It was Nyesom Wike, governor of Rivers state, who stirred the hornet’s nest and kicked off the season of disclosures when he thanked President Muhammadu Buhari for approving long overdue payments to the nine oil producing states in the Niger Delta. Wike confessed that he used the funds received for infrastructural development in his state.
Although Wike did not name or shame any of his colleagues or as much as reveal how much was paid to Rivers state from the 13 per cent derivation account, he had sent a clear message – perhaps deliberately – to other state governors to also admit that the federal government made payments outside the monthly allocation that were never disclosed.
As if Wike’s disclosure which caught his colleagues on their back foot was not enough, Clement Agba, the minister of state for budget and national planning, announced that state governors are responsible for the rising poverty in Nigeria. That was a direct attack. In doing so, he held the governors’ feet to the fire, giving them sleepless nights. It was another way of saying governors receive money but do not account for them.
According to the minister, governors prefer to prioritise the construction of bridges and airports in the cities instead of improving lives in the rural communities. This is perhaps the reason for the rising debts incurred by states who borrow as if money is going out of fashion, yet you hardly see the evidence on the ground.
“Right now, 70 per cent of our people live in rural areas and they produce 90 per cent of what we eat. Unfortunately, 60 per cent of what they produce is lost and does not get to the market,” Agba declared when he briefed journalists after the federal executive council meeting (FEC) last week.
Without rural roads, farmers cannot get their products to the market; they suffer post-harvest losses. The governors are not taking the allegation lying low. In fact, they are fuming and ready to fire their loaded guns. They have pushed back vehemently, accusing the federal government of bad faith. In their own reckoning, the real culprit of rising poverty is President Buhari who failed to fulfill his campaign promises of 2019.
The scenario playing out over alleged misplaced priorities by state governors is coming against the backdrop of the hardship and poverty level explained by the National Bureau of Statistics’ (NBS) shocking data. Over 133 million Nigerians, NBS announced recently, live in poverty – that is 63 per cent of the nation’s population. To drive the point home, NBS said the rural poor cook with dung, wood or charcoal – meaning, no access to clean energy because of poverty – in what the agency described as “multidimensional poverty.”
It sounds like big grammar but never mind. In simple language, it means a majority of Nigerians cannot eke out a living – they are very poor and dying of hunger. What is the meaning of life without roads or functioning health centres? What you will find in most rural communities are dilapidated public schools and every area is enveloped with darkness at night. Clean water is only a pipe dream.
While the governors were expecting the furore generated by Wike’s disclosure and the minister’s allegation to die down, Garba Shehu, senior special assistant to the president on media and publicity, announced that the nine oil producing states received N625.43 billion from derivation, subsidy and SURE-P refunds, from the federation account in the last two years.
What do state governors do with the funds they receive from Abuja in addition to internally generated revenue? How can oil-rich Bayelsa state be ranked the second highest on the poverty scale after Sokoto state? Why do governors have the penchant for borrowing money to executive white elephant projects?
We need answers to these questions, not brickbats, because people are hungry and angry. Their excellences have a duty to declare and account for not only derivation earnings but revenues from all sources.
Our governors are not happy because they have been called out but we cannot discount good governance and accountability anymore. If we truly want to build a better Nigeria, subnational governments actually have more work to do. All the 36 governors should come clean and show more transparency in their spending habits.
We do not need the NBS or any minister to tell us there is abject poverty around us; even the blind can see the deteriorating quality of life in the rural and urban areas. Why do our imperial governors refuse to disclose what their states earn and how they funds are spent? It is a matter of honour and integrity to do so.
The lifestyle and spending pattern of state governors does suggest in any way that our economy is in bad shape. In the midst of poverty, they display obscene wealth, hiring private jets at great cost even when they are unable to pay salaries and pensions. What is wrong with using a commercial aircraft?
From Uyo to Jos, just to cite two examples, over 45 private jets landed at the local airports for two presidential campaign rallies in a country that is broke? Who is fooling whom? Who hired those private jets? How much was paid?
It may be unfair to say all the governors are guilty as charged but let every governor go on national television and explain what had been done to alleviate grinding poverty. Are they even aware that more than 130 million Nigerians are daily struggling to survive?
The state houses of assembly have a constitutional responsibility to provide oversight functions and checkmate the excesses of the executive but it never happens. After losing their spines in exchange for cash and other gifts from their governors, lawmakers become lawbreakers.
Annual budget presentations are purely ceremonial events and spending is based on appropriation but governors always have their way, no matter what – even if it means breaking the ranks of the lawmakers. When the governor is desperate, principal officers – including the Speaker – can lose their positions. Such plots are heavily funded from the treasury.
This unwholesome practice has been with us since 1999. Governors work with heavily compromised lawmakers to shortchange and dispossess their people. They spend accumulated and misbegotten wealth on properties in places like South Africa, UAE, UK and the USA.
Is there any governor who has served for four years, much less eight years, and is not a billionaire? Let him step forward and receive a medal of honour. Governors do not need long convoys; it is a bloody waste of scarce resources. What exactly do they spend security votes on? Some governors claim as much as N50 billion in eight years as security votes.
When it is time to have delegates for elections, governors ensure they also have their way so that their candidates emerge victorious, a tendency that breeds godfatherism. It does not matter whether the fight for relevance are for seats in the state or national assembly; governors always want to be in charge as they wave their “His Imperial Majesty” flag before us.
The outcome from our experience is usually two parallel primaries with two sets of candidates vying for the same seat in the same election. Governors have cheerleaders, die-hard supporters and sympathisers who do their bidding to survive – it is always a matter of cash.
Is there anything new under the sun about how council elections are conducted? Well, you can be sure such elections are conducted only when their excellences want the exercise to hold.
State governors have also been put to task by President Buhari over how local government funds are diverted but some of them have come out to deny any wrongdoing.
All attempts to ensure that local councils are paid directly from the federation account have been rebuffed by governors for reasons best known to them. What has become clear is that local government executives are politicians who serve at the pleasure of their governors and they are happy to receive handouts which are also shared by councillors with nothing left to provide community service.
It should not be surprising that rural communities remain poor. Nigerians normally do not display any sense of outrage when things are not working; they prefer to remain silent. For me, it is a huge “cultural” problem which must be shaken off.
When social services are not available, Nigerians don’t complain. No matter how bad a road is, travellers will use the road as it is or create “alternative” roads and curse only under their breadths. Life goes on thereafter.
Most of the time, the focus is only on the federal government and we end up blaming the president and his ministers for every failure. But we forget that every state can become an oasis in the desert, an Eldorado – and why not? Governors can actually make a difference in their respective states but the lack of political will and selfish interests will not allow them to do the needful and act in the public interest.
I must admit that in the midst of the gloom surrounding us, some governors have indeed done well. They know themselves. Kudos to them. But for those with F9 grade, I leave them to their conscience.
Meanwhile, state governors must take up the challenge and explain regularly how they spend what they earn to the minutest detail. By the way, what is the incentive to pay tax when state governors and other public officers continue to make “hidden profits” at the expense of those whom they represent?
-Braimah is a public relations strategist and publisher/editor-in-chief of Naija Times (https://naijatimes.ng)