Metropole Magazine

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08 Apr Written by  Japheth Omojuwa

Our Crisis of Low Expectations

“He is trying.” This expression has to be one of the most significant indicators of our common lack of expectation from our public office holders. It is often used to describe a public office holder who is doing nothing more than the ordinary but who is doing a lot more than the people expected. Nigerians have found themselves at a very dangerous place, a situation where they do not expect much from those they vote for or see appointed into public office.

If Nigerians consider you a failure as a public office holder, by all means, you are a global failure. The reason for this is not far-fetched: the easiest people to please are Nigerians. There is no bar of excellence to beat, no ante to raise, and no expectation to meet. You set your own bar, you create a new ante, and you demand of yourself the best of service to stand out in Nigeria. This is a very harsh thing to say but still what has to be said must be said: we are a country of mediocre expectations.

Reno Omokri, Special Assistant to the President on New Media, once told me that Nasir El-Rufai, the former Minister of the FCT, raised the bar no one has yet to beat in public service in Nigeria. The sad part of this is that that bar was set about six years ago hence has since been forgotten. For the FCT, the bar has been broken and a new level of mediocrity now defines leadership. Even the man who spoke of that past has since sunk very much into the core of mediocrity that defines public service in today’s Nigeria.

Akwa Ibom State’s Godswill Akpabio was until recently seen as a working governor. But it took his now consistent trademark of public display of thoughtlessness to be seen as exactly who he is: another charlatan buried in the delusion of doing the people a favour. You only need to compare his monthly allocation to that of say Ekiti State and understand that the population of the Akwa Ibom is just over five million to know that one needs to take another look at the so called “performing governor.” But some depend on the crumbs from the tables of people like Governor Akpabio to have a living—hence, their ability to see the truth has been delegated to their stomach.

For a state that has about N35 billion available to it every month and earns more than any other Nigerian state from oil revenue allocations, you’d expect a real transformation beyond the mediocre understanding of the word by Nigerians. Akwa Ibom has beautiful roads in its metropolitan area to show as its claim to being transformed. No effort to promote the setting up of industries; the civil service continues to grow out of proportion with Personal Assistants enjoying their own assistants who have sub-assistants serving them too. The media does the rest of the job: sell a mediocre governor as a performing one consistently enough and soon the people begin to believe the fiction.

I cannot tell you Lagos State’s Governor Tunde Fashola is doing anything extraordinary. He is probably just doing enough. I understand the challenges of Lagos as that of even a country and that the city has also benefitted from the governor’s dogged dedication to transforming it. However, all of these too must be processed through the fact that no governor of Lagos has had as much resources to work with as Governor Fashola. It also must be said though that he has these resources is credit to him. The people of Lagos appear ready to bear the brunt and the cost of development because they can already see its benefits. It is okay to recognize these things but it is not in our interest to praise him to high heavens.

We must learn to expect more from our public office holders. If we don’t, we will not only continue to stagnate but we will also continue to suffer from hearing government spokesmen telling us that a budget of about 70% recurrent expenditure and 30% for capital projects is a budget of transformation. It does not matter that the same budget had the recurrent budget perform by 99% and the latter perform by 49%. Essentially, 70% of the budget is being used to put 15% of the budget to work. That a nation calls this a form of transformation says everything about our plunging sense of value.