State governors as unchallenged emperors in the democratic process

By Gbolahan Gbadamosi

The presidential system as practiced in Nigeria is seriously flawed. In itself, the system is powerful and could be an efficient way towards rapid progress in any country if the leadership is progressive, radical and visionary. Nigeria has not been lucky to have those three values in any leader at the same time. The presidential system is very powerful as evidenced in the USA. Indeed, the last five years have allowed us to see the shrouded side of the system in the well acclaimed successful American system with President Trump. The balance of power lies with the Parliament – Senate and Congress – in the USA. Therefore, if citizens want to empower a President, they have to give her a resounding majority in both houses.

The same is true in Nigeria as the Nigerian constitution equally empowers a President that wields a majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Ideally, when a political party has the majority especially a two-thirds majority in both houses then on paper that President should have an easy ride in ensuring the delivery of their programmes, policies and vision. The Presidential system equally allows the use of Executive Orders to augment enabled acts of parliament, to speed things up and give the President some leeway and swift power in order to be efficient. These powers are all based on trust and are expected to be used responsibly. In Nigeria, as it is essentially in the USA, the powers of the President are replicated at state levels therefore governors have the executive authority wielded by Presidents in the respective states. It is the contribution of the Nigerian governors in the current dispensation.

These governors along with their state legislatures have been the most significant clog in the wheel of the democratic process. For most states, the two arms of government are a united body of willing collaborators with nearly no separation of power nor checks and balances as required under the constitution. I have read opinion pieces where this unfortunate scenario has been argued as an advantage that allows rapid progress. If states had witnessed such progress and development this would be a forgivable misdemeanour. Rather, in reality this situation has effectively ensured that citizens held the short ends of the stick.

State governors in Nigeria are very powerful. They recognise their powers and seeming invincibility and thus operate like a cult. With the creation of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum and upon entering the second phase of the forum in 2009, successive Chairmen of the forum have gone on to become a Kingmaker of some sort – Bukola Saraki, Rotimi Amaechi, and Abdulaziz Yari Abubakar. The incumbent chairman, Kayode Fayemi, is presently repositioning himself and already being touted as a presidential hopeful. His predecessors at different times, either had their names mentioned as interested in or associated with seeking the Nigerian Presidency. That chairmanship of the forum is a very pleasant position to be in. Once politicians join the circle of governors, they quickly imbibe and internalize the sacred code of conduct. The spirit of camaraderie among Nigeria governors is unparalleled. They often cooperate across party lines and the National Council of States meetings are often rancour free irrespective of the party in power at the centre. It seems clear that top of the agenda is how to share funds accruing to the national purse, perhaps a bit of banter and chit-chat about Madam and how the social life is going.

Mouth-watering federal allocation (2013-2019) went to Delta, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Bayelsa, and Lagos in that order. The Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of the states (2013-2019) is shocking, nay replace that with nothing. Lagos, Rivers, Delta and Ogun states managed to generate something decent with all, but Ogun, marginally increasing the IGR year on year. The IGR is near zero and close to deficit in some states: Yobe, Taraba, Gombe, Borno, Adamawa, Ekiti, Kebbi, and Katsina. For the rest of the states not listed, it is equally embarrassing. We should be very careful not to commend any of these states, without exemption, albeit it is very tempting to want to single out a few for commendation. It is a myth. A one-eyed man is King in the land of the blind and none of these states is pulling their weight. Those who boast of “good” IGR are mostly taking advantage of their location rather than any evidence of serious creativity in revenue generation. As I argued, it is a collaboration among a group of men enjoying power and immune from societal pressure. Their feet is not held to fire and there is no real need to pull up their socks.

The powers of these governors come from the fact that they enjoy immunity, they control

sizable resources and are therefore able to control their entire state machinery meaning the State House of Assembly and the Civil Service, and to a reasonable extent even the judiciary. In nearly all the 36 states, the governor has absolute control over the local government administration and again these gentlemen seem all agreed about this as good practice. They quickly learn how much power they wield within weeks of assumption. This is why they all seek a second term and I cannot remember one who voluntarily decided not to seek a second term. They only ever lose a second term if their party loses the state at election or if they lose their party’s ticket. Losing the party’s ticket is rarer until the recent Akinwunmi Ambode episode in Lagos State, but then Lagos is different. It is an open secret who runs Lagos.

What is more important in my discourse, but often ignored, is that these lazy and mostly looting governors are often quickly forgotten after their term in office such that no matter how poorly they have governed their states they usually get away with it. How many can recall the former governors in many of their neighbouring states? Some would even struggle to name the governor of their own state 12 years ago. Imagine a thieving politician placed in charge of so much money, coupled with immunity backed by the law. Imagine how effectively they use smart and ready lawyers who can delay court cases for decades after leaving office just in case they occasionally forget to tightly close up a particular loot. Imagine that EFCC can be accused of all sorts including being a “dog” of sitting governments against the opposition. Think about all the options they have and which they have cleverly used cleaning up their dodgy image through social media and the corrupt press. Imagine all these backed by fat bank accounts, stolen loots and investments. The chances of a governor going down is infinitesimal.

Public attention regarding the responsibility for good governance is often on the federal government and discussions are often directed and limited to that level of government. We know Nigeria has not witnessed any impressive governance at that level since independence but that is not the interest of this piece. There are two related issues concerning the role of states that could require serious interrogation. The first is the fact that the states have usurped the constitutional responsibilities of local governments and this is no news. Many governors never conduct elections at that level and many Nigerians do not really recognise the value of governance at that level. The second is that the main balancing control of power at the state level are the states houses of assembly, however, in nearly all the states those houses have become extensions of the state executives – taking instructions and complying with directives as long as monies change hands and the legislators are kept happy. Both issues are subjects worthy of a separate deliberation beyond the interest of this piece. Let me turn attention to a few specific points to ponder regarding governance at the state level.

If we turn to policy issues, one also struggles to find states with substantial or impressive policy on education or health or an impressive record on infrastructural development. Lagos has been building a mass transit train for about 16 years! Kaduna state and lately Borno state started making some noises recently regarding progress in education. Similar noises made in Osun state a few years ago have taken the back burner. It is uncertain how sustainable these noises are. Primary and secondary education are both at their lowest ebb, in most states. Governance for most of the governors is about paying salaries with very little or no development visible at the end of their tenure.

Most of the states are neither economically viable nor sustainable and this is not because of their size or lack of resources. It is largely due to the lack of will or incompetence on the part of those elected to direct the affairs of those states as well as the absence of citizen’s challenge for due diligence, as well as lack of a sustained demand for good and credible government at the state level. The idea of state creation as a means of bringing governance closer to the people is completely debunked. The governors have effectively been diversionary, redirecting all the problems and the blames to Abuja. At the state level, they barely get any serious challenge about their own service delivery to the people.

There is a need for an urgent national mobilisation of the people to challenge and engage governors and put a stricter focus on states in a way that it would no longer be viable to ignore the people. Fighting corruption should never always be about how to control it, it should always be about its prevention. Ensuring good governance should also never be only about the government at the centre alone, it should happen at all layers of governance. How do citizens block the loopholes of pilfering and looting of the commonwealth and resources that belong to all? If there is no reward for incompetence in public office bad people would no longer be interested in these offices. Nigerians need to stop mollycoddling state governors!

*Gbadamosi can be reached through gbola.gbadamosi@gmail.com

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