To be sure, Kwarans are yearning for good governance and whoever they think can provide that will, no doubt, carry the day. There are many issues in public domain that agitate the minds of the people about this year’s election. A few of them will be raised and discussed in this write-up for the singular reason that the people seem to be at the edge; looking and waiting for that person that can wipe away their tears.
Time seems no longer on the side of our politicians who show little appreciation for the genuine concerns of the people. My fear is that if we do not get it right this time in terms of governance, our people will lose their patience with whoever gets the nod to administer the state after the next election should he fail to perform to their expectations.
Some of the concerns are therefore, being put in public domain for the benefit of the candidates to consider and reflect upon. It is not likely to be a tea party for the next governor of the state given the socio-economic conditions under which the people of the state live. Not with the high level of awareness and the concomitant questioning of issues that have attended this year’s election in the state.
The first of such issues that require deeper reflections and pro-active measures is the issue of unpaid salaries and allowances plus pensions for the pensioners. It is really unfortunate that some states in Nigeria are owing their workers and pensioners their emoluments. The idea of paying percentages itself is problematic as the consultants may have a herculean task in reconciling figures with labour. Meanwhile, bills have accumulated for the affected staff that they cannot meet. There is no amount of blame-game and excuses that can assuage their feelings if the next governor is unable to quickly pay the arrears and restore the era of prompt payment of emoluments to civil servants and pensioners.
Already, the issue is a hot campaign matter that the affected staff are not prepared to hear stories about non-payment. Whoever gets elected must develop an action-plan in determining how much is involved and for what categories of staff and pensioners? He must proceed from there to put in public domain what strategies he intends to use in liquidating the arrears and the timelines for tracking.
What this means is that with the fall in the prices of crude oil, the allocations from Abuja which places the state at the 29th position cannot be relied upon to pay back the salary arrears. He therefore, needs to start thinking on the need to balance the expectations of his campaign supporters for reward and discharging his responsibilities to serving and retired civil servants in the state. I certainly do not envy the next governor as his table is already full before his assumption of office on 29 May, 2019.
There is a link between unpaid salaries and the high poverty level in the state. For every civil servant whose salary has not been paid, he has no less than six persons to cater for. As he is already arrested by poverty, needless to ask about the economic status of his dependents. Children’s school fees may not be paid, rents may also be in arrears, among other inconveniences that he may be faced with. Non-payment of salaries is an infectious disease that the next governor may not have the luxury of time and excuses on the matter.
Politics, I argue, should be harbinger of development through allocation of resources to productive sectors to produce effects on the economic standing of the people. This is the reason why only people with managerial acumen are needed in the second phase of politics. Unfortunately, in our country, that is not the case. Politics as well as governance are treated as business or with levity without much consideration given to the people whose destiny is in the hands of the elected officials.
This, no doubt, has given a different connotation to politics in our clime. This is more so with the phenomena of god-fatherism and cabal that most Nigerians believe have been retarding the progress of our nation. The next governor must be aware that the seed for the unwholesome practices is present in all the political tendencies in the state. His success in office will be dependent on how he can negotiate some freedom for himself and his government from the suffocating level of control by the godfathers and the cabals in his political fold who may not be too comfortable with all the known properties of good governance and the fresh air of rapid development that we yearn for in Kwara state.
It is clearly untenable to hold the view that the role of government should not extend to the economic sphere. One asks: If politics can whimsically wean-off from economic activities, what else will be there to manage the economy? Politics is a kind of super structure around which all other public concerns and spheres revolve. It allocates resources either positively or negatively depending on the demands made to it and the perception of the political leadership about the demands being made. To a large extent, the economic health of a nation or state is critically dependent on the policy direction of the political leadership after weighing all the available options, using most times, political lenses/parameters.
While it makes sense for Americans and Britons to expect their governments to create the enabling environment for businesses to thrive based on the trajectories of their development efforts/history, holding such a view in poverty-stricken Nigeria amounts to abdication of responsibility on the part of elected public officials. Unlike their counterparts in the western world, they must be concerned with the economy including outright establishment of economic outfits where necessary to aid production and prosperity. The reality of our existence strongly suggests a kind of sharing of responsibilities between the public and the private sectors in a manner that favours the former at least in the short run.
Going by the structure of the international system and its subsequent division into the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-not’, not every economic principle preached to us should be uncritically digested. One argues that the whole concept of stimulus package experienced in America under President Obama was informed by the need to inflate the economy. It is also incontrovertible that none of the western countries has successfully withdrawn from public enterprises, leaving the fate of its economy entirely in the hands of the private sector that is even more developed than its counterpart in Nigeria.
The resultant effect of the slogan of government has no business in business is the main issue why poverty stares us in the face in Kwara State. People have bemoaned handouts or better still, stomach infrastructure, or even vote-buying. What else can people who are outside the meaningful economic bracket do given their exclusion in the governing process? Not only must government in our state be involved in developing some sectors, it must be seen intervening regularly to deflate the economy. One will be stating the obvious that the organized private sector itself does look forward to succour coming from the state government to strengthen its participation in the economy. Where then lies the salvation for our economic breakthrough if the private sector that we are counting on is also in the intensive care breathing ceaselessly for economic survival? This is the reality of our situation.
Whoever emerges as governor from the forthcoming election must know that his goals will be derailed by the ever-increasing number of poor people in the state. The much expected involvement of the private sector operators is still not up to the required level as no wise investor will put his money in a state with poor people who will not have the purchasing power to patronise his goods and services.
To be continues
*Saliu, is of the Department of Political Science, University of Ilorin, Ilorin.