It is no longer in doubt that our country is broke. Not just the federal government, but the component units (states and local governments). Why not, if they have no money to pay salaries of public servants? Why not if, if we believe Governor Adams Oshiomhole, even the federal government has only been able to pay salaries because, as the custodian of the federation till, it had helped itself to ‘loans’ therefrom to settle its bills for the past few months?
The situation was so bad that the state governors across party lines came together to seek ‘bail-out’ by whatever name from the president. At the end, they got a temporary reprieve when they agreed with the president to chip off another chunk of the ‘excess crude account’ and share across the three tiers of government. That should help the states stay afloat for a few more weeks or months, if, and only if, they learn to curtail their penchant for outlandish tastes.
The turn of events is an acknowledgement of what many of us had seen and talked about many months ago, that Nigeria and its component units are broke! The confirmation came from those who should know – state governors, even if they and their contemporaries have been in the thick of the causes for our economic predicament.
Before then, information from the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) showed that about 22 of the 36 states owe salaries of ranging between one and nine months. Then came the dramatic admission of failure by Osun State governor, Rauf Aregbesola, that his state was too broke to be able to pay the salaries. He blamed it on dwindling allocation from the Federation Account resulting from the crash in global oil price which feeds much of that account. It’s such a pity actually. But why did the state governments build their entire hopes and dreams on the proceeds from a volatile commodity like oil?
And could Aregbesola and his colleague governors who are owing salaries to civil servants say in all good conscience that while those salaries were owed, political office-holders (elected and appointed) were also owed their salaries, allowances and estacodes/duty tour allowances (DTA) etc when they travelled? Pray, how did the state governors fund all those private and personal trips they embarked on during the electioneering within and outside their states, travelling with hordes of staff, hangers-on, journalists etc if not from state resources? Didn’t each of them convert state resources to oiling the political war machines of their respective political parties through covert means and more overt means like hosting political events in government houses and other state facilities?
Among these debtor states are those who embarked on luxury and white elephant projects that have little to add to their state’s local economies or improve the lot of their citizens. What they called ‘signature projects’ were nothing but failed or potentially-failed monuments, raised to glorify the governors who had become tin gods. Most of those projects are not self-sustaining, yet huge resources of their states were sunk into them. Many times they actually borrowed to fund those inanities.
Until the state governors show proper leadership by cutting down on their inordinate taste for extravagance, the explanations for their refusal/neglect/failures to pay salaries remain unacceptable. It starts from the size and choice of their cabinets. There is no reason for any state to have more than 12 commissioners in the present circumstance. But just this week, a House of Assembly approved 35 special advisers/assistants for the new governor; and this in an era of austerity.
We must spare a few words for the members of the various Houses of Assembly. No doubt, majority of them past and present are ignorant of their roles and responsibilities under the laws to serve their people by holding the executive arm of government to account for every naira of public funds spent. But whether out of ignorance or outright criminal collusion with the governor, they are culpable for allowing the governor live large on state resources (even while sharing the crumbs with them). They must all collectively take the flak for the seeming failed states we have now.
State legislators need to ensure that every new project introduced by the state falls within the medium term expenditure framework (MTEF) earlier passed by the legislature, otherwise they should refuse approval. We are beginning to see new governors come up with new fantastic ideas and grand projects which were neither in the state budget this year nor in the MTEF.
The future looks very rough as far as the economy goes, but it also provides opportunity for real committed patriots in government to make the difference. I hope we can count many of such from the present crop of governors. This is where Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna seems to be making sense among the crowd. He recently banned state sponsorship of pilgrims and the sharing of freebies in the name of Ramadan feeding/gifts. In doing so, he broke from a ‘tradition’ that did his state and citizens no good. That truly is what governance should be about in these austere times and we expect other governors to take a cue from him.
First published in The Niche on Sunday July 5, 2015.