As handlers of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration have said repeatedly, no government in Nigeria’s history has done as much in terms of making life easier for the people than the government of the day, which has thus far spent hundreds of billions of naira in several creative programmes aimed at alleviating poverty and empowering the youths, who account for a whopping 72 per cent of our national population. The disappointing thing about it all is that a lot of compatriots reading this will readily doubt this claim, an indication that the positive impact has only trickled down to a few favoured ones.
In Nigeria today, except you are connected to a governor, senator, minister or, perhaps, some powerful aide of the President, privileges (and even rights) are far beyond reach, leaving the masses with no option than to, more often than not, give up all hope on the country. While even his worst enemies agree that President Buhari has been the most transparent President that this country has ever had (no one has ever roped him on any act of corruption or self-enrichment), the same can hardly be said of all our governors, not to talk of ministers or senators.
Now, how do the governors, for example, play a role in pushing the federal government or, particularly, President Buhari into trouble? There are several examples, including the fact that their insistence in appropriating hundreds of billions of naira allocation of the third tier of government (the local governments) from the Federation Account has been contributing to the feeling of hopelessness and insecurity ravaging many parts of the country at the moment.
The local governments are the closest to the ordinary man, and Nigerians from all walks of life, more so those living in the hinterlands, throng there on daily basis looking for one opportunity or the other. Unlike a typical Nigerian governor who is almost always inaccessible, except to the powerful and the mighty, local government chairmen and their councillors are easily accessible. So also the resources accruing to the local governments.
But hiding under a thoroughly-dubious joint-account, most governors illegally appropriate hundreds of billions of naira meant for the respective local governments in their states, and only give the local chairmen a pittance. Now, how do they do this? Can’t the chairmen resist it, since they know what the governors are doing is illegal? Well, the answer to this is that the Nigeria’s Constitution has created a lacuna that makes it almost impossible for us to have free and fair local government elections.
Unlike national elections that are controlled and conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), elections for local government councils are controlled and organized by state electoral commissions that are under the whims and caprices of the governor, who first ensures only those he personally favours get to become flag-bearers of his own political party. He then instructs the state electoral commission to ensure not even one councillor seat is won by the opposition. It is on account of this that, in Nigeria, we hear of only one political party, that of the governor, recording a funny 100 per cent victory in local government elections.
Governors also frustrate our youths and make opportunities very limited for them by their absolute control of security vote, a legitimate allocation of funds meant for security, but which, sadly, many governors abuse by shamelessly pocketing. Those of them that have a care about bequeathing a good name make a show of supporting the security services with the funds. But if you compare the amount spent in procurement of these things they provide, or even the funds they give, you easily find it is a far cry from what the governors receive monthly, with the least being hundreds of millions of naira monthly.
Yet, like many senators and ministers, governors make sure job opportunities at the state and federal levels are shared with them and almost no one else. They involve themselves even in the smallest opportunities, thereby denying the millions of young Nigerians that were not born with the proverbial silver spoon in their mouths a chance to make any progress in life.
Every year, our universities churn out over millions of graduates, who are thrown to the already over-saturated job market. Their hopes for a brighter future starts getting dashed when they trek the streets of their state capitals, looking for jobs and other opportunities that have selfishly been taken over by their governors and legislators. We all recall the fight that ensued at the National Assembly when the Minister of State for Labour, Festus Keyamo, was invited for a hearing by a committee of the Senate a few months ago. It ended up as a shameless shouting match, as the minister felt the senators were simply out to deny ordinary Nigerians the very few opportunities to get employed, even if on a temporary basis. Sadly, this has been the norm, rather than the exception, since the return of Nigeria to democratic governance 21 years ago.
One wonders why a senator or a member of the Federal House of Representatives, who individually receives the highest salary in the whole world could be so selfish and callous as to deny ordinary Nigerians the few opportunities to get employed. Instead of creating jobs with the humongous amounts they receive, many of them are on record to give those opportunities to their girlfriends and mistresses. It is that bad.
For the ministers, you find that a lot of them are performing below average. A recent study conducted by Premium Times, a respected news platform, placed only Dr. Isa Ali Pantami and one other minister as performing above average. All the others were either scored average or completely abysmal, with virtually no impact on the citizenry. Allegations abound as to how jobs and contracts are only shared to cronies in federal ministries, with only few being the exception. Yet, trillions of naira are allocated to the federal ministries every year. Where the money ends up is the one million dollar question not everyone could answer.
Sadly, those who recommended most of the current ministers to President Buhari have given him the false impression that they are the best crop that we have at the moment. It is one of the biggest insults of the century. Some of them are not even fit to be appointed commissioners in their states. But here we are. They are managing our biggest ministries, with funds in several trillions that they cannot help but mismanage, since they cannot give what they do not have.
And because President Buhari holds the individuals that recommended those ministers in high esteem, he can vouch for the integrity of these appointees anytime, anywhere. Surely, not all of them are bad. For me, at least half are good. And surely there are also other excellent appointees, who are busy serving Nigeria to the very best of their ability Some of them are completely misunderstood. Or their efforts politicized. Take for example, the Nigerian armed forces. What they have achieved in the last five years is unprecedented in the annals of governance in this country. But the report that goes out there is mostly to the contrary.
We have moved from a Nigeria where bombs were flying in most places to one, in which that has largely been nipped in the bud. Of course, someone will readily mention the issue of insecurity ravaging many parts of the country. But the main point I was trying to drive home is that not even the best military in the world can resolve our security problems provided our governors continue with the misgovernance of their states, as obtained in more than half of the 36 states.
Sadly, the governors have succeeded in pinning the attention of Nigerians only on the federal government. Everyone blames President Buhari whenever anything goes wrong even in his or her local government or village. Many Nigerians have forgotten that there are different tiers of government – the federal, the state, and the local government. All they think about when anything fails is the centre. It is the key reason many of our governors are doing only what they want without anyone holding them to account.
Those that could hold them to account – the state legislators – are in most cases worse than toothless bulldogs. There is hardly any state assembly in Nigeria today, that can stand up to the governor of the state. We have seen how governors, waking up from the wrong side of the bed, issue instructions for the principal officers of the state assembly of their states to be changed. In many other states, such decisions are taken by the wives of the governors. There are at least two speakers that were dropped because they were not showing enough obeisance to the powerful wife of the governor of their state. It is that bad.
The rot in our states is horrible. Whereas the federal government is working hard to improve the lives of ordinary Nigerians, the same can only be said in a few states where the governors have shown true commitment to bequeath a meaningful legacy. But since the constitution has accorded immunity to our governors, and with most state legislatures as good as useless, many of them could afford to be reckless and heartless.
One then wonders why we keep blaming the federal government for the insecurity in the country, forgetting to look at things from their very root. Unless Nigerians rise up and demand change of style from our governors, there is absolutely very little that can be achieved to change our lot, as far as security is concerned. The fact that Boko Haram terrorists and bandits have continued to be routed on daily basis means our security services are even achieving the impossible, practically squeezing water out of stone.
While tens of billions of naira go to each state in the name of statutory allocation, as well as the share of the local governments that the governors illegally appropriate, only a fraction of that go to our security services. It is amazing, therefore, that unprecedented achievements are being recorded by the armed forces against this unfortunate backdrop.
Another unfortunate development is that the story in many states is that of despondency as the governors continue to deepen the level of indebtedness. Most of them don’t pay salaries for their civil servants unless the federal government gives them a bailout.
Sadly, there are some of them who would still not pay the salaries even with the bailout. Some of them are known to be in so much love with dollars that you hardly find naira around them. They change everything to dollars, using dubious contractors who ensure ceaseless supply of the green bucks to them. It is also the key reason informing the scarcity of the dominant foreign currency, making the rate of exchange skyrocket beyond the reach of the common man and the legitimate business man who does not have access to the Central Bank official exchange rate.
It is also the reason the price of consumables has continued to skyrocket beyond the reach of the common man in the country. It is the cause of despondency and hopelessness. And it is the reason for which unprecedented number of suicides have been recorded in our recent history. The greed of a few people is all responsible because the system creates lacunas that make it possible.
So for the young men and women that recently protested against police brutality and misgovernance, where they missed the point was that most of their anger was misdirected. They should start from the scratch by asking and insisting in free and fair elections to our local governments. Chairmen of the local governments and their councillors must also be fully held to account. The same with governors, ministers and other key appointees of government. Let everyone show their scorecard for Nigerians to see whether they deserve the office they hold on our collective behalf.
Of course if your inadequacy is occasioned by the deliberate failure of another tier or arm of government, such as in the case of our security services who are bearing the brunt of misgovernance in our states, we should rest the blame in the appropriate doorsteps and get the wrongs being placed right.
We have to collectively support the federal government in its determination to ensure funds meant for local governments and the judiciary of various states go to them as and when due. An indication that our governors are mostly only after self-aggrandizement could be seen in the way and manner they are opposed to the Executive Order issued recently by President Buhari, for those sectors of government to work without interference.
Guys, we cannot eat our cakes and still have it. We cannot have the Nigeria of our dream when we allow these kinds of things to continue unabated. Nigerians have every reason to complain, but let these complaints be directed to the right quarters.
Only in so doing shall we, in our lifetime, witness the Nigeria of our worthy dreams, which can compete shoulder high above its peers in the comity of world nations, and in which the son or daughter of a pauper could realize his or her potential.