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Inaccessible Democratic Dividends: Unwieldy power and sins of State Governors, by Prof M.K. Othman

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Inaccessible Democratic Dividends: Unwieldy power and sins of State Governors, by Prof M.K. Othman

Deep Thought with Othman

Three months before the demise of Dr Abba Sayyadi Ruma of blessed memory, the former Minister of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources invited me to his Kaduna residence and sighted his digital empire, which he was about to deploy to achieve his lofty dream of revolutionizing Nigerian agriculture. Abba was an ideologue of digitizing agriculture and supporting services to boost productivity and remove poverty from smallholder farmers altogether. I was so fascinated listening to his splendid idea that I did not know when I requested that he vie for the position of governor to uplift people’s livelihoods. He pretended not to hear me, but I persisted with my request. Ruma said, “Prof, aspiring for governorship requires huge financial resources; the delegates for the primary election are like a bag of potatoes, when you buy it from the market, transport it, and take it to the kitchen, so to be elected at the primary, you finance the delegates for every movement from transportation, accommodation, feeding, and give each a chunk of money to return home. Ultimately, you need a minimum of N2 billion for the primary election and another N2 billion for the general campaign. Those giving you financial support attach a string to it for debt payment and a large profit margin, so why should I invest over N2 billion to become a governor?”. These large financial investments by political contestants, especially governors, give them unwieldy power to make, unmake, and feel no obligation or accountability to the electorates who financially benefited from the investment before or during an election. This scenario in Nigerian parlance is called “money politics,” which is the greatest undoing of our democratic system, the clog preventing people from accessing democratic dividends and making governors commit hidden sins.

After inauguration as governor, the keys to the state’s financial resources are kept under the governor’s pillow. The first hidden sin to shortchange the electorate is the concerted effort to control the state and national assembly members. Today, the state assemblies are willing and eager to be the rubberstamps of the states’ governors. House members contesting for speakership would be jostling and falling on themselves to secure the anointment of their governor, and only the anointed one would be elected in a charade, show-of-shame contest. How can such a speaker fail to play his rubberstamp role to the executive? The vibrancy of legislative independence has been massively eroded, and the word “impeachment” has become alien in the legislative book of state assemblies. Governors beat their chests, fire, and hire at the expense of good governance as the house members sleep on their duty posts. Perhaps as a “thank you gift” for the legislature’s failure to checkmate the governors’ excesses and lousy governance, house members are being compensated with exotic vehicles. From 2023 election to date. fifteen states expanded over N15 billion to buy SUVs for state house members from the 2023 election to date.

Among the governors, Governor Abba Kabiru Yusuf of Kano State purchased exotic sports utility vehicles (SUVs) valued at N68 million each for the 25 house members amounting to N2.7 billion.  Benue State House of Assembly members were each given an SUV worth N60 million by their state governor, Hyacinth Alia. Governor Muhammadu Inuwa Yahaya of Gombe State was not left behind in the competitive race to please house members. He presented 41 brand-new SUVs to all 24 members of the state assembly and 17 commissioners, each valued at N33.5 million. The governors of Kogi, Ondo, Ebonyi, Kebbi, Osun, Niger, and Delta, were among the 15 states that purchased exotic vehicles for their house members.

Another hidden sin is massive budgetary allocations to their offices. A newspaper reported that a compilation of data on the 2024 budget for various states in Nigeria reveals that N840.1 billion has been approved as expenditure for 35 state governors’ offices. The amount allocated to the governor’s office is much higher than that of some ministries. Together, the 35 state governments and their various houses of assemblies will spend about N1.214 trillion. Most of the spending and budget lines are unclear and hardly bear the welfare of the electorates who brought the governors and members of the Assembly to power.

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Another sin of the governors is their failure among some of them to pay their employees’ salaries as of when they were due. Their recent hesitation to accept a minimum wage above N60,000 is worrisome. Why are they refusing to pay workers a living wage? Since the withdrawal of fuel subsidies, the statutory allocations have increased by significant percentage. With the exception of Borno, Yobe, and one or two other states, there is nothing to show that states receive higher statutory allocation under this dispensation compared to before fuel subsidy withdrawal. Several roads remain in shambles, hospitals remain consulting clinics with no drugs, and there is a dearth of health professionals as they have massively moved abroad. Insecurity is fatally devastating rural communities and travelers.
Another hidden sin is the power of the governors to control local governments’ statutory allocations. The governors have absolute power over the LGAs’ statutory allocations and their shambling elected or appointed errand boys called LGA chairmen. With this faulty structure at the local government level, governors do as they wish in local government administration and finances. This is why President Ahmed Bola Tinubu’s move to secure local government autonomy is highly commendable. The LGAs should be allowed to use their statutory allocations to develop their communities and provide infrastructure, welfare, and security to their people.

Even at the national level, Governors contribute to the federal parliament’s dwindling fortunes by allowing incompetent loyalists to be elected as members of the National Assembly, resulting in high legislative turnover. This is evident in the high rate of legislative turnover in the 10th National Assembly. Again, at the expiration of their tenure, many governors bulldoze their way to the red chamber in Abuja as a “retirement resort” where they enjoy governors’ salaries as pensions and the mouth-watering salary of serving senators. As senators, these governors make little or no contribution to quality legislation through sponsorships of essential bills and motions. Currently, only four senators out of thirteen former governors sponsored a bill in the tenth Assembly, and many enjoyed their “hard-earned” financial resources without discharging their responsibilities.

Dear elected compatriots, President, governors, house members, etc., by your elective positions, you have signed contracts with Nigerian people to serve the country faithfully, loyally, and honestly. The contract is like a rope wrapped around your neck; your minutest failure in discharging your duty tights the rope while your performance loses it with a day of reckoning fast approaching. You must count for your deeds here or before the Almighty God. You cannot shortchange your people and get away with it. Mark my words.

To the Nigerian people, politicians and nonpoliticians, many of us have no other country but Nigeria; bad governance is cancer; it eats up a body and destroys the soul; when the ship capsizes, it goes with a sailor and the last passenger, and there is no place for escape. Today, the have-nots cannot sleep due to hunger, and the haves cannot because the have-nots are not sleeping.

It’s past time for voters to use the lessons we have learned throughout the past 25 years of democracy. However, because we give our votes to careless politicians in exchange for a little yam porridge, our living conditions are getting worse. The amount of local and foreign debts they have accrued, along with the advance sales of crude oil without accountability or transparency, have not only left us with our destinies, but they have also stolen our future and the future of our children. We must change the narrative, if we are to survive as a nation. May God guide us, amen.

Professor Othman is the Executive Director of National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS), ABU Zaria.
Disclaimer
The opinions and views expressed in this article belong solely to the original author and other contributors. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or opinions of Neptune Prime.

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