Saturday, April 6, 2019

Flight of fantasy

Flight of fantasy
December 16
14:48 2017

An idea is much like beauty, its appeal is in the eye of the beholder. That must be why there’s been so much firestorm over the sheer ingenuity in statecraft unveiled lately in Nigeria’s southeast state of Imo.

State Governor Rochas Okorocha came up with the brainball of an idea and he’s just not being appreciated for it. He minted a crisp ‘Ministry of Happiness and Purpose Fulfillment’ out of the state’s dreary bureaucracy and named his biological kid sister, Mrs. Ogechi Ololo, to oversee the portfolio. But no one seems happy with this governance novelty other than the appointed happiness commissioner and, of course, the governor with his camp. What philistinism!

How much else can artsmanship in the handling of a bogus bureaucracy get? Ololo was among 28 commissioners sworn into cabinet by Okorocha penultimate Monday to administer Imo – a state with a population of some 3.9million people, going by the grossly outdated but only available official data of the 2006 census.

That is not counting the army of aides and advisers to the governor, of which Ololo was one before her emergence as happiness commissioner. Let’s be clear that straight comparisms hardly ever reflect all the factual underpinnings of reality. But just to make a point, you could match the Imo bureaucracy against the 18-ministry structure known to exist in Anambra State with a population of 4.1million people, courtesy of the 2006 census data; or the 24 ministries in Lagos State with a hotly disputed population of some 9million people, using the same 2006 census benchmark. Okorocha’s administration of Imo State is a swamping bureaucracy, and the governor surely needs as many structures as fancy can throw up to sustain the sprawl. So, what’s the fuss?

Even the designation and mandate of the new ministry appear to yet be patchworks in motion. How then could anyone in good conscience foreclose its deliverables?

At Ololo’s swearing in, her portfolio was cited in official records as ‘Ministry of Happiness and Couple’s Fulfillment’. And as the public erupted in uproar against the statecraft masterstroke, she jumped in to educate the undiscerning on the bounties that her brief holds. “I am truly surprised by the outbursts…(against) His Excellency, Dr. Rochas Okorocha. If you don’t understand something, keep quiet, read and research. Make good use of your senses,” she wrote on her Twitter handle @MrsOgechiOlolo, which she only recently signed up to, apparently to take issue with critics of her appointment. Ololo said the mandate of her new ministry included ensuring that Imo people remain happy despite all odds, and that couples in the state have a more fulfiling experience. Her words: “In a time when couples’ divorce is at all-time high, I will use my good office to ensure couples in Imo (are) fulfilled and serve as examples to the world.”

It however seems doubtful that Ololo got her job description right at her inauguration by the governor. Because shortly after her tweet, the Okorocha administration renamed the portfolio ‘Ministry of Happiness and Purpose Fulfillment.’ The governor’s spokesman blamed the initial tag on the printer’s devil, saying: “There was a typographic error in the first statement issued on the swearing in of the new commissioners. The word ‘couple’ was inadvertently written, instead of the word ‘purpose.’ We regret that.” Error noted. And Madame Commissioner had been stomping the waves to deliver on couples!

But that is just by the way. The point is, the design of the new ministry and its mandate remain in a flux, never mind that the attached cabinet post is squarely nailed down for the governor’s kid sister. So we can’t in honesty prejudge that the innovation is superfluous, can we?

Actually, Okorocha himself said as much. In the face of public fury at the seeming prodigal nepotism, he said the impact of the new ministry would confound critics. “At the end of the day, the achievements of the new Ministry of Happiness and Purpose Fulfillment will be so amazing that critics of the initiative will not only be shocked, but will also regret to have drawn the curtain (against) the new ministry even before it takes off,” his spokesman said in a statement.

The governor acknowledged the confidence crisis spilling over from his recent unveiling of South African President Jacob Zuma’s statue, to which N520million price tag was attached. He insisted though that Zuma deserved the controversial honour. “The criticisms that greeted (the) Zuma statue were all anchored on corruption allegations against the South African President. Yet, the fact remains the man is still the president of that country. He has neither been sentenced to imprisonment nor impeached as president following these corruption claims,” the government statement added.

But if you take the Imo doctrine as scripture, Zuma could well be the proverbial prophet without honour in his home. Because only last week, the embattled leader lost two court cases linking him to corruption in one day. Pretoria’s high court ordered him to raise a judicial inquiry into graft charges against him, calling the president “seriously reckless” for challenging recommendations to that effect by the country’s watchdog. In another suit, the judge ruled that he abused judicial processes by trying to block a report linking him to corruption, and ordered him to pay the legal fees out of his own pocket.

Ololo’s throwback to global precedents in justifying her new brief gets quite instructive upon scrutiny. “Let me educate Nigerians on this, for those lacking ignorance (sic). United Arab Emirates has ministers of happiness and they are ahead of us,” she had tweeted.

True, the UAE is the first and only Arab nation thus far to cite citizens’ happiness as a portfolio of government, naming a minister of state for happiness in February 2016. But it is moot that is the reason “they are ahead of us.” Leadership in the oil-rich country is relentlessly posterity-minded in developmental exertions and resource application – goals that seem helplessly a mirage in our clime. Isn’t Dubai a favourite playground for pleasure seekers, including Nigeria’s wealthy class? And the country isn’t letting up just yet. At the same time that he appointed a happiness minister, the UAE premier reformatted the Cabinet ministry to take on an additional brief for future strategies, thus becoming ‘Ministry of Cabinet Affairs and the Future’.

Even then, expectations from the UAE happiness minister have not been so clear-cut. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times sometime this year, Ohood Al Roumi said she gets strange requests like: ‘My parents won’t accept my marriage. Can you help convince them?’ or ‘I got a traffic ticket. Can you fix it?’ Sometimes it’s just a simple plea: ‘Please make us happy,’ the paper reported. What Roumi was clear about, though, were the obligations of government. “We have no intention as government to impose happiness, or mandate it, or force it. We’re just doing the right things for our people … so they can have a better life,” she reportedly said. If you look into Okorocha’s Imo, would you say you couldn’t see the ‘better life’ genie running lose?

There are a few other countries in the happiness race. Remote Himalayas kingdom of Bhutan enshrined the goal in Article 9 of its law and measures growth, not by the conventional gross domestic product (GDP) instrument but by gross national happiness (GNH) index. Venezuela in 2013 created a Supreme Social Happiness ministry. And just last week, the only Indian state with happiness ministry, the central state of Madhya Pradesh, declared the minister wanted for murder.

It isn’t very clear how much inspiration these parallels hold for Okorocha’s experiment. But Ndi Imo, Ndi Nigeria, a genius is at work. Let’s just be happy!

Please join me on for conversation.


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