According to the media, a cross-section of the Nigerian elite recently gathered at the Kaduna International Trade Fair. They had reason to do so: it was the formal launching of Alhaji Shehu Shagari’s biography: “Tarihio Shehu Shagari.” However, two items caught my attention. The first was the statement by the former president that absolves the 1983 coupists who terminated his duly constituted government; the second was the spending habits of some state government.
Shehu Shagari has the right to pardon all those who wronged him. That’s his right. It is his prerogative and his duty, especially as a religious and spiritual person, to forgive those who injured him. His actions and pronouncements are all fine with me. However, what I resentment, and what offends my sensibility is the spending habit of some state governments who went on a spending jamboree in purchasing Shagari’s memoir. And I especially took umbrage to the wasteful spending habits of the Bayelsa state government and governor. The governor’s action was careless, thoughtless and wasteful!
The fact that it is Shehu Shagari’s book is not what is vexing me; what is worrisome is the fact that successive state and federal government (in Nigeria) have grown accustomed to doling out millions of naira of public money to their posse whenever there is a book outing or an occasion to launch a product, christen a building or partake in social events. If an ex-this or an ex-that writes a book, he or she is guaranteed millions of naira no matter how terrible or useless the book might be. In other words: it is not how useful or how well-written a book is that matters; but who you know and who knows you that determines if the time spent researching and writing the book is well spent. And more often than not, these books are nothing but a collection and collation of praises and nonsense; and are therefore academically worthless!
In all, about thirty million naira was realized at the occasion. Rivers, Gombe and Kaduna States for instance, each spent one million Naira to purchase copies of the book; while Nassarawa and Bayelsa state governments spent two million naira each for copies of the said book. As a Bayelsan, I do not understand why Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha would spend two million naira to buy copies of a book written in Hausa — especially since Bayelsa is inhabited by natives who speak, read and write in the Ijaw and English language.
And even if the book was written in the English language, there still would have been no justification to spend such an amount on a biography that is not likely to add to the educational value of the indigenes. The book is not a required text in our primary and post primarily schools; and neither is it a required reading in our institution of higher learning. Does the Niger Delta University have a department of modern languages that teaches Hausa? Can the Governor read Hausa texts? If the governor is spending that much money on an inconsequential book; one wonders how much of our money he has spent, over the years, on other frivolous projects.
How many public libraries are there in the state capital and in all the cities and hamlets that dots Bayelsa State? It is not as though “Tarihio Shehu Shagari” is a chemistry, biology or computer science text book. It is not even a book that is recommended by the state ministry of education. Besides, no one knows whether the book is appropriate for our schools. Yet, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, the executive governor of the state, found it necessary to spend two million naira on a book that is destined for storage room and empty bookshelves.
Now, two million naira may not seem much to some people and to the rest of Nigeria; but to the people tucked away in the tributaries and mangroves of the Delta and to those perched at the mouth of River Nun, even two hundred thousand naira is quite significant.
Spending two million naira on Shagari’s memoir is a waste of public fund. Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha should therefore straighten his public priorities. His wasteful ways are not our priority. Not at all! It is two millions naira today; tomorrow, it may as well be three million and then five million and so on and so forth. Sooner or later, the governor will spend hundreds of million of naira on frivolous projects, on white elephants and on pipe dreams. This is not a sensible and prudent way to spend public fund!
This kind of spending is tantamount to fiscal irresponsibility. It does not serve the state’s long or short term objectives. The memoir will not contribute to the welfare of the common man in Sampou, Odi, Amassoma, Angiama, Epketiama, Agbere and elsewhere. Did the Bayelsa State Assembly make budgetary provision for this monetary jamboree? It does not make sense to waste such amount of money especially considering the state of Bayelsa state. If Alamieyeseigha wanted to spend money on memoirs, well, the Isaac Boro biography is waiting to be written. We the Ijaws have our own concerns and our own underdevelopment issues to tackle.
One laudable project the governor has undertaken is the Niger Delta University. And then there are some roads and some other commendable ventures and policies. It is not the intention of this commentator to take away from, or to diminish the importance of some of the good things the governor is doing — or, has done. But his best is not good enough. After almost five years at the helm of state affairs our people ought to be able to point to more achievements — achievements that will stand the test of time.
This commentator hereby calls on Governor Alamieyeseigha to build more roads to link our cities and far-out communities. He should build clinics, hospitals, water treatment plants, and industries to provide our youth gainful employment. And all these the government can provide (especially in concert with private entities). The governor should therefore concentrate his time, energy and our money on such issues — instead of wasting our money in Kaduna, Abuja, Minna, Lagos and elsewhere.
If we didn’t have an “Izon-governor,” we would have vigorously complained about federal neglect and marginalization. But that is not the case. No need wishing for an Ijaw governor — we already have one. Yet, we are at the lowest rung of the development ladder. What is the matter? One is not expecting miracle from the governor and his supporting cast. No. Governance is not easy. And indeed we have our peculiar problems. Fortunately, the governor still has time to turn the corner. He has time to make more measurable, visible, and lasting progress.
Today the Governor is in the US, tomorrow he is in Paris, and the next day he is in Casablanca or in Abuja. What is he running away from? He should sit in Creek Haven and among our people to do his job. Traversing the globe will not do our people any good. The dollars and euros being spent on hotel accommodation, air-tickets, security details and other miscellaneous expenses are better spent on our people and on our collective challenges. Come to think of it: what has he learnt by junketing the globe? What American, European or Asian idea/ideal has he implemented in Bayelsa? What Asian, European, or American governing philosophy had rubbed off of him? In all his many travels overseas what has the Governor learnt and implemented that is to the glory of Bayelsa and Ijawnation?
Granted government can’t and shouldn’t be expected to do it all; government can and should provide enabling environment for private businesses to thrive. We want a government that is responsible and responsive so that our people can feel the presence of government in their lives. We want our money to be well spent; and not spent on non-value adding books and projects. Token projects here and there are not enough for our land and our people. Pretentious feasibility studies are not what our people want. Grandiose speeches will not assuage our people’s fear and suffering. Invoking the name of the almighty God cannot and will not erase the facts of life in Bayelsa.
History, Alamieyeseigha must understand, is never kind to those who, in times of crisis failed to step up to the plate. Ijawland is in a crisis. Posterity is never kind to those who failed to make a difference in the lives of their people. This governor has all the chances in the world to be on the right side of history, but he is slipping and sliding and about to drop the ball. My prayers are with him. The governor has no reason to fail. He has no reason to be an underachiever. He has no reason to be a mediocre governor with average achievement. No. My God, no! This man is as smart and intelligent as any of his contemporaries and he also has the wherewithal at his disposal to be a great success!
History and posterity matters; therefore, this Izon man, this trained military officer; this governor should strive to do more…much more, so history can absolve him and posterity welcome him. He should strive to do more…much more, for our people and for our land so history and posterity will be kind to him in which case his name will be etched in the annals of Ijaw history. Governor Alamieyeseigha has time to do great work and be a great man. It is not too late. If the governor succeeds, we all succeed and it will be to the glory of Ijawland. He could begin the process by reorienting his thinking, surround himself with first-rate cast, be responsive and responsible to the people, and curtail his wasteful spending habit.
A two-million naira book…oh, no! What are we suppose to do with “Tarihio Shehu Shagari.” What?