Nigerian homes. What if a few heavy industries take on the extra Wattage. The government would have met its target; yet you and I will still live in darkness as before. Who can then be sure if indeed the government met that target.
Similarly; government tend to come and say things like; we will invest x Billion Naira extra in education this year. But what does that mean to you and I? Again that figure means nothing. Rather it is easier for the government to say we will provide x number of new Teachers in every government schools this year. That is easy for us to verify and fulfillment of that promise will be apparent to all. But rather than take this easy route successive governments seem addicted to making promises, whose fulfillment is unverifiable by the general citizenry. I can give you more examples of Nigerian government making promises in figures that do not make sense to an average citizen.
The root of this approach in my view is corruption. This brings to mind my challenge to a governor of one of the Western states a few years ago when we were on the same flight from London to Lagos. We met through a mutual friend. I asked why he kept saying his administration will invest x Billion Naira on roads; instead of saying he would deliver x Kilometers of good roads in the state. The latter is easy to verify by all; but the former is impossible to verify by the people. His administration could have spent x Billion naira on roads (at least awarded the contracts); but the people may still fail to see any difference in their appalling road conditions. The governor was surprisingly frank in his response to my question. He said that promising x Billion naira is easier for him to deliver. But the x Billion could be used for x or y kilometers of road; depending on how much money he wants to make. So N1Billion could be used to construct 5Kilometers or 50Kilometers; depending on how greedy or corrupt the governor is. So it is possible for the governor to have indeed spent x Billion naira as promised on roads and yet no discernable improvement in most roads in the state.
Both federal and sate governments in Nigeria are guilty of this deception. We should all begin to insist on clearer verifiable promises from the government. So next time a minister says the government promise to spend x Billion naira on anything; ask him to explain what that translates to in actual outcomes that we can verify and hold him accountable for. Giving out a contract for x Billion naira is enough for the government to say they have fulfilled their promise. We should measure their delivery by tangible concrete outcomes as it is done in the west.
In the UK; the Labour government promised to spend £2Billion extra on schools in 2001. But they then explained that it would mean the repair or rebuild of run-down buildings in 500 UK Schools. This promise later led to the ‘building schools for the future’ programme. The schools were then named, area-by-area. So at the end of the administration; people could go to these schools and see for themselves the new buildings. It was easy to verify the promise has been met. That is accountability. Simply throwing figures around is not enough.
This is one of the subtle ways Nigerian government are making themselves unaccountable. We should all insist from now on that all government promise should be expressed in concrete outcomes that we all can verify; rather than just throwing around numbers that make no sense to the people. This is one of the foundations of a just and progressive society.