As most governors in Nigeria run from pillar to post in search of funds to meet such basic obligation as salaries and pension arrears, this column wagers that all the petro-dollars in Arabia will not help a poor governor. Even as they collectively resolved to recover expenditure allegedly made on behalf of the Federal Government, a better option may well be to tell each other the harsh truth. Unless most of our governors purge themselves of spiritual and mental poverty, they will always be plagued by this manner fiscal poverty.
The newly-elected governors in particular must carry out a deep introspection over the activities of their immediate predecessors and determine to choose a fresh path because the road ahead is destined to be tough. It will be interesting to note the amount spent by some of the governors at the Abuja meeting last Wednesday in search of bailout. It will be even more interesting to note that some of the governors travelled to and from Abuja in chartered jets at highly wasteful rates.
Just last month, even as workers suffer the pangs of hunger, a governor from the Southeast was on a junket with a chartered jet. As he touched down in his state, he kept the jet on standby for so long and at such huge cost that even the owners of the craft were worried at such wastefulness by a state’s chief executive.
Early in this month, four vessels berthed at the Apapa Ports bearing 34,450 tons of imported crude palm oil worth over N3 billion. In the last five years, Nigeria has imported about 2.4 million metric tons of this commodity valued at about N314 billion (about $1.6 billion).
We must point it out for the umpteenth time that between Adapalm in Imo State and Risonpalm in Rivers State all the palm products needs of Nigeria’s manufacturing industries can be met with extra to export to Europe. In other words, these states could have easily earned a chunk of this multi-billion dollars palm oil trade. But a visit to any of these sprawling palm estates would only make you weep. It would also afford you an idea of the kind of people managing our affairs.
Apart from funds from the federation account, which has virtually vanished with the crude oil debacle, most governors never mustered the initiative to build alternative economic bases in their states. As we said here last week, has cocoa stopped growing in the Southwest of Nigeria or has it stopped being a major world commodity? Any thinking governor can make any state in the Southwest the hub of cocoa production and processing in Africa.
Regardless that most states lacked any economic base and do not earn enough revenue, yet they all live large and embark on vanity programmes and projects that are not only way above their means, but have little economic value. Imo for instance was handing cash to pupils and also claimed to be building two universities at the same time. It was also building a fancy skyscraper and three massive hotels in the three senatorial zones. There are 27 general hospitals going on simultaneously in the 27 LGAs. There is no iota of financial planning in all of these.
In Osun State, an unsustainable N3.6 billion free school meal programme is on, as well as free uniforms; free tablets and free tuition. What then are parents for? In the thick of all these is an airport project.
Where on earth is this impoverished State supposed to get the fund for all these? Where is financial planning and projections in all this? Another state in the southwest is building so many posh public schools in towns while many students still learn under trees in the rural areas. There is also a plan to build a sky-scrapper like the Cocoa House in Ibadan, an ego-induced edifice, not minding that the Ibadan monolith is barely occupied and of little economic value apart from gracing the horizon.
Why would a governor dare to purchase jets, helicopters and fly in chartered jets yet expect that cash is inexhaustible? Why are local government council workers also owed for months in many states? The federal allocation to LGAs ought to be enough to pay that level of staff five times over since hardly anything else happen in the LGAs.
The point being made essentially here is that money or the lack thereof, is not the problem with these states that cannot pay their workers. This may be hard to comprehend but the point is that no state is in reality richer than the other. A state is only as good as its manager. This is buttressed by the fact that while some oil-rich state are in trouble, some that are deemed to be poor states have managed their finances so well that they have enough to bailout rich states.
This is where the Peter Principle above comes in. This principle, espoused by a certain Laurence Peter and Raymond Hull states that people are usually promoted to positions quite above their competence. Are most governors in Nigeria truly competent. Are they willing to learn?
This leads to the other Peter Principle: the Peter Obi Principle. This column will recommend him especially to the new governors. They must quietly seek out the erstwhile governor of Anambra State, Governor Peter Obi and tap his mind on the art of running a state in an emerging economy like Nigeria’s. It is not only that Anambra is not owing workers, it has enough in its kitty to lend money to some overly trouble states.
Obi did not only leave about N8o billion in cash for his successor Chief Willie Obiano, he put millions of dollars of the state’s funds in bonds that will mature in a few years time at some profit. As if he saw tomorrow, he executed a policy of putting aside at least N100million monthly for his eight years in office. Apart from a glaring fiscal discipline, he never embarked on any vanity projects of policies but enacted numerous decisions that would continue to redound on the economic well being of the state for a very long time.
There are investments in modern shopping malls in Awka, Nnewi, Onitsha; Onitsha Business Parks one and two and a N500 million investment with the Bank of Industry to support SMEs in Anambra State. Perhaps most remarkable is the SAB Miller’s breweries in Onitsha, which recently expanded to Nnewi. SAB Miller, one of the biggest brewers in the world has invested about $170 million in its Nigeria subsidiary based in Anambra and will provide about 50,000 jobs at full capacity. This is the way to build a state’s economy.
Peter Obi exemplified prudent leadership while delivering value to the people. At the time he left in March 2014, he had restored the people’s trust in public schools and Anambra candidates topped in all national exams for many years. While some states are so indebted that they are no longer credit worthy, Peter Obi did not borrow a dime in eight years. His time in Anambra (2006- 2014) ought to be a case study on how to run a state. He left the state far better than he met it and proved that it is not the quantum of funds available to a state but the quality of mind managing it.
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