Home Opinion Arrest the governors! 

Arrest the governors! 

17 min read

The Nigerian critics’ community is unfair to the greater majority of the population! Since the advent of the so-called democracy in the country in 1999, a disproportionate majority of critics and public policy analysts focus on the government at the centre while most states are underserved by these critics and analysts.

Yes, the policy decisions of the federal government have implications on the nation generally but it is the decisions or lack thereof at the states level that affect the majority of Nigerians. It must be admitted that certain areas such as security, monetary, fiscal and foreign policies are the exclusive of the government at the centre. But little by little, the power at the centre is being whittled down. Take for instance rail transportation and power generation and distribution where states can now venture into. Even fiscal policies are not entirely at the mercy of the federal government; as tax issues are decided by the Joint Tax Board where states have a say. In fact, we have seen instances where states unconstitutionally encroach upon areas they are not allowed to. Many people, including state governors, do not know that it is only government at the centre that has power to declare a public holiday! Also, given the deteriorating security situation in the country, some states have set up and armed militias without the amendment of the relevant sections of the constitution to allow them carry out such activities. In the North East, civilians by name Civilian JTF (Joint Task Force) fight alongside the Nigerian army to protect their citizens from Boko Haram attacks.

There are certain sectors of our national life that at the central level have little impact on the lives of Nigerians. Take education and health care for starters. The federal government has zero primary school; knows next to nothing about preschool and nursery schools. Apart from the 107 federal government colleges, otherwise known as Unity Schools, all public secondary schools are owned by the states. Aside of private secondary schools in the Federal Capital Territory, all the thousands of private secondary schools in the country are regulated by the states.

The same goes for the health sector. Almost all primary healthcare centres, cottage and general hospitals are owned by the various state governments. Markets, motor parks, hotels, restaurants, entertainment centres, tourist centres, transportation hubs, agricultural and some industrial and commercial services happen almost entirely at the mercy of state governments.

All personal income taxes, save those in the FCT, are paid to state governments; a huge chunk of the value added taxes collected by federal agents are handed over to the states; combined, state civil servants more than triple those in the federal civil service. If the federal government defaults on salaries, impacts are not felt anywhere but the economy of a state begins to wither away once state civil servants are owed two to three months salary.

Apart from the ubiquitous presence of the Nigeria police, many Nigerians do not have anything to do with the federal government or its agencies, but majority of us can hardly exist for a year without interfacing with state civil servants: lands, vehicle licenses, pension and gratuity matters, name it.

In effect, I am saying that governments at the state level affect the lives of majority of citizens far more than the government at the centre. If so, why have we not beamed enough searchlights on the chief executives of the states and state agencies? It is this lack of critical searchlights that has to a great extent contributed to the lack of governance at the state level, as what we have been served these past 23 years is a caricature of what governance should be. Our governors capitalise on this lack of critical interrogation of the rules by running the states as colonial governors and feudal emperors.

These are the same governors who have captured the third level of government as their enclaves. Since the federal government lost the power to conduct elections at the local level, governors merely select prefects as local government chairmen who shamelessly call themselves Executive Chairmen. Local government allocations from the federation account are arrested by the governors, while the prefects happily line up to collect a tenth of what is due to their councils.

State legislature has been brutally amputated by our almighty governors. No meaningful legislation goes on there. Literally everything has to be as the lord the governor pleases. Ameboism is elevated to a status of religion so as to curry favour with the governors. In some cases, the entire process of enacting laws will be faster than one flying from Lagos to Singapore (even though we’re beginning to see that ugly incident in the National Assembly too). Can one imagine how state assemblies came up with the ungodly mouthwatering retirement allowances for governors? That evil seed was sown by no less a person than our present president when he was the governor of Lagos state. It was quickly copied by a few other governors, including the current senate president as governor of my home state. The immediate past governor of Benue, who owed workers and pensioners months and years of salaries and gratuities, also had the effrontery to ask for sumptuous perks as a retired governor!

For the states that are privileged to receive the 13 per cent oil derivation without lifting a finger, the money is simply the governors’ own to be dispensed as they like. Much of that money ends up in their pockets and pockets of their cronies. Let me give a graphic example of what I mean: in 2007, one of the governors sworn in that year developed his first full year budget for 2008. A line item in the budget titled “Governor’s Security” had a N5 billion budget. It had no breakdown for you to know what led to that amount (that would be asking for too much from his majesty);and insecurity was not a major concern in the country then, much less in his state. I am not kidding; and this was in 2008! Then, the state new university budget was N4 billion; this is a university that was a glorified secondary school at the time.

Since 1987 (hope I’m right about the date) when Mr. Olisa Agbakoba and co-founded the Civil Liberties Organisation, the space for Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) has become a big industry. Majority of the CSOs are headquartered in Lagos while much of their energy is concentrated on what Abuja is doing or not doing. The states are left almost entirely with blind loyalists who sing the praises of their corrupt governors and government officials to high heavens. The few critics are either hounded out of the state, wholly compromised or even killed.

And the governors like it that way. Journalists covering the states don’t help matters either. If you pour over national newspapers for a period of two months, you will hardly see any critical reportage of the atrocities committed against the people of the states by the governments. In some cases, journalists covering the states are on the payroll of the government, a very disingenuous way designed by governors’ press secretaries to perform their sacred duties. The forth estate at the state level has, without as much as a fight, surrendered itself to the might of the majestic governors. Which is not to say that every journalist is involved in this unholy affair.

An indication of how most of the governors have ruled their states came from the National Bureau of Statistics. During the first quarter of 2023, capital importation into the country was said to have increased by 6.78 per cent from $1.06 billion to $1.13 billion. On the surface, this is a huge amount of money. But compared with our huge population, it pales to insignificance.

But that’s not the point; the point is that almost all that money (98 per cent) went to Lagos State and FCT only. Most states, 28 of them got zero investment. In the preceding quarter, only five states and FCT received capital. To think that it is these same governors who always line up in foreign countries looking for “foreign investors”, a euphemism for stashing away state funds in foreign banks!

If government at the national conducts it affairs in less than transparent manner, those at the state level are outrightly opaque. You will not know when employment into civil service is conducted; you will not see where government contracts are advertised for tender; you will not see what it cost to run government houses (we know the budget and budget breakdown of the presidency every year); you will not see governors spend a night in any of the local government areas to truly feel the pulse of the people (presidents spend days when they visit any state); you will be seen as a mad man to want to question the activities of our saintly governors.

Given these anomalies, it is about time CSOs, critics and policy analysts focused their attention on the goings on in the states. Our governors, collectively, have more power and leverage than the president to turn the tide in our country. Irrespective of what policies the federal government comes up with, not much impact will be felt by most Nigerians unless they are complemented by state policies and actions. Is it not preposterous that till date, a few states have still not paid the, don’t say it, N30,000 (US$40) monthly minimum wage? Methinks if the critics community turns its searchlights on the government at the states, the real change we seek for the country will begin to happen.

Esiere is a former journalist

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