I always knew this day would come. But it took a long time coming. And for that long, our elected state governors carried on with the illusion of grandeur and lived a life of opulence, mesmerising the populace with their ostentatious lifestyles to the envy of the citizens who were getting poorer by the day. Despite Nigeria being endowed with vast resources, there is heart-wrenching poverty everywhere. The lines between the public and private purse have become blurred so much that the difference exists only in theory. In practice, they have become one and the same. This is the story of Nigeria’s paradox – a country blessed by God but cursed by its leaders.
The 45 per cent drop in receivables from oil revenues owing to the crash in oil prices has exposed the false underbelly of many states.
The reality before us today is that virtually all the states in the country can’t pay workers’ salaries. Our imperial state governors who had carried on like lords of the manor are now facing the harsh realities of their economic situation. They are now united by their common predicament caused by their profligacy and mismanagement of taxpayers’ money and have gone cap in hand, begging the federal government for a bailout. But unfortunately, the federal government is equally in a precarious financial state, and can barely meet its own basic financial needs.
While the state governors have fed fat on taxpayers’ monies, it is the poor workers and pensioners who have grown leaner and leaner, pinching pennies just to survive. They are the ones who sometimes have to wait in endless queues to be verified before they can get their legitimate pittance. Yet, these are the very same people who stand in long lines under the sun and in the rain to vote for these greedy, heartless governors during elections.
The big question I have been asking which I have been unable to find answer(s) to is: why did our people vote for these governors in the first place and even went further to re-elect some of them, when they had evidently performed below average in their first term? In this particular instance, why did Osun people re-elect Governor Rauf Aregbesola for another term in office when he could not pay workers’ salaries? Lest we forget, his first term came about on the highly suspicious ruling of the Court of Appeal. Why did Osun workers give Aregbesola a second term in office to continue his mismanagement of the state when his first term was plagued by the same non-payment of salaries? Recall that in the countdown to his re-election in August last year, Lagos and Edo States were purported to have packaged desperate emergency bailout fund for Osun to save it for the All Progressives Congress (APC), after the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had claimed Ekiti State in an earlier election that exploded the myth of APC’s invincibility in the South-west, sending shock waves across the nation.
So the problems of the state did not just start today – the people were well aware and proceeded to re-elect him. Why did that large crowd turn out to celebrate his victory after the Supreme Court ruled in his favour, when he clearly failed even the most basic obligation to Osun workers of paying them their salaries? It is still baffling to me. The same applies to all other state governors irrespective of party affiliation. How and why they got re-elected to office despite their dismal performances in their first term in office which defied logic.
Despite obvious poor performance, why should workers who constitute the major voting bloc in elections allow party affiliation instead of competence and capacity to deliver, determine their choices? It appears our people would rather vote a candidate in an election simply on the grounds of being the candidate of the PDP or the APC, and not necessarily because that candidate has a good vision for society, or is the best among the lot on offer. But more importantly, they sheepishly vote a candidate because he is anointed by a godfather – who sits somewhere and negotiates a portion of taxpayers’ resources into his pocket. I think sociologists have their work cut out for them to figure out why our people behave this way, because for us laymen, these things don’t make sense.
It is shameful that our politics has sunk to this level devoid of informed choices. And more often than not, we later live to regret the consequences of such choices: avarice, corruption, maladministration, mismanagement, lack of vision, huge debts, poor governance easily sprint to the front as the legacy of these unconscionable leaders.
For instance, how did Delta State under Dr Emmanuel Uduagan pile up N637.22 billion debt burden for the new government to shoulder? What did he do with the money? Which projects did he execute with such massive debt? About three years ago, I visited Warri — my first in nearly 20 years. I was shocked at the level of infrastructural decay; I was shocked at the desolate atmosphere that pervaded the land; a somewhat sad reminder of the broken promises and hope deferred at the very point of take-off. This was Warri, the oil city; and this was Delta State; called the Big Heart, pauperised so much by its leaders that even the sky wept at the fate that had befallen it. The state laid waste needlessly amid opportunities for prosperity – hijacked by a thoughtless and visionless brood of vipers.
The roads were in such bad shape that I could hardly believe what I was seeing. I was angry as I got a slight hint of the sheer scale of alleged robbery committed against Deltans. I was mad at the potholes the vehicle conveying me had to dodge and the bad road it had to navigate through to get to my destination. On quizzing the driver on the state of the roads and the performance of the then Governor Uduaghan, whom I had heard was performing miracles in the state, he chuckled and responded in that typical Warri broken English: “Which performance? Perform wetin? Na newspaper talk am say he work, but for us wen dey here, dey see wetin dey happen, nothin dey ground. Dem don chop our moni die. Na so everywhere be; nothing at all dey ground.” His response indicated clearly that there was nothing in the state to match the huge allocations from the federal government over the years. Then, I asked him why the people re-elected the governor. His response was another chuckle: “Dem vote? Our vote no be anything naa! Dem dey win without votes. So we dey just wait make dem announce who win, den everybody go go siddon. Na so e bi ooo.”
I sat motionless hardly able to contain myself at what I was listening to and witnessing with my eyes; the blind rape of a state in the name of governance by a rapacious few entrusted with the destiny of the people. How can this happen to an oil producing state? That nurtured my formative years, right up to my adolescence? Transfixed in thoughts, memories of the distant past, flashed through my mind. The receding years of hope and promises of a better life; promises of development aborted by a ruinous leadership. I cursed repeatedly all those involved in the plundering and looting of the state. But I was soon knocked back to reality when the car swerved dangerously to dodge a crater. This was one year into Uduaghan’s second term in office.
Come to think of it for a moment. Is it not a shame that Delta State has no major city that can compare with any other major city in the country? At least by our own standards on infrastructure. But this is the reality in that state today despite the enormous oil wealth it benefits from. You can therefore imagine the shock when the new governor raised the alarm penultimate week that former Governor Uduaghan left a jaw-dropping debt overload of N637.22 billion. It was frightening how he got the state into debt with nothing to show for it. This man did not just mismanage the state’s oil allocations, but got it heavily indebted that will take a lifetime to clear up. And he is working free? Yes, he and his cohorts are working free!
Now, let’s go back to the issue of a bailout for the states. As much as I am not against coming to their rescue, I also worry that a precedent is being set for governors who mismanaged their states’ resources in the future to come begging for a bailout. To my mind, it encourages corruption and mismanagement of taxpayers’ monies. Bailout funds are usually subject to very stringent conditions of fiscal responsibility and benchmarks which must be met and monitored by eagle-eyed institutions to ensure that the objectives of the bailout are achieved. Otherwise, it would amount to subsidising wastage, mismanagement and corruption being perpetuated by the governors and their cronies to sustain their luxurious lifestyles such as charter of private jets for their domestic and foreign travels, large convoy of state-of-the-art cars, organising parties and such other mundane indulgences.
What are the terms and conditions for repayment or is the money a gift to the states? More importantly, was the bailout money appropriated by the National Assembly? Does the President have the power to just wake up and sign off monies from the Federation Account just like that without appropriation? The bailout package can only be a temporary cushion against the states’ financial meltdown, as oil prices are still maintaining their downward movement and there is no sign of a sustained reversal. The question is: what measures are the states taking to mitigate their current dire financial situation? So far we have seen no evidence of any serious and creative measures taken to cut cost and increase their revenue base.
Instructively, many of the states clamouring for a bailout are reported to be spending billions of naira on sponsoring Muslims and Christians on pilgrimage to Mecca and Jerusalem respectively; an indication that these states have no idea what their priorities are. But Imo State Governor and Chairman of the APC Governors’ Forum, Chief Rochas Okorocha, who is owing his state workers over two months salaries, wants Nigerians to believe states can’t pay workers’ salaries because of the mismanagement at the federal level.
He said this while making a case for a bailout for the states to enable them pay salaries. He was reported to have said after a meeting of the APC governors: “On the economy of the nation, we are concerned and worried by the dwindling revenue of the states which today has affected negatively, the lives of our people. The matter has become so serious that urgent action must be taken for a bailout for the states, as things are not getting better either. We have sat down to review steps that should be taken, and we are calling for a total overhaul of the system to block all the leakages in our nation’s economy.”
Fellow Nigerians, what Okoracha failed to state but which is self-evident to all is that the states have become sinkholes for wasting taxpayers’ monies, and state governors have become the biggest threat to our national economy. It is amazing such a statement came from Okorocha himself. Whatever he meant to achieve, he ended up making a mockery of the meaning of every word in that statement attributed to him.
The first question to ask him is: has he plugged the leakages in his own state? Also how did Peter Obi manage Anambra State without debts, execute massive projects and paid workers salaries without owing?
In case he is not aware, 22 assorted cars were reportedly recovered from three of the four wives of the former Bauchi State Governor, Isa Yuguda. In addition, over 50 cars were also recovered from his aides, in a state that owes workers four months’ salaries. If that is not waste, then Okoracha will have to tell Nigerians what it is.
On May 23, former Governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi, against all entreaties went ahead to conduct local government elections just six days to his handover on May 29, even defying a court order in the process. He hurriedly performed the swearing-in of the “selected” chairmen into office on the eve of the expiration of his tenure. A Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt on Thursday last week nullified that election because it was done in flagrant disobedience of a subsisting court order. Over N4 billion was spent in conducting that “useless” selection at a time the state government owed its workers two months salary arrears.
Imagine for a moment that instead of embarking on that exercise, he had used that money to pay workers’ salaries in the state, because with the nullification of the election by the court, all that money spent on their conduct has gone down the drain. If that is not waste, then Okorocha will have to tell Nigerians the meaning of the word “waste”. Aregbesola flies helicopter all over the place and sleeps comfortably at night even as his people continue to suffer pain and anguish under his rule.
His neighbour in Oyo State, Governor Abiola Ajimobi, owes workers four months’ salaries, yet he just won re-election. Why did the people vote him back to office when they could have thrown him out?
I was overjoyed when the former Governor of Benue State, Gabriel Suswan’s senatorial quest failed. A visionless young man who left his state and people worse off than he met them was finally punished by his own very constituency, which denied him a seat in the senate.
The message here was clear: a failure cannot represent his people. He also owed workers five months salaries. Until the people wake up from their sleep by making good choices, and punishing poor leaders, we’ll continue to suffer poor governance.