We have been watching with keen interest to see what the response of President Muhammadu Buhari would be to the cries of the 36 governors of the federation for a financial bail-out. Towards the end of the Jonathan Administration and running into this one, many states of the federation have become insolvent. They are unable to discharge the most basic of their obligations namely, paying salaries to their workers. And since they are unable to do even this one, it means in effect that they cannot provide some socio-economic facilities that would bring about progress in their states.
Everyone in this land, including PMB, knows the root of this self-imposed problem besetting the states: their governors are reckless. With due respect to a microscopic few who are prudent in the management of their states’ resources and with due sympathies to those of them who have just come to the gubernatorial throne who merely inherited the problem, the truth of the matter is that a vast majority of the governors are the architects of their states’ misfortunes. They steal and loot and salt away in safe havens far from their states and far from the shores of Nigeria, leaving their states desolate.
They go about in huge convoys consisting of huge and frightening looking and fuel-guzzling cars; they often give expensive banquets in honour of some visiting dignitaries both home and abroad where wines, spirits and exotic foods flow in reckless courses; they fly about, sometimes in private jets, attending political meetings that add no value to the economies of their states; they appoint countless numbers of political office holders and pay them out-of-this-world salaries and perquisites; they load their bureaucracies full with political civil servants in order to please their godfathers and supporters; they appropriate to themselves huge sums of money from the public till as security vote, a vote that is largely unaccountable; they wage expensive and largely ineffectual media campaign to convince the masses that they are working in their great interest; they do all these and more and forget about regenerative investments and expect to remain afloat. But the law of sowing and reaping must take effect; hence they have found themselves in the financial quagmire from which they are now appealing to PMB for help.
We are relieved that Buhari has not decided to paper over the cracks or offer palliative to a deep-rooted problem or give the governors the impression that his administration will encourage the type of business as usual stance of previous governments. Rather, he is reported to have told the governors very politely that they should go back to their states and find ways of paying their workers. That is how it should be.
It’s also out of place to blame the misfortune of the governors and their states on what was described as the ‘financial recklessness’ of the Jonathan Administration. How can anyone who is honest blame the situation on Jonathan and make the governors look completely innocent or helpless victims of bad circumstances? The truth is that the financial distress of states, attributable in large measure to the recklessness of their governors, predates the Jonathan administration. In fact, it reached its peak in the early 80s when Jonathan must have been doing his NYSC and had no idea that one day Fortune will catapult him to the pinnacle of political power in Nigeria.
Buhari, in his first coming in 1983, inherited the liabilities of unpaid salaries by states so the President cannot be fooled by such outbursts against Jonathan. The fault, dear governors, does not lie at the centre or abroad or above; it lies squarely in you people. You act as if you have no respect for money and anyone who does not respect money, money will not respect that person. It will fly away to more sensible persons as it has done to some grieving state governors now.
In truth, the financial crisis bedeviling most of our states is traceable to the feeding bottle type of federalism we are practising. The states are being spoon-fed by oil rents disbursed from the centre and have therefore not seriously thought of the need to prudently manage their resources and invent creative ways to generate money to run their administration. This is what we need to confront if we want the states to be financially buoyant and if we as a nation want to become an economic powerhouse in Africa.
The change that Buhari has promised Nigeria will not come unless he decides to adopt the kind of tough love stances he has employed on the governors’ cries for financial bailout on certain more national issues even if his stance may sometimes appear unpopular to critical sectors/constituencies. A good leader needs to sometimes appear harsh or unsympathetic to certain requests as a way of urging some people to mend their evil ways or stew in their own juice and learn from their plight what to do.
If Buhari truly wants to bring about change, he should be one president who must be most willing to constantly communicate with Nigerians his reasons for taking certain actions. He should be prepared to make many national broadcasts to explain his position to Nigerians because some of his actions at first glance may appear contradictory to his promise to bring Nigeria a new lease of life.
Take for example the need to cut down on the cost of governance. There is no way this can be accomplished without retrenchment of workers. Yet this is a man who promised the creation of two million jobs for Nigerians each year. Nigerians need to be made aware of the fact that what some people have now are not real jobs; they are just on a welfare dole, draining the public purse without any real contribution to national development. He must be courageous enough to tell Nigerians that some things have to grow worse before they can get any better.