Bumpy ride on the great, big tour
Category: Star feature Written by Judd-Leonard Okafor
“#NGGTour team have just arrived at #EbonyiState—the last state to be visited in the southeast,” tweeted @fminigeria. It’s the Twitter handle for the federal information ministry, its team commanded by minister Labaran Maku.
@fminigeria uses the hashtag #NGGTour to tweet regular updates about the team’s progress through states from north to south.
A large entourage accompanies the media on the tour
“#NGGTour has a strong social media presence and is aired live as it is happening,” said Maku on social media. Millions have been following since the tour began last September.
The information ministry is no stranger to large-scale laundering of Nigeria’s image.
Last May, it launched the Ministerial Briefing to commemorate Democracy Day, mandating every ministry to update the country on what it was up to.
He said the media needed to showcase not just the violence and division that cast Nigeria in bad light, but the bits of development that should the administration in good stead.
Nigerians needed to know the achievements and challenges, Maku argued, and the Good Governance Tour was born.
Long, red tape
#NGGTour carries a bevy of journalists—television, radio, newspaper—on its trail around the country. The ministry’s own information department drives its online multimedia presence.
At each visit, the NGGTour is met by host state executives and officials. Logistics of #NGGTour mounts at each trip: from transporting and accommodating busloads of journalists and officials to providing for huge security detail.
It is the wait for #NGGTour team—with Maku at its head—that takes up the longest time. Security boots pound the ground ahead of his arrival, but once he hits the ground, things get swinging real fast.
In September, the leg of the #NGGTour that started in Abuja had more than 40 vehicles—official and security transport—in convoy when the team called on the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital.
It’s prompted comments that the tour has become bureaucratic machine grinding through the country, sucking up spending and spitting out a satisfactorily laundered image of Nigeria and the occasional controversy.
Looking at the sides
Maku has taken to social media in defence of the project. “#NGGTour is non-partisan. It is focused on exposing to Nigerians the strengths and weaknesses of our great nation,” the minister said in a tweet, but insisted it wasn’t about grading state governors.
He added in a tweet at 2.09 am: “#NGGTour was embarked upon to communicate to Nigerian citizens about the strides government is doing towards [development] in the country.”
And at 2.18 am: “#NGGTour is not all about looking at the good sides. It is about exposing our weak ends as a nation.”
Upon arrival in Ebonyi came the message “We are here with a very strong team to access the level of development in #EbonyiState-Maku#NGGTour.”
For hours the team went through rice mills, computer labs, trudged through newly built roads—some still ongoing—and bridges under construction. The same routine had played out in Imo, Enugu and Anambra.
Telling it to the birds
But the use of social media, if anything, has allowed Nigerians to raise their voices beyond the static of television.
Upon arriving the Federal University at Ikwo and encountering a a well-stocked laboratory for information and communications technology, @FMINigeria exclaimed in a tweet: “ICT lab at Federal University, Ndufu-Alike, Ikwo #EbonyiState#NGGTour.”
Minutes after, Abiodun Olaoye @Dualprince responded, “I can bet that over 20 pieces [aren’t] working!!”
In Ebonyi, he emphasised the “importance of completing projects on time to avoid extra expenses and to save time,” according to one tweet from the ministry’s handle.
But some have questioned the true nature of what the tour. “@FMINigeria #NGGTour Oga Maku, what [did you see] in Abia state?” asked Emma @nuckcibio. “[Abia state governor] Orji [Uzor Kalu] deceived u wen u kem 2 Aba. He showed [you] Azikiwe [road], passed through selected [roads], kai!”
Its biggest opposition so far has come from the northeast, where Borno state government reportedly called NGGTour a cover-up for federal government inadequacies.
“The team has no business visiting Borno state as there is no single project, on-going or completed, that was executed by the federal government in the state, that it could inspect,” said Borno state information commissioner Inuwa Bwala ahead of the planned arrival of the team.
Borno residents had been abandoned by the federal government when its presence was needed, he said, and the tour was better off as a “tea party as it does not in any way represent the yearnings and needs” of the state.
To welcome the team, federal government should stop “paying lip-service to the issue of development and be fair to all states irrespective of their party differences,” said Bwala.
“All we have here in Borno are projects executed by the state government, and I don’t think a federal government team will come to a state and inspect projects that it had not committed a dime in their execution.”
He went on: “They should stop using this good governance tour to cover-up their inadequacies; we would rather advise that the money spent on this could be channelled in executing basic developmental projects in federal-government neglected states like Borno.”
Borno claims a few federal government projects there—Biu Dam, Maiduguri-Kano highway, Chad Basin Development Authority and a clutch of federal roads that come up in budgets—have long been abandoned.
Five months into the tour, it is yet to be abandoned and #NGGTour is far from slowing down. Information is unlike the other ministries it paraded at the Democracy Day Ministerial Briefing. Ministries must have a project or two, ongoing or completed, to show for past months.
Information ministry doesn’t necessarily need to. Its success will lie in how much Nigerians understand about their country once the tour winds up. Whether they like the country’s new image is another thing entirely.