A governor, I rather not name, once declared that now is not the right time to be a chief executive of any state. He said governors were having a hard time, owing to the poor state of the economy. He lamented that allocations from the Federation Account were meagre and could not even pay salaries, let alone funding any capital project. He said that in a situation where there was no money to perform the primary function of government, being governor was torturous.
Knowing that he was joking, I also made a joke. I prodded him to resign, since the kitchen had figuratively become too hot for him. He did not take offence, anyway, but rather laughed it off, no doubt, thinking that I was mad or mischievous to have made such a suggestion. Well, no matter what the governor thought, I believe that anybody who thinks that being governor now is a curse rather than a blessing is really not serious. This is the time to know governors who are governors. As they say, when the going gets tough, the tough gets going.
To be sure, any governor who thinks that the state of the economy is so bad that nothing could be done to meet the goals already set needs to consult the few governors who are meeting their obligations, especially those increasing workers’ pay. The governors who will survive and keep their heads above the waters are those who will think of the best way to raise revenue, aside from the monthly federal allocation and who will devise ingenious ways to cut cost.
We have heard that states are broke. We have also heard that 15 states are going bankrupt. These are signs of the bad times. This says much about the way states have been managing their finances. I agree with President Muhammadu Buhari that it is a shame that 27 states, out of 36 and the FCT, cannot pay salaries. To say the least, I find a situation, where states are not paying salaries curious. If nine states could meet their obligations to their workers, the other 27 could also. It depends on what the governors consider priority and how they manage their finances.
There have been excuses that allocation from the Federation Account are so low that they could not even, when applied in full, offset the wage bill. This may be true. However, we know that the so-called government wage bills are plagued by scam of monumental proportion. We have heard of ghost workers, where names of people who do not exist are on the pay roll while a syndicate collects the money such people “earn” as salaries. Recently, the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, said that the Federal Government had saved about N6.6 billion hitherto lost to ghost workers. With such savings, the Federal Government is N6.6 billion richer. This huge amount, which was being stolen by unscrupulous elements, will now be applied to other things. This is what the governors should do. They must, as a priority, audit their pay rolls, weed out the ghost workers and save government this direct stealing, if I could borrow that expression from former Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mallam Nuhu Ribadu. When states audit their pay rolls, it will become apparent that the wage bill is far below what it is now.
Indeed, I find the fact that 15 states are going bankrupt curiouser. This is so because I believe that if states live within their means, they would meet their obligations. Governors are crying wolf where there is none. They are having problem because of the wastages in government.
For the avoidance of doubt, many governors are living ostentatious lifestyle, which is not sustainable in a terrible economy. Have you seen the convoy of governors, for instance? Do you note the number of vehicles and the type or make of the vehicles? A former governor once revealed that when he assumed office, he discovered that the state had about 15 vehicles in the governor’s convoy. The vehicles had drivers. The vehicles were fueled everyday. The vehicles were driven to everywhere the governor went, even when only the drivers sat in them. Have you imagined the waste it is when 15 vehicles run around whenever a governor moves. This is what is obtainable in many states.
Why would states not be broke and bankrupt when governors have large political appointees? Governors have special advisers, special assistants, executive assistants with all manner of portfolios. In most cases, there are special adviser, special assistant and executive assistant for same portfolio. There was a situation where a former governor had as much as 1, 000 advisers, assistants and sundry personal staff. These political appointees, many of who do practically nothing, earn salaries and allowances. They travel at government’s expenses. This is how resources are blown.
Why won’t states be broke and bankrupt when governors embark on project, which massage their ego rather than positively touch the lives of the people? There are many state governments that are embarking on the construction of airports, for instance, when the existing ones are not viable or in operation. Why, for example, would Osun and Ekiti go into building airports? Who will use the airports? How much business is there in the two states that can command air traffic? Despite the fact that there are oil companies’ operating in Bayelsa, what is the justification for the state building an airport when the Port Harcourt International Airport is one and half hours away? These are white elephants. Also, governors are building new Government Houses, spending billions of naira that should have been used to construct roads, classrooms, hospitals and others. These are how funds are wasted, just for the comfort of the governors.
It is high time governors learned lesson on prudence. The model of former Anambra State Governor Peter Obi remains the best. While in office, Obi did cut down of expenses. He travelled thin, with one staffer or a few, within the country and abroad, when there was need for extra person. He refused to build Presidential Lodge in Awka to save the state the headache of maintaining it. He outlawed the daily feasting in Government House. He reduced the number of vehicles in his convoy. He was called a miser, but he did many other things that saved the state money.
The result was that he paid salary for eight years. He paid pension. He constructed roads. He gave attention to schools and hospitals. And he donated money to schools returned to churches that ran into billions of naira till the last day of his government. He made investments for the state. Those governors who are having financial management problem should attend the Peter Obi school of economics, to become frugal.