Backlash:Now You Are Talking Mr. President

Abraham Ogbodo CopyI sparingly drink beer; maybe just a bottle in 30 days. But I broke the rule last week, when President Muhammadu Buhari said the Federal Government was not going to bail out distressed state governments.

I did two bottles to celebrate the good news after which I told my wife goodnight and hit the bed. It is the wisest thing the President has said since his inauguration on May 29.

It is even wiser than his over celebrated inauguration catch phrase: ‘I belong to nobody, I belong to everybody’ because, quite on the contrary, the President belongs to some people and his owners, including one Rabiu Kwankwanso, former governor of Kano State, but now a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, are beginning to lay bona fide claim.

The President said something else that was equally interesting. He said past government officials, and I guess these should include everybody across parties from 1999 till date, who stole Nigerian money, shall be made to pay back. I shall add what the President omitted in that executive proclamation.

All past and present thieves shall be arrested, made to pay back what they have stolen, prosecuted and punished. I really thank Mr. President for seeing through this sham. I had argued previously that if this democracy would crash, the governors would cause it. I still stand by that position.

While on one hand they understand perfectly how the centre should run in relation to the states, the same governors will retire home to run their respective states as emperors.

They have successfully obliterated government at the local government level. In all, democracy is a very distant concept in the states.

The governor approximates all its key elements. Nothing is separated. All the powers — executive, legislative and judiciary —are consolidated in the governor.

He creates his legislature or uses state resources after his ascendance to recreate an existing one into a personal facility so that the House of Assembly can run, at best, as a directorate of the State House. Executive bills, including the most important, the appropriation bill, are rubber stamped by the House of Assembly and rushed back to the emperor for assent without the benefit of legislative scrutiny to re-order the priorities of government in the light of objective socio-economic conditions.

This is what has happened in Osun State, which Governor Rauf Aregbesola has rechristened to the ‘State of Osun’ in an attempt to project a uniqueness that he does not have.

The state legislators did not ask questions when the governor budgeted to buy a chopper to hop around to quicken the business of government in a state that is less than 10, 000 kilometre square.

Also, when the governor woke up one morning with the dream of free education with all its accompaniments, including free uniform and opon imo, the honourable members of the Osun State House of Assembly did not tell him to go back to sleep, to clear his head of executive drunkenness before making his presentation.

The legislators obliged, even when the opon imo and other populist programmes of the state government were not anchored on any sustainable financial architecture. The man just thought of things that would give him sharp political edge and went to town, screaming ‘opon imo! Opon imo! Now there is no money to continue the opon imo and pay salaries too.

And sober, Governor Aregbesola is appealing to civil servants in the state to eat pomo (cow skin that has little nutritional value), while he searches around for money to pay workers salaries and revive opon imo. Elsewhere in Imo State, a Rochas Okorocha has been conducting the business of government from the streets.

One witness said the man could stand in the street of Owerri, Okigwe or any other major town in the state and on that spot, award road contracts running into billions without appropriation or even simple documentation of the processes. In Rivers State, where the legislature and judiciary went comatose for two years, former Governor Rotimi Amaechi ran his last two years in office as a maximum ruler.

He went frequently to the capital market to raise one bond after another with the approval of the state legislature, which operated from a wing of the expansive Government House, Port Harcourt. The recklessness was all pervading. Across the country, governors exercised power without responsibility.

They spent without a corresponding capacity to earn. In Delta State, former Governor Uduaghan was afield bagging all the merit awards there were in the land, purportedly on account of his superlative performance.

In the end, he left behind a huge deficit of more than half a trillion naira as if there was a correlation between the number of the awards he acquired and the size of debt he left behind.

His successor, Senator Arthur Ifeanyi Okowa is struggling to reconcile himself with the ugly reality on ground. Even Lagos, said to be the only state in Nigeria with capacity to earn what it spends reportedly owes the biggest debt.

The current governors are asking for bailout as if there is a consolidated federal fund created by law that is called bailout to meet exigencies.

When the price of oil pierced through the roofs to settle at $140 per barrel and it was suggested that part of the surpluses be set aside by whatever name – Excess Crude Account or Sovereign Wealth Fund – for lean times, the governors said tomorrow would take care of itself and that everything should be ‘chopped’ at once.

Like the tortoise, they had thought hunger would not come again after a good feast and gone ahead to sell the entire harvest. We call it ‘chop and quench’ in everyday language.

Other oil producing countries do not behave that way.Norway, for instance, a major player in the North Sea operations, invests all earnings from oil for future generation and the government is permitted by law to spend only 4 per cent of returns on investments on the subsisting generations of Norwegians. Till tomorrow, fishing remains the largest occupation in Norway and a major income earner of the country.

Even without any known adviser on political or inter-governmental matters in place, President Buhari did not allow the governors to lead him into abomination. I salute his acumen and urge him at the same time to move steadily forward.

No shaking PMB; he used to be GMB! Going really forward, I would like Mr. President to cast overboard the big dragnet to ensnarl all the big thieves that have jumped into the sea and drag them home to face judgment.

I don’t want him to spoil the new narrative with this talk about meeting ‘empty treasury.’ Governance is not a show of poetic prowess. The President is singing too much and it is not good for serious business.

First, it was ‘I am not a magician’ followed by ‘I belong to nobody, I belong to everybody’ and then ‘I need Nigerians to be patient’; ‘at 72, there is a limit to my achievements’ and now ‘I inherited empty treasury.’ Government is not an osusu club or a thrift cooperative where the emphasis is on saving. It is about spending and spending big too, but judiciously.

It is why the President, without qualms, ordered the release of $23million dollars from the ‘empty treasury’ to the joint force on Boko Haram. Spending, especially other people’s money is like sin, which is much easier to commit than to resist.

And sinners are not meant to go scot-free. I don’t know exactly the position of the Qu’ran on this, but the Bible in Ezekiel 18:4 says every soul that sinneth shall die. Mr. President, let some sinners die in Nigeria going forward. I mean, let those who sinned against the Federal Government and the 36 states as a result of which government is unable to pay workers salaries die. The order is from God Himself, not me!

  • Mazi JO

    But let me tell you Mr. Ogbodo, emphasis on Savings is important. Savings , Government spending and Investments are crucial variables in the GDP growth equation. There can never be bailouts until the trillions allocated from the Treasury are properly accounted for. The debt burden is coming due. They’ll sink several States. The Presidency better be lining up the State Governors to have them relieve their quarries from the effects of reckless borrowing. Go into their filled up and spilling-over Bank accounts and restitute for the chaos sure to come these days of dwindling resources.

  • SamPsalm

    Would have been a great article – except that somehow, all the States mentioned were in the South – and all save one was an APC State. How did those writer forget Abia State, or Akwa Ibom State – assuming that the States in the north have managed to keep themselves from the radar. Our State level of governance have been such a gargantuan disappointment – all around – that trying to skew its manifestation is wrongful. Really, it is time Nigerians give the same attention to the State and Legislative arm that they gave to the Presidency in 2015

  • Joseph

    I thought Aregbesola was schooled in planning. From the onset this man failed in his
    planning. He lacks focus while trying to copy Lagos State. Even Lagos did not give free meals and Opon whatever. He has brought trouble on innocent civil servants.