The 1999 Constitution (as amended) unambiguously specifies the roles of the three tiers of government: federal, state and local government. The functions of each level are well spelt out in the exclusive, concurrent and residual lists of the constitution.
In terms of resources and impact, the states are next to the federal government. Actually, by coverage and proximity to the people, the states are the most formidable tier in the country’s governance structure, sharing various responsibilities with the central government on the concurrent list.
Over the years, the states have increased to 36 from 12 created by the military regime at the onset of the Civil War in 1967. In the Second Republic, the governors aggressively pursued the development of their states by setting up state universities, polytechnics, and colleges of education to expand students’ intake; they established industrial estates to create jobs, developed the tourism sector with standard hotels and other recreational centres. The hotels, in particular, earned even foreign exchange for the states.
Hopes raised by Nigeria’s return to full-scale democracy in 1999 were dashed when suddenly the slogan “states have no business owning private enterprises” led to the sale of these companies and other income-yielding entities under an ill-conceived and misplaced commercialisation and privatisation exercise.
Since then, the once vibrant states have been going cap-in-hand to federal authorities before they can pay even workers’ salaries. Consequently, good governance has become elusive at the second tier of government. Industries and social services have collapsed with the citizens paying for everything they need. In the midst of these challenges, most of the governors elected from 1999 till date live in stupendous affluence without demonstrating any mastery of state craft. During electioneering, they promise the voters heaven on earth and once elected, the regime of excuses and blame game takes over.
A recent report by this newspaper that covered 12 states, two each from the six geo-political zones, revealed that none provides potable water to the citizens both in the urban and rural areas. The poor performance of state governors, again, came to the fore in the recent handover notes of the immediate past governors to their successors across the country.
The common features in the notes were huge debt, uncompleted projects, large-scale fraud, last-minute massive recruitment and contract awards, in some cases the entire cost of the projects were paid upfront.
Others were empty treasury, unpaid salaries and pensions running into several months and in some cases years, asset stripping and looting of public properties. Figures gleaned from the handover notes showed that those sample 12 states alone are indebted to the tune of N2.1trillion
The result is that the new governors have no funds to start with. The situation in some of these states has forced some governors to begin their tenure with borrowing to pay salaries. It bespeaks nothing good of the immediate past governors that the only thing they would be remembered for is the mortgaging of the future of the unborn with questionable local and foreign debts, derelict infrastructure, and collapsed social services.
We find it difficult to believe that in just four or eight years in office, some governors incurred debts ranging from N150billion to N251billion without tangible projects or programmes to show for these heavy borrowings.
We are the more disturbed that these debts were owed at a time of improved allocations from the Federation Account and various interventions and bailouts to the states by President Muhammadu Buhari. It is appalling, in our opinion, that despite the anti-corruption crusade of the Buhari administration, some of the outgone governors carried on with impunity as if they were in another clime.
It is against this backdrop that we call for a retooling of the states for efficient service delivery. Before the worst happens, the new governors must redefine their governance style and set realistic goals. The incumbents must learn from the misdeeds or errors of their predecessors by thinking of the people first, focus on revenue-yielding sectors where their states have comparative advantage, empower women and youths to reduce crime rate, run slim executive councils, drastically reduce their retinue of aides to save cost, block revenue leakages, and cut down on local and foreign trips. When inevitable, they should right size the workforce.
We also admonish the anti-corruption agencies to speedily complete the investigation of these former governors, prosecute and recover all stolen state assets and funds under their administration. This will send a strong signal to the incumbents that they would also be held accountable if they abuse public trust.
The Governors must be made to understand that their constituencies will not take excuses from them, neither will blame game or crying foul save the situation.
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