By Dele Sobowale
“Every country gets the government it deserves.”
Joseph De Maistre 1753-1821.
And every state of Nigeria has the governor and government it deserves – despite our penchant for criticizing the same people majority of us elected at every election. Today, most governors in states of Nigeria have become subjects of hostile attacks, mainly because of their inability to pay salaries – as and when due. Until recently, Osun State was the epicenter of the salaries storm. It is still not out of it. But, by regularly paying half salary to certain categories of staff Governor Aregbesola had kept the “wolves” at bay. If he succeeds in doing that until he leaves office next year, the civil servants in the state will suddenly wake up and ask his successor to pay them the arrears. That reaction is not different from that of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, who allowed Jonathan to escape without paying what he promised them and are now harassing Buhari for the debts owed. Not for one minute has it ever occurred to the present leaders of ASUU that they were the architects of their own misfortune.
Kogi State is now the centre of attraction – largely because a senior public servant allegedly committed suicide because of delayed or unpaid salaries. It was tragically amusing to read that several Senators, undoubtedly urged by Senator Melaye, donated bags of rice to Kogi civil servants. It was political and stupid because what was donated could not possibly feed the recipients for more than one day. Then what follows? I have never met Mr Bello, the Governor of Kogi state; but, it is quite possible that all the criticisms and insults directed at him and others (e.g Ortom of Benue) might be missing the point.
Irrespective of the governors’ personal failings, the fact that over twenty eight states of Nigeria now find it difficult to regularly pay salaries should tell us something we might not like to know because it calls for a much more difficult remedy than merely blaming the governors and calling them unprintable names in absentia.
Indeed, if salaries are not paid in any state because the governor is wicked or corrupt, the solution is very simple and within the grasp of the people of the state. We have not only elected the governors, we also elected members of the state houses of assembly. As representatives of the people all that is needed is for two-thirds of (in fact all) the states lawmakers to vote to remove the governor and replace him with the deputy who should be able to pay. This was done during the Second Republic in Kaduna State when Alhaji Balarabe Musa was impeached. So, why has the Kogi or Osun Assemblies not pulled the trigger? The shocking answer is: they know that it does not matter who is governor, the state will not be able to pay salaries as and when due. In other words, the governors might have their faults, but the problem is more systemic and fundamentally economic and the solution will call for a radical change in governance. Otherwise, we have just started several years of state governors who will not be able to pay salaries.
Just in case the reader thinks that this is an apology for the state governors, let me refer to two articles published in December 2014 and January 2015 titled SO YOU WANT TO BE GOVERNOR IN 2015 and BEFORE YOUR STATE GOVERNOR RUNS AWAY, respectively. In the first article the following prediction was made.
“Back in May of last year, a warning was issued on these pages to those wanting to succeed incumbent governors about the financial disasters ahead. Few took notice. As you read the column again, several states owe staff salaries, some up to four months and the calamity is just unfolding. The drop in the price of crude oil, which was then mentioned as a possibility, is now a certainty and it is worse than anybody could have imagined and will last longer than imaginable. By May 2015, hardly any state will be able to fulfill its obligations to its workers”
In the second, Nigerians were told that in May 2014, out of sheer frustration, associated with talking to the deaf, I wrote a column titled SO YOU WANT TO BE GOVERNOR IN 2015. “In it, Nigerians were told that states, and even the Federal government, might not be able to pay salaries by 2015. Those wanting to be governors were warned about the empty purses and huge debts they will inherit. In December, an ethnic “brother” to Okonjo-Iweala, sent me a message, calling me a Prophet of Doom who hates Igbos – as if Igbos alone will suffer when the calamity occurs. As it turned out, I was even slightly off the mark. By the end of 2014, all the states of Nigeria, my own Lagos State included, owed their staff salaries, arrears of allowances etc. To cap the dreary situation, thousands of civil servants, including federal workers, spent Christmas without their salaries – despite assurances from the finance minister.”
Obviously, because of our collective short memories in Nigeria, we are blaming the current governors for a disaster that was predicted even before most of them were elected and a few were re-elected. The calamity has only been postponed, not averted and “doom’s day” might be as close as 2018. Two unforeseen events have postponed the evil day – Federal Government bail out of the states and the Paris Club refund to states. Without them at least thirty two states would be in trouble now. It might shock us to know that if we remove all the state governors today and replace them with their severest critics in each state we will still have the problem. So, while blaming Aregbesola or Bello or other state governors might make us feel good, it is a waste of time from the standpoint of finding a practical and sustainable solution.
What we are experiencing now and which will continue well beyond 2018 is a calamity which began more than four years ago and to which very few people paid attention and far fewer understood.
Current state governors are, by and large, custodians of well package economic time bombs by the military under General Obasanjo in the 1979 Constitution and the 1999 General Abubakar Constitution. The Presidential form of government forced on us and the entrenched uniform salary scale for all public servants made political sense but portended grave economic catastrophe. Obasanjo and Abubakar, being economic illiterates, could not possibly understand that they had passed a death sentence on states of Nigeria which only crude oil selling at $120 per barrel could avert. As the price of crude started going steadily down in 2014, the warnings above were given, but ignored. From now on states will find it difficult to pay salaries until we address the fundamental faults in the system.
Granted, some or all of the governors, past and present, might have multiplied the tragedy by indulging in corrupt practices and launching white elephant projects, but, the truth remains that even the most honest and economically prudent among them would still have been in trouble by now. They could not escape being the fall guys for the sins of their predecessors in office. Permit me to provide two reasons for that statement – both irrefutable because the events occurred right in front of our eyes. While our eyes were open, they might as well be blind.
To be continued…..
HOW EKITI BECAME POOR
“To know/That which before us lies in daily life/Is the prime wisdom, what is more is fume.” John Milton, 1608-1674.
(VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ p 275).
Once upon a time, Ekiti State was part of Ondo State, which was also a part of the Western Region, which had the highest par capita income of all the regions at the time. Then some people took over. The Armed Forces of Nigeria seized the nation’s wealth and states and proceeded to do what they liked with them. They even had most us, the victims, clapping for them. Creation of states was one of the crumbs they threw at politicians. Ekiti was one of the sad consequences of that madness.
A very close friend of mine was one of the most vocal agitators for the creation of the state. I told him then that Ondo State being an oil producing state was already a middle income state in Nigeria. Without a single oil bloc in Ekiti, it was not advisable to leave the oil-producers.
He and millions of Ekiti people would not listen.
Today, Ondo is still a middle income state; Ekiti is definitely a poor state and as federal allocations continue to dwindle, it will not matter who is governor. He still will find it difficult to pay salaries and develop the state. State creation has benefited only the political class.