Politicians' Globetrotting: What is the Cost to The Masses?
By Niyi Adebisi, USA
July 9, 2006.
The first hint was a distress call from a concerned citizen of Osun State, Nigeria. The source reported that close to twenty local government chairmen of this poor state just joined the club of the 'globetrotters' at the expense of the impoverished masses of Osun State, the interests of whom they had, otherwise, promised to protect before they were voted into their various positions of trust. As if this was not disturbing enough, the source alleged that the same poor state's members of the house of assembly were the next group of politicians from Nigeria to join this flamboyant club of globetrotting public office holders.
Our source revealed that the alleged globetrotting project was a brainchild of Ms. Bolaji Atanda, a former employee of the Osun State Broadcasting Cooperation (OSBC), Osogbo. It was reported that this lady departed Nigeria for a better managed society, the USA, after her exit from the OSBC during the era of the former governor of Osun State, Chief Bisi Akande.
GraftWatch decided to contact Ms. Bolaji Atanda in the evening of July 2, 2006 for her comments on these allegations. Herewith are some of the excerpts of our two-hour telephone discussion. Ms. Atanda promised to provide us with further information. We were however yet to receive her promised e-mail at the time of this report:
"Hello Ma." Our reporter responded to a female voice that answered the telephone call on the recipient side of a telephone number whose City's area code appeared to be located in the State of Philadelphia.
"Hello. Who am I speaking with?" The voice questioned.
"I'm is Niyi Adebisi, a freelance reporter of GraftWatch." GraftWatch replied. "May I speak with Ms. Bolaji Atanda?"
"Speaking. Who is or what is GraftWatch?" Ms. Atanda queried.
"The GraftWatch is a news medium of the ConcernedNigerians, an anti-corruption pressure group." Niyi replied.
"How can I help you?" Ms. Atanda asked.
"We were informed that you were involved in organizing seminars for Osun State's politicians here in the United States. We learnt that you recently hosted many local government chairmen of the state, and that you were also planning extend such hosting to the Osun State members of the assembly. Based on our experiences from the precedents concerning expensive and wasteful international trips that our politicians are well known to be fond of embarking on, we are concerned about the motives of these seminars you allegedly organized and what the people of Osun State are likely to lose or gain from such seminars. We decided to give you a call so that we can answer some of our mind boggling questions." Our reporter opened the floor of discussion.
"How did you get my telephone number, and who are the ConcernedNigerians?" The leady wondered.
"As I previously mentioned, the ConcernedNigerians is a group of lovers of Nigeria across the globe who are dedicated to waging war against corruption in Nigeria. We have been in existence for years and you may read more about us at www.concernednigerians.com. GraftWatch however is a news medium of our organization. Its website is www.graftwatch.org or www.graftwatch.com." Niyi replied. "Concerning how we got your telephone number, I believe you understand that the moment you decide to be a public office holder or you engage in official interaction(s) with public office holder(s), your personal information automatically becomes accessible to the public. The aforesaid seminars you allegedly organized tentatively qualify your information a public property." Niyi replied.
"You probably know everything about me based on the fact that the source that provided you with my telephone number must have told you more about me. May how know more about you too and why are you so interested in Osun State? And why did you believe that every step maken by honest people in the government must be a corrupt step?" Ms. Atanda seemed to have decided turn the table of the discussion around by interviewing our reporter instead.
"Ma, the purpose of my call is to give you opportunity to confirm or refute the aforesaid allegations. It seemed you are trying to interview me instead. I have told you my name and I have given you details about what I am representing. Nobody says anyone has taken a corrupt step yet. It just happened that this investigation is about Osun State, our main focus is Nigeria as community. If you really want to know however, I am from Osun State. This fact however would not debar us from investigating any smoking gun that might have been generated from anywhere in Nigeria or about Nigeria from anywhere in the world." Niyi replied.
"You know that I am also a journalist. If you are really concerned about Nigeria, I see no reason why you would not want to reveal your full identity to whoever you are interviewing. Which town you are from in Osun State? I have checked for your group on internet, but I could not get much information except for a page on the GraftWatch." Ms. Atanda further pressured.
"I would advise you to type in the word concerned Nigerians in any website search engine. You should have various links to our website. Concerning my city of origin, this will be revealed at the appropriate time. Will you answer my questions about the alleged seminars?" Our reporter demanded.
The discussion dragged on till Ms. Atanda finally decided to confirm that she did organize the 'seminar'. She also confirmed that she was currently planning to bring members of the Osun State House of Assembly for similar seminar(s). The cost of this proposed house of assembly members journey to the USA could not be ascertained by Ms. Atanda. It was however certain that the people of Osun State would have to bear the financial brunt of this trip whose benefit to the citizens of Osun State is still unknown.
She stated that primary motive of her seminars was to educate the Osun State's politicians about what were obtainable in the developed world. She noted that sixteen local government chairmen from Osun State attended her first seminar that was held in Philadelphia between May 1-7, 2006 including the chairmen of Osogbo and Olorunda local governments respectively. She claimed that the attendants of this May seminar gave various testimonies about what they gained from. She could however not give any specific testimony that was given by which specific local government chairman about this controversial seminar.
Ms. Atanda refused to tell us how much was the cost of her May's seminar. She would however not dispute the fact that the financial burden of this seminar would significantly affect the financial status of the poorly managed local government areas these sixteen Osun State Chairmen came from.
Our efforts to get contact information of various United States local government officials that Ms. Atanda said the Osun State's Chairmen rubbed minds with during their May visit were yet to be fruitful as at the time of this report. Ms. Atanda promised to e-mail the telephone numbers of the important government officials that our local government chairmen learnt from along with the names of the local giverment chairmen that attended the seminar with their respective testimonies about what they learnt during the seminar that would make the time and financial costs of their aforesaid trips to the USA worth the while to the people of their various local government areas in Osun State. We hope that Ms. Atanda would remember to send us these promised pieces of information once she received a copy of this preliminary report of our investigation.
On a final note, Ms. Atanda wondered why the seminars she was brainstorming generated so much interests of our group. She argued that hers was not new in Nigeria politics. She cited numerous international trips that President Obasanjo and many other state governors embarked on since they were sworn into their various offices at the commencement of the current political dispensation. She argued that some of the positive achievements of President Obasanjo resulted from what might have gained from his repeat trips outside Nigeria. She argued that such knowledge was a form of education that could only be acquired by embarking on regular trips to developed countries by Nigerian politicians irrespective of the costs of such trips. She opined that she realized that most Osun State's politicians never had opportunity of traveling outside Nigeria and thus, did not know what were obtainable outside Nigeria. She noted that this was the kind of education she was trying to extend to the Osun State's politicians by organizing her seminars. She said she believed that education she was trying to provide to the Osun States politicians could not be more expensive than lack of such education.
GraftWatch educated Ms. Atanda that embarking on expensive international trips was not the only way of educating politicians about good governance if that was the primary motive of her seminar. We explained to her that such trips that had been embarked on numerous politicians in the past did not necessarily transform into positive changes in the lives of the peoples such politicians promised to serve. We cited various such trips like that of Governor Dariye and others whose primary motive ended up being fraudulent. We disagreed with her that President Obasanjo would not have achieved the same positive changes she argued were attributable to his non-relenting trips outside Nigeria if he had not embarked on such numerous trips within such limited years in office. We informed her that some of the obvious pieces of evidence to confirm that such expensive trips were not only useless, but equally extravagant, was the fact that Nigeria still remained a nation that could not be proud of an hour of continuous uninterrupted electric power supply despite his numerous trips to places like USA, Britain and even Ghana, where unexplained incessant electric power failures had become things of the past. GraftWatch asked her if she realized that Ghanaians had been enjoying uninterrupted electric power supply for close to half a decade now, partly with alleged supports from Nigeria government. We asked her what would be her reason why Nigerians still continued to live in darkness without basic uninterrupted supply of electric power despite the fact that Nigerian President Obasanjo had been to Ghana and other aforementioned nations numerous time. She rationalized that she would not speak for Nigerian politicians at the national level because her focus was her own state, Osun State.
In fairness to Ms. Atanda, we agreed with her that President Obasanjo performed well in some areas like transformation of Nigeria from a country with huge external debt to a country with huge external reserve, and initiation of EFCC, the official anti-corruption agency in Nigeria. We were able to eventually let her realize that President Obasanjo could have still be able to achieve the same successes, if not more, if he had limited the frequency of his trips. It was however difficult to say if we were able to convince well enough to accept the fact that trips to the USA or any other such expensive international trips might be too expensive and not necessary prudent way of educating Osun State's or any other Nigerian states' politicians, especially when the financial burdens of such trips are being passed over to the already impoverished citizens of Nigeria.
We are still awaiting further inputs and more convincing pieces of information from Ms. Bolaji Atanda about the achievements of her May seminar so that we can use such information in our investigations to determine if the proposed trips of the Osun States Members of House Assembly to the United States of America for similar seminar would be in the best interest of the citizens of Osun State or would be for the personal benefits of the partakers of proposed seminar or similar future seminars. This analysis will be helpful to determine whether or not it is justified for our politicians to spend public money for such trip(s).
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