“This is the same country where a leader said the problem was not money but how to spend it. And he went ahead to spend foolishly. Today, that same leader goes about praying! Nigeria prays, or what did he call it? Oh no, it is not Nigeria that needs his prayers; it is Yakubu Gowon that needs to pray for forgiveness. He frittered our riches”
By Bolanle Bolawole
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If you ask many Nigerians the name of their local government chairman, they will most likely not know. I, for one, do not know mine. Maybe you can say it is because I do not reside at home (Owo in Ondo state) but live and work far away from home (in Lagos state). Even at that, I do not know the name of the local government chairman where I live in Lagos (Agege) or the one of Ikeja (where my office is) or of Agboyi/Alapere, Ketu where I have my church.
Undue emphasis is placed on the Federal Government while the State and local governments are left to misbehave as they like without the fear of any repercussions whatsoever.
This is the case all over the country probably because of the centralized or militarized, garrison-style federalism that we have become accustomed to. We must, however, wean ourselves from this unhelpful mentality and approach to governance if we are to make the appreciable progress we yearn for but which we do little or nothing to bring about.
This month (August 2023), the share of the three tiers of government from the Federation Account was as follows: FG, N374.485 billion; States, N310.670 billion; local governments, N229.409 billion while the oil-producing areas received an additional N51.55 billion as derivation. This brings the total received by the states and local governments to N591.629 as against the FG’s N374.485 billion.
Now, what do many of the States and local governments spend this humongous amount of money on? More money is being made available to States and LGs since President Bola Ahmed Tinubu came on board principally because of the removal of fuel subsidy and, perhaps, because of better management of the economy and stricter gatekeeping.
Many States and LGs owe months, even years, of salary and pensions arrears. Many of them are not even paying the ridiculously low minimum wage of N30,000 per month and infrastructure is decrepit all over the nooks and crannies of the territories under their watch. What many of these leaders have been noted for is abysmal corruption while their people wallow in abject poverty, deprivation and degradation. It is time we begin not only to interrogate them but to also hold their feet to the fire.
The free money from Abuja, so to say, will have to stop before the States and local governments all the country will see the need, and necessity, to work and phenomenally increase their Internally Generated Revenue.
As things stand today, once the states return from Abuja with federal allocation, no one sees the need to do anything other than share this booty. Once the governor and the cabals around him get their share and are filled, it is the pittance that is left that is spread thin over competing demands. And this, understandably, is inadequate.
A truly federal structure where the federating units will control and exploit their resources while only paying taxes to the Federation Account will also have to be instituted for the FG itself to get weaned off depending on rents from crude oil exploration. In other words, the present parasitic arrangement helps only a few elements to the detriment of Nigerians as a collective and the country as an entity.
The system of government that we run weighs us down; it does not guarantee progress or development. Those at the helms of affairs cash in on it to fleece the populace while lining their own pockets. Unless we destroy the Babylon system, progress and development will remain a pipe dream on these shores.
India got its Independence from the same British Empire as us (on 15 August,1947), 13 years ahead of us. Yet, the gap between our two countries today is more than 13 years but is up to 13 centuries! India is not just a nuclear power and an emerging world economic power; it has also just scored a first by landing two robots on the moon. Chandrayaan – 3 makes India the first ever country to reach the moon’s South pole and the fourth country to land on the moon. The difference between our two countries is leadership.
While Indian leaders from Independence denied themselves the perquisites and luxuries of office to pursue an independent and self-reliant mode of development, ours stepped into the shoes vacated by the colonial masters and lived life to the hilt, reminding one of Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks. While our Independence leaders rode in luxury cars and limousines, Mahatma Gandhi, the father of Indian nationalism, rode on bicycle, vowing that he would not give himself the luxury that India could not produce on its own. That is the foundation of India’s phenomenal industrial, scientific, technological and economic development. But see where our own import-dependent orientation and epicurean lifestyle have led us!
The rain started beating us a long time ago. We did not get it right from Day One! Who, then, or what, will wean us from our idyllic and unhelpful habits which have become a way of life? Maybe hard times will!
I get baffled when Nigerians complain about the turn of events today. Did they think that decades after decades of monumental misrule will not bear consequences? Did they think they could eat their cake and have it? Did they think the chickens will not come home to roost some day? This is the same country where a leader said the problem was not money but how to spend it. And he went ahead to spend foolishly. Today, that same leader goes about praying! Nigeria prays, or what did he call it? Oh no, it is not Nigeria that needs his prayers; it is Yakubu Gowon that needs to pray for forgiveness. He frittered our riches. He did not invest our wealth sensibly and responsibly. And he is not alone in this.
A part of the brunt we bear today. The decades of military rule, where all manner of novices and amateurish military leaders tried their hands on Nigeria, also left their indelible marks of desolation. Even after the return to civil rule, the wanton troopers still did not leave us alone to recover and recoup.
Eight years of Obasanjo and eight years of Buhari, both of them erstwhile but loathsome military dictators whose leopard could not change its skin, account for 16 out of 24 years of our renascent democracy.
Did Nigerians think that all of this will bear no consequence? Rather than allow the present pains to distract us, let us focus on remaking this country. The Nigerian political class as presently constituted cannot rescue Nigeria. They do not have what it takes. They also do not have an interest in doing so. Their goal is different. Their focus is on self. If you put your trust in them, you will be sorely disappointed. Ask yourself one germane question: When will Nigeria go to the moon like India? A political class that cannot deliver on common infrastructure is not the one that will take the country to the moon!
As we close, hear what one of our notable lawyers, Comrade Femi Falana, SAN, has to say about our state governors: “State governments are not prepared to run a federal system of government. Take, for instance: 1. NNPCL, NLNG, NIMASA, NPA & several others are institutions of the Federation, i.e. jointly owned by the federal government, state governments, and local governments. However, the said federation institutions have been converted to federal government parastatals without any protest from state and local governments.
2. All mineral resources are assets of the Federation. The mineral resources ought to be jointly managed by boards whose members are drawn from the three tiers of governments. So, the Minister of Petroleum Resources and Minister of Solid Minerals should not be singlehandedly appointed by the President without consulting the state governors.
3. The Nigeria Police Force is not a federal government police but a federation police force. Hence, it shall be jointly administered and supervised by the Nigeria Police Council composed of the President; IGP; Chairman, Police Service Commission; and the 36 State Governors. Section 216 of the Constitution states that the president cannot appoint or remove an IGP without consulting the Nigeria Police Council; but state governors have abdicated their constitutional powers to jointly manage the Nigeria Police Force with the President.
4. Following the Constitutional Alteration Bills signed by President Buhari in January this year, three key items, namely *railways, electricity, and prisons* were transferred from the exclusive legislative list to the concurrent legislative list. But no state government has come out with any coherent policy in these areas, even though some of them have been campaigning for restructuring or power devolution!
5. The federal government and state governments are empowered to fight corruption. Corruption is fought by the FG through EFCC, ICPC, and CCB. Only Kano and Oyo states have established anti-corruption agencies. Others allow the anti-graft agencies of the federal government to fight corruption on their behalf.
6. Courts have annulled the scandalous pension schemes for ex-governors. Only Kwara, Imo, and Zamfara states have abolished the odious laws while others have retained them”.So, it would appear to me that we have more work to do at the State and local government tiers of government that will benefit the people more than this obsession with the FG. The second and third tiers of government have been allowed to enjoy too much holiday at our peril. The time to rudely awake them from their slumber is now!
Former Editor of PUNCH newspapers, Chairman of its Editorial Board and Deputy Editor-in-chief, BOLAWOLE was also the Managing Director/ Editor-in-chief of THE WESTERNER newsmagazine. He writes the ON THE LORD’S DAY column in the Sunday Tribune and TREASURES column in New Telegraph newspaper on Wednesdays. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television.