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A little openness Mr President, please…

The annual ritual since October 1st 1961, of marking Nigeria’s independence anniversary, was re-enacted last Thursday as the country turned 55. Expectedly, in each subsequent year from 1961 the commemoration of the anniversary offered some variation to the previous one(s). In the early years the day was marked with lavish fanfare, featuring parties and parades by military as well as para-military agencies, schools and sundry voluntary organisations – who often fall over themselves to participate in the public show of solidarity with the country. Later years progressively witnessed a drastic reduction in scope, of the celebration.
Just as well, a major aspect of the annual ritual is the Presidential broadcast to the nation which for this year remains special, being the first by the Muhammadu Buhari administration that offers so much promise to the country.  The speech from the top is accompanied by an endless parade of rhetoric which features in the mass media organs namely radio, television and the newspapers. Such rhetoric also drives discussions in sundry locations where people assemble – offices, churches, mosques, academic institutions, beer parlours, etc; and border on where the country is coming from, as well as where it is going. The present day invasion by the social media has even deepened and changed the context of discourse on the nation’s fortunes.
While in the early years of the country’s nationhood the rhetoric celebrated great expectations by all and sundry, subsequent years featured the thinning out from public discourse on the country’s fortunes, the routine preponderant parade of hope, which became replaced with a mixed grill of the same hope, but served along with ever increasing doses of anxiety, skepticism and even fear. The reasons for this has been the perennial spate of dashed hopes and missed development targets which have cumulatively stalled the progress of the country. Even in his 2015 independence broadcast Buhari alluded to the past failures and urged Nigerians to move ahead into the future.
It is symbolic that of the 15 past indigenous leaders who have governed this country since independence in 1960, none has been reported to have come into office with malevolent intentions.  Each of these (even the military rulers), on coming into office offered the country a tantalizing basket of great expectations and rosy promises. Yet hardly would they leave office without public perception of them changing for the worse, leading to unsavoury comments and even vile opprobrium on them, by the very citizens who hailed their advent earlier.
Available evidence indicates that their undoing remains traceable to the lack of openness in the processes of governance they superintended while in office. By confining the vital aspects of governance to a select few anointed disciples, the leaders lost out in robust public perception of the merits or otherwise of their tenures, with telling consequences for them in the public space.
In a recent interview with the online Sahara Reporters television, President Muhammadu Buhari expressed how the Nigerian media practitioners are “too inquisitive” for his liking. This column pleads the indulgence of accepting the President’s comment as a tacit acknowledgement that the Nigerian media is not docile. Yet the President needs not be discomfited with the ‘nosiness’ of the nation’s media enterprise, especially now he is in the driving seat of power. For if there is any true friend he needs to succeed in office, it is a virile press for Nigeria, which will help in facilitating more openness in the nation’s public space.
Beyond the realm of conjecture, a most critical area that demands the attention of the President is the suffocating veil of secrecy and mystique that presently shrouds the core processes of routine governance in the country. Most government offices in the country from the local governments, to the states and the federal government are run simply on practices that belong more to the voodoo world than the domain of public affairs administration.
Some observers attribute it to the culture of keeping ‘official’ secrets as ‘prescribed by the law’. Yet it was the predatory nature of colonial administration that made it expedient for the colonialists to impose a code of secrecy on the nascent public service which they set up in the country, in order to protect them as they perpetrated anti-Nigerian interests of looting the country dry for their government. Thus came the mantra of ‘keep our secrets secret’ which dominated the mindset of the entire gamut of officers, both alien and indigenous, throughout the span of the British colonial grip on Nigeria.
Painfully, even after 55 years of independence, the same mindset of ‘keep our secrets secret’ still holds sway in the nation’s public service sector, in spite of the enactment of the Freedom of Information Act that is intended to open up the public sector for better governance of  the society. In the light of the fact that the nation’s public service is now for the welfare of Nigerians, it then may be asked – which secrets are being kept from who and for whom? It is lamentable that Nigeria’s public sector officials are yet to accept that their enterprise is at the pleasure of the tax payer, to whom they should remain ultimately accountable.
Throughout the six months after his election and the four months since his inauguration, the President tasted the pressure from Nigerians and foreigners alike who were intent on knowing the thrust of his administration, as well as the anointed individuals who as ministers and sundry appointees, will help him run it. Far from seeing him as playing hide and seek, Nigerians nevertheless endured him only for the sake of what he represents. Yet his reticence over the period denied some stakeholders in the Nigerian political space the opportunity to come to terms with him on the way forward. It was not therefore unexpected that good as his intentions were, some Nigerians could not help seeing his reticence from the perspective of the unhelpful ‘keep our secrets secret’ syndrome.
It is against this backdrop that the delay in the rather anticlimactic presentation of the list of ministerial nominees to the National Assembly attracted public concern. It is also in the light of the fore going that the silence of the administration over matters of the national budget for 2015 which this administration inherited, and that of 2016 which is coming up irretrievably late, generated public misgivings.
Meanwhile from the President’s pronouncements and actions so far, a difference between his words and body language is becoming increasingly visible and Nigerians are taking notice of same for the simple reason of his record during his first time in office as head of state. While the body language may be seen in less than officious context, that is not to be so with his words which provide the platform for the media, acting on behalf of the society, to assess and come to terms with him.
Hopefully with the ministerial nominees now before the Senate, the prospects of Buhari setting up a cabinet are brighter, and the promise of change becomes realizable. It is welcome that in the anniversary address Buhari acknowledged that what Nigerians want now are “solutions not recitations of problems inherited”. Fine words you may say.
In the final analysis while the drive towards solutions is to take Nigeria to a new level, it demands a mobilization of the society in a manner never executed before. Buhari’s noble spirit will do well if he makes his ministers buy into the mantra of promoting more openness in governance, as the hallmark of the administration. That should be the starting point of the envisaged change and it is not too much for Nigerians to demand so.

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