By Godwin Adindu
I love the wisdom of our ancestors. May their souls rest in perfect peace. They were great sages, thinkers and philosophers but, regrettably, their insights and wisdom were not documented like the West did to Plato, Aristotle, Socrates and the rest. There is this saying that our ancestors passed down to us: that the big talk is but for eight days. Unfortunately, the Abia big talk about expenditure on food, entertainment, honorarium et al did not last up to eight days. It boomed and fizzled away within two days.
Reason was that it was a political talk, a misguided propaganda, a misinformation which, I think, the Governor merely dismissed with a wave of the hand. To redeem its image, Sahara Reporters, the online medium that set up the conflagration did not wait for the cock to crow before it somersaulted and reversed itself. Propaganda is the raw material for politics and Paul Joseph Goebbels recognized its power and efficacy in driving the Nazi Party and the Third Reich. Goebbels goes down in history as the one who so strategically deployed the power of propaganda to indoctrinate and mobilize the human mind beyond any known record. I use to believe that Okon Okon Ndem of Biafra Radio was a good student of Goebbels. But, this one on Abia fell flat and quite suddenly.
My first reaction to that news was to send the budget to two financial analysts, two of them renowned chartered accountants and operators in the money and capital market. They explained to me that there is a difference between an estimated budget and actual expenditure. Estimated budget is a futuristic projection. The ACTUAL is what can be subjected to scrutiny and with a 27.3 inflationary rate in Nigeria today which has caused a 30 percent increment in goods and services, there could be some plea bargain. I am not quite numerically orientated, so I always depend on the verdict of experts on issues of figures and finance. The Abia Third Quarter Performance Report on Entertainment, meals, etc, shows that the Estimated Budget was about N927 million and the Actual Expenditure was about N223 million and N397 million for Welfare.
The first news was that the entire budget estimate of N927 million was spent by the Governor’s office. This has been refuted to be false. The actual expenditure was about N223 million and this also covers all the Ministries, Departments and Agencies. Expenses under welfare deals with issues of health, rehabilitation and public emergencies. “This figure is as captured in all the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAS) of government. The Welfare expenditure is also in line with the state Fiscal, Transparency, Accountability and Sustainbability Programme (SFTAS), an initiative of the Federal Government,” declared Kazie Uko, spokesperson to the Governor.
I must commend the Abia State government under Governor Alex Otti for its transparency in declaring its books open and for laying bare its records. It shows sincerity of purpose. By this action, the government is also granting freedom and access to government information. From my background, I consider this a giant leap for democracy in Abia. Then, one would ask: why would people quote the figures out of context and begin to generate a wave of bedlam with it? It is intentional. It is called politics. It is called propaganda and propaganda is the baptismal name of falsehood and half-truth. Unfortunately, it is the essential raw material for politics and a ready weapon of the opposition. The aim is to smear character, disparage integrity and, in this instance, denigrate the image of Governor Otti and discredit his avowed crusade for a New Abia.
In politics, propaganda is used to blow things out of proportions and to generate smoldering tension. Good thanks to the New Media which travels in speed and with strong impact. The New Media have come to stay and we must live with it for the rest of our lives. It has become the new veritable platform for sensational news and for generating a mass emotional wave. The social media have been loosed upon the world. The critics latched on it and held the Abia government on hostage for two days. But, their weapons of war were so weak and ineffective that the missiles unfortunately missed their target. Abians have made up their minds for the change and the New Abia has come to stay.
Yet, the drama was not entirely bad. The reactions from the public were good for democracy. A vibrant opposition serves as a watchdog and acts to checkmate the activities of government functionaries against misplacement of priorities. Criticism is a healthy attitude in democracy. The alternative voice providing constructive criticism is a mirror through which the government sees itself and self-evaluate itself. But, propaganda is the devil’s alternative.
The Abia big talk waned easily but it succeeded in putting the government on its toes. It showed that society is awake.
Godwin Adindu, a Media/PR Consultant writes from Umuahia.