• Wednesday, February 21, 2024
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BusinessDay

States’ poverty amid huge endowments

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Recently a national newspaper in its cover page posted an interesting story capturing huge natural endowments in each of the 36 states in the country and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Beyond the interesting read the story made, it also exposed the sheer visionless leadership the nation’s states had been saddled with over the years.

Since the Muhammadu Buhari administration came on board, there have been revelations bordering on the level of rot in the system and the near-empty treasury, not only at the federal level but also in all the states. A good number of the newly inaugurated governors have spoken up, accusing their predecessors of leaving their state coffers dry.

Burdened by the weight of unpaid salaries, pension arrears, among other categories of indebtedness, some of the state governors believed there was need for the Federal Government to come to their rescue. As we speak, some state governors have obtained the approval of their states’ Houses of Assembly to either go to the bond market or borrow some money from commercial banks. These approvals have since become a subject of controversy in most of these states.

The discovery that the states’ treasuries are virtually empty resulted in an outcry and request for a special bailout from the Federal Government. Despite the uproar that greeted the request and the expression of fears in many quarters that the Buhari administration, if it acceded to the request, would be going contrary to its avowed pledge to stem the tide of profligacy among public office holders, government went ahead to announce N804.7 billion economic bailout for the states. Those who held this view believed that it would not be proper to dole out money to governors who would likely misappropriate it.

It is on record that since the return of the country to civil rule, most of the Nigerian states have not made much progress, either in terms of infrastructural development or elevation of quality of life of their people. In almost all the states, conscious efforts have not been made by successive administrations to increase the viability of their states by tapping into the natural resources within their domain.

In all of these years, most state governors felt satisfied with the allocations that come from Abuja on a monthly basis. It is also saddening that many state governors have not seen the need, beyond verbal pronouncement, to increase their states’ internally generated revenue (IGR). Not many of them seem to know the abundant resources available in their states. It remains to be seen in any of the states, except Lagos, where the government has identified an area that could be developed or improved upon to beef up IGR that could cushion the effect of the oil price fall and the drop in federal allocation.

We note with dismay that the main concern of many state chief executives is the allocation from Abuja and their estacode and the security votes, the real amount of which no one knows. Across the states, we gathered that some governors make appearance in their state only when it is time to share the “Abuja pie” and as soon as the sharing is over, they disappear again. For this “disappearing act”, they have since been branded “absentee governors” by indigenes of their states.

We cannot agree more with Opeyemi Agbaje, a policy analyst and columnist, who put the blame of unpaid salaries squarely on the defaulting state governors for lacking in economic management. “You can’t just spend everything when your entire budget is dependent on a single commodity with fluctuating prices…. This crisis is not some miraculous occurrence; it’s a failure of sound economic management and also of leadership,” he said.

Moreover, it has been noticed that many of the state governors are fond of appointing “Diasporan indigenes” as commissioners. These commissioners are totally detached from the culture and the goings-on in the state, preferring to stay in cities and towns outside their states. And as soon as they attend the weekly meetings, they retire to their base and do the job by proxy.   

Indeed, we make bold to say that no state in Nigeria should have anything to do with poverty given the huge natural endowments in all the states. What is needed is the political will to look beyond the “now syndrome” that has been responsible for the inability of leaders to think about tomorrow.