Nigeria’s governors can do better for the economy if committed

Recently, SBM Intelligence’s polls revealed the declining interest of Nigerians in down-ballot elections and, by extension, their unalloyed focus on the federal government to the neglect of gubernatorial offices.

Constitutionally, Nigeria operates a federal system of government, where there is one president and 36 subnational units that are further divided into 774 local government areas.

The 1999 constitution provides the exclusive list, which comprises 68 items assigned to the federal government; the concurrent list delineates the roles of the state governments, and the residual list is the leftover responsibility in the local government’s care.

This implies that the three governing tiers have independent tasks in their territories. But in practice, there has been an overlap of duties and paucity of information on their separate and distinct functions, which has fostered the shrinking of powers reserved for the regional government. However, the importance of governors to the president’s effectiveness and the country’s development cannot be overemphasised.

Namely, their role in Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s narrow victory in the presidential elections is noteworthy. Tinubu is a president-elect today chiefly because they stood by him when the presidency was against his emergence as the APC candidate and not keen on him winning the election, which shows that a united group of governors can hold their own to a useful extent.

While there has been a lot of hand-wringing from those who insist that a Tinubu presidency would spell utter doom for the country, we must understand that Nigerian state heads are powerful enough to either amplify his competence or mitigate his mediocrity.

Then there is the revenue allocation formula where the Federal Government (FG) takes 52.68 percent of the revenue shared, states get 26.72 percent, and local governments get 20.60 percent.

But in practice, the governors are largely in control of the local governments’ allocation, so they manage about 49% of Nigeria’s revenue and their states’ internally generated revenue. Therefore, while the FG takes a larger portion, the states have to be individually responsible for roughly 3%, part of which is agriculture.

Dr Mohammad Abubakar, the Agriculture and Rural Development Minister, said only 44% of Nigeria’s arable land is under cultivation, which means that Nigeria can easily double its food production by utilising its tillable land even if it maintains its current low-yield levels.

For instance, the Netherlands earned 49.6 billion euros from agricultural exports in 2022; €44.9 billion came from domestic exports, while €4.7 billion was from re-exporting agricultural goods produced abroad but channelled through the Netherlands.

The Netherlands can fit into Taraba conveniently, which suggests that if the state makes excellent use of its cultivable land to make 10% of the Netherlands’ profits, it would earn €4 billion from agricultural output alone, and 1% would be €400 million. This is even more interesting when we consider that Taraba is not one of Nigeria’s two biggest states based on the landmass. The Land-Use Act (which is a hindrance in itself) places this power in the governors’ hands.

We speak wistfully about the era when the country had a parliamentary system with regional governments, but we overlook the fact that even then, the states did not have actual mineral resource control, but the development achieved then was impressive compared to what is obtainable now.

Therefore, the subnational leaders have to manage the country’s untapped mineral resources with the central government because they promote economic diversification. Nigeria needs to develop a cohesive Mining Resource Corridor (MRC) to achieve fluid linkage of the processes related to mineral extraction, processing, transportation, and infrastructural development, which will enhance trade in goods and services that are unrelated to the mining sector and help states with much fewer mineral resources to maximise their unique contributions.

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Furthermore, interstate partnerships that improve the quality of information gathering, analysis, investment and result scale should be encouraged. They must take ownership of the portions of their territory because the FG does not have the motivation to develop these mining systems and resource corridors. An important outcome of this would be the development of rural areas with or around mineral resources through the provision of towns, rail networks, ports, rails and roads.

Outside mining, Nigeria’s Western Economic Corridor (better known as LAKAJI) and the Eastern Economic Corridor are in dire need of governorship to facilitate national and intercontinental trade. The LAKAJI corridor (which had a combined GDP of $119.7 billion in 2010) gets its name from the first two letters of Lagos, Kano, and Jibiya in Katsina State, while the Eastern corridor (with a GDP of $249.3 billion in 2010) goes from Port Harcourt, through Enugu, to Maiduguri.

These corridors provide international access to subcontinental Regional Economic Communities that help with inter-regional and intra-regional economic integration, and Nigeria shares border with some members of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), which is in the Community of Sahel–Saharan States (CEN-SAD) and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), so the governors should maximise these opportunities for the benefit of their units.

In addition to the aforementioned issues, they are also in charge of the quality of education and healthcare in their jurisdictions, so Nigerians should be much more demanding of them.

Nwanze is a partner at SBM Intelligence