PeRHAPS no other tier of government has been hit harder by the current economic recession in the country than the states. Because of drastically reduced revenue, many of them are unable to meet basic financial obligations. For instance, at least 27 of them are currently owing their civil servants salary arrears going back several months. Most states have put vital capital and development projects on pause. Across the country, state governors are preaching the sermon of further belt-tightening to ordinary workers who have already cut to the bare bones. On the whole, the country is witnessing levels of desperation last seen in the depths of Structural Adjustment in the 1980s.
It is this precarious economic situation in the country that makes it rather difficult to justify the planned ‘vocational training’ trip to Germany by six hand-picked governors from each of the country’s geo-political zones. Zamfara State governor and chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF), Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari, has presented the trip as necessitated by the desire to explore the promising investment possibilities arising from the governors’ recent meeting with the German ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Dietmar Krausel, and the global communications firm, Vodacom. According to Governor Yari, the trip will allow the six governors, whom we assume will not be travelling with their usual expansive entourages, to strike up immensely beneficial partnerships in the areas of health and agriculture.
Yet, the trip raises more questions than answers. If, for instance, the purpose is in fact to explore urgent economic opportunities, why has this come about in the context of the NGF, and why randomly handpick only six governors? Surely, individual states know best where the economic shoe pinches. Why wait until a meeting of all governors? Besides, the general public would certainly appreciate more illumination on the real benefits of such a potentially expensive trip. Are these potential alliances substitutes for or complements to existing agreements signed by the states with a host of foreign partners in the two key areas? What is it about these ‘partnerships’ that cannot be handled by their teams of economic advisers? These days, private and public enterprises across the world are increasingly taking advantage of the latest electronic communication for virtual meetings. Did the Governors’ Forum consider this as a realistic option?
Arguing that the planned trip is nothing but a pretext for frivolous spending, several civil society groups, activists, and government watchers have already kicked against it. For example, the General Secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Mr. Peter Ozo-Eson, has described the trip as not only “laughable,” but “completely uncalled for, potentially unproductive and will yield no real benefit to the citizens they (the governors) are supposed to govern.” We strongly identify with this criticism and align ourselves with the call to shelve the proposed trip in the name of fiscal prudence.
The elephant in the room here is the question why the country is prone to a recurrence of shenanigans like this. Why is management of public office in Nigeria so completely devoid of any notion of financial rectitude? There are contending sociological explanations, but perhaps the most convincing is that, in a rentier state where most public money comes from resource exploitation (oil in the case of Nigeria), there is little incentive to accountability. If this is correct, the country may not witness any significant change until it diversifies its economy and makes public taxation the basis of the social contract.