Professor (Mrs) Ngozi Okonja-Iweala is an over-celebrated Nigerian technocrat whose submissions to every congregation is quickly rated as the finest that can ever be found anywhere. As the current Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) who, at various times, also served as a World Bank executive and minister of finance of Nigeria, she is generally and rightly regarded as a world-class expert who should always be invited to either drive a development process or simply show the way to go.
It was, therefore, in full recognition of her global visibility and utmost resourcefulness that the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) recently invited her to an induction it organized for state governors in Abuja. The event was a very big and serious business for all the out-going, in-coming and continuing states governors that was specially put together to serve as a forum for discussions on crucial issues about governance at the sub-national level.
At this time that preparations for hand-over/take-over of power in some states or commencement of second term in the other ones where gubernatorial election took place on the 18th of last March have reached an advanced stage, such an engagement is most fundamental. The NGF could not have come up with a better idea towards the effective sensitization of every group of the participants on the basic need for absolute compliance with the established procedures of management of the states.
Either as out-going, in-coming or continuing or even former governors, the participants need the kind of reminder about the significance, nay indispensability, of the states in a federal structure and a strong caution on the dangers of the violation of procedures that were volunteered by the WTO Director General and others. There are clear takeaways for members of each group of the participants which, if adequately put into use, can bring about tremendous improvement in the performance of state governments.
The particular concern over debt collection by the state governments expressed by Ikonja-Iweala was quite legitimate considering the fact that it was during her time as a coordinating minister of finance that Nigeria, after a prolonged bargained, secured debt cancellation from international financial organizations. By bluntly telling the in-coming and the continuing governors not to continue to ‘pile up’ debts, she was simply pointing to the crippling effects of random borrowings on the states.
Equally, the call she made for the attachment of high priority to the welfare of the people was a clear reference to the prevailing social discontent that is most noticeable among majority of the citizens. The deteriorating living conditions of the ordinary people is a strong indication of both the inadequacy of social welfare schemes and the low performance of the existing ones, hence the advocacy for the provision and sustenance of necessary facilities for the enhancement of the social conditions of the people.
In fact, the presentation she made covered such critical areas as security, infrastructure, health care, education and youth empowerment, all of which have suffered one form of neglect or another and therefore require the immediate attention of the in-coming governments in the states. All the participants must have now acquired a much fuller knowledge of the challenges that await those who will be inaugurated as governors on the 29th of this month.
It has appeared that the former finance minister, by her presentation, shares the concern of all those patriotic citizens over the failures of state governors as leaders of the federating units to deliver on their mandate, which is the biggest cause of the disturbing under-development in the country. The main message she has passage is both an unfavourable judgement on the performances of a lot of state governors and a strong call for a quick change of attitudes in order to get better results.
Although the argument that the Nigerian federation is not yet balanced enough is somehow reasonably valid, the fact remains that the states are a fundamental tier of government that has the responsibility for the provision of basic necessities of life for the people. This re-enforces the conclusion that it is only an effective re-orientation of the governors that can guarantee the delivery of essential services by the state governments.
By all means, the governors should be given the kind of orientation that will make them to discard the belief that they are emperors or lords who, more often than not, easily turn themselves into plunderers of the resources of their respective states. The particular advice by Ikonja-Iweala that the governors “need to demonstrate to Nigerians that they are equally loved,” represents a genuine demand for the design of strategies for service delivery by the state governments.
The obvious over-reliance of the state governments on the financial allocations from the federal government to the extent that, according to the WTO Director General, such disbursements constitute not less than 80 percent of revenues in about 33 of them is most frightening. It is an indication that the governments of majority of the states are more reckless spenders than managers of financial resources, even with all the dangers such a reality portends for all those states.
The numerous sessions that were conducted during the induction resembled tutorials for, particularly, in-coming governors to which reference can be continuously made for the purpose of establishing whether or not, at any point in the course of governance, the rules are violated. All the other contributions by, for example, the out-going President Muhammadu Buhari, who was represented by his Chief of Staff Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari as well as former governors of Kwara, Niger and Gombe States-Bukola Saraki, Babangida Aliyu and Ibrahim Dankwambo-respectively, were admonitions for one category of the participants or another.
It is quite noticeable that Nigerians are fast becoming aware of the importance of states to their lives and are, therefore, getting more impatient over the apparent failure of the state governments to live up to their expectations. The belief that the governors can, individually and collectively, do a lot better in terms of the provision of security, peace maintenance, infrastructure development as well as youth and women empowerment is making them to implacably demand for a much better treatment from the governors.
The governors who will continue or begin to steer the affairs of their respective states by the end of this month should, on their part, quickly come to terms with the fact that the citizens are absolutely unready for more disappointment. The need for them to, therefore, demonstrate a resolve to carry out their assignments in a manner that can bring about positive changes in the lives of the people can not be over-emphasized.