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When Outgoing Governors Set Booby-traps For Successors

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JOSEPH CHIBUEZE and OLAJIDE OMOJOLOMOJU examine the trend whereby outgoing governor’s put in place or implement policies that may make governance a herculean, challenging and daunting tasks for their successors

A new trend in the Nigerian political landscape has continued to gain ground in recent times. This is where incumbent outgoing state chief executives embark on policies and actions that tend to create problems and challenges for their successors.

When Governor Godwin Obaseki took over the mantle of leadership in Edo State in November 2016 from Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, he obviously underestimated the magnitude of the challenges he was going to face.

Oshiomhole was said to have taken a N30 billion loan for the construction of the Benin City Storm Water Drainage Project. That project according to reports seems to have been abandoned even before he handed over to Obaseki.

The former governor also at the twilight of his administration announced a new minimum wage for workers in the state’s civil service. Thus raising the minimum wage for civil servants in the state from N18, 000 to N25,000. This was at a time about 27 state governments were finding it extremely difficult to pay salaries.

Giving reason for his action, he said that as a former labour leader, he wanted to prove to his colleague-governors, who were against the upward review of the minimum wage that it could be done and that salaries could be paid promptly.

For Edo State workers, it was cheering news, but for the incoming administration of Oshiomhole’s successor, it was not too good and cheery news and policy.

As at the time he left office, Edo state government was said to be owing over N100 billion.

Now the chips are down, Obaseki has raised the alarm that the debt he inherited from his predecessor is posing a challenge to his development plan for the state.

The Edo state governor is not the only one in this state of dilemma, Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom state have suddenly fallen out of favour with his godfather, Godswill Akpabio because he refused to continue some of the projects initiated by Akpabio, including the N25.4 billion Four Points by Sheraton Hotel, Ikot Ekpene, describing them as white elephant projects.

Only recently, the Akwa Ibom state government questioned the claim by the former governor that the hotel project was 98 per cent completed by the time his administration vacated office.

The state government said the project, which Akpabio inaugurated before leaving office in 2015 was without a signed Franchise agreement and full complement of requisite furniture and fittings.

According to the statement, “95 per cent of the total contract sum was approved and disbursed by the former governor as building and site improvement cost.”

This according the government is against worldwide standard for building and site improvement cost component of a full-service four-star hotel in an emerging market which should be 64 per cent of the total cost of the hotel- hospitality valuation services (HSV).

In fact the Udom administration is challenging Akpabio to show proof of the agreement it signed: “We challenge immediate past governor to validate his claims of having fulfilled the requisite contractual obligations with Starwood Hotel & Resort for the Four Points by Sheraton franchise by publishing a copy of the signed management agreement.”

As the controversy over the hotel project in Akwa Ibom state rages,

the people of Lagos state, are shocked that the incumbent governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, is still performing despite the huge debt profile of N418.2 billion left for him by his predecessor, Babatunde Fashola.

Fashola soon after he left office in 2015 was accused of approving before he left office, N78.3 million from the state’s treasury for an upgrade of his personal website. The contract for the refurbishment of the website was awarded to Info Access Plus Limited by the office of the Chief of Staff to the former governor.

The company, however, denied receiving the amount, insisting that it was paid only N10 million.

The story is the same in other states as that appears to have become the trend. In fact at the point of their take over in 2015, some new governors including Nyesom Wike of River State; Samuel Ortom of Benue State; Mohammed Abubakar of Bauchi State and David Umahi of Ebonyi state vowed to probe their predecessors over what they described as the recklessness of the former governors. How far they were able to go with the probe remains to be seen.

Four years ago, when incumbent Governor Ayo Fayose was elected as incoming governor of Ekiti State, he accused the then outgoing governor and the incoming governor of the state, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, of allegedly recruiting 4,000 workers into the civil service of the state few weeks to the end of his tenure.

The same scenario is playing out in the state this time around as Fayose, few months to his leaving office has not only promoted about 45,000 civil servants, but is also seeking to employ over 2,000 new workers.

In a state where workers are being owed arrears of salaries ranging from seven to 10 months, it is like setting a booby trap of great proportion for the incoming administration of Fayemi.

Apart from inheriting a huge debt profile in arrears of unpaid salaries, the incoming administration will also have to grapple with the increase in salaries with the promotion of the state civil servants and payment of salaries of the newly employed staff.

Apart from creating economic and financial problems for the incoming administration of the governor-elect, he is also creating credibility problem for the administration and the APC, as any move to sack any of those so employed would be given a different meaning by the opposition and the people.

But reacting to this development, the Labour Party, LP, candidate in the Ekiti State gubernatorial election, Dr. Sikiru Lawal, a former deputy governor of the state, condemned Governor Fayose’s gimmick to employ 2,000 people into civil service.

Lawal described Fayose’s employment move as insincere and deceitful, wondering why the governor did not promote any civil servant in the past three and a half years of his administration.

Lawal said, “The question is, what are you doing before now? For three and half years you did not employ anybody, so why are they employing now? Why are they promoting now? That is political.”

In Osun State, for about three years, the state government under the leadership of Rauf Aregbesole could not pay workers’ salaries, but just a month to an election that will bring in a new governor, it has started paying full salaries.   

The state started ‘modulated’ salary payment in June 2015 when the state faced serious economic crisis. Following that, only workers below level seven received full salary payment. Workers between level eight and 12 had been receiving 75 per cent of their salaries while the state’s staff on grade level 13 and above had been receiving 50 per cent of their salaries in line with the structure.

Now that the state has started paying full salaries, nobody knows when the workers will receive the cuts made to their salaries over the years.

Many analysts in the state, who pleaded anonymity described the payment of full salaries as political, to shore up the fortunes of the ruling APC in Osun and its gubernatorial candidate, Alhaji Gbiyega Oyetola, in the election.

It is argued in some quarters that part of the reason these outgoing governors embark on those last minute projects is both for political and personal reasons. Political, because they want the voters to vote for their party at the elections and personal because they want to end their tenure on a high note and not allow their successor to take the shine off them.

Barr Anselm Ojezua, Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Edo State, said the outgoing governors are usually under pressure to fulfil promises they made to the people.

According to him, “The decision to take on last-minute projects or implement a new programme by the outgoing governors is usually as a result of pressure.”

He said people do different things for different reasons. “As governors,” he said, “they may have made promises all round and sometimes expectations are not met because of limited funds. As they are preparing to depart office, the pressure coming from such communities where they made these promises is usually high. Again remember they will also expect that during elections, such communities will vote for whoever they are presenting as their successor. So these pressures are there, sometimes they are reasonable, sometimes they are not.”

He said it is the responsibility of the incoming governor to make some adjustments to accommodate what he is going to meet on ground.

In his words, “The responsibility of office beholds the man who is coming in to adjust his own programmes to accommodate the ones he is inheriting from his predecessor and deal with it in accordance with the expectations of his office. There is no way you can avoid those things, they usually arise from pressure.”

Ojezua however counseled that it is proper for the new administration to look into the books of the state to know exactly what is on ground. For him, “The truth of the matter is that anybody taking over as governor, whether from the same party or a different party, must necessarily take stock of what is on ground in the state, particularly finance, it is not just for the purpose of witch-hunting, but for proper planning with real data. When they are campaigning they just give figures they are comfortable with, but when they get into office, they will see the real situation. So it is proper that the new man should check the books to know what he has to work with.”

Dr Katchi Ononuju, a public affairs analyst is of the view that the new governors have no reason to complain. According to him, “Government is a continuum. You take over from where your predecessor stopped. Do you expect that the government should stop functioning just because the man on the seat is about to leave?”

While agreeing that some of the outgoing governors initiate what could be called white elephant projects, he said the new man should not abandon such projects but complete them and have it to his credit that he completed it.

He said part of the problem of a developing country is lack of continuity. “We need to know that you take over from where your predecessor stopped,” he said. “It is because we don’t believe in continuity that is why we have so many abandoned projects even the ones that would have transformed our economy. It is not only in the states, even at the federal level, the new man should take over and continue the projects and policies of his predecessor especially where they are for public good.”

Chief Chekwas Okorie, National Chairman of United People’s Party (UPP), described the last minute actions of the outgoing governors as shear wickedness. He said it shows how selfish these politicians are. “Sometimes they do it so that the new governors will not outshine them,” he said, adding, “They want to make it difficult for their successors to perform so that their records will remain the best for the state. That is why you find some of them borrowing money anyhow and leaving a huge debt profile for the new administration.”

He said that the problem is not that these outgoing governors initiate new projects, “the problem is that they award contracts and pay off the contractor who then abandons the project and disappears. When you ask the contractor to go back to site, he will ask for a review which most times is even higher than the initial amount the contract was awarded.”

While advocating that the new governors should have the courage and the political will to ask the past administration to account for its activities, he said the anti-graft agencies should go after anyone indicted.

“Even if it is a case of new employments or promotions, the new governor should review such employments and promotions, where there is merit, they should be sustained, if not, he should have the courage to ask for a return to status quo. I know this will most likely pitch the governor against the people, which is what the outgone governor wants to achieve, the new governor should not be deterred. He should take time and explain to the people why his action is necessary.”   

Dr. Bongo Adi, senior lecturer in Development Economics, at the Lagos Business School, Pan Atlantic University, simply described the outgoing governors as bandits.

According to him, “They think that the public treasury is their personal account. All through their tenure in office all they do is to keep stealing and misappropriating public funds. They don’t have the interest of the people at heart. Ask them what their legacies are after eight years, many of them have nothing to point to.”

He said the most disturbing part is that at the eve of their exit, they will raise what is called infrastructure bond and go to the capital market to borrow money. “That has happened time without number,” he said. “My own concern is not that they do that, but that the system allows them to go to the capital market to raise funds knowing that there is no such infrastructure to be built with such money, but that it is just their retirement money and the system keeps accommodating such.

“So when these governors on the eve of their departure begin to embark on projects that are clear to everyone that they will not execute, it is also clear that they are just creating problem that they cannot solve, they just want to give a justification for taking public funds.”

He said that the activities of past governors have kept some states in perpetual debt with the economy of the states shrinking by the day as the new administration lack the needed funds to drive the economy.

“They keep accumulating debts for their states,” he said. “You know they deal with the banks or international finance institutions and these creditors always ask for sovereign guarantee. What the governors always do is to warm their way into the heart of whoever is the president or the central bank governor so that they can get approval. The federal government guarantees the loan and the debt is debited to the state account so that when the next administration comes on board the money is deducted from source leaving very little for the government to function with. That was why they ran into financial crisis last time and they were asking for federal government bailout.

“While we cannot control what the governors do when they are about to leave, I believe for their borrowing, the federal government will have to step in. But unfortunately it has also become a political matter. If the governor is of the ruling party, he can get away with whatever he does. The option we have is to stand against all these people who have ruined this nation. The young generation should stand against these people that have destroyed our country. We cannot continue to sit and watch them go unpunished otherwise, even those who are there now, will do the same when they are leaving, and the vicious cycle continues.”



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