By Gabriel Omoh
Governors of the 36 states of the federation rose from a meeting in Abuja last week Wednesday, resolving to meet President Muhammadu Buhari on the financial crisis crippling the affairs of some states in the federation. According to the chairman of the Governors’ Forum, Abdulazeez Yari, the governors viewed the financial crisis facing the states as national issue as there are also Federal Government agencies that owe salaries for upward of seven to eight months.
The new chairman of the Governors’ Forum said: “We decided not to talk of the bailout directly, though the problem we observe is not only a state matter. It is a national matter. Some federal agencies are being owed for seven months and above. The Federal Government cannot do it alone because of the dwindling economy.
“So, instead of requesting for the bailout, because we have to make sure that the Federal Government has liquidity, but where will the Federal Government find the liquidity? It is sending a very wrong signal that the states are asking for bailout and we all know that the economy of the country is in a very bad shape.
“So, instead of sending a bad signal and aware of the implications, we are asking the Federal Government to pay the states for the Federal Government jobs that have been executed by the states. “We would be asking the Federal Government to settle the backlog owed the states. The Federal Government owes some states N10 billion, N20 billion, N30 billion and Lagos State, N50 billion. So, if we can get back some of this money, we can settle some of the backlog of wages and salaries.”
The situation facing states at the moment is self inflicted. State governors had the opportunity to develop their local economies and grow their internal revenue generation. But many of these state governors prefer to rely on allocation from the federation account. For too long, the Nigerian economy has lived on rentals. The economy operated on rents from oil export.
It is a pity that no state government has developed its internal resources to the point that it can stand on its own without federal allocation. While the oil boom lasted, no government functionary in these states was ready to put on a thinking cap that a day will come when rent on oil will dry up.
While the rents accruing from oil lasted, governors were living like lords of the manor. They flew and hired private jets, moved around in fleets of vehicles and kept chains of aides. Some were busy using state resources to marry for their children and themselves. They hosted lavish parties. The money they should have invested in projects that would have brought future returns to states was wasted on frivolities.
Some of these governors built mansions with state money in the name of Governor’s Lodge in several locations in their states to meet their ostentatious lifestyle. These are monies that could have been used for income- yielding ventures. Some of these governors have invested their state’s money in private companies which they have dishonestly converted to their personal use.
Such properties now that the chickens have come home to roost, should be sold and the money realised from them used to offset whatever debt is outstanding just as the new governor of Akwa Ibom is trying to do to the private jet his predecessor acquired with state money instead of going cap-in-hand to beg the Federal Government for a bailout.
In Akwa Ibom for instance, the former Governor bought a private jet for the state, built a football stadium that may only be used once in a year. The jets owned by state governments are parked and maintained with state funds. The question is; why should a state own a private jet?
Akwa Ibom State governor, Emmanuel with his private sector background is said to be unfavourably disposed to the private jet acquired by his predecessor, Godswill Akpabio to ease his movement outside the state and is contemplating disposing of the aircraft.
The governor is said to be shopping for buyers of the jet to relieve him of the burden of fuelling and maintaining it. Akwa Ibom is not the only state with a private jet, Danbaba Suntai of Taraba had even gone to the extent of not only owning a private jet but flying one himself.
It is heart-warming that the state governors are aware that the Federal Government itself is cash strapped and cannot help itself or bail out the states. The Federal Government should tell these shameless state governors in unequivocal terms that it will not now or in the future bail out any state. They should be told to go back to their states and straighten up their finances.
In fact, the Federal Government should begin to make allocation to states based on accountability. States must account for the money they get from the federation account monthly and they should be made to publish their annual statements of account. They should not just be collecting money and not give proper account for it.
Every state must publish its account as well as every local government. This is the kind of change the APC government and legislature should bring about in the country. A survey has shown that Nigerian politicians, especially state governors, deliberately involve themselves in flagrant and ostentatious expenditure as a way to show off their class, without the knowledge that their action is responsible for the underdevelopment of the economy.
Many governors are richer and more powerful than some presidents around the world. In the states, governors are the beginning and end of all wisdom. The governor is the state and the state was created for his good pleasure. They may occasionally try and display some decorum in treating the state’s funds as belonging to the citizens, but don’t be fooled.
Much of that fund is their pocket money literally. In some states, the SURE-P fund for instance, is essentially the governor’s chop money. Security votes and ecological funds belong to this category too. No two governors are alike though every state gets the governor it deserves.
Nigerian governors are the masters of their universe, the lords of their manor and conquerors of their realms. They are capable of being dictatorial, democratic, benevolent, malevolent, difficult, simple, matured and childish all at once. They are tough, calculating and ingenious in maneuvering the turbulence associated with that unique office.
Now that the financial situation in states is precarious, state governors should come off their high horses and face reality. They should cut down on their frivolities and spend the state resources on what is necessary. Time is now for altruistic service. There is no bailout from anywhere.