By Abdullah Abdulganiy
I have taken my time to study religiously the back and forth arguments that have ensued over time as a result of the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill in Kwara State. After my careful observation, I surmise that the Kwara State House of Assembly may be on a mission of self-destruction which will not only erode its popularity but also cast doubt on its oft-taunted people-centrism.
No doubt, the Assembly has started well and is, to a reasonable extent, still doing well. “Freaky freaky” for it. All but one of its members are first timer lawmakers, nonetheless, it has clearly demonstrated a high level of diligence and excellence. But again, there are some things called “intangibles”. They are so-called because they may appear insignificant, but they matter a lot.
Intangibles have the tendency of lasting longer in the memories of the people than even the tangibles once they are poorly managed. The Freedom of Information Bill, FOI for short, could be situated in the context of “intangibles” in my view. As unimportant as they are, intangibles can make a nonsense of tangibles if proper care is not taken.
IBB. Do you know him? Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida was a former Head of State. Majority believe he’s evil. It wasn’t that he performed as bad as he’s painted, but what he perhaps considered intangible consumed him. IBB carried out various developmental strides. However, the singular fact that he annulled June 12 elections will continue to haunt him forever.
Who remembers IBB as the one who built the popular Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos? But at the mention of his name, what comes to the mind of virtually everyone is June 12. “Something insignificant,” IBB must have thought. But here he is today. Ditto Abacha.
President Buhari has served and still is serving the country with his heart and might. We have witnessed major unprecedented human capital development projects under him. But at that, the allegation of skewed appointment, nepotism may haunt him forever if not properly managed. He’d be mentioned in the future, and nobody would remember social investment programmes, but skewed appointments. Why? Bad things sell faster.
Against this background, I observe that if the issue of FOI Bill is not properly managed, it may haunt the Assembly and particularly the Speaker, Mr Yakub Danladi, who is the leader of the house, in the future. The government of AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq may equally not be spared. It is in this light that I caution the Assembly against this journey of self-destruction. Or what shall it profit a man, to gain the whole world but lose his life, as the Bible puts it?
Too much ado about the bill. It’s getting nauseating and discomfiting. One year plus down the line, a people-centric, transparency-oriented bill is yet to be passed while many others have scaled through. What’s it about the bill? Is the Assembly hiding something from the public? There’s definitely more to it than meets the eyes.
First, the cheap propaganda of making amendments to the bill was sold to the public. We (Sorry, I: I can’t really speak for others) believed. “But how many months does it take to make amendments,” the people queried. “Should it take donkey’s years or forever,” I add. If it were to be a bill in the self-interest of the lawmakers, they know how to pass it within the twinkle of an eye. So, this line is not selling again. “Oh, coronavirus disturbed it from being passed”. This is also not enough excuse. Why did it not stop others?
Then to another well-memorised line: the law has been passed at the Federal level. I ask, any crime to domesticate it when many other states have done? The open truth is that if the Assembly wants to decline the bill, let it do, after all, it has the power. The delay is becoming unbecoming. The rigmarole and rhetoric are not selling again. But you don’t stop a recalcitrant COVIDIOT from catching the novel coronavirus if he has what it takes to live in isolation and under ventilators.
Most of you lawmakers rode to office on the emotion of “O to ge”. It’s a statement of fact. Such bonanza may not be available in 2023. People will subject you to scrutiny and rigorous assessment regarding your performance, and the intangibles such as the FOI Bill will surely count.
Somebody is asking the benefits to get if the bill is passed. Plentiful. Even the lawmakers are not denying the immense benefits embedded in the bill. What’s keeping them waiting is what I can’t really fathom. Some of the issues bordering on transparency would not have reared their ugly heads. It’ll further entrench open and participatory governance, which is the signature of the AbdulRazaq-led administration.
The ENetSUD guys are really trying. It takes uncommon courage to embark on what they are doing. I say kudos to them. The Assembly should crown their efforts by passing the FOI bill as a matter of urgency. It doesn’t take anything from the lawmakers. And if declining it is their intention, let them act fast to save people of speculations and anxieties. And from there, people can move on!
If parodying Abdullateef will not be considered a crime: “Termites have eaten the FOI Bill enough”. FOI Bill can’t breathe.
Abdullah is a sociologist and researcher. Email: [email protected].