When NGF puts the rots, resources of states before new, returning govs
Returning and newly elected governors were brought together in Abuja for two days last week for an induction programme to prepare them for the next four years in office. Deputy Editor, LEON USIGBE, who attended the event organised by the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF), reports its agenda-setting tone and other cogent take-home from it.
The last four years have been topsy-turvy for most state governors in the country in their efforts to deliver on their electoral promises to the people. Why some can boast a few tangible achievements, others are neither here nor there, either for lack of essential administrative know-how or vision. The Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF), under the leadership of the governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari, thought it was imperative to provide a platform for both the returning and newly-elected state governors to develop essential skills for modern governance and, therefore, organised a two-day induction programme for them in Abuja, the Federal capital Territory (FCT).
In pursuit of this, 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.
Though the NGF boss believed that many states had fared well by executing projects, there was still the need for them to work harder to boost their Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) to enable them to execute more projects and reduce over-dependence on the Federation Account as the means of promoting the social wellbeing of their people. He argued for the diversification of the economy, which he said could only be put on the right track, if there was 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.
The NGF chairman, while noting that the drop in oil price from 2104 put the states in a quagmire, offered a stark warning to the returning and newly-elected state chief executives of the possibility of another recession being expected by mid 2020 and that might last up to the third quarter of 2021, which, therefore, means that governors would not have an easy ride in office. While also noting that the outgoing state administrations made some development strides because the price of oil was relatively high between 2011 and 2014, he added that: “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 kind of challenges, especially since we are expecting the possibility of another cycle of recession by the mid-2020 and which may last up to the 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 (NEC), you must work hand in hand to boost the economy in tandem with the global best practices. Experience, they say, is the best teacher. Ours has been a challenging experience of managing state economies that are totally dependent on accruals from the federation account, rather than exploring viable alternatives to run the economy. For most of the states, IGR are nothing to write home about. You must, therefore, look inward by boosting your revenue generation base and also utilise them effectively for the execution of projects that would touch the lives of your people. You must not forget the high expectations of our people on us; now that democracy is maturing day in day out, the challenges of governance and service delivery are more demanding.”
Yari reminded the participants that the Governors’ Forum, under his chairmanship, and the NEC, under the chairmanship of Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, had agreed that borrowing was never a reliable alternative to solving the nation’s economic problems. Therefore, all tiers of government ought to 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.
He stated further: “In so doing, key revenue agencies like the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), the Nigerian Custom Service (NIS) and other sister agencies must be made to work more effectively, especially now that Mr. President has signed the much-awaited National Minimum Wage Law, pegging the minimum workers’ salaries at N30,000 per month.
“It is also a source of worry to all reasonable observers that in all modern economies, it is the public that drive the government by supporting it through payment of their taxes as and when due. In our situation, the reverse is the case. It is very unfortunate that our people have a very negative attitude to payment of taxes in full, including corporate agencies.”
Yari, therefore, called for prompt payment of taxes to help government to achieve its objectives. In line with this, he said necessary measures should be put in place to provide “a working system.”
The vice-president, Professor Osinbajo, told participants at the induction that the Federal Government wanted all political parties to work together to deliver the dividends of democracy to Nigerians. He said the government had, therefore, 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. The vice-president was of the view that the challenges the country had to face in the years to come, especially in the areas of human capacity development, including education, healthcare and jobs for the youths, are monumental and historic.
According to him, “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.”
He said to be able to achieve significant progress, both the states and Federal Government must see themselves as one in delivering services to the people.
He, however, gave the assurance that government was able and prepared to address the numerous challenges facing the country.
Osinbajo added that: “To do so, all the states of this federation and the Federal Government must see ourselves as one. Our people in every state want the same things and suffer the same deprivations; they really don’t care who puts food on their tables; just put the food on the table.”
He also noted that the issue of insecurity, including opportunistic attacks by Boko Haram in the North-East part of the country, and farmers/herders clashes, remained top on the agenda of the present government, saying that the unfortunate security problems had overstretched relevant law enforcement agencies considerably.
“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,” he said.
Osinbajo gave the assurance that the Federal Government was committed to recruiting more men and women into all security agencies, in order to improve their capabilities to maintain law and order.
He further said: “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.”
He reminded the governors that they belong to an elite club who are privileged and fortunate to have been elected by the people to serve, adding that such privilege also came with huge responsibility and sacrifice on their part.
The vice-president stated: “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. A large number are unable to afford good healthcare and malnutrition 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 three per cent 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.”
The Department For International Development (DFID) was one of the numerous persons and organisations that provided goodwill messages. Speaking for the department, Debbie Palmer reminded the returning and newly-elected governors that they had taken on the challenging role of championing development in their states.
“Your people will be counting on you to deliver on the development promises you made during the campaigns,” she intoned, adding that on its part, the United Kingdom (UK) government was committed to working with the government of Nigeria to eradicate poverty and promote prosperity for all.”
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 counseled.
Senior Fellow, Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), Dr. Mairo Mandara, told the inductees 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, was ensuring both treatment and prevention were included and funded as routine in Nigeria’s and states’ Primary Health Care systems and encouraging establishment of local RUTF production in country.
She told them: “Your personal leadership in ensuring your state health plan addresses your states health needs, a good functioning State Primary Health Care Development Agency and a strong government coordination are central to sustainability. You must lead in coordinating all donors and development partners to support the country›s and state’s Primary Health Care Under One Roof Plans.
“Your Excellencies, as you navigate the next four years improving the lives of your citizens, it is important to remember that young people are about 65 per cent Nigeria›s population and your legacies, and the future of your states lay in the health and development of young people through strategic and sustainable solutions.”
Chairman of First Bank of Nigeria (FBN), Ibukun Awosika, in her remark, urged the inductees to reflect on who they were and why they ran for the office.
Her words: “I will start with the question of you asking yourself, ‘who am I? Why did I choose to take on this assignment?’ If you know who you are and you have now decided to be the governor of the state by choice, then, you need to ask yourself ‘where am I going? What is the goal for which I chose this assignment and in choosing to do this, what is the value that I set out to deliver to my people?’ And when you are done trying to answer those questions, honestly, I always say, to myself ‘be true,’ 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.
“But it is important that we have a sense of who we are because in the journey of leadership, especially in Nigeria, sycophancy is very real. The pressure of the society and the people around you can change the fundamentals of who you are, if you do not continue to remind yourself of who you are and why you took the job in the first place. And soon enough, you become something else, other than who you are when you first started.
“So, it is important for you to write it down, stick down your desk and remind yourself often that ‘this is who I am, this is why I took this job and there are people whose lives depend on me,’ because, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what job somebody else gives us.”
Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Reverend Father Hassan Kukah, 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 Bought 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 and 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 are in power; and there are people who are in office, but are not in power.”
He added that: “A 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 Sam Ortom and Simon Lalong of Benue and Plateau states respectively, spoke on the security situation in the country.
The programme also attracted the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu; his predecessor in office, Nuhu Ribadu; the Director-General of the Department of State Services (DSS), Yusuf Bichi; media magnate, Nduka Obaigbena; representative of the Inspector General of Police, Muhammed Idris, among others.
Two former United States (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 many other national and international personalities and organisations also took part in the two-day event.