SUNDAY NARRATIVE :Why Buhari Should Not Indulge Governors

Alabi WilliamsSOME governors, particularly those of the All Progressives Congress (APC), are gloating. Like spoilt children, some of them, whose profligate lifestyles, assisted in no small measure to complicate the financial troubles of their states, have now gone to Abuja for assistance.

The dire economic situation in some states has become pathetic. Some of them have thrown up their hands, having nowhere else to turn, and having run out of ideas.

They have amassed huge debts and have in that reckless process become insolvent, so that banks are even wary to grant them further facilities. For some, a huge portion of their monthly allocation is deducted at source to pay debts, leaving very little to cover recurrent expenses. Capital projects have been abandoned since 2014, preparatory to the 2015 general elections.

If the Peoples Democratic Party administration of Jonathan had managed to return, some of these governors would have abandoned their states and gone on voluntary exile.

Why? Because former finance minister and coordinator of the economy, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala would have further tightened the economic noose around those whose sense of financial discipline is close to zero.

Coupled with the continuing drop in Federal revenue, to which states are parasitically hooked for survival, another four years of PDP government would have been overwhelming. But thank God, Buhari is now in charge.

However, on a closer look at some of these governors last Tuesday after their meeting with PMB, you have the impression of characters that do not want to take responsibility. As far as they are concerned, it was the former administration that plunged their states into trouble.

This is the erroneous message they want to foist on the new administration, thinking that because it is their party and Buhari is one of them, he would listen to whatever lies and half- truth they present. But Buhari must be smatter than that.

He knows that the Federal Government can no longer be a Father Christmas that would just dish out funds without asking questions. In fact, even the Federal Government had been broke several years back.

The governors went to that meeting with a ‘wish list.’ Led by chairman of the Governors Forum, Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara State, they among other things, asked for;

• Obedience of extant Supreme Court ruling that all monies go into the Consolidated Federation Account

• An order from the President that all revenue generating agencies must pay into the Consolidated Federation Account • Review of the Revenue Allocation Formula • Refund of the monies expended by states on Federal projects

• A special consideration for the three states of the North East under Boko Haram infestation

• Full details of the amounts that accrued into the Excess Crude Account from 2011, and how the money miraculously shrank without official sharing They came out of the meeting beaming with smiles.

Buhari had assured them that their petitions would be addressed and wondered how they tolerated such brazen acts as allegedly committed with the Excess Crude Account since 2011 by the FG.

The tales told by the governors were that the FG starved them, and did not share all revenues that accrued to government. Indeed, there had been a running battle between the FG under Jonathan and states over revenue sharing.

While the Finance Ministry under the management of Okonjo-Iweala preferred a careful management of resources that would create opportunities for savings, states preferred to eat everything at once. States went to court with the FG over the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF), a device to encourage saving for leaner times such as we are now.

The argument by states was that in a federation, the FG does not have the constitutional prerogative to determine for states whether to save or not.

Some of them even advanced the spurious argument that states can have their own separate SWF accounts. But discerning reasoning could not locate any logic in encouraging states that do not observe fiscal responsibility to save. We are talking about states that are perpetually borrowing.

Back to last week, it seemed partial victory for states, in so far as the previous government remains the fall guy. There was no attempt to find any sense in the economic policy that had been in place for 16 years, whose main drive had been to avert looming economic disaster.

It may have been poorly implemented, but the reform policy that was first initiated by former President Obasanjo, passed on to the late Yar’Adua and then Jonathan, sought to limit the State’s poor fiscal responsibility, accountability and transparency culture.

What Buhari should do, if you ask me, is not to take states’ petition and their pathetic situation hook, line and sinker. He should, for instance, take another look at the Fiscal Responsibility Law, the Public Procurement Law and such extant economic and anticorruption laws that were put in place by the PDP government, but which have been poorly observed in the breach, particularly in states.

These laws would help to expose states that are dubious in their expenditures and those who secretly award contracts to their parties and their concubines, instead of adopting due process.

Due Process, as projected by Oby Ezekwesili, who worked under Obasanjo, a PDP president introduced transparency and accountability in public expenditure. Operating then from the Budget Office, Madam Due Process, as Oby became dubbed, exposed Nigerians, for the first time to a regime of reforms on how to spend wisely, contract wisely, monitor wisely and deliver wisely.

But many governors did not like Due Process, because it would frustrate their thieving culture. From Due Process, the reform graduated to Public Procurement, but still, many governors did not domesticate the law in their states, because it would limit their capacity to award fictitious contracts without being monitored.

A decade plus after Due Process, what do we have? What we have is a bunch of fiscally uneducated and irresponsible governors clamouring that everything accruing to the Federation must be shared. For a second opinion, let Buhari sound out Madam Due Process; she is ubiquitously available, so that he does not get duped by the tears and fairy tales of governors.

On the highpoints of the meeting with Mr. President, yes, governors are right, to some extent that all monies go into the Consolidated Account. As long as Nigeria continues to operate this sort of ‘Feeding Bottle’ federalism, that is the best thing to do, so that there would be transparency and accountability. But that is just a temporary solution.

The real and long-term solution is to encourage states to source their own revenues, because very soon, the crude reserves would dry up. Those who have the climate to grow cocoa in their domains should stop playing dangerous politics. They should face agriculture, just as Chief Awolowo did, and invest in revenue yielding ventures, not on billboards and posters.

Those who have groundnut, cotton and the potential to grow wheat, Shea butter and other important cash crops should channel the little they have sensibly into agriculture, not on pilgrimages that cannot put food on the table.

The situation is more pathetic for Niger Delta states, which have earned so much in 16 years, but have nothing to show for it, in terms of renewable and revenue yielding investments. They have earned so much because they are disadvantaged, but none has done enough to turn that disadvantage into an asset.

They have potential for tourism development in order to expand their IGRs, but they have frittered the opportunities. They came out of the meeting smiling, having got the ears of Mr. President.

They are to be paid for jobs done in states on behalf of the FG. Mr. President, please verify those claims. As for giving states more money to work with, some progressive minded Nigerians have argued that the idea of a federation account to which all revenues earned by different tiers are put is the very opposite of an authentic federal system. It is an anomaly for states to be forced to surrender their wealth to a federal government.

But since that is what obtains for now, let the FG take the least from this account and give to states and local governments larger shares, because it is states that have territories to grow agriculture, develop tourism, build schools and other infrastructure. But those who lack the spirit of competition prefer to go begging for alms in Abuja.

Therefore, review of revenue allocation is long overdue. This is the reality governors will not tell the President. The next time Buhari meets with governors, let him ask them to bring details of their investments in agriculture, tourism and other employment-generating platforms.

He should also ask them how compliant they are with transparency and anti-corruption laws, such as the Fiscal Responsibility and Public Procurement Laws. A former Northeast governor was investigated recently. His three wives were alleged to have returned 22 vehicles to government. The fourth wife is away overseas. When she comes she too will return the ones in her possession. It could be worse elsewhere. So, Buhari beware!

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