Saturday, 2nd December 2023

Unwieldy appointments of SSAs, SAs, PAs deplete lean resources in poor states

By Kehinde Olatunji
29 August 2023   |   4:26 am
Amid calls to reduce the cost of governance and curb borrowings to pay salaries, several state governors are still in the business of appointing a large retinue of aides, some of which are actually frivolous.

• Yobe (642 aides), Niger (131), Kano (97) top list
• Governors create portfolios on women affairs, mobilisation (Abia), divorcees (Bauchi), happiness (Imo), graveyard matters (Kano), streetlights (Kano), among others
• Osun commissioner, Jenyo, appoints 20 SAs, PAs

Amid calls to reduce the cost of governance and curb borrowings to pay salaries, several state governors are still in the business of appointing a large retinue of aides, some of which are actually frivolous.

The inherent recklessness is manifest in their long lists of Senior Special Advisers (SSAs), Special Assistants (SAs) and Personal Assistants already appointed in states like Abia, Adamawa, Enugu, Ebonyi, Kano, Niger, and Yobe states.

While stakeholders reckon that the appointments create new jobs for the beneficiaries, the implication on the already lean purse of several of the states is dire, despite being economically unsustainable.

Already, several of the 36 states are in financial dire straits, with heavy debt burden and unmet critical obligations.

According to the Debt Management Office, the total domestic debt owed by 36 state governments and the Federal Capital Territory increased by N879.50 billion last year to N5.337 trillion as at December 2022.

This is a 16.47 per cent increase from N4.46 trillion as at the end of 2021. Of the total domestic debt, Lagos owed the highest debt of N807.20 billion, followed by Delta with a total debt of N304.24 billion.

Ogun ranks third with a total debt of N270.45 billion, followed by Akwa Ibom and Imo States with a total domestic debt of N219.26 billion and N204.22 billion respectively.

Jigawa had the least debt of N43.95 billion as of December, followed by Kebbi (N61.31 billion). Others are Katsina, Nasarawa, and Ondo with domestic debts of N62. 37 billion, N71.43 billion and N77.15 billion respectively.

But in a rash of recent political appointments in some of these states neither mirror the debt burden nor intent to curb profligate spending.

For instance, the governor of Kano State, Abba Yusuf, appointed 97 people as special advisers and assistants.

In Niger State, Governor Umar Bago, recently appointed 131 women as coordinators and senior special assistants (SSAs) to “fulfill his campaign promise on women inclusion in his administration.” The appointees comprise 41 coordinators and 90 Senior Special Assistants (SSAs).

In Adamawa State, Governor Ahmadu Fintiri alone appointed 47 media aides. This is besides the 50 special advisers that were approved for him by the State House of Assembly. In Yobe state, Governor Mai Mala Buni approved the appointment of 523 special assistants, 104 senior special assistants and 15 liaison officers.

In the Southeast region, the newly sworn in governors of Enugu, Ebonyi and Abia states are not immune from bloated and comical appointments of Special Advisers and Assistants. While there is duplicity in some of the appointments, it was also not certain the purposes some of them would serve.

Governor Francis Nwifuru of Ebonyi State has so far appointed 41 Special Assistants and Senior Special Assistants. This is aside from Commissioners appointed into his government.

Nwifuru appointed Special Assistant on security for the 14 local government councils of the state as well as two Special Assistants for Airport Security. He also appointed an SSA on Streetlight.

In Abia State, Governor Alex Otti has so far appointed 52 Special Advisers and Assistants with overlapping responsibilities. While he named one of the portfolios as “Women Affairs”, the other was named “Women Mobilisation”. The governor appointed commissioners in the various ministries among other agencies of government.

In Enugu State, Governor Peter Mbah had so far appointed 22 Special Advisers and Assistants. The number, however, is expected to rise soon, since the governor had sought and obtained approval from the State House of Assembly to appoint 50 more Special Advisers. That may increase the number to 77 when realised.

Earlier in the month, he had nominated and sworn in commissioners drawn from the 17 local government councils of the State.

A commissioner in Osun State, Bunmi Jenyo, appointed 20 special and personal assistants to work with him. However, Jenyo, who was recently appointed as Commissioner for Commerce, said he would be paying his 20 aides from his monthly salary.

He said: “The aides numbering over 20 are to work with the commissioner either directly or indirectly in specific assignments.”

Besides the long train of SAs and SSAs, Nigeria has also witnessed what pundits described as ridiculous portfolios created by the governors to compensate their cronies.

Such include: Special Assistant on Divorcees (Bauchi), Special adviser on graveyard matters (Kano), Ministry of Happiness (Imo) and Special assistant on street lights (Kano), among others.

Over the years, one of the major demands of the people has been the need for the government to cut the cost of governance. Incidentally, this has also been one of the campaign promises of politicians.

This is due to the perceived wastage in governance and more importantly, a means to channel more funds towards developmental projects, which have been in short supply and the available ones largely dilapidated across the country.

But, unfortunately, it has been business as usual for the political class as the campaign promises are not fulfilled, while the wastages continue.

Speaking with The Guardian, a Public Affairs Analyst, Festus Nzenwa, stated that some of the appointments are made for “political patronage and not essentially to improve governance,” wondering what a governor would be doing with a bloated appointment, majority of whom will not have any encounter with him until the tenure elapses.

“So, what is the essence of wasting taxpayers’ money in paying somebody whose contribution you cannot account for? This is the bane of our democracy and governance,” he pointed out.

Youth Party National Publicity Secretary, Ayodele Adio said it was baffling that the government (both state and federal) who are battling revenue crisis are at the same time seeking to increase the cost of governance with bloated and unnecessary portfolios.

He questioned the moral rights that the government has to justify the demands that citizens make sacrifices when those who make those demands aren’t leading by example.

“While I understand that the government requires competent aides to function properly, I’m completely against abusing the process. A country with the highest unemployment rate in the world cannot afford a government that encourages waste and vanity,” he said.

He maintained that it was time politicians realised that they are occupying a position of trust and must curtail their appetite.

“Asking the government to be frugal is the least citizens can do in this difficult period. Mind you, we are in this mess not by accident, but because of the impunity and incompetence of politicians, some of whom are still in government today. If the people will make sacrifices, then the politicians must share the burden,” he declared.

On his part, Secretary, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Epe branch, Aare Oladotun Hassan, seeks a law that would regulate the excesses of the governors.

Hassan, who said there was nothing wrong in having SAs if the governors wish, though kicked against portfolios that have no bearing with governance.

“For instance, offices that are just meant to be overseeing unmarried people and graveyards are just wastes. These are statutory offices that local governments should regularly be in charge of.

“The over bloated structures in our system of government, is not about governance, but an archaic set up that has evolved in our system whereby governors appoint SAs. The SAs equally appoint their own SAs. SSAs and PAs also appoint personal PA or special aide, meaning the roll call of the excesses and the wastages need to be properly corrected and amended. There should be a law regulating how these leakages and wastages need to be addressed.

“What a government structure is handling should not be placed under another SA. It will amount to duplication of duties and these SAs now begin to waste money carrying sirens and entourages to maintain their over-bloated ego.

“So, the money at the end of the day will amount to over weight on the taxpayers and these are the kind of systems that we have at the federal, state and even at the National Assembly. You will see the speaker having over 50 PAs and SA on various things, what is he doing with them?

“So, there should be limitations to how the wastages in our governance structure should be addressed. This is not about democracy, it’s just Africans’ mentality of “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” and nothing more can be said to address these issues than for us to look at it from a legal angle,” Hassan suggested.

According to him, it is a total wastage, abnormal and repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience to have such structure in a modern world.

He stressed that there should be a lot of re-engineering and renovations to resolve the challenge, adding that it is very unfair and unfortunate to maintain such wastages at this critical point of our national life whereby the economy is in bad shape, with inflation rising daily.

“The little air that we have is running on the sweat of the poor masses and if the president says ‘let the poor breathe,’ the poor can never breathe when you have over-bloated SAs and SSAs without any reasonable functionality. It will continue to suffocate the poor and it will definitely kill the poor masses. This must stop.

“It is condemnable and undemocratic. There should be a law regulating appointments so that any government official making excessive appointments would pay them from his pocket. So, I believe that will solve the problem,” he said.

On his part, acting head of Journalism, Lagos State University (LASU), Dr. Tunde Akanni lamented that many of those elected into government seem to be unserious with their offices.

He condemned the action and described it as an act of making a mockery of governance. He said stakeholders, especially the Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have been critical of government spending, noting that cost of governance has been bogus and reckless.

Akanni noted that what is being done at the state level is more ridiculous than what is done at the federal level.

“Some time ago, the former governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, appointed 15,000 SAs. Some people argued that what he did was to democratise recruitment into government, but I think he was rather ridiculous. The question we should ask is what are the dividends that accrued on that decision.

“If a state can justify the portfolio it has decided to create, there’s nothing wrong with it, but those that make mockery of governance are condemnable,” he said.

CEO at USP Brand Management and author, The Seven Dimensions of Branding, Muyiwa Kayode stressed the need to rebrand democracy and do away with the image of extravagant, ignorant and irresponsible conduct. He said over-bloated government and overpaid officials are a burden to the people and a clog in the wheel of development.

According to him, most of the special advisers are glorified messengers who run around at the behest of their bosses.

His words: “They pretend to be very busy while offering no value whatsoever to the quality of governance. Anytime Oga is traveling, they hustle and jostle to be on the trip. I am not aware of any ground-breaking idea or solution to any of our chronic problems, which has emanated from any special adviser.

“The cheapest commodity in the world today is advice. It is always readily available for free. Thanks to Google. So, why do political leaders appoint numerous special advisers? Like many vocations, the job of the special adviser has become archaic and has long been rendered useless by technology. The only people who don’t realise it, are the special advisers themselves and the politicians, who appoint them.

“Must governments always carry an exaggerated profile, padded with the superfluous appointment of redundant people bearing bogus titles? While Nigeria is not the only country guilty of this ancient practice, our case is particularly pathetic.

“As it is often the case with us, the special adviser culture is manifest in hyperbolic proportions. And sadly, valuable material resources are wasted on this army of parasitic appointees.”

Though most governors justify the long train of appointments on section 196 (1-3) of the 1999 Constitution, which permits a governor to appoint any person as a special adviser to assist him in the performance of his functions, the number of advisers and their remunerations shall be as prescribed by the law or by a resolution of the House of Assembly of the state.

So, the Constitution did not set a limit to the number of advisers a governor could appoint to assist him in the performance of his functions. It left that decision to the House of Assembly of the states, which unfortunately are under the apron strings of their respective governors.