Hardship: The states are not just doing enough

TOWARDS the end of year 2023, Presidential Adviser on Information and Strategy, Mr. Bayo Onanuga tweeted  on his X (formerly Twitter) handle, stating that Nigerian governors have no reason to fail their people in view of the prevailing economic circumstances.  His thesis was very straightforward: The Federal Government had supported the states more than enough and so the states had no excuse to fail their people. According to him, “the 36 states have enjoyed overwhelming support from President Tinubu’s administration, having recently been given N7 billion each for infrastructure support, in addition to the N2 billion earlier given as fuel subsidy palliative.”

He added: “State governors thus have no reason not to do a lot for their people, instead of the obsession with the centre. In spending money on roads and other infrastructure, many jobs will be created and people will have money to spend. Let the states therefore get cracking to give succour to our people. Let the mass media also monitor the states to ensure that the funds are wisely spent.”

It is easy to tackle the submissions by the presidential aide on different fronts. Many would say that the Federal Government needed to showcase evidence of its own good governance, before pilling blames on the states and that his claim only goes to venerate the feeding bottle federalism we have all clamoured against for years. Even at that, there appears some home truths in the submission of the presidential aide.

Before I took up an appointment at the sub-national level a few years back, I used to wonder why an indigene of a state would have the opportunity of leading his people as governor and would squander that opportunity and at the end of tenure, while leaving leave the people in penury and squalor. Having seen a bit of what goes on in the states, I think I have some answers to some of the issues out there. And even though I would raise issues with the overbearing presence of the Federal Government in the affairs of the country,  with the constitution already placing many of the useful items on the exclusive legislative list, fueling the persistent calls for restructuring and decentralisation, my conclusion would still join up with that of Mr. Onanuga, as above,  to the effect that the states have no reason to fail.

A state governor would normally complain about the unitary system of government we run here, instead of federalism the founding fathers negotiated with the British colonialists.  A governor would say that his hands are tied, in view of the fact that mineral resources under the soils of the states he superintends  are owned by the Federal Government. For instance, I come from a state that has 33 local governments. Each of the 33 local governments has been confirmed to host one mineral deposit or the other. And those resources, according to the 1999 Constitution, are under the control of the Federal Government, which is domiciled far away in Abuja.  That could be frustrating to the hilt. But a leader who sticks out his neck for a job as onerous as that of the governor, should readily provide solutions to the challenges along the way.

When a governor assumes office, the sing song is that the predecessor left an empty treasury.  Rather than see that as avenue to grow the state’s economy and  build the state for the future, he resorts to borrowing to take care of immediate needs. Instead of borrowing to power production in the areas of the state’s competitive advantage, the governor goes borrowing just to make ends meet; pay salaries and award a few contracts.

Incidentally, that would not in anyway help lay a solid financial foundation for the state. So a legacy of debts, shoddy contracts and underdevelopment continues. It would have been good to ask the governors, how much did the First Republic leaders meet in the coffers when they took over from the British overlords? It would also be good to ask them which regime loaded the treasury of the Western Region to enable Chief Obafemi Awolowo build the 25-storey Cocoa House, which still stands in the centre of Ibadan, today? So far, mystery and underdevelopment have been the lots of the states because the states are practically not working. The helmsmen lack the nationalism that would lift the states beyond the mystery we all see.  I have the feeling that the 1999 Constitution is too generous by merely tasking the state governors as chief executives of their states to ensure good governance. The constitution did not prescribe any Key Performance Indicator and no service level agreement.  That is why a governor can run aground the fortunes of his state for eight years after which he leads the campaign for someone he likes, as successor. Rather than see the opportunity to serve as avenue to develop the state’s infrastructure and its economy, many of those who take power at the state levels see political power as opportunity for personal financial aggradizement; to seize the state’s resources  and tell the people cork and bull stories. At the end of their run, they build personal war chest and become political grandfathers. Save for pockets of leaders we can single out these days, one can easily conclude that the era of political leaders ended with the Second Republic, while businessmen politicians are largely on the prowl now. But the people also have their blames. Once a governor comes in, nobody demands service delivery. The high and the mighty in the state want patronage. The commoners call the governor the “father” of the state and he sees himself as the unquestionable in the mould of the Kabiyesis of the old empires.

Years back, the states of the Niger Delta went home with huge oil windfall under former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Only few invested in productive ventures. Today, many of the states are reeling in financial mess. The example of the South West states is peculiar. These are states that have the good fortune of building on the legacies of the Sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who created farm settlements all across the Western Region and built the Region with agricultural produce.

Today, states like Ekiti, Osun and Ogun are struggling to build airports, rather than collaborate to build train services and super-highways across the region, while leveraging on the regional airport in Ibadan. The South West States have O’odua conglomerate, which is struggling, as the Nigerian spirit has sipped into the legacy.

Instead of channeling the money from Federation Account into regenerating the dead cocoa farms of Ekiti, Ondo,Oyo and Osun or revitalising the dead industries that lay waste across their states, every governor is interested in building his own clan of a state, and leaving the people in financial bondage. At the end, growth and development remain elusive.


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