By Robinson Tombari Sibe
Propaganda and sycophancy have become the fuel and lubricant that drives campaign engines in this part of the world. Ironically, it is the same twin evil that derails leaders and makes them shift focus from advancing the wheels of development to “oiling” the praise singers. I’m sure Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi is fully aware of this as he was an active player in a regime that was characterized by unprecedented propaganda and sycophancy. They made everyone believe that the Governor had the Midas touch. That he was the best thing that ever happened to Rivers State. All the positive titles in the book were exhausted on him: The Golden Governor; The Action Governor; The People’s Governor; Development Personified, etc. Even the State House of Assembly led by Rt. Hon. Amaechi, endorsed him overwhelmingly for a second term. Today, the story is different - Every failure of the past is blamed on that administration even though it birthed the current. Surprisingly, those who were at the forefront of that propaganda machine are the ones dancing and pointing to the relics of the administration.
When Dr Peter Odili was seeking re-election for a second term in office, the sycophants took praise-singing to another level. The governor had done a couple of projects which his Public Relations Department saturated the national airspace with. Free School Bus for the Students (Where are the buses now?), Housing Schemes in all the LGA’s even in places that didn’t have any need for them, Free medical care for the young and old, Gas Turbines that didn’t increase the electricity supply by any significant wattage, etc. For those not living in Rivers State, they imagined the state to be a “paradise” and a model of how a State should be run. Free everything, Uninterrupted Power Supply, Uninterrupted flow of “Ghana Must Go” bags, etc. I remember being given special treatment during my Youth Service because they thought I was from a State where everything was working perfectly (I didn’t bother to correct them since I was enjoying the special attention). Little wonder, The “Golden Governor” won every available national and even some international awards. What the Governor did not cross check was the carat value of the Golden appendage to his name. His publicists had simply gold-plated his administration with cheap but sparkling gold, the sycophants polished it and focused bright light on it for a dazzling lustre effect. Listening to them, one would think the sun, moon, planetary bodies and the whole cosmos stood still in amazement at the “Giant Strides” of Dr Odili’s Rivers State. They made the state sound (not look) like one the earth will proudly flaunt to other planetary bodies as a glowing example.
I need not labour you with the details but Dr Peter Odili won the elections with a landslide. Even though rigging was the order of the day in that era, I’m sure if it was done in free and fair conditions he would still have won with a wide margin. His campaign team did a good work. However, few years after a failed attempt at the Presidency that was largely buoyed by these vociferous praise singers, the Golden Governor seems to have lost his lustre and glitz. The gold has been “oxidized”. Today, he cuts a solitary figure even in the few public events that he dared attend. He has been deserted by all those who drummed his praise. Where are those who chanted his name? Where are those who flooded the streets with posters and billboards? Where are those Organizations that came from far and wide to endorse him? What went wrong? Where are those who sang “na Odili yei-yei-yei-yei-yeh!”. Where are the “Carry-Go” exponents that flooded the Podium then? How did it all go wrong?
Let me attempt to deconstruct what happened as an outsider that I was. Dr Peter Odili probably started well but much of what were on display as his achievements were mainly superficial in nature. However, coming from a military regime, it all looked like concrete achievements. The sycophants hijacked it, the citizens were either too gullible or the years of military rule had eroded their sense of strategic assessment of development so they were easily contented with what was on display. And so, his re-election was a mere walkover. He began his second term with these sycophants still beating the victory drum. They were only interested in the accruable “getting” and how to use his thriving political machinery as a structure to launch their own budding political ambitions. He compensated them with key appointments, some got huge contracts. None dared to remind him on building on his good start. None dared to tell him that the gas turbines were not working and will never work the way things were going. None bothered to tell him that we don’t have good roads. None cared to tell him that the housing schemes in remote areas (that have since become homes to reptiles and the likes) needed to be put to use (and who told them it was necessary to put up such structures in the first instance?). None dared to tell him that he needed to set up sustainable structures to ensure the continuity of all the “freebies”: Free Healthcare for the young and old, free school bus, tuition-free schools, etc. None dared to tell him that our schools were dilapidated. None challenged him that the huge donations he was giving to other state universities and organizations could have been injected to our dilapidated educational sector. None dared to challenge him on the increasing joblessness plaguing the citizenry. None dared to challenge him on the growing insecurity. None dared to challenge him on his spending priorities. For them it was all “carry go”. Even the other arms of government joined in the chorus. The ordinary citizens joined in. The man Dr Odili was on “cloud 9” cruising at an astonishing altitude because the spectators and the umpires were on his side. We simply cheered him on to failure. Although, he is singled out for chastisement today, we all had our roles to play in whatever failure is attributed to that administration. We were the people, we kept clapping for him and of course like every performer, he was tempted to play to the gallery while failing to check the score board which said otherwise and the clock that was ticking away. Even the opposition had died naturally or was totally “sold out”. The people around him could not challenge him to do more; they either lacked or failed to give him sound counsel. The majority of the masses kept clapping and hailing him. Traditional rulers across the nation were reeling out Chieftaincy titles. The other arms of government were busy with his endorsements. And so, Dr Odili was on cruise control. Looking back, I’m sure he would have probably acted differently if the people had challenged him on areas of deficiency - after all, he was a crowd pleaser.
Today, his successor, Governor Rotimi Amaechi, whom I shall vote for by the way, is faced with similar circumstances. He had a relatively strong start compared to his predecessors. He’s built and commissioned over a hundred health centers; built modern schools in all the Local Government Areas; Sponsored Rivers indigenes to study in UK, Canada and Malaysia; done a couple of road projects; revamped the failed gas turbine projects; Made efforts (however little) to beautify Port Harcourt, Commenced the Greater PH Project (even though I have my fears over the guiding philosophy and the workability); spoken like he was on the side of the masses, etc. Quite naturally, and deservingly too, the people have been singing his praise. But then, that might be the beginning of his failure if he allows these professional praise singers to derail him from his developmental agenda.
The Governor can put up with all these sycophancy now since politics in this part of the world is largely propaganda driven. However, if he does not want to follow the path of his Predecessor, he must realize that he has to keep the sycophants at bay immediately after the elections and concentrate on the heavy task at hand. If he wants to succeed, he must surround himself with sound, disciplined and passionate people. People who have the passion and capacity to develop the state; People who can look him in the face and challenge him on the workability of the Greater PH Project; People that can tell him that it is not enough to give our youths scholarship to study abroad; People that can task him on the sustainability of the laudable projects he has done; People that can tell him that even though he’s done a good job in the education sector, that he can still do more; People that can advise him on how to take agriculture and aquaculture to the next level; People that can advise him on how to revive Rison Palm; People that can tell him the truth that despite the billions that he has graciously released that most of our roads are poorly constructed and pot-hole ridden; People that can tell him that unless the dividends of his administration can trickle down to every home in one way or the other, history will not consider him a success; People that can suggest effective strategies for traffic management to compliment what has been done; People that can recommend practical and workable strategies to open up the local economy; People that can join him in the fight for companies to engage qualified people from host communities; People that can tell him that just as the government have the right to make certain things mandatory to the citizenry (like making it mandatory to have a see-through fence in certain areas), so also the citizens have the right to demand for the best – good roads, hospitals, etc; People that can suggest to him to terminate the contract of under-performing contractors even if the contractor is a friend or relation of the governor or a senior Party official; People that will support him to ensure that the people have the full complement of whatever wattage that is generated in the turbines; People that can tell him that what needs to be done is more than what have been done; People who can tell him that it is not enough to do Biometrics for staff with the end product being just for salary payment when it can be fully integrated to a full blown Human Resources Management Application to automate all personnel related activities of the civil service; People that can suggest to him effective, transparent and cost saving e-Government strategies; People that can suggest to him how to get the best out of laudable initiatives like the RivGIS project; People that can recommend ways to get the best out of the abundant human resources; People that can suggest to him how we can revive sports in our secondary schools; People that can suggest ways the citizenry can have quality and affordable health care. People that can suggest to him ways of improving our security; People that will tell him the truth that we have a very faulty record system and therefore no data for any form of statistical and spatial analysis/evaluation to aid development decisions; People that can suggest to him on ways of rewarding hard work and creativity; People that will remind him that the sycophants around him will not remember him beyond the present if he does not leave behind concrete and credible achievements.
These are the caliber of people the Governor must surround himself with if he wants his name to be etched in gold in the history of the state. The governor has showed he has the energy and drive, but he needs direction and vision so that energy can be put to the best use. Therefore, his choice of people that will work for him should not be based purely on political reasons. He should look around and he’ll see many of those that were with him under the umbrella in 2007 now carrying brooms, Cocks, etc. The Politician you are pacifying today by giving an appointment he doesn’t have the capacity for will be the one to champion your prosecution when you fail after the expiration of your term. I don’t need to dwell on this because he should know better than me. His guiding principle should be getting the best people to occupy the right office so he will not suffer from the familiar second term syndrome. That way, I’ll be proud of my one vote in four years time. Anyway, the choice is his to make. He can either focus on improving on his performance or shuffle in harmony to the tunes of the sweet melody of the sycophants.
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