Nigerians spell out what governors should do to impact positively on their lives in the next four years but wonder whether their hopes will not be dashed again
Saturday April 30, 2011, the Lagos State government called off the monthly sanitation exercise and went on a merry-making and thanksgiving binge. It asked the people of the state to celebrate with the winners of the last electoral battle, which saw many of the candidates of the ruling party in the state, the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, including Governor Babatunde Fashola, victorious.
For the governor who is now on a second-term ticket, it was a victory many regard as well deserved. The enlightened members of the Lagos electorate thought Fashola had done well even when they had to endure stifling tax regimes, tough traffic and sanitation rules and a health sector that almost collapsed in the month preceding the elections, due to industrial action in the sector. Attempts by the opposition to capitalise on the perceived challenges of the government during the campaigns failed, because on the scale of performance, the administration of Fashola was adjudged to have performed very well.
Indeed Fashola's government — and that of his predecessor, Bola Tinubu — have been good examples of what a responsible and responsive government should be. This has rubbed off positively on the ACN whose standard-bearers in other states like Adams Oshiomhole, governor of Edo State, Kayode Fayemi in Ekiti State and Rauf Aregbesola, in Osun State who are fast becoming toasts of the people and electoral assets of the party. It is the perception of the people that the party can deliver that has earned it more victories in most of the South-west geographical zone of the country.
By May 29, the party will be in control of government in five South-western states in addition to being a leading opposition party at the federal level. If good performance, which is the ability to deliver dividends of democracy, has largely informed the success of ACN in Lagos, poor performance has also led to the fall of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in neighbouring Ogun, Oyo, Osun and Ekiti states.
Even then, the PDP cannot be written off as a total failure as it made tremendous impact in other five geological zones in the country. That the party was still able to gain control of about 75 per cent of the states is an indication that either its governors in those states have been able to meet the demands of the people or they have successfully muzzled the opposition and hoodwinked the people or there is no viable opposition to contend with.
Since 1999 when democratic rule resumed after almost 35 years of military rule, the hopes and expectations of the people are far from being realised. Nigeria’s three-tier type of federalism has produced largely non-performing governments at the federal, state and local levels. The federal government at the apex of the political power hierarchy is perceived as too far from the people while the state and administrations at the local governments, though near in terms of geography, are believed to be still remote from the people. Almost 12 years in power under the prevailing dispensation, only few state governors have been able to use their executive powers to liberate their people from the prevailing social and economic bondage. The situation is such that when a few state governors perform what is ordinarily expected of any government, they instantly become media celebrities.
But Nigerians are getting impatient with non-performing political actors at the state level. They are getting angry at the increasing level of corruption and waste of material resources at this tier of government. They see the increasing rise in unemployment and the level of decay in critical sectors like education, health, industry and commerce and rural development and they are asking the chief executives in the states to quickly intervene before it is too late.
Of the people’s demands on the governors, the need to engage youths through provision of jobs stands out. Daniel Nkwocha, a lecturer in Criminology at Evan Enwerem University, Owerri, Imo State, put the request more succinctly. According to him, only gainful employment would take youths off the streets and guarantee safety of lives and property. The university don argued that for now the rate of unemployment is alarmingly high — a situation, which makes it possible for millions of Nigerian youths to become ready tools in the hands of selfish individuals who use them to unleash terror across the country. Nkwocha cited the recent attacks on National Youth Corps members and some Nigerians in some states in the North and the youth restiveness in the Niger Delta as examples and called on government to invest in massive industrialisation so as to accommodate the youths.
"Government at all levels must as a matter of priority, create the enabling environment for industries to thrive," he told the magazine in his Owerri office, pointing out that this has become even more necessary considering the sheer size of the workforce churned out from the nation’s institutions of higher learning. But the university don insists that in view of the enormity of the problem, government must involve the private sector by creating an enabling environment for the sector to thrive and absorb the unemployed youths.
Many also suggest that the states must develop the agricultural sector to tackle the twin problem of employment and diversification of revenue sources. Tanko Yakassai, Second Republic politician and former special adviser to ex-president Shehu Shagari on National Assembly matters, belongs to this school of thought. Using Kano State as an example, the elder statesman said if the incoming Rabiu Kwankwaso government could pay attention to agriculture, particularly irrigation using the 20 dams in the state, the government would, apart from engaging 50 per cent of the farmers in the state, generate a lot of revenue for the common man and the state government and create employment for the teeming population. “Apart from those engaged directly in farming, others who would provide services for the farming population would also reap from the bounty produced by the farmers,” he noted. Unemployment, said Yakassai, “is a major problem in this country. If state governors can create jobs for their people, the security situation in the country would improve … Most of the people causing trouble in different parts of the country are drug addicts or idle hands.”
Even then, creating jobs through massive industrialisation and agriculture would require fixing the power sector. Most people spoken to by our reporters say the power issue must also be addressed by the governors in collaboration with the federal government where the states lack the resources to fund it. Deji Ayinla, an hotelier in Ibadan, Oyo State, underlines the importance of fixing the sector saying, “If electricity can work in Nigeria, everything would come to normal. Take our business (hospitality) for example, there is no way we can run without power. We put on the generator every day and we run about between 150 and 200 litres of diesel daily at the rate of N150 per litre. So, that is really affecting our business. At the end of the month, our overhead cost is higher because buying diesel constitutes much of our expenses.”
Idowu Sonola, a printer based in Lagos underscores Ayinla’s point: “I would only beg the new governor to help us with light. Power supply is very important for the people of Lagos State. Here you have many people needing light to survive in their work. I am a printer and I spend so much buying fuel to generate power. If the governor comes on board, I would like him to help us generate power so we can save money we now spend on fuel.” Indeed, both Ayinla and Sonola vividly capture the mood of Nigerians on the vexed issue of inadequate supply of electricity on which governments have spent billions of naira with nothing much to show for it. Government’s accumulated failure in the sector has reversed the country’s industrial growth thus upsetting its socio-economic landscape.
Issues such as education, health, provision of infrastructure such as good roads, housing and rural development are among sources of concern to the average Nigerian. And these are items on the concurrent legislative lists over which both the federal and state governments can constitutionally legislate with the aim of impacting positively on the lives of the people. Many Nigerians yearn for the day when governors would go beyond mouthing rhetoric on these sensitive issues. In most states, the neglect of the sector is shown in dilapidated structures, non-payment of salaries and general lack of incentives for teachers and other stakeholders in the sector. This has brought about a fall in standards and this is partly responsible for the inability of many of the ‘illiterate’ graduates the higher institutions churn out, to get jobs. This is why Yomi Oguntoye, director of Information and Communication Technology, ICT, University of Agriculture, Abeokuta and Ugo Stevenson, an Owerri-based theatre arts practitioner, ask in-coming governors in their respective states to focus more on quality education while looking into how its costs could be reduced to give opportunity to the downtrodden people.
Urban and rural roads in most parts of the country, particularly in the South-east and South-south areas are also crying for the attention of the governors. Many Nigerians who spoke to our correspondents asked governors to fix the roads, especially those in the rural areas to stem rural-to-urban migration of people.
For most states in the North, the demands on the governors are hinged on ensuring security, religious and ethnic harmony among the people. These are states like Plateau, Bauchi, Borno and Kaduna where sectarian and religious crises have claimed lives and properties in the last few years. John Ajeye, a retired commodore, spoke of the need for Patrick Yakowa, the re-elected governor in Kaduna State to “look into how to rebuild confidence of all those who are stakeholders in Kaduna because the divide between the Christians and the Muslims has been exploited and made an issue. The governor must bridge the divide and put an end to the acrimony. It is sad that the confidence that has been built in the last ten years since the last crises has been destroyed.” John Adie, a public servant and Ozemoya Inobeme, a consultant engineer, spoke in similar vein arguing that the crises in the areas had brought about much poverty and deprivation to the people. They stressed the need to take care of the minorities in the region in the provision of socio-economic amenities and infrastructure.
For the governors to be able to effectively take care of the electorate’s demands, many Nigerians feel they need to generate more revenue either internally or by asking the federal government for more share of the national revenue from the federation account. The former will necessitate an aggressive drive in internal revenue generation like the Lagos example while the latter would require a review of the revenue allocation formula from the present 52.68 per cent for the federal government; 26.72 per cent for the states and 20.6 per cent, for the local governments. Oguntoye, for instance, believes that the prevailing formula favours the federal government, which he says, has too much of the nation’s funds than it needs. However, some people also insist that the governors must also engage in prudent management of resources to reduce cost of governance. These include pruning down the number of commissioners and their aides in addition to curbing corruption and abuse of office.
Most of what Nigerians expect from the governors are certainly not new to the latter for these are issues raised in their campaign manifestoes weeks before the elections. The issues were also addressed in their post-election speeches. But the question is: Will they deliver on these promises? Will they remember their oath of office, which enjoins them to discharge their duties to the best of their abilities “faithfully and in accordance with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the law, and always in the interest of the sovereignty, integrity, solidarity, well being and prosperity of the Federal Republic of Nigeria…?”
If some Nigerians are optimistic about the governors discharging their burden to the people, Ayo Opadokun, national coordinator, Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reforms, CODER, thinks otherwise. “I fear that they don’t have the commitment to make Nigeria great. Their own business is how to capture power and be in charge of Nigeria’s resources. For a country that can sell N236 billion crude oil in about 12 years and yet, there is no (positive) effect on many people, is a shameful and disgraceful thing… these characters are most unlikely to do the right thing. I hope they don’t push people beyond what is tolerable”, he declared. Opadokun, a former politician, knows the Nigerian terrain very well. The governors have four years to prove doubting Thomases like him wrong. Will they?
Additional reports by MUYIWA LUCAS,
and AYODEJI ADEYEMI.