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Epistle to His Excellency the Governor

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By  Obadiah Mailafia

CONGRATULATIONS for being sworn into the exalted office of chief executive of your state. Under our Constitution, the governor is not only the principal administrator but also the chief security officer of the state. Some of our jurists opine that, under our 1999 Constitution the governor enjoys wider prerogatives than the incumbent of the high magistracy of our great federal republic. His constitutional immunity gives him power to commit murder and get away with it. It would have drawn the envy of the Roman Proconsuls of old.

You have literally power of life and death over your subjects. Yes, it seems a rather extreme thing to say, but that is the order of things on ground. Today, the typical governor can and does literally place the State Assembly, the civil service, the judiciary and the local government under his own direct pocket.

One of the Northern governors once told us how he woke up one morning, beholding through the window of his mansion at Government House the kaleidoscope of cars and the ghosts of unwashed masses passing by. He had an epiphany: “It is true that while we are not God, but God, in His infinite mercy, has given us absolute power over the affairs of men”.   One morning this governor was driving out of town to Abuja when he beheld a beautiful building on the outskirts that had been constructed to lintel level. He asked his personal aide if he knew who owned the edifice. It belonged to Alhaji X, who happened to be one of his staunchest political rivals. There and then he placed a call to his Chief of Staff at Government House. He left a simple instruction. If he returned that evening and the said building was still standing he should consider himself sacked. Without waiting to find out the reasons for that executive order, the Chief of Staff went to the Ministry of Works to get some bull-dozers. Within minutes, the property was brought down. It wasn’t that the man had constructed the building without planning permission. His Excellency wanted to leave the man in no doubt as to who is the boss of all the bosses – the Capo di tutti Capi.

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What Sir Winston Churchill terms “the rare ambrosia of power” can be quite intoxicating. It often gets into people’s heads and they soon begin to behave like the possessed of Fyodor Dostoevsky, Russia’s great 19th century novelist. It takes an enormous level of civic virtue, maturity and self-restraint not to get carried away by the allurements of power.  One of the governors was not only in the habit of demolishing the properties of his opponents, he regularly called judges to issue diktats on the cases pending in their courts. Investors cannot implement any big profitable projects without giving the governor his own stake. Free of charge.

Another was known to issue all the government contracts – large or small – strictly to his own fronted companies. No single individual other than members of his own family was ever empowered in financial terms in the state during his eight years in office.

Until the recent initiative of the National Financial Intelligence Unit, NFIU, all the local government finances were usurped by the governors, with absolutely no accountability to anyone. One notorious nut-case has been in the habit of deliberately stoking local embers of inter-ethnic violence to justify quadrupling his monthly security votes. One was openly videotaped taking bribes in dollars and pocketing them in his starched flowing gowns.

Several are also in the habit of desecrating our ancient traditional institutions by breaking them up and creating new ones either to spite their enemies or to advance the cause of what Chief Olusegun Obasanjo describes as “Fulanisation and Islamisation”.

One of the cultic governors from the South was in the habit of erecting statues of foreign leaders while spending the money of the state in building private luxury estates in the name of his wife. He was also grooming his son-in-law to succeed him while buying the senatorial ticket for himself and the House of Representatives ticket for his own wife. He literally turned his benighted state into a personal family estate while oppressing everybody with his barely literate and overbearing loquacity. Some governors used to engage in massive borrowing from commercial banks at exorbitant rates; leaving their states in a debt peonage. The catalogue of mischief is in endless concentric circles.

Your Excellency, Mr. Governor, whatever the potentials for uses and abuses, being elected to this enviable position is an opportunity to write your name in gold. From day one, you must take charge. It is easy for your advisers to run rings round you and turn you into a prisoner in a gilded pavilion. You must know the state of the finances. You will need to apply rigorous prudence and judicious wisdom in managing the scarce public resources. In an era of dwindling oil revenues, we must brace ourselves for secular decline in the level of statutory transfers from the federal centre.

You must deploy all the creativity in the world to expand the extractive capacity of the state to generate internal revenue. But you can only do that effectively when peace reigns and when you expand the frontiers of welfare and economic opportunities, especially for medium, small and micro-enterprises.

You must also audit human resources in the state. Of recent, there has been a fiscal crisis in the states, manifested in backlogs of salary arrears for civil servants. Part of the problem derives from the ubiquity of ghost workers. You must, therefore, institute a rigorous audit to flush them out. You also need to match posts with roles, performance and outcomes. If there are redundancies, bite the bullet and cashier them off. You must have a civil service that delivers if you are to succeed.

Equally important is selecting your team of advisers and cabinet. This has been the Waterloo of many a well-meaning governor. The easiest temptation is to bring in relations and old schoolmates. That would be a mistake. History will judge you, not them. Bring in strictly people with ability who will help you achieve your objectives. Donald Trump used to counsel that one must “bring in people that are smarter than you are – and distrust them”. Your cabinet should reflect the diversity of the state while prioritising merit and performance.

I would also counsel you to get an expert to design an economic policy blueprint for your administration. Four years will pass quickly before you know it. You must hit the ground running, as the American Marines would say. Reinvent yourself as a performer. Be hungry for success. Set clear goals and targets for your team. Build a true cabinet in the sense of a team united together by a common vision. Be ready to kick backsides. Follow the ancient African proverb which enjoins the king to “speak softly but carry a big stick”.

You will need all the wisdom and knowledge in the world. You will also need good luck. Politics in our own climes is a very murky business. The waters are full of sharks. They will test your patience and resilience at every turn. You must, therefore, develop the skin of a crocodile. Keep a good sense of humour.

Celebrate success. Give praise where praise is due while reprimanding where reprimand is needed. But avoid destructive criticism. Be generous to those who fail not out of malice or sabotage but out of genuine ignorance. A good leader is also a teacher. Keep a strong network of informants who will tell you the naked truth, not what they think you want to hear. Be wary of fawning praise-singers and political prostitutes.

Good luck!


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