• Monday, June 24, 2024
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One year on: Words above action

Return to colonial anthem: Who are the real owners of ‘Nigeria’?

By Dakuku Peterside

Amidst the initial fanfare, optimism, and high expectations, a new era began on May 29, 2023, as a new president, vice president, and governors took their oaths of office. However, as we approach the one-year mark, it is clear that for many Nigerians, the end of the Buhari era has not brought the relief they had hoped for. The Buhari administration had appeared rudderless and lacking in vigour. This sentiment was mirrored in various states, where citizens felt betrayed by the lacklustre performance of their then-outgoing governor.

This column in a piece written in March 2023 captioned Governors: Right versus Wrong captured the general feeling about the state governors, thus: “It is utterly absurd that instead of elected governors to focus on making their states economically viable and developing their states from down to up, many governors have turned the states into fiefdoms and domains where they rule as absolute dictators, controlling not just the resources of the state but all the state institutions with impunity. We see governors who unashamedly use public funds as their private funds and use them anyhow they want, with little or no accountability whatsoever.”

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There were high expectations and a renewed hope that the new administrations in the states would be different this time around and would use the state’s resources to develop the states. They made lots of promises to their people to tackle the myriad problems that have kept their states from developing. Some articulated visions and goals that are noble to the admiration of Nigerians living in these states. In many states, barring a few, these promises made on the inauguration day have become empty promises, the visions are largely blurred, and no overarching goals are pursued; much more is being achieved.

Sadly, many states are heading in the same direction of hopelessness and despair as in past dispensations. Leadership is lacking, and the status quo must be changed if Nigeria is to see meaningful development in the current dispensation. To address this, the governors must reflect on their performance in the last year and implement policies, structures, and systems that will help them fulfil their responsibilities to the people.

The state scorecards for the past year, as evidenced by dire and unpleasant statistics in aspects such as poverty, food insecurity, unemployment and underemployment, environmental degradation, a poor business-friendly environment, and poor policy implementation, are, at best, suboptimal and, at worst, grim.

Every month, according to the Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC), not less than a trillion naira is announced to have been generated and disbursed among the three tiers of government in Nigeria, at least since the removal of fuel subsidies, which has significantly improved the revenues of governments across the country. The statutory federal allocations to the coffers of the state governments alone are expected to increase by 69 percent, from N3.3 trillion in 2023 to N5.54 trillion in 2024, based on the approved budget and revenue projection. Government fiscal statistics indicate that in the first four months of 2024, states will have received approximately N1.548 trillion in disbursements. The internally generated revenue of many states has significantly increased in the past year, adding more funds to the state’s coffers for growth and development. This is besides the 13 percent derivation revenue (for the benefiting states) and other funds accruing to states from different sources.

The recent increase in state government revenue has not improved Nigerians’ quality of life. Revenue from FAAC has doubled, but living standards are getting worse. More money for the states has yet to translate to substantial improvements in infrastructure, healthcare services, education, job creation, or even security.

Much has been written about the national government’s performance in the past year, and the verdict is nothing to cheer about. We frequently overlook that, in a federal system, the ways in which subnational governments create and implement development policies are essential to a functioning country. In Nigeria, many people are disappointed and dissatisfied with how subnational entities are run. This illustrates how deeply disappointed people are with the results of governance over the last 12 months.

 “In many states, barring a few, these promises made on the inauguration day have become empty promises, the visions are largely blurred, and no overarching goals are pursued; much more is being achieved.”

Despite modest progress in a few states, there is a systemic breakdown of public healthcare and education facilities at the state level. The public’s confidence in sub-nationals’ capacity to deliver social services and look out for the welfare of the populace has been severely damaged as a result. According to statistics, endemic poverty has spread and is now present in 28 of the 36 states in the country. The World Bank Nigeria Development Update Report states that, as of 2023, the poverty percentage had risen from 40 percent in 2018 to 46 percent in 2023. It is projected that a combination of subnationally ill-managed administration and inflation will have caused the poverty rate to surpass 50 percent by the end of 2023.

State governments in Nigeria have failed to meet the task of ensuring food security by failing to invest appropriately and implement policies that would encourage agriculture. Several issues are to blame, including inadequate finance, insecurity, bad planning, and unfavourable policies that reduce farmers’ production. Few states have changed and turned farming into a commercial endeavour. A few more are promising. This is true even though we have more arable land than the Netherlands—which has 29 percent—but the Netherlands exports ten times as much agricultural goods as Nigeria. Over the past year, there has been little substance but mostly talk about agriculture.

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With the significant resources the states have received in the past year, it’s disheartening to see that many states cannot account for how they spent the money. While we acknowledge the impact of rising inflation and a decline in the value of the naira, it’s inexcusable for states to not demonstrate significant achievements with those funds. This lack of transparency and accountability at the state level is a key factor contributing to the suboptimal performance in many states. It’s crucial for citizens to demand and ensure transparency and accountability in governance to drive meaningful change.

Insecurity still festers. Almost all elected chief executives promised to prioritise security, but it seems the more they promised, the deeper we went into insecurity. A few states are examples of using local and internal security systems to support external security systems and form a cohesive security system that has reduced insecurity in those states. However, in many states today, insecurity is worse, and there is no hope of effectively tackling it soon. Security, though mainly a function of the federal government, needs sustained and coordinated efforts from the state government to effectively secure the lives and properties of Nigerians living in various states.

Many state governments need something to show in terms of infrastructural development. The level of infrastructural decay is palpable. Few or no new roads are constructed. State governments have been empowered to regulate the generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity, yet only a few states have taken advantage of this constitutional amendment. The availability of pipe-borne water and other water systems is still a mirage, and medical facilities need to be put in place to cater to the needs of the people. The newly sworn-in governors promised their people these things, but one year later, there is little or no evidence that many are fulfilling them. Most of them will stagger into the second year without a concrete plan.

At all levels, I hope our political leaders recognise the importance of redeeming democracy’s reputation. The average person is beginning to question the capacity of democracy to deliver dividends that can improve his life. It will take more than impressive rhetoric to convince citizens that our political officeholders are working for our interests. Actions must follow words and beautiful promises.