Home Opinion State governors should stop behaving like shylock landlords, emperors

State governors should stop behaving like shylock landlords, emperors

23 min read

Amid our current economic challenges, it has become obvious that all hands must be on deck as we search for lasting solutions. It does not matter what our political interests and affiliations might be; what we have on our hands calls for patriotism, collaboration and sense of national pride. Hunger and anger go hand- in-hand, and the last thing we want is a mob action in any part of the country arising from starvation, malnutrition and hunger in the land.

The mob has no mind of its own and it is usually characterised by a breakdown of law and order: violence, looting, brigandage, and a general sense of insecurity. Pockets of protests that are meant to be peaceful are sometimes hijacked by hoodlums.

On Sunday 3rd March, it was reported that some residents in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, looted a warehouse belonging to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) over the current economic hardships in the country. The warehouse, according to the reports, is located in the Karimo Phase 3 region, Abuja.

President Bola Tinubu and state governors must as a matter of national emergency prevent the looming social unrest over hunger and unemployment.

Some people would argue that the mismanagement of our economy over the years resulting in our current hardships is all part of life’s rich tapestry, but I disagree. With the increasing misery index around us compounded by the run-away inflation of goods and services, what can state governors do to make a difference in their respective states? What did they do with the initial N2 billion intervention fund for each state which the federal government disbursed?

Clearly, only those who have access to privileges – family members, former colleagues, old school mates, political and business associates, girlfriends, and concubines – are the ones smiling because they have been ring-fenced from the “pandemic of empty pockets”. This is a phrase popularised by formerpresidential spokesman and anchor of  The Morning Show at Arise News, Reuben Abati. When you don’t have money in your pocket, what do you do?

In an article published in May last year, I challenged state governors to think outside the box and make their states centres of innovation, production, excellence and economic opportunities. Do our governors understand the meaning of multi-dimensional poverty?

More Nigerians are slipping into the poverty bracket daily, not knowing where the next meal will come from. Most families are heavily dispossessed, distressed and depressed as a result of the unbearable economic hardships. If you want to buy yam or pepper or tomatoes, you are told the price changes daily because of the volatile foreign exchange market.

If we look at the size and population of our states, most of them are the equivalents of some of the 54 countries in Africa. For example, Cape Verde that created upsets at the last Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) hosted and won by Côte d’Ivoire, has a population of 598,682 people, according to UN official statistics.

Others examples are Sierra Leone (8,791,092), Liberia (5,418,377), Mauritania (4,862, 989), Eritrea (3,748,901), Gambia (2,773,168), Botswana (2,675,352), Gabon (2,436,566), Equatorial Guinea (1,714,641), Mauritius (1,300,557),and Seychelles (107,660).

In the UN report, Nigeria was listed as having 223,804,632 people as the most populous nation in the continent. Coming after Nigeria was Ethiopia (126,527,060) with Egypt (112,716,596) at the No. 3 position.

Let no one deceive you, we are still the giant of Africa. Isn’t it evident from the population data above that some of our local government councils can also stand alone as countries? Truth be told, most state governors always underperform because they find it difficult to separate politics from governance. They are also very selfish.

Now, if our state governors are serious about developing their local economies where they currently operate like emperors, they can borrow from the Lagos State model where there has been continuity in terms of transformative leadership from one administration to the next.

If they want to look outside Nigeria, they are free to do so; after all, they are frequent first class travelers to far flung destinations of the world. A first class ticket to the UK, US, UAE, Japan, China, Germany, etc – their favourite destinations – cost over N12 million for each ticket. What of the cost of flying private jets locally? There’s too much waste going on at the subnational government level in the form of corruption and insider abuses, e.g. like paying ghost workers – funds that should be channeled into development to make the lives of the people better are diverted elsewhere.

Let the governors visit Dubai – one of the seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – and Singapore if they are looking for ideas on how to transform their states. To be fair, some state governors are working, and have come up with what can pass as a vision for development. Will the development ideas and implementation be sustained?

Unfortunately, some governors embark on white elephant projects for political expediency. Instead, they should focus on strategic projects that are realistic, achievable, time bound, measurable and make sense.

During campaigns, politicians spend a lot of money for their elections. Fund raising is a big part of the electoral process, and running for political offices is not cheap. Those who don’t have funds of their own depend on the deep pockets of their “godfathers” and “sponsors”.

You can spend your entire life savings, in addition to borrowed funds and still lose at the polls. This is usually a major hurdle in our politics and the dilemma of the political elite. All political IOUs must be settled once our political leaders get into office.

The obligation to serve is therefore relegated to the background as those who contributed to the electoral victory of the candidates are rewarded with “juicy” appointments. But it doesn’t end there. The nature of reward is often to pocket the treasury and leave the people – who stood under the sun or rain to vote – shortchanged and stranded.

The irony is that there is no sense of outrage from these voters. They are afraid to ask questions or hold their governors to account. Even when the civil society ask the right questions and demand transparency and accountability, the effort is not sustained.

When governors get into office, they pocket their local governments, appropriate their funds and set sights on their second terms – the next big project. State governors who are ready to work have no excuse. Four years – much less eight years – is a long time to make meaningful impact and progress.

But the mistake the governors and their political parties often make is to confuse their manifestoes with the vision to achieve economic prosperity and development of their states. Politicians usually make promises that they don’t keep – those promises have become a huge joke.

You can call a vision statement a strategic plan to achieve a higher purpose. A Harvard Business School study advised leaders of organisations to always have a vision, foster a buy-in culture of the people in the organisation into that vision and share success when it is achieved. It means that from Day One, there’s a shared commitment to achieve organisational goals.

This three-step model can be adapted by state governors and our presidents in Abuja. A vision that is crafted by the governor’s team – not only by the governor – should state the road map of development with milestones, timelines, targets and resources needed to achieve the set goals. Whereas the vision is the destination, the mission statement is how to arrive at that destination– with the governor as the driver of the vehicle that is in good condition.

There will be bumps during the ride, but that should be nothing to worry about because fit-for-purpose shock absorbers would have been put in place. However, changes, where necessary, can occur so that the road map to the destination is not compromised.

What governors should worry about next is how to foster a buy-in culture of the people who voted them into office. Governors must put their people first – they should be at the heart of their development agenda.

Each state should identify where they have the greatest comparative advantage and narrow their focus to those areas, instead of becoming a jack of trades and master of none. That is how successful brands are built; each state should be known for something that would attract investment and commercial success. The whole idea is for each state to have its own revenue pipelines that are consistent with the provisions of the Constitution.

By the way, the point must be made that the Constitution as it is – before any amendments are made – does not stop state governors from creating wealth for their people. This is what led to the concept of internally generated revenue (IGR) as an additional source of revenue to what is shared in Abuja monthly to each of the three tiers of government.

The Federal Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) shared N1.15 trillion as January 2024 allocation to the federal, states and local government councils. But these FAAC allocations have made many state governors lazy. It is the main reason why our politics are a do-or-die affair, because whoever gets into office as governor presides over the treasury for four years, or even eight years.

Lagos State, with a population of about 24 million people, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF), is the fifth largest economy in Africa, and it ranks as a state that can survive without FAAC allocations from Abuja. How many other states can also stand up to be counted? Maybe only a handful. That’s a shame, yet we claim fiscal federalism. What does it mean anyway if states cannot fend for themselves?

I like what Alex Otti, the governor of Abia State, is doing. He has started well, and I hope he will sustain his vision to transform Abia State into our own Dubai – a centre of economic prosperity and development excellence. Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Oyo, Rivers, Ebonyi, Niger, Enugu, Kaduna and Borno States – just to cite a few examples – are also on the right path.

As John Maxwell, the American author, speaker, coach, leadership expert and pastor says, “Everything rises and falls on leadership. ”Our governors should lead well. Maxwell has sold more than 24 million books in 50 languages, and he is often identified as the most popular leadership expert in the world. Our governors and other political leaders can learn from him.

Since 1999, you can only imagine what each state has collected from FACC allocations which has now increased by more than 70 per cent average since June last year. But go round the most of states, and you will discover that the development on the ground does not in any way match the allocations received in 25 years.

Yet these states are in debts, and owe salaries as well as pensions. What do they do with all the money? Is it true that state governors, as alleged, raid the black market to purchase dollars at any price each time they receive their FACC allocations, thereby making the US currency expensive and unavailable?

Could it also be true that state governors and other government officials always save up dollars for the next election cycle?

What is required by each state governor is fiscal discipline, sincerity, honesty, transparency and accountability, the trust of the people they serve and the fear of God. They must also lead by example, and stop behaving like shylock landlords – it is their responsibility to bring government closer to their people with the support of local government councils.

Why should Nigerians be hungry with the vast arable land that we have? Every state should be viable and a low hanging fruit for them is investment in agriculture to tackle food insecurity.

In my earlier article, I explained that state governments can also generate revenue from the assets they host (i.e. rental income), in addition to significant commercial opportunities in music, film and entertainment, arts and culture, real estate development, tourism and hospitality, aviation, clothing and foot wear, and technology by building ICT hubs for our vibrant youth population.

If they truly understand how destination marketing works, they will make a lot of money. They should find out how Dubai did it.

Manufacturing, industrialisation and eye-popping infrastructure are capital intensive, but they can be long-term goals. States can also collaborate through regional cooperation to achieve shared success.

Visionary leadership is critical and any governor that has a development mindset will attract investors. But agreements must be honoured, and the integrity of the investment process must never be compromised. Investors – and that includes Nigerians in the diaspora – will always follow the money as long as they are sure of the returns of their investment.

Braimah is a global public relations and marketing strategist. He is also the publisher/editor-in-chief of Naija Times (https://ntm.ng) and Lagos Post (https://lagospost.ng), and can be reached via hello@neomedia.com.ng.

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