The year 2019 is indeed an epoch to the people of Kwara State. It will go down the annals as an era where a remarkable political watershed was witnessed. One of the bounties that came with the year was Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, the face of ‘O to ge’, a singsong that sent the yesterday’s handlers packing.
Assuming office on May 29, 2019, many political commentators believed that the new Sherrif in Kwara State immediately hit the ground running, knowing full well the enormity of the job before him. Some months into his assumption however, he plunged into several heated battles and wars from different quarters.
From political opposition championed by the PDP, to opposition within the ruling APC, to the activism from the civil society organizations, the Kwara State Governor is always in the news, making his media handlers trying to always defend him.
Of all these oppositions, one that resonates largely with progressive minds is that coming from civil society organizations and independent commentators, bordering on transparency and accountability. At the heart of it all is the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill.
The FOI Bill, which was previously passed by the 8th Assembly under the leadership of Dr Ali Ahmad, has been a subject of debate since the new administration came in, following the decline of assent to it by the governor who posited that there was a need to amend certain aspects of the bill.
The bill spent some moments with the governor, but he would later present it to the State House of Assembly. The last is yet to be heard of the bill as the House has maintained a deafening silence on it, even when a number of other bills have been passed in the last one year and many others are being considered.
As a consequence, many observers have accused the present administration of lack of transparency and accountability, adding that the Speaker of the Assembly is only acting the script of the governor. It didn’t help matters, though, that such a good governance oriented project, has since been hijacked by some elements to score political points. FOI Bill must not become a subject of blackmail, accusations, and counter-accusations.
The obstinacy of some cabinet members of the administration also made matters worst. Requests were sent to them to account for some of their spendings, but they declined and failed to respond. The Deputy Governor, Mr Kayode Alabi was also requested to account for expenses on COVID-19. It is however not on record that he has done so.
All these were on before the allegation of the diversion of 300 million naira local government funds that gained traction all over the place recently. Little by little, the government was supposedly losing public trust and confidence. Consequently, the advocacy for FOI Bill was waxing stronger again.
To put paid to all these insinuations, Governor AbdulRazaq’s response was apt and remarkable. He made an unprecedented move, as he personally invited the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to investigate the allegation of misappropriation of LG funds, and sought the Assembly to initiate a committee to probe the same matter.
While this move is still being applauded by all positive-minded people, it suffices to say it went a long way to restore the eroding public trust and confidence in the administration; the governor proposed recently another stellar initiative in the history of governance in Nigeria to ensure transparency and accountability.
In a meeting with Dr Abdullateef Alagbonsi, Coordinator of ENetSUD, a civil society organization spearheading the advocacy for FOI Bill, Governor AbdulRazaq talked about ‘social auditing’, a process whereby select NGOs would be brought on board to assess ongoing projects of the government before completion. The Governor said their assessments would be a yardstick for him to pay contractors in the coming days.
Owing to the controversies that have since been written over claims of shoddy jobs in our place or the other, we believe that this is the right step in the right direction, to ensure a quality service delivery and participatory governance.
It speaks to the popular perception of the government as one which has respect for public opinion and public trust. It may really have not a thing to hide.
However, in a statement released by the Governor’s Chief Press Secretary, Rafiu Ajakaye on what transpired in the virtual meeting, a part didn’t go down well. The Governor was quoted to have said that FOI Bill means less to social audit initiative. This, we believe is wrong. Indeed, FOI Bill is something and it means many things.
The FOI Bill which the governor dismissed as nothing has been used to track multi-million naira projects across Nigeria. It is also in application outside Nigeria, and it has proven to be impactful. The FOI Bill is not about this administration per se, it is about the system and the state. The AbdulRazaq administration has come, and it will go, just as the previous ones did.
Again, as good as the initiative of social auditing is, only a few select groups will be given the opportunity to participate in the monitoring process. It is not a luxury to FOI complementary.
On this basis, therefore, we commend the governor for taking such a bold decision and staying committed to the leadership by example style, but we posit that the social auditing proposed by the governor, must bear on every ministry. Whereas he has been trying to be above board, some of the cabinet members have since been unofficially reported of sharp practices. We hope this gets them to sit tight and straight!
The next thing for this administration to do, therefore, to further boost its ranking is to ensure the passage of the bill into law. By that, suspicion would give way and unnecessary political blackmails and attacks, hiding under the bill would be quenched.
The Ravens gives Kudos to Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq of Kwara for social audit initiative and advocates strongly for the passage of the FOI Bill.