Friday, October 16, 2009

Public Pressure on Public Officers

One distinctive feature of democracy is the right of the people to expect and demand good governance from elected officials and it is also the duty of the latter to perform creditably. In Nigeria, however, this noble relationship has for long remained misapplied and unsatisfactory.
Public expectations of office holders in the country seem to be at conflict with national aspirations. Yet both forces seem so powerful that office holders who are unable to handle them well remain ambivalent and at best inefficient.
What appears to be a clue to this sad scenario was an explanation offered the other day by the Benue State Governor, Gabriel Suswan, on a television programme. The inability of public officers to function well, according to him, is due to pressure from the public. He argued that government functionaries, as a result of the distraction, often lose concentration and divert funds meant for development to satisfy the need of individuals or groups. In other words, some public office holders have cause to be more concerned about preserving their positions through satisfying the personal needs of people than delivering the core responsibilities of government.
Although some critics have dismissed Suswan's revelation as an anticipatory defence mechanism to rationalise the looting of public treasury and underachievement that are evident in many parts of the federation, he indeed expressed an unfortunate reality. Family members, friends, communities and tribesmen, insist that the only way for a public officer to show his or her worth is to address their needs, make them richer.
However we are persuaded by trends in the country to believe that the persistent pressure on public office holders is largely a product of leadership failure. Successive governments have failed to frontally address critical issues like provision of social infrastructure and security. So, in the absence of adequate empowerment, health facilities, education, shelter and others, desperation compels the people to directly source money from persons they see as the faces of government. This option is not only beggarly but also undermines the essence of representative administration- the very soul of democratic practice.
Proper re-orientation is, no doubt, necessary at this point of national development to reverse the detestable drift. Public officers must come to terms early with the doctrine of true service. In most cases, people are reduced to beggars by twin effects of illiteracy and poverty, so prospective office holders should be determined to discharge their responsibilities effectively rather than succumb to any shaddy practices, including the so-called public blackmail.
No excuse should be made for corruption and ineptitude. This nation will fare better if persons in places of authority insist on doing the right things, and not compromise responsible and responsive governance.
Then, on their part, the people should not unwittingly provide public officers with reasons for underperformance. Poor implementation of projects and programmes is bad enough. And linking it directly to what is now being painted as the parasitic behaviour of the public makes the situation even worse. From whatever perspective it is viewed government patronage and begging are also caused by greed and selfishness without due consideration of the reality that such individuals stand to gain from the overall development of the country.
Embracing accountability and political maturity is, therefore, urgently required by public officials to wake them up to the much-needed task of ensuring that the socio-economic development of the country is the only guarantee for improved living standards of the people and, indeed, only true cure for poverty.