Politicians Should Talk Less, Work More For People – Parker | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Politicians Should Talk Less, Work More For People – Parker

Posted: Jun 14, 2016 at 4:14 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

Dr Samson Parker was the immediate past Commissioner for Health in Rivers State. He spoke with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI on the public health importance of the Ogoni Clean-Up, Buhari’s performance and other sundry issues. Excerpts:

You recently granted an interview in which you were quoted as saying that Rivers state people expect politicians to concentrate on governance after elections. Can you explain further what you meant?

What I meant is quite simple. The goal of an election is development, political competition and elections are a means to that goal. Politicking endlessly in an adversarial manner could be distracting to governance and we run the risk of losing sight of delivery of service to the people who are the primary reason and beneficiaries of political competition. My contention is that we should not lose focus on that goal. To be clear, opposition and ruling party politicking in relation to debates about the merits or demerits of policies and their alternatives is a continuous process for refining the benefits delivered to the people to ensure that they get the best possible. This is why you find opposing parties arguing over what each group delivers or fails to deliver to the people. However, this should be for the public good, it needs not be prejudicial and adversarial to the point that it creates an ambience of apathy against politicians by the people who may begin to see politics as a rancorous affair. So, my intention is to put all parties on notice that now is the time to work. Ruling parties at all levels must work to show they can deliver on their promises and opposition at all levels should allow those in office to focus on deliverables and in fact,  should work even harder by scrutinising the delivery of incumbent government and show the people alternative options and how these options can make delivery better.

The current administration at the Federal level just celebrated one year in office. What is your assessment about the administration so far?

The essence of leadership is primarily to create a vision that enables the people to be motivated enough to abide in good and bad times. Leadership makes it possible for the people to enjoy good times well and endure bad times even better. In bad times, it is the calling of leaders to inspire hope, to encourage  the people to reach deeper into their inner strength and provide reasons why they should be resilient. Most countries remember the leaders who took them out of adversity more than they remember those who ruled them under times of plenty. Hence, even though we must acknowledge the painful economic conditions, we must also see in it, the opportunity to inspire our very resilient people to rise to the occasion. It is my belief that we can pull through these conditions by dwelling less on the negatives, by providing support instead of lamentations, by doing what we can for the people, instead of repeating like a mantra what we hope to do. Therefore, it is my view that we must get down to do more and talk less, when we talk, it should be to give our people strength and hope that tomorrow will be a better day. Look around us, there are few countries that are well endowed as we are. We are one of the few countries who have most of our valued food indigenous to our land, Egusi, Ogbono and Oha are not quoted on the international commodity exchanges, so also is Garri, Cocoa-yam and others, but many countries facing similar economic strains have to compete on the international stage for the value of their basic needs. Although these do not spare us all the rigours of international influence, but we have more alternatives, options and resilience than many others. However, we must provide better safety nets to make it easier for the vulnerable to cope better. When the current administration at federal level took over, there were clear decline in economic variables. We should expect a period of healing and weaning before that turn of events reverse. That bridging period will come with different experiences for different people, but we must strive to build a society that supports people with their differential needs under such conditions.

At the state level, can we say there is cause to cheer in terms of development?

The gloomy outlook of the national and indeed, the global oil price and the effects on our economy is self evident and so for the current government, we must reserve such judgment until such a time as we can truly weigh the decisive indicators, such as the availability of funds, issues of security, law and order, the accessibility of health and distribution of good health equally and equitably in society,  as well as financial and geographic access to education, housing, transportation and other basic services for all, opportunities for enhancement of economic capabilities and the ability of people at different levels to generate opportunities for better household income as well as the opportunity to acquire household assets that improves their quality of life, making life more meaningful for them. The last government in Rivers state did all that it could to lay the foundation for delivering such benefits to the people. Do recall that that government was re-elected thereby spending the maximum 8 years, and the platform under which it was elected still retained incumbency in the state. So, if you look beyond swings in politics and rhetorical messages and look at what has been delivered in real terms, there is cause for cheer, looking back at what was delivered in the previous 8 years. Personnel in the current government in the state were critical stakeholders and part of those who develop the templates of development of many years of delivery by its predecessors.

What are your assessments on the current and future expectations for Rivers state?

Expectations border on potentials whether current or future, and in that regard Rivers state is one of the states with the highest potentials. It is endowed with the capabilities of the country’s three highest income earners, oil and gas extractive industry, maritime resources and highly developed human capacity. The only way the state cannot be greater than what it is now is if we fail to apply the proper human agency to enhance the derivable from these potentials

In terms of governance what will you say most administrations in Nigeria at all levels often fail to do that limits development ?

That is an interesting question, but first let me take it from the most widely accepted definition of governance which in my view is that of Kaufmann, Kray and Mastruzzi who define governance as the traditions and institutions by which authority is exercised. It includes how those in authority are selected and replaced, capacity to formulate and implement policy and the respect for institutions which govern interactions between everyone by the citizen and the state. Looking at the dimensions involved in describing governance, traditions and institutions for exercising authority, you can tell that what it takes to govern has two dialectics, one which you can be born with as a leader with good traits and one that must be learned, experienced or in the alternative you must acquire or hire the skills to execute them. Selecting and replacing leaders is mainly the electoral process, formulating and implementing policy is basically how to identify societies problems and opportunities and providing solutions or utility, and respect for institutional modes of interaction is basically respect for rule of law and enabling statues. What these all means is that no one person has the ability to do all these , administering means bringing all these components together, respecting one’s limitations and ambits and allowing the law and due process to take its course. If you need to build a public work, apply the traditions and rules that obtain in that sphere, respect the inputs of the professionals in that area but guide and lead them well, do not supplant them. But some administrators want to do or decide everything and in the end, they spend more time and waste more resources. When they say traditions, it means learning from the mistakes of others a set pattern that has been established, therefore there is no need reinventing the wheel, all you need do is examine current best practice in that area before proceeding. So administering properly is both an art, that you can be born with and a science, which you must apply according to the extant rules, use both effectively and you will get good results often. So in my view, what has limited our development is the unwillingness to follow this basic expectation of governance. To solve problems having been elected, we need to follow the policy formulation and implementation process and respect the rules of interactions between the people and the state. If leaders or the citizens identify a problem or opportunity, we prepare a green, then a white paper to make it very salient, we then formulate policy and alternative options to solve the problem or take advantage of the opportunity, then we implement all following extant best practices, and we will develop to our best expectable; no cutting corners or debasing our standards.

If we are to score any state government objectively without partisanship in terms of development, what indicators should Nigerians look at?

Even though most Nigerians keep talking about development and repeat some expectations such as roads, education , housing etc, as a country, we have not really sat down to agree on concrete attributes of what we mean when we talk about development in terms of quality and quantity. Do we mean good education?  If so, in what quality and to what level? Good housing, of what quality and quantity? Employment, whatever job you get, or ability to rise above poverty of a certain level of income? Assuming we were to say that development is the achievement of a Nigerian dream, what will achieving that dream for a Nigerian be? I believe that political parties should make this a research question for our universities and the answers they come out with periodically should be the target of deliverables to the people. Individually, we politicians can also do such studies but to answer the question on the basis of a generic expectation of what constitutes development in our context, indicators to score development should be at individual and community level. For the individual, we should score the government as providing development if the individual feels secure, free and able to advance and maximise their economic capabilities and opportunities, have access to basic needs, is unfettered by oppressive taxation and on the community level, a government should be scored for  creating an ambiance which allows all the individual members of society to collectively benefit from such individual development goals, in an environment that is sustainable, secure and guided by the rule of law. So, development should develop the citizen just as it develops the community.

What suggestion will you offer for getting the most out of limited health budgets at this time?

Health budgets are always constrained because there are often many needs and limited resources. But we must prioritise. In prioritizing, we must therefore spend on information, data and records which will tell us our most important   health problems, where we must concentrate most resources to maximize results for our inputs. Above everything a health system is sustained by the people who work in it, so developing and motivating the health workers is vital, obtaining current affordable technology is important because it allows you to do more, in a more accurate and less time consuming way, then investing in preventive and health promoting endeavors help to save cost ultimately because it reduces pressure on treatment facilities.