By Dele Sobowale
“The bail-out is a temporary assistance to the states to pay salaries. The bail-out is the calculation of arrears of salaries being owed by states. The truth of the matter is that because of the ongoing fall in revenue, accruals to states from the Federation Account and IGR is reducing.”
Governor Mimiko of Ondo State, October 15, 2015.
If there is one thing uniting the thirty-six state governors, irrespective of political affiliation, it is the fact that the two bail-out arrangements fashioned out by the Federal Government have not solved the problem. Doctors in the medical field know the phenomenon too well.
It is called treating the symptom instead of the cause(s) of a disease. And, like cancer, which starts as a small lump and becomes bigger on life-threatening, economic tumour starts slowly; get bigger; and eventually might lead to economic calamity.
One State, Zamfara, is already feeling the pains of procrastination. Its creditors secured a court order to seize the funds in all its bank accounts. Suddenly, insufficient funds have become no funds at all for Zamfara. It might not be the last. Banking sources inform me that two states in the South-West might soon receive the same treatment. And, even they will not be the last. Nigerian States might find it increasingly hazardous to keep their money in banks. Then what? Economic paralysis; that is what.
Let me quickly remind the reader about the two bail-out packages approved by the Federal Government for the states – after President Buhari first turned out the appeal from the state governors. Let me also confess my role in promoting the bail-out decision. However, while supporting bail-out to the states as inevitable, it was also pointed out that it would not solve the problem unless the state governments become more responsible. Mostly, they are short-term in their orientation and are mostly irresponsible. A few examples will illustrate the point.
Pilgrimages, Christian or Moslem, represent the classic waste because the expenditure is not expected to yield any returns —unlike investments which should be self-liquidating while hopefully yielding returns as well. To the best of my knowledge, as a Christian, there is nothing in the Bible mandating a Christian to travel to Jerusalem or any other place on pilgrimage. So, why have state governments been undertaking the sponsorship of Christian Pilgrimage?
Right on my working table is a copy of The Quran in English. It is my third copy – the first two developed wings mysteriously. My first was purchased in 1967 in the Middle East. While the Quran made it one of the five pillars of Islam that those who can afford it should proceed on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, there is nothing in it which passed the obligation to fund the pilgrimage to a third party. So, why do governments sponsor pilgrims to Mecca?
It is noteworthy that no government in the First Republic considered it a duty to sponsor pilgrims — Christians or Muslims. Nigerian politicians for purely selfish political reasons have latched on to sponsorship of the pilgrimages and have turned them into avenues for corrupt practices. Born and bred in Lagos, I am too familiar with the corrupt practices attending the exercise each and every time they embarked on it. Other States cannot be different because promotion of religion had never been the motivation for sponsoring pilgrims. When huge sums of state funds are wasted annually doing what should not be done, there is that much less to spend on the crucial matters.
Among those with salaries unpaid for several months were the staff of the Pilgrims Welfare Board (or some such unnecessary unit) who still remain in office draining funds needed for education for instance. No state which collected any of the bail-out packages has announced the dissolution of its Pilgrims Welfare Board – meaning they continue to act as a drain on resources.
Granted, because the incumbent governors met the Boards in place and they have used them for personal political advantage, it will be difficult for them to close those shops. Those benefiting immensely from the waste will also resist the dissolution. But, the governors and the people of the states have a choice. They can admit that this nonsense is no longer sustainable or they can run their states to the ground.
Then, not only will sponsorship of pilgrimages stop; everything else will grind to a halt as well. As Bernard Malamud had told us in THE FIXER, “In a sick country, every step to health is an insult to those who live on its sickness.” Pilgrim Welfare Boards are populated by people who live on the misguided notion that government should fund religions.
Finally, one should ask if Christianity and Islam are the only two religions in Nigeria. To the best of my knowledge, with the possible exception of Osun State’s sponsorship of Osun Osogbo Festival, no other state extends the courtesy to our traditional religions. Even Lagos State stands aloof as the Egungun, Eyo, Igunu Festivals are funded and celebrated by the believers. Yet Nigeria is supposed to have no state religion. The hypocrisy is apparent. What is nor so clear is the colossal financial waste by a poor country on this fundamental mistake. As long as we continue to throw billions of naira at Saudi and Israel every year, there will never be enough money for the states henceforth….