Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
No one embarks on a fresh task without properly prepared for it. Typical of most politicians, they oftentimes aspire for positions without necessarily knowing the task ahead. Those who embark on such tasks without preparing adequately often end up disastrously.
This perhaps may be what the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) is trying to guide against when it decided to organise an induction for governors who were elected or re-elected in the 2019 governorship election.
The event was meant to equip the new state executives with the required skills to discharge their duties without fail in the next four years.
It was also an opportunity for peer learning, promotion of global best practices and networking with national and global leaders and exposing them to relevant contemporary national priorities in critical sectors of the economy as well as drive consensus on opportunities to achieve desired outcomes
To achieve these, the NGF invited leaders with experience on democratic governance from both within and outside the country, to share knowledge on the workings of government in the 21st century.
For two days, at the State House Conference Center, the gloomy picture of the nation’s economic woes, insecurity, unemployment, minimum wage challenge, and challenge of quality education, healthcare and dilapidated infrastructure among others were painted.
For the chairman of the NGF and Governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari, it was an opportunity to sound the early warning alarm to his colleagues to prepare for a possible second cycle of recession by the mid-2020 to third quarter of 2021.
He said if prudent management of resources was not immediately ensured at all tiers of government, it will be bumpy ride once the new administration begins on May 29th.
According to him, while the crude oil price was over $100 from 2011-15, the price nosedived to less than 75 percent from 2015 leading to recession.
“On our part, we made a lot of achievements in infrastructure development and provision of social services because we enjoyed a relatively high oil price of about $100 to $114 per barrel between 2001 and the middle of 2014. However, by the mid-2014, the price of crude oil, which is sadly the main driving force of government’s expenditure, dropped to $75 per barrel. It, therefore, became very difficult for many states to even pay salaries of their workers.
“This scenario is a wake-up call for all of you to come amply prepared to face these kinds of challenges, especially since we are expecting the possibility of another cycle of recession by mid-2020 and which may last up to third quarter of 2021. Your good spirit of stewardship will make you contain the situation should there be one. Also, as members of the National Economic Council, you must work hand in hand to boost the economy in tandem with the global best practices,” Yari said.
While applauding his colleagues who have against all odds, carried out projects, he said there was still the need for them to work harder to boost their Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) to enable them execute more projects and reduce over dependence on the Federation Account as the means of promoting the social wellbeing of their people.
He pushed for the diversification of the economy with agriculture leading the pack with less reliance on oil in favour of industrialisation. If this was done, Yari reasoned, the economy would be insulated from the frequent crises bedeviling it.
Yari said records revealed that government spends about N2 trillion on oil development, saying if one third of that was dedicated to agriculture and mining, the state of the economy would have been different by now.
According to him, both the NGF under his leadership, and the National Economic Council (NEC) under the chairmanship of the vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, have agreed that borrowing is never a reliable alternative to solving the nation’s economic problems. He stressed that all tiers of government must work hard to multiply revenue generation bases so that together they could change the course of doing government business for the betterment of the people.
Yari said, the way the fight against corruption was being carried out, needs to be revisited. He said the search light must be from civil servants to politicians and corporate bodies, so as to block all escape routes.
He added that “we must fight all incentives to corruption by wagging the war through a bottom-top approach. Attention should equally be focused on all strata of the society if we are to win the war against this scourge.”
Vice President Osinbajo on his part said that the Federal Government wanted all political parties to work together to deliver the dividends of democracy to Nigerians. And to do that, he noted, the current administration has extended a hand of partnership to political leaders across party lines to facilitate the quick delivery of quality services for improvement in the lives of Nigerians, adding that “I have the president’s mandate to say that the Federal Government stands ready to embark on this historic all-party cooperation to better the lives of all our citizens.”
Osinbajo said all tiers of government must see themselves as partners in progress if they are to deliver on campaign promises.
“Security remains top of our agenda. The law and order challenges in parts of the country, with the opportunistic attacks of Boko Haram in the North East and incidents of attacks by Fulani herders, and similar incidents now occurring in parts of the North West have stretched the capacity of our law enforcement agencies considerably.
“At our discussions at the NEC, we have recommended more effective collaboration with state governments, a major plank in that collaboration is community policing. This involves more practical collaboration between the citizens, civic groups, traditional institutions and the Police. As Mr. President has said, maintaining security is the first order of business for us as chief security officers at the federal and state levels. We must work together and seek even more creative ways of making our country completely safe for its citizens. I must commend the excellent support that governors have been giving the Police and armed forces posted to your states,” the vice president said.
Explaining why it is imperative for elected leaders to discharge their responsibilities well, Osinbajo further said “we, elected executive officials, belong to an elite club in this nation. Of over 200 million people, the nation elects 36 governors and 36 deputies, one president and one vice president making 74 Nigerians in all. Seventy-four men and women out of 200 million people, we are so specially privileged and so enormously fortunate that our people chose us among so many other millions to lead them. This tremendous privilege which leadership thrusts upon us, also comes with grave responsibilities. Those responsibilities are multiplied by the fact that most of our people are extremely poor. Large numbers are unable to afford good healthcare and mal-nutrition remains a major problem.
“Children in many of our states run the risk of being permanently mentally stunted because they are malnourished. Illiteracy is still significantly high and the number of out of school children is an embarrassment. Yet in all these, our population continues to grow at over 3 percent per annum. We will by current projections move from 200 million to 400 million people in the next three decades. And then we will become the third most populous nation in the world. Most of that population will be young people under 25 looking for jobs. Every one of these people except a few living in Abuja will live in the states, your states, where you govern. They will seek schools in your states, health services in your states, food in your states and jobs in your states.”
Debbie Palmer of the Department For International Development (DFID) reminded the returning and newly elected governors of how challenging the role of championing development in their states is, adding that “your people will be counting on you to deliver on the development promises you made during the campaigns.”
Palmer assured that the UK government was committed to working with the government of Nigeria to eradicate poverty and promote prosperity for all. She said over 3.5 million people now have access to clean water and sanitation at the cost of £500 million since 2015, including other interventions in nutrition and family planning.
She hoped that “the rich discussions” would encourage new and returning governors to articulate and support reforms that would improve the lives-of Nigerians.
“Development is already happening and is possible, but for the development to-be inclusive and sustainable, it requires the active leadership of state governors to embed and scale support of development partners,” Palmer advised.
On her part, Senior Fellow, Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), Dr. Mairo Mandara, noted that the key to reducing children dying from severe acute malnutrition (SAM), and many other preventable diseases, thus taking Nigeria off the list of countries with highest number of children suffering from SAM, is ensuring that both treatment and prevention were included and funded as routine in the Nigeria’s and states Primary Health Care systems, as well as encouraging establishment of local RUTF production in country.
Ibukun Awosika, Chairman, First Bank of Nigeria (FBN), in her remark, said the inductees should reflect on who they were and why they ran for the office in the first place, adding that “because, no matter what we say to other people, when it is just you and the mirror, you can look at yourself and be truthful to yourself.”
The Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Hassan Kukah, on his part advised them to read the autobiographies of famous world leaders who were able to achieve much for their people. ”What (book) are you reading now? Everybody taking over must focus on the beat and in the worst case scenario, read great biographies: Mandela, Lee Kwan Yu, Gandhi and the rest. I suggest these books: ‘The rebels who brought Churchill to power and saved England and ‘The jungle grows back.’ It helps to tell you that elections alone are not enough in democracy. Infrastructure is not just about railways, highways, else we don’t need democracy. The fine ingredients of democracy which are important are always at bay. We must find a way to talk to the hearts of the people. There are people, who are not in office, but they are in power and there are people who are in office but are not in power. Final book I recommend is ‘The end of power.’ We need to find people willing to invest in our people. That has not happened. When people cannot see a reflection of themselves in government, they shut down. A leader must have the courage to take decisions. Many of you are young and have an idea of how the world is organised. You have an opportunity ahead of you.”
Governors Samuel Ortom and Simon Lalong of Benue and Plateau states respectively, spoke on the security situation in the country.
Lalong said the problem of insecurity was aggravated by a large reservoir of idle and unemployed youths because of the collapse or shutdown of virtually all industries and companies in the state.
The winning points, he said will continue to be the insistence on impartiality, neutrality and fairness to all concerned, regardless of ethnic, religious and political affinities.
Chairman of ThisDay Newspapers and Arise News, Nduka Obaigbena, on his part tasked the inductees to define their goals from the word go, cultivate the spirit of transparency and accountability.
Other speakers were the acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, who accused governors of deliberately fueling insecurity to increase their security vote; his predecessor in office, Nuhu Ribadu; the Director General of the Department of State Services (DSS), Yusuf Bichi, and the Inspector General of Police, among others.
Two former US state governors, Bill Richardson and Martin J. O’ Malley; former US Ambassador to Nigeria, Howard Jether; Brain Condit, a member of the International Brotherhood; Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; the United Nations and several other national and international personalities and organisations also took part in the two-day event.