By Dakuku Peterside
THE gubernatorial and state houses of assembly elections have come and gone in most states. Unfortunately in some states it was characterised by drama, unnecessary tension, flawed process, violence and broad daylight electoral robbery. The victors are celebrating, and the losers must be feeling bad. We all hope that this election, flawed as it may seem, will deepen our democracy and that we have elected leaders that will steer the ship of the various states in Nigeria to a glorious destination. Governors who will convert electoral mandate to results in socio-economic progress. The few weeks coming will see election petitions on account of an obviously flawed process. And the judiciary will play its role in deciding the fate of most governors. As sad as this may be, this has become an unpalatable aspect of our democratic process. A critical reason for the massive interest in the governorship election is the vital role governors play in our democracy and our federalism.
The state level remains the closest to the people and governors are crucial development actors that are often forgotten in discussing development in Nigeria because undue focus is on the Federal Government, and most people attribute progress or lack of it to the Federal Government. The combined total 2023 budget of the 36 states of Nigeria is over N11 trillion, which is more than 50 per cent of the Federal Government’s 2023 budget of N21.83 trillion. This vast fund accruing to the states, if properly harnessed and managed, adds critically to the development of Nigeria.
I argue at this point that just as in all federal systems, attention must divert from the centre and focus more on the constituent parts of the federation. It is at this local level that development is planned and executed. The Federal Government should play more of the role of a central facilitator and only get involved in the country’s strategic security, economic and social interests. It is appalling and an anathema that the Federal Government controls more funds than all the states combined, which has led to the states going cap in hands monthly to the Federal Government for monthly allocation.
In most federal systems, the case is the opposite – the states fund the federal through a specified allocation process. It is also disheartening that some state governments cannot survive without total reliance on Federal Government projects and allocations. This is at the root of Nigeria’s lack of progress – having states that are liabilities to the nation because they are unproductive and not viable.
It is utterly absurd that instead of elected governors to focus on making their states economically viable and developing their states from down to up, many governors have turned the states into fiefdoms and domains where they rule as absolute dictators controlling not just the resources of the state, but all the state institutions with impunity. We see governors who unashamedly use public funds as their private funds and use it anyhow they want, with little or no accountability whatsoever. The job of a governor requires that they be less wasteful, less grandiose in lifestyle and cost of governance.
Nigerian state governors, by our Constitution, have enormous powers and resource bases that, if properly deployed, can create an oasis of development. Some of the revenue accruing to some states in Nigeria compares to that of smaller African countries. To illustrate this, Lagos State’s 2023 budget of about $4bn is higher than the 2023 budget of the Republic of Togo ($3.2bn), almost equivalent to the Republic of Benin’s 2023 budget ($4.5bn), and nearly half of Ghana’s 2023 budget of $11.7bn.
Other states have a similar revenue trajectory. How states manage their resources directly correlates with the state’s development level. A cursory look at past governors and their performance will highlight various governors’ good, bad, and ugly shades. I am incredibly grateful to some governors who, in the past four or eight years, were able to articulate their vision clearly, set right priorities, ran a disciplined and inclusive administration and they are only a handful.
A few have grown the economy of their states, raised the Internally Generated Revenue, IGR, and made considerable strides in infrastructural, social, economic, and technological development of their states. That way, they succeeded in improving the standard of living of residents of their states. My basis for measuring the governor’s performance is devoid of propaganda and sheer theatrics that most governors exhibit to confuse their citizens about their performance. Building a few roads, flyovers, and community centres does not qualify as development, especially given the enormous resources accrued to the state. The assessment is based on Human Development Index, HDI.
It measures each state’s social and economic development by focusing on the following three factors: critical education parameters; relevant health metrics; and standard of living assessed by gross national income, GNI, per capita. The average HDI for Nigeria in 2021 was 0.535 (the possible highest is 1), and this is lower than for countries like Angola (0.58) and Egypt (0.73). Lagos State and Ogun State ranked the highest, with 0.68 and 0.67 respectively. The governors of these states are doing their best to maintain this quality of living among their citizens.
There are examples of bad governors who squandered the resources of their states, spend a lot of resources on politics and political survival to the detriment of salaries, pensions and capital projects. Where there are capital projects, they tend to be for display and vanity projects. Some of these governors are under investigation, and others are soon to be investigated when they leave office. In the past eight years, a South-South state had a cumulative revenue of over N4 trillion but has little or nothing to show for it.
The quality of life of the people of the state is declining, and unless there is some drastic measures, all the advantages the state had in the HDI during the previous administrations will erode. Many governors were not able to translate their mandate to any tangible results and it manifest in low HDI below national average. We have elected a new set of governors and re-elected a handful to serve another term. This is the time to set agenda for them and hold them accountable. This is the time to remind them to think beyond the exigencies of the moment and think ”legacy”.
Emeka Anyaoku in 2011 advised newly elected governors to be “harbingers of change” by investing in their peoples and pursuing socioeconomic policies to create employment for the youth, restore quality education, diversify the productive base of their economies and work for improved healthcare. The advise is still relevant till date. All governors should strive towards sustainable revenue inflow tied to economic productivity. I congratulate all the elected governors, irrespective of whether their election was flawed or not, and implore them to be courageous and determined to make an impact.
The task ahead of developing Nigeria is enormous and calls for selfless leadership and sacrifice. I hope for healthy competition among the governors to outperform each other. They should learn from each other to do the right thing and shun all forms of greed and reckless impunity that have marred some governors. I advise them not to become little emperors and sabotage state institutions for their selfish interests. Developing Nigeria is a task we must accomplish, and state governors are critical stakeholders and catalysts in shaping a new Nigeria.
We have a young population that we must engage in for greater productivity. The consequences of allowing our youth to wallow unproductively are dire to consider. The governors must allow for checks and balances and make for a healthy function of legislature and judiciary in the state. They must create an enabling environment for growth and development and support the private sector. I sincerely hope that the new set of governors will change the Nigerian narrative.
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