By Dele Sobowale
“You can get in more trouble with good ideas than bad ones; it is so much easier to push a good idea to excess.” Ben Graham. (VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS p 97).
President Buhari turned down the idea of bail-out at first. I must confess to being one of those who thought a bail-out was inevitable – given the empty purses most states were holding. However, it was my position that the states arrived at the same position through different routes. Some took sensible risks which backfired when the price of crude oil tumbled and the monthly revenue allocation from Abuja declined dangerously.
At the moment, the monthly allocation for August has not been conducted and the funds have not been released. Othr states ended up on the list of “Beggar States” for reasons difficult to understand. Akwa Ibom is one example. It must be regarded as one of the ten wonders of the last eight years that a state which collected nearly N3 trillion, equal to the allocations for the six poorest states, could still end up with the “beggar’s bowl” in hand asking for bail-out. And, for the Federal Government to grant the request – no questions asked. “Saints” and “sinners” are given the same treatment. To say the least, this is setting a bad precedent.
The question we must ask ourselves is this: what principle are we trying to establish here? To start with, since not all the states are requesting for and are being granted the bail-out, what we are doing now amounts to rewarding those whose judgment turned out to be bad as well as the fraudulent while penalizing those who conducted their financial affairs well. This is one precedent that might come to haunt us in the future.
Furthermore, by converting consumption debts (in financial circles no bank would lend anyone money to pay salaries) to bonds, the arrangement in place might amount to inappropriate use of bonds. Generally, bonds are issued to finance projects which will generate revenue with which to repay the obligations. These bonds are not tied to income-generating projects. That partially explains why the tenure, thirty years, is so long. That again has unintended consequences for all of us.
Some of the governors now in office will remain for eight years; some four and a few (Ondo, Ekiti, Osun, Anambra) will serve for less than four years. Yet, all the states receiving the bail-outs would have shackled their next three, four, five or six successors to repayment of debts without any project bringing the revenue to help repay. This generation of President, Governors, legislators and citizens are consuming what belongs to our children with nothing to assist them.
But, of all the aspects of the bail-out scheme, the one that all Nigerians should find most troublesome is the fact that the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, will pay the salaries of states’ staff directly to their accounts. Granted, beggars cannot always choose, but it would appear that the principle of separation of powers between states and the Federal Government is being violated. In their eagerness to obtain relief the “Beggar States” are allowing a bad precedent to be established under which the Federal Government can in the future assume responsibilities for paying salaries to states’ staff directly.
Even, under centralized military regimes, this arrangement would have appeared strange for an entity pretending to be a Federal Republic. In a democracy, this is becoming too much of a price to pay just to get the governors off the hook.
The road to hell is always paved with good intentions. With this step, we might have embarked on that road. And, there is a good reason why we should retrace out steps.
Most of the states operate with over-bloated public service. A visit to the Secretariat of any state and any Ministry in the state will reveal several hundred “workers” sitting idle, gossiping and marking time. As the price of crude continues its steady decline, the measure just taken might offer only temporary succor – unless the governors are forced to make the tough decisions about their staff strength. Allowing them to continue with so many redundant staff, the problem will resurface again any time soon. Then, what would we have gained by creating so many bad precedents?