Saturday, June 12, 2021

Before Nigerian governors wreck the country, Zainab Suleiman Okino


Jaafar Jaafar
Jaafar Jaafar is a graduate of Mass Communication from Bayero University, Kano. He was a reporter at Daily Trust, an assistant editor at Premium Times and now the editor-in-chief of Daily Nigerian.
tiamin rice

Those who are familiar with the antics of our governors will not be surprised at the latest findings allegedly linked to ex-governor Gabriel Suswam, if allegations of complicity are eventually proven. Having been confronted with a Suswam perspective at the weekend when I travelled with some colleagues to Benue state and came face to face with the deplorable state of the roads and especially from Markurdi, the state capital to Otukpo, the ancestral home of the Idomas, it was unnerving, and not the least surprised about the latest findings. Suswam is already facing N3.1 fraud charges instituted against him by the EFCC. Although, we ranted and heaped the blames (of the state of infrastructure in the state) on David Mark, who was Senate President for eight years, and serving his fourth term in office, the state was equally administered for eight years by Suswam.

Sadly, the current set of governors don’t fare any better; they are towing the inappropriate line of their predecessors, behaving like lords of the manor, running their states like their personal fiefdoms and ruining them in the process. Warts and all, the Buhari government has shown good faith in their relationship with the state governors. When the government came in almost two years ago, it inherited a huge debt overhang and ballooning overhead cost; civil servants across the states were owed salary arrears running into months. Having enjoyed a massive support from across the nation during the election, the government’s subsequent bailout plan was a way to compensate the electorate through their states. With the exception of Kogi state, whose bailout request was politicized, (the government of Capt. Idris Wada applied and was denied, but the same federal government ushered in Gov. Yahaya Bello’s administration with the bailout package, after he took over power), all the states got and the disbursement was administered (based on their whims) by their governors.

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Unfortunately, instead of paying salaries of workers, many governors diverted the money, including paying contractors, other than what it was meant for. In states like Kogi, Osun, Imo, Bauchi and Benue, workers are still being owed. Kogi in particular engaged in an endless staff audit, largely considered a ploy to deny legitimate workers, whose names were used to justify the application for the bailout in the first instance.

The outcry that greeted the misapplication of the bailout funds across the states, prompted many Nigerians to ask for a probe. Many also questioned the propriety of giving more money to governors only for them to misappropriate it. However the federal government turned a deaf ear, when again, it doled out more money from the Paris Club refunds to governors, ostensibly to reduce workers’ hardship during the last Christmas/New Year festivities. Notwithstanding, civil servants across the states still groan under the weight of unpaid salaries and allowances engendered by the governors’ insensitivity to their plight. But despite their best efforts to cover their dirty deals regarding the Paris Club fund issue; it has since come to light that some of the governors are culpable after all. They are now enmeshed in a controversy over a sharing formula that included the principal officers of the National Assembly probably to shut them up. So far the sum of N19B was said to have been traced to the account of their umbrella body, the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, which opened two accounts for the purpose of diverting from the over N500B they got. It was revealed that governors paid 2% of the refunds to consultants (of their choosing) and 3% to themselves, while an unspecified amount paid in cash to the said principal officers of the National Assembly.

It may not be a surprise therefore that the EFCC chairman’s confirmation is facing stiff opposition from the Senate, having been in the mix and on the radar of the anti-corruption organ for illegally partaking in the sharing of money that did not belong to them. So what has changed, you may ask. Nothing really, because there is still no transparency and accountability despite the change mantra propounded by this government.

In Nigeria, governors are demigods, very powerful and can be dictatorial. They have the capacity to blackmail all including the Presidency in order to have their way. The state houses of assembly are complicit; they do the biddings of the governors. During the constitutional amendment, they were given the opportunity to vote for their autonomy and henceforth be on first line charge from the federation account, but the governors manipulated them to vote against their own interest, so they (governors) can have an easy ride on any issue. Therefore the constitutional provision of checks and balances are never applied to the letters especially at the state level. Having appropriated so much wealth from the commonwealth, plus constitutional immunity, our governors wield enormous power. The combination of power, influence and money simply enhances their recklessness and dictatorial streak.

There is however hope that the long of arms of the law can catch up with them, if the government is serious about fighting corruption to a standstill, and if anti-corruption agencies like EFCC, ICPC and even the police and judiciary are purged of bad eggs and are allowed to do their work unhindered and without interference from the executive. Sadly, no governor has been sent to jail in Nigeria since civil rule took shape in 1999, because the guilty have the means to subvert the course of justice. I hope the EFCC’s investigation of the Paris Club, bailout funds and the Suswam phenomenon will not end in the dustbin of history like others before it.

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