By Abdullah Abdulganiy
In Kwara, FOI Bill is the talk of the town. It has culminated into a series of political blackmails, seamless attacks on the government. It doesn’t help matters that the government is also playing into the hands of these political critics, especially with the highhandedness of some its officials who have demonstrated to be agents of secrecy, and the Assembly that has remained taciturn on a matter of public concern, but dwells on frivolities.
Last Friday however, Governor AbdulRazaq scored another goal by proposing what he termed ‘social audit’. It is the first of its kind in the political trajectory of Nigeria, and maybe Africa. The idea is to partner select NGOs in monitoring ongoing public projects, in a bid to boost public confidence, trust and accountability.
Governor AbdulRazaq said that the assessment of the NGOs would be a criterion to settle the balance of contractors. In other words, if a contractor does a shabby job, he should be ready to sacrifice his pay. I say, welcome development.
However, the governor made a slip (I believe it is a slip) when he said that FOI Bill was nothing. Really? Honestly, FOI Bill is not nothing. It is something and it means a lot. FOI Bill has been used to track multi-million naira projects across Nigeria and get justice for taxpayers by bringing erring contractors back on site. Its impact cannot just be overemphasized.
Let’s get things right here: the FOI Bill is not targeted at anybody or any administration. It is rather for public good. An administration that has nothing to hide should receive such bill with eagerness. It is a way of entrenching participatory governance, which is the signature of the Iseya adminstration.
Good that Governor AbdulRazaq has proposed ‘social audit’, but its benefit may not outlive his administration. Or are we sure that incoming administrations would be interested in a ‘social audit’ that is not binding on them as a matter of legislation? It will be better if the ‘social audit’ initiative can be passed into law too.
Nonetheless, 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 as the governor put it. FOI, on the other hand, empowers every single individual or group to seek information from government agencies, and not a few select groups or individuals. FOI is generic than the social auditing proposed by the governor, despite the fact that it could be used to complement it.
On this basis therefore, it is my humble view that the FOI Bill and the social auditing proposed by the governor, despite their semblance, are not mutually exclusive. The reasonable and appropriate thing for this administration to do, therefore, to further corral public confidence and support is to ensure the passage of the bill into law as a matter of urgency.
If this can be done, those who want to draw political capital from the bill would be silenced and they may have no hole to pick again. But these nitpickers can be funny. They may resort to non-issues like: the governor’s cloth is not well pressed; he is putting on canvass on agbada; he has girlfriends on Instagram. ‘Abeg, who those ones elp?’ Sanity!