On Iwo Road interchange and public relations

AWAY from the sensational Appeal Court judgment on the Oyo State governorship election and the attempted distractions, recently when the news of Governor Seyi Makinde’s visit to Iwo Road rent the social media waves, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the visits to the affected worship places went viral before the news of the proposed demolition of marked structures. For over a decade now, the Iwo/Ibadan interchange has been a dreaded route for travelers and motorists because of the incessant traffic gridlocks that are obviously results of too many vehicles converging on that point from different parts of Nigeria.  Many times, coming from Abuja/Ekiti/Ondo, I hear passengers talk about adding more time at Iwo Interchange to the hours of the journey for those going beyond Ibadan to Lagos and its environs. The frustration on those who have had hours’ journey before getting held up at Iwo Road cannot be quantified. It is a problem that requires money and strong will from the government.

Governors are very powerful and it takes meekness to find a leader that doesn’t live in the consciousness of that power, though it is transient. In the past, we saw government issuing demolition notices with conditional promises of compensation to victims, but Governor Seyi Makinde has shown a departure from what used to be; he went to worship and hold meetings with the people concerned. Does that reduce his power as governor? No.  Does that increase his influence and goodwill? Yes.  Engaging the stakeholders in this way has attendant advantages. It has set a very good precedent. The governor has not desecrated any place of worship. Religious sentiment is the worst among the divisive forces tearing apart the fabric  peaceful co-existence in the country. No one can toy with the sensibilities of religious faithful in this clime. Going to worship with Muslim faithful while announcing the proposed demolition has laid to rest the likely accusation of “demolition because Governor Makinde is a Christian and doesn’t like Muslims.” Beyond the issues at stake, it is uncommon for politicians to worship with people of other faiths except for campaigns and very big social functions. So, Governor Makinde’s message is explicit: “I have nothing against this place of worship or the worshipers”.

Some say that he could have sent his deputy to announce the planned demolition of a mosque. I read of a similar proposed demolition of a chapel in the Narasarawa State government secretariat and where the then SSG who happens to be a Christian was sent on the mission to announce and explain the reasons for the government’s plan to the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). But it was a false report on how the SSG had compromised his faith, collected money and committed sacrilege by joining forces with Muslims to demolish a church that I first read. Therefore, sending Mr. Rauf Olaniyan to Iwo Road couldn’t have sufficed in the situation. Governor Makinde’s visiting the place with his deputy and other Muslim government officials was a masterstroke.

The propangada machinery of the opposition and fifth columnists has been silenced by this singular move. Rather than condemn the demolition, they are raising issues with the cost of construction of the new interchange. This is the first time government demolition of a mosque/church has received little or no negative media attention. An attempt has even been made to use the Olore mosque that was not marked for demolition but is under probe due to inhumane treatment and unauthorised enslavement of persons against the government. The proposed demolition of a church in line of the demands of the new interchange construction shows that the governor’s intentions are noble. That is the influence that comes with wise use of power; not exacting yourself as a constituted authority. This kind of public engagement encourages the people and allays their fears. The worshipers and interested members of the public won’t see the leader as cruel and authoritarian. The people of Apata/Bembo area didn’t have such empathy from their governor before their houses and business buildings were demolished by the last administration. There was the use of bulldozers and fully armed mobile policemen during the exercise. Demolition of structures to facilitate development in the interest of all should be done with a human face.

Then, the offer to rebuild new structures was another masterstroke by Governor Makinde. This is not just the usual “government will pay compensation” rhetoric. The government will in fact build another worship place within a given time in another location. We never had it this way before; Nigerians are used to demolition first, then you begin to lobby for compensation, which might never see the light of day. With this, it is natural that expectations from the new worship places will be high because they are now government projects, not those built through offerings and donations from worshipers. There is also the issue of positive body language. The governor’s visit to Iwo Road with the Commissioner for Public Works and other government officials sends the right signal to the contractors and civil servants who will execute various aspects of the demolition and rebuilding: the worshipers here are important to the governor and they (contractors) cannot afford to treat them anyhow. They don’t have to execute demolition in the middle of the night or be afraid of mob action against the workers: the people already know that they are important and relevant to the infrastructure development of Oyo State as proposed by this administration. When the interchange is completed, it becomes our interchange, not their interchange.

Other leaders need to emulate this. Leaders exist because there are followers and every leader must be conscious of the transience of power. The power that resides with the governor is to serve and solve problems for the people, not to lord it over or maltreatment them. If our leaders can emulate Makinde’s great gesture, our people will become less resistant to positive changes and the leaders can have more time to face governance rather than crises management. As the late Nelson Mandela famously said: “A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.”

  • Johnson is a Fellow of the Institute of Personality Development & Customer Relations Management (IPDCRM).
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