State governors and economic growth
STATE governors occupy an extremely strategic position in the development of Nigeria. Imagine what would happen if we had men of vision and selfless service manning the affairs at the 36 federating units.
But alas, what is common is that very few go in with a clear idea of what to do. The enormous power and authority granted them by the constitution soon gets into their heads and they realise they are emperors.
Other arms of government become mere appendages. And so in the real sense of it, at state level, there is only one arm of government, and this arm is one man, the governor.
Many a governor has used his position to enhance his personal economy, rather than build the economy of the state. When they embark on projects, apart from social infrastructure like roads, hospitals, water works, electricity distribution lines, many have little or no bearing on the economic growth of the state.
Even the social infrastructure is awarded to companies with conflicts of interest, and the infrastructure becomes almost useless and needing renovation as soon as it is opened for business.
A past time of some governors is to build giant retail shopping outlets or meeting venues in the name of growing the economy. These places then adorn the landscape.
Donald Duke built Tinapa, a waterfall tourist moribund monument, while Liyel Imoke borrowed billions to build another white elephant called convention centre.
Ondo State has also built an international conference centre with billions of state resources and perhaps a few other states have followed suit.
Of course the idea is that high profile meetings would be held in these facilities and the state capitals would become a Geneva or Stockholm of sorts.
And you ask, how many meetings would be held in a year that would reap the benefits of such often inflated expenditure? How many jobs would these retail outlets create? How much tourist traffic would this draw to the state? The giant retail shopping centres would have made greater sense as complements to an industrial sector.
What grows the economy is the productive sector. The productive sector creates goods or services, which can be traded locally and far away, and this in itself creates jobs and workers in turn spend to purchase other goods and services.
The ready local market and the ‘exportable’ nature of the products combined with adequate spending, then help to grow the economy.
‘Exportability’ here does not necessarily refer to international exports, although this is far better because of ability to earn foreign exchange. Rather this includes the fact that the goods and services are in demand in other parts of the country.
I remember when an erstwhile military governor in Cross River State had the fantastic idea of establishing cottage industries in each local government area.
Alas, they were left to rot because there was no follow up by successive governors. Donald Duke attempted to undertake the industrial approach with cashew nut factories, rice mills and so on but again that was abandoned.
Liyel Imoke claims to have funded 141 community interest groups and to have disbursed 1.4 billion naira to 650 farmers and to have trained over 14,000 medium and small scale entrepreneurs. These figures are paltry compared to needs, and much more needs to be done.
Many governors may have done a lot in the provision of social infrastructure, which is an enabler; but current governors need to take firmer steps that would generate investment in the productive sector.
I believe that it is time for every state government to domesticate what the federal government was doing under Jonathan with regard to the You -Win programme.
There should be many of our young men and women with bright ideas out there who can transform the productive sector and create jobs but have no access to capital.
States should put resources together to fund these ideas which should grow small and medium scale enterprises, as our Central Bank and our commercial banks continue to work against the economy with high interest rates.
The only clog is that many Nigerians regard what comes from government as largess and do not apply themselves to an accountable usage.
But perhaps this new Buhari era might inspire some self-restraint besides linking up with credible NGOs to monitor these programmes.
State governments should study how Okonjo-Iweala managed to overcome the corruption that should normally exist in such ventures and ensure that it does not become an avenue for awarding grants or soft loans to cronies who do not have the least business acumen. More importantly, state governments should go in search of companies that manufacture the goods we use in Nigeria and invite them to come and establish here. Nigeria imports almost everything.
No economy can grow that is overly dependent on imports, even of basic things. The globalization or liberalization of trade has made it such that Nigeria opens her doors to all kinds of products that are manufactured in-country and their comparative lower price value drives our own goods under, leading to the low capacity utilisation of our industries. At some point, we have to realise that this kind of liberalism cannot grow our economy.
The so-called foreign direct investment has been mostly in financial assets, paper money that does not add much value to the economy. Foreigners rush to buy our bonds and stocks because of our higher interest rates and pull out their funds as soon as there is the slightest economic tremor. This is not investment, where our books can show positive trillions today and negative trillions tomorrow.
If foreigners have confidence in our economy, they will invest in real structures, equipment and machinery, they will invest in real productive enterprises.
Very few governors actually have engaged in investment drives aside from the pleasure trips which they undertake with their cronies fully paid for by public funds.
How come that with so many trips overseas there are no investments in the real sector of the economy? Many years ago I kept wondering why our governments never attracted any solar-power assembly and or manufacturing companies to Nigeria, seeing the enormous potential market in Nigeria and the intractable problem of electricity.
Years afterwards Nigeria became the destination of all kinds of poor quality solar batteries, inverters and solar panels from China and India. Even now there is an opportunity with the new research that solar panels could be manufactured with elements from salty sea-waters. Our politicians have not helped matters.
They go on embezzling funds, which they divert to the economies of other nations instead of finding ways to invest within the country, since we cannot stop the stealing anyway.
Imagine what 6 billion US Dollars could do to the economy of Nigeria! The point is that we need our governments at all levels to be more creative with enabling investments. Government still plays a crucial role in growing the economy no matter what the apologists of free trade tell us.
I see many local farmers struggling to make ends meet when the local government could have supported them with seeds and agric extension services.
I see many young men and women loitering around the villages when the local government could have supported them to own fish farms, poultries and other forms of animal husbandry with the entire value chain.
I see communities growing because maybe an influential person has gone to bring an extractive company somewhere, and the state government cannot enable housing development! It is good that President Muhammadu Buhari is bent on recovering stolen funds.
What will be done with those funds; dividing them among state governments for further division into security votes and sundry inexplicable expenditures ?
Could these funds be kept aside for funding creative ideas in the real sector of the economy? Can Nigeria spark an industrial revolution through the creativity of her teeming youths who often excel out of the shores of this nation, which has often threatened to stunt and devastate their future? • Fr. Evaristus Bassey is a Catholic Priest.