Public Perception and Good Governance

Public Perception and Good Governancepātai: As public perception is essential to whatever is being presented for consumption, how can this be related to the situation in Nigeria vis-à-vis the current standard of governance in the country – A.O. Equan

I could not help chuckling with the rest of a sixth form history class I was part of in the ‘good old days’. This was in reaction to our teacher’s comment about Queen Marie-Antoinette’s perplexity over the reason why a mob should storm Tuilerie Palace, in France, on October 1789. He sarcastically remarked that, Marie-Antoinette wondered in bewilderment before her servants, while peering from the balcony of the palace at the violent crowd that marched on the King’s residence during the early stages of the French Revolution, why cakes were not made available to the people instead of bread.

The class was amused by the pitiable realisation that this Queen was completely out of tune with the expectations of the people and realities of the time – Even where scarcity of bread was the bone of contention, contemplating offering cakes (a much more expensive alternative) exemplified being completely ‘out of sync’ with public perception. No wonder this queen and her husband (King Louis XVI) were imprisoned by the revolutionaries, and later executed. Even as youngsters at the time, many of us still realised the likely implications of favourable public perception (of the governed) towards all that signified governance. I f unfavourable governance is allowed to degenerate in most cases, disenchantment on the part of the governed no doubt results. The likely effects of such a situation are not often palatable to those that govern.

Viewing this issue through the ‘lenses of marketing’, the “product” in this respect is governance while the electorate, the public or Nigerians comprise the “consumers”. Like in commercial marketing, the perception (favourable or otherwise) of the consumers about a product goes a long way to influence its place in the market. Na, any government that looks the other way from how the public perceives it does so at its own peril.

As a typical government (no matter the form) comes into existence to provide good, effective and efficient governance, there is bound to be disenchantment or negative reactions (on the part of the governed) when expectations are not being met. This can be exemplified by a situation where a society remains pauperized even when there is obvious wealth among a few (especially close to the government); institutionalized poverty alleviation programmes failing because of political interference; and retardation of national development as fallout of uncertain political environment. The likely outcome of such is weak legitimacy, as the people are likely to lack faith in their political leaders and by extension, the political system – A recipe for disenchantment.

Without fully defining its various components, for good governance to strive in Nigeria, the public has to perceive its key preconditions as being transparency, predictability, accountability, and opportunity for participation. Transparency, portends easy and unrestricted access to government’s information by the people; predictability implying giving a clear picture of government’s policies as being implemented in tune with what obtains in the constitution; accountability, portraying the existence of a measurable performance framework, drawn up by the constituents to compel officials of government to respond to questionable activities and policies; as participation here connotes provision of citizens’ involvement at all levels of their government’s decision making process (e.g. casting of votes at elections and insisting that they count).

My reference point here is the Nigerian government at the federal level (not the states and local governments), as I perceive it as all embracing and a suitable platform for my submission. As I often stress, my presentations do not comprise means of ‘trumpeting’ the views of any political grouping. This piece should be taken as honest view from purely an objective professional angle, with good governance in one’s own country in mind, and for all concerned to note for improved performance. Considering the government in Nigeria being of three tiers, the judiciary, legislature and executive, my stance mirrors these (separately) in harmony with public perception of goings-on in governance.

The saying that,”the judiciary is the last hope of the common man” seems to have continuously eluded the common man in Nigeria going by what all realise to comprise an unpleasant trend within this arm of government. Public perception obviously gives cause for the common man to look elsewhere – Those who have spiritual inclination, to look up to God, while Nigerians with preference for what is more defined (the temporal) resign completely to fate.

While a huge ‘question mark’ on the issue of integrity and accountability has become the bane of the judiciary, the following makeup the hallmark of public perception towards this tier of government: Backlog of trials; lawyers bringing up frivolous applications; resolution of pending trials occurring at snail pace; brushing aside efficient, ethical and speedy delivery of justice; prevalence of “cash and carry judgment”; inability to resist political pressure to subvert justice, and much more.

In all, as corruption appears not to go away from Nigeria, the judiciary obviously has not been insulated from it. Taking cognizance of the spade of allegations of corruption against judicial officers, it seems tarred with the same corruption-smeared brush. The high point of this being the “Katsina Alor versus Ayo Salami” saga, which gave an impression that those who had any cause to have a vice-like grip on the judiciary as the ‘last bus stop’ for justice should completely ‘throw in the towel’.

It should be recalled that Justice Katsina Alor, as the Chief Justice of Nigeria, was fingered by then President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami, as nudging him to compromise on an electoral case in Sokoto state. By way of public perception, this obvious allegation of corruption involving two occupants of the apex of the judiciary obviously gives the average Nigerian the impression that governance in the country, in all ramifications, requires so much more to be desired. (Hei te haere tonu)

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