December 9, 2022

Attack on governors by the President and his ministers

By Adekunle Adekoya

I don’t know whether you see it from my perspective, but it seems to me that an unusual kind of war is going on. I am speaking of the attacks on state governors by the federal executive led by President Muhammadu Buhari.

First, it was the Minister of State for Budget & National Planning, Clem Agba, that fired a salvo at their excellencies, accusing them of being responsible for the suffocating poverty in the land. Agba, at a briefing in Abuja last week, said that instead of embarking on programmes that will take the masses of our people out of poverty, governors are focused on building airports and flyovers. Noting that about 72% of our population live in the rural areas and that they produce about 90% of the food we eat, sub-national governments should focus more on programmes and projects that will uplift them. His words:

“I think from the Federal Government’s side we are doing our best. But we need to say that rather than governors continuing to compete to take loans to build airports that are not necessary, where they have other airports so close to them, or governors now competing to build flyovers all over the place, we appeal that they should concentrate on building rural roads so that the farmer can at least get their products to the market.” 

Not long after that, President Buhari himself fired the equivalent of a ballistic missile at the governors when he accused them of stealing local government funds. In making the accusation, the president narrated his experience with a governor who he said is a lawyer, well-educated, but declined to name him. In fact, he said that their excellencies the state governors are in the habit of taking as much as half of a local government’s allocation while giving the local government chairman a letter to sign that he/she received the amount in full.

On the day the president made the accusation, there were a few rebuttals from the governors, but nothing strident by way of denials. On the issue of deepening poverty, the governors responded through their forum secretariat, and returned the blame to the Federal Government. They — governors and the president and his ministers — seemed to have moved on regarding the issue until two days ago when another minister, at a briefing in Abuja, said that governors should be made to account for monies accruing to their treasuries from the Ecological Fund.

Environment Minister, Dr. Mohammed Abdullahi, took the governors to task on the issue of recent floods which ravaged many states of the federation. He averred that if the governors had deployed accruals from the Ecological Fund to tackling ecological problems in their states, the level of flooding that Nigeria experiences yearly would not have been as devastating as they have been, and maintained that while the Federal Government through the relevant ministries and agencies, including that of Environment, have their roles to play in controlling and mitigating flooding, state governments must do their part with the huge sums of money they collect for ecological purposes.

Suddenly, and as the Buhari administration nears its terminal date, it is the season of blame games. So, the Federal Government and its officials can blame state governors for deepening poverty in the land? With the kind of federalism we practise, which some have said is of the feeding-bottle variety, who really should take the blame for what?

Why does the Federal Government keep a Ministry of Agriculture, with two ministers? What does Nigeria Agricultural Land Development Agency, NALDA, the various research institutes and scores of parastatals in under the ministry do? If they were doing their work, would food cost so much in the country now?

There are other disturbing threads in the Agba’s allegations, which the governors have addressed in their response but which bear repetition here. Does it mean that the Minister Agba can’t see the connection between insecurity and food poverty in the land? Who controls the security agencies — the President or state governors? If people can’t go to farm as they used to in the past, who should have done what about that?

I commented on the local government funds issue last week. My position remains the same. If the president knew all along what had been going on and has not been able to do anything about it in more than seven years, he scored F9. Simple. Truth of the matter is that state governors could have made a lot more difference in our lives than the federal because they are closer to the people.

But they have also decided to short-change us by the way they have managed local governments. It does not make sense that potentates who decry concentration of resources and power at the centre perpetuate a similar undesirable state of affairs in the states. There must be a rethink. Regarding the ecological funds, no rebuttal yet; we are still waiting.

But generally, I find it strange that governors are suddenly coming under what seems a well-choreographed attack by federal officials led by the president. Is there something we’re not seeing? Perhaps. And it’s election season. For a president that is not on the ballot, but whose party desires to win the next election, it’s strange. Curious getting curiouser, don’t you think?