• Saturday, July 13, 2024
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BusinessDay

Wanted: A body that will think for the next governor

Oil bearing communities should benefit directly from derivation fund – Eno

This is my third agenda-setting piece in as many weeks specifically directed to the next governor of Akwa Ibom State. In the first instalment, I asked the new governor to sell off or put the government’s private jet exclusively used by the governor on lease. I reasoned that the continued use of the 13-year-old Gulfstream has become a major drain on our resources. In this edition, I am proposing that the new administration should set up a committee of eminent professionals that would think for him and guide him through the labyrinths of the issues he would be dealing with.

Given the many decisions that a governor takes and the varied influences under which he operates, it is imperative that he sets up a think tank (or whatever name he chooses to call it) that will think for him, plan for him and ferret out ideas that would be of invaluable help to him. The body will advise the chief executive on which projects or programs are of optimum value to the people, where they should be located, and those that should be jettisoned. I

have noticed that many policies or projects of the government are either not well thought out or are not properly aligned with other initiatives of the government. So, we have a situation in which certain programs and projects are not of any value to economic development of the state; or where they are of any value, they are performing at suboptimal levels. Some other and programs do not even achieve their key objectives and have become drainpipes to our lean resources. Just a few examples:

The government has been building a multi-billion Naira Worship Centre in the last several years. Gov. Udom Emmanuel claims that it is a befitting place of worship to the people. But others like me believe that it is sheer waste of resources for a government to spend huge resources to build places of worship.

I reason that it is not the business of the state government to erect worship centres for the citizens. Near to the Worship Centre in the heart of the city is a 21-storey building commissioned two years ago by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.

The governor had announced that it was being built as an incentive for EXXONMobil to relocate its headquarters from Lagos to the state. But before the building was even completed, the oil company announced its exit from the state, and the building has remained unoccupied in the last two years. That is another huge waste of resources to the people and the government.

Clearly, Mobil did not ask the government to provide it with a building. It turned out that the company was already finalizing plans to exit its operations in the state when the government was erecting the building. In 2015, the Akpabio administration left behind a fully completed and furnished 12-storey hotel, and entered into an agreement with the Sheraton Group to manage it.

But the succeeding administration of Udom Emmanuel did not open the place for business until a few months ago. These three examples illustrate the need for a governor to seek advice from an independent set of professionals before embarking on certain projects. I can mention more cases.

Gov. Udom Emmanuel’s coconut factory established two years ago to refine oil from coconut, is a clear case of policy misalignment and clumsy conception projects. The government built the factory for refining of coconut without planting the coconut palms. Now, the factory has been ready and commissioned for two years now, yet there is no single coconut tree to harvest and feed into the factory. The implication is that, in accounting terms, the machines in the factory have already depreciated for two years without refining a litre of oil.

The factory has become a big waste to the state government. So, if the machines were manufactured for a five-year life span, it therefore means that the factory would be fully depreciated even before it begins production since there is no coconut tree ready for harvest soon.

It is the ineptest project management program that I have ever heard of in my life! There are also many cases of farming communities that do not have access roads, yet there are many other communities that have more than enough just because the governor is from that part of the state.

Read also: Search for senior officers for next government turns to CBN governor

These few examples clearly illustrate the fact that our leaders could sometimes be driven by irrational logic in project conception and execution, perhaps influenced by political considerations and other factors. It is therefore imperative for them to have a body of smart, accomplished, experienced and independent citizens who have the capacity to think dispassionately and advise the governor on matters of this nature.

If Mr. Udom Emmanuel had relied on a policy think tank or a well-informed advisory body for guidance, he would have been well advised to plant coconut palms first, wait for fruition before establishing the refinery.

That would have ensured availability of the raw materials before the factory was set up. But by setting up a factory before the raw materials are even planted, the governor had placed the cart before the horse! And the state is the worse for it. Similarly, such a body would have advised the governor not to waste money erecting a monument for Mobil, since an oil company is capable of erecting its own place.

A think tank, or policy institute, performs research, policy formulation and advocacy on social, political and economic issues, security, science & tech, among others. Members of a think tank usually come from different backgrounds, and they should be knowledgeable men and women who can give the government independent ideas and advise against frivolous and kneejerk actions. Its functions should be limited to policy formulation, advocacy and advisory. The key objectives are:

1. Advise the government on the major problems to tackle and how to tackle them in such key areas as education; job creation, poverty reduction; etc.

2. Liaise with federal agencies and provide the government with important research information on all aspects of social and economic sectors in the state;

3. Advise government on all employment opportunities that are available for Akwa Ibom people in both the public and private sectors and suggest ways that our people would take advantage of such opportunities. In many federal parastatals, for example, there is no Akwa Ibom person in the middle and senior management cadres.

4. To serve as a sounding board and adviser to the government.

Membership of this body should be drawn from the private and public sectors with the financial services industry well represented. They will help guide the next governor from decisions that result in waste of resources.