How PDP Endangered Our Development Dream in Cross River – Obasesam Okoi

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by crossriverwatch admin

Obasesam Okoi
Obasesam Okoi

Fellow Cross Riverians,

Throughout history, good governance has been the quintessential example of development, and the foundation for a liberal democratic society. The inexorable triumph of liberal democracy gave birth to a society where the governance machinery was to be harnessed in the public’s best interest as opposed to a select group of citizens. After Nigeria’s transition to democracy in 1999, the destiny of Cross River was shaped by two political parties: PDP and ANPP.

Through this bi-partisan cooperation, Cross River was transformed from an economic backwater into an emerging economic triangle. The vision of urban development helped to modernize traditional economies across the state, which, to a great extent, fostered democratic accountability in Cross River. However, the fragmented nature of this endeavor not only altered the balance of power, but also it eroded the values that shaped our democratic development. Eventually, our development dream became endangered.

In many ways the past few years were tragic, particularly for Cross River. We watched the forced displacement of Bakassi indigenes and their subsequent vulnerability to socioeconomic stresses. Children were displaced from schools and abandoned in the worst human condition. We watched how men and women lost their livelihoods, the cornerstone of economic development. And we watched how people who had a history and culture suddenly transformed into refugees in their own nation. In the midst of this human tragedy, the Cross River government was wrapped up in a legal quagmire over ownership of 76 oil wells originally located in its territory. The political grab race was over, and AkwaIbom had beaten our government to claim the only economic resource that position Cross River as an oil producing state.

Trapped in this political tapestry the Imoke government was doomed to face widespread, development challenges, from lack of accountability to poverty and street demonstrations, which subsequently overwhelmed its capacity to protect the welfare of citizens. As a way to solve some of the vexing development challenges, the government has focused on using tourism, agriculture and public-private partnership to drive economic development.

While I appreciate the impact of tourism on the economy, I would prefer to suspend this discussion for another day. On the other hand, agriculture has yet to produce evidence of its contribution to economic transformation and food security in Cross River. But Imoke has taken advantage of the synergy between the public and private sector to raise the hopes of the masses. This was based on the promise that such synergies could generate the needed employment opportunities that would influence the direction of economic development and social transformation of our state.

Unfortunately, the government has failed to deliver. In fact, the PDP government, while not a dismal failure, grapples unsuccessfully with our most vexing governance challenges, further endangering our development dream. Several reasons buttress this argument.

The first reason develops from the inability of the government to define social welfare and perhaps ensure the effective implementation and evaluation of its welfare programs. We must appreciate Imoke’s government for consistently re-echoing its commitment to the welfare of Cross Riverians. I recall a publication in the Vanguard Newspaper of November 8, 2012, which indicates the state government has empowered 6,000 poor households with 5,000 naira monthly stipends, in what was described as Conditional Cash Transfer. In development lingo, Conditional Cash Transfer policy is a poverty reduction strategy intended to provide a social safety net to poor citizens by making welfare programs conditional, sometimes through skills acquisition.

Very recently, the Cross River Watch reported that the government had doled out 400 million naira to empower Small Scale Enterprises. These commitments suggest the government is in touch with the welfare of poor citizens, or that the governor is delivering on his campaign promises, in ways that could boldly shift our thinking about governance.

Yet as important as these programs in demonstrating Imoke’s liberal philosophy and its correlation to his policy trust on wealth creation through socio-economic development, they fail to widen the area of social inclusion. Which populations, for example, are benefiting from these poverty reduction programs? Are they urban or rural dwellers?

At what income threshold is an individual or household defined as rich or poor in Cross River? Are we using the national or international poverty line as pre-condition for determining welfare policy? Or are we restricting the definition of poverty to physiological variables, while marginalizing sociological variables? I believe the public, who incidentally are the supposed beneficiaries of these programs, have limited information on why the well being of a select group of citizens has been of concern.

Second, it seems like development policy in Cross River is being made in a manner that runs counter to the public’s best interest. The cause of this failure stems directly from the “winner takes all” syndrome, whereby government practices give excessive deference to party interests.The death of opposition weakened the power of citizens to constrain the government and as a result became vulnerable to the precariousness of the PDP government. The result has been the constitution of a legislative assembly that pays loyalty to a party as opposed to the electorates. It is not surprising therefore that they succeeded in endangering our development dream.

Fellow Cross Riverians, you will agree with me that political rhetoric in Cross River is dominated with phrases such as “power to the people” or “the welfare of the people.” Such rhetoric has been invoked by political aspirants to articulate their wishes through the electoral process by claiming to have the interest of all the voters at heart. As persuasive as such rhetoric, history has shown repeatedly that in our fragmented society so dominated by the “winner takes all” syndrome, a thoughtful policy analyst will recognize the fragility of such political phrases.

At least we have seen that with the implementation of the Conditional Cash Transfer program, not every poor citizen of the state holds the fundamental rights guaranteed by Imoke’s government.Rather, there seems to be a selectivity bias in both the definition of poor and in the distribution of welfare benefits to so-called poor citizens. This only exposes the difficulty of defining poverty in Cross River as well as designing and implementing inclusive poverty reduction programs that will eliminate the selectivity bias in government empowerment programs. As a result, we are apt to find cases in which there are few winners and a vast ocean of impoverished losers.

I have followed Imoke’s governance philosophy with keen interest. I respect the governor for his strategic vision, humility, intelligence and sense of humanity. His government has improved rural infrastructure in many communities including access to education and health.

As a development analyst, my constructive opinion is based on pragmatism, largely influenced by a careful analysis of the connection between government policy and change, however defined. Yet my decision to remain pragmatic in the evaluation of our democratic developments does not in any way extinguish my hopes that a better society is possible, which I believe Imoke can make happen if he’s willing to embrace alternative wisdom.

Fellow Cross Riverians, we’ve been told repeatedly that Imoke inherited an economy in deficit. But history has shown that Donald Duke inspired a transformational vision that brought pride to Cross River. He exposed Cross River to the world through the Christmas Carnival. He built TINAPA.

He modernized Obudu Cattle Ranch including the urban transformations we experienced across the state. Duke left us with something to remember – a legacy. You’ll agree with me that Duke’s greatest achievements occurred during his first tenure in office. Why did Duke succeed during his first tenure? The answer is obvious; there was opposition in Cross River that worked in cooperation with PDP to criticize policy proposals by drawing upon divergent philosophies to shape policy debates and ensure checks and balances. It was the death of opposition that transformed Cross River from a state which Duke had already aligned on the path to becoming Nigeria’s hope, to a desert of despair. There and then, our development dream became endangered.

Very importantly, both Duke and Imoke are advocates of modernization, though Imoke has managed to transform the orthodox version of modernization which Duke initially introduced to us with a philosophical twist that includes concerns for social justice. This is so because Imoke emulated the UNDP development model that is committed to improving the health and well being of people. Therefore Imoke’s administration heralded with the hope that populations who were marginalized by Duke’s neo-liberal vision will be reconciled to the development equation.

This transition was possible by introducing a radical liberal vision – a reformist philosophy that elevates social justice above every other interest. His focus on rural development raised the hopes of populations that were previously isolated. Those of us who possess advanced knowledge in development analysis began to recognize Imoke as a social reformer.

But something went wrong. Our hopes were dampened by his retreat to the “winner takes all” syndrome that blocked opportunities for harnessing alternative wisdom to reinforce the governance machinery. That was how the article of faith which the masses had ascribed to Imoke’s government became vanquished.I believe Cross River would be one of the greatest states assuming Imoke did not follow Duke’s example of one-party system.

Third, good governance thrives on transparency. By transparency I mean an open government where information on governance proceedings is accessible to the public, prompting citizens to follow through on policy processes as well as evaluation reports. Evaluation reports are important because they help enlightened individuals to appraise government accountability to citizens, while also responding to prevailing concerns on a timely fashion.Thanks to the freedom of information bill.

However, in the absence of a strong civil society to constrain the excessive power of political leaders, the possession of such information is a function of the political position of individuals.Thus government information seems automatically obtained with a political prerogative and could only be manifested to PDP members. This challenge thrives on a pervasive impression that the governance machinery is an esoteric club which is incomprehensible to the supposed beneficiaries of government policy. Since access to this club is confined to the initiated elite, government failure is then revealed by the complexity of translating broad policy aspirations into good governance. What is the way forward and how can we restore our endangered dream?

There’s an urgent need to resurrect the opposition spirit in Cross River. Such a resurrection will widen the political space for debates that will harness alternative wisdom to strengthen the governance machinery. Opposition will ensure that welfare programs are not designed to benefit some and marginalize others, but reflect equity and fairness.

Let me emphasize here that government decisions that better advance the public’s best interests, involve the beneficiaries becoming fully knowledgeable about the issues that speak to their needs, and effectively harnessing public opinion to strengthen democratic processes. Political leaders have a fundamental responsibility to give the public full and compelling explanations of the rationales for government policy decisions on issues such as poverty that directly affect the well being of citizens.

Such channel of accountability will lead to a better democratic experience. This is especially because engagement with the public will create a feedback effect generated by outside views and analyses of government performance. Such opportunity will help stakeholders to avoid inappropriate channels of information about government welfare programs.

To realize our development dream, we must return Cross River to a true liberal democratic society. By this I mean a fair and inclusive society where people can vote the leaders of their choice, enforce the rule of law, and articulate their interests through the policy process. In such a society, democratic progress would be measured against the level of transparency, accountability, citizen participation, credible elections, economic empowerment, inclusion and human rights.

The first litmus test, which is also the most important challenge for governor Imoke’s legacy, is ensuring that the forthcoming local government elections reflect the will of the people. This will position Cross River on the path to realizing a pluralistic vision of progress that embraces alternative wisdom to make government work for the people.

Obasesam Okoi is a Cross Riverian and a development analyst. He writes from Toronto, Canada.

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