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Governance at the state level


L-R: Zamfara State Governor and Chairman of NGF, Mallam Abdulaziz Yari and Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State

It is one of the tragedies of Nigeria’s warped federal system of government that governance at the state level in the country is riddled with fundamental constitutional flaws, personality cults and deep contradictions.

In most states, the governors manage the affairs of government like a fiefdom, like dons dispensing personal favours to their subjects. Elected legislators, political appointees and private citizens can disagree openly with a state governor only to their own peril. Most worrying is how some governors have virtually pocketed the State Houses of Assembly. Speakers of the House are elected or impeached routinely with the permission of the governors. Sadly, this tragic scenario has largely been replicated in the third arm of government, the Judiciary. The truth therefore is that at state level, democracy is imperiled and economic development truncated.

In the 1999 Constitution, separation of powers between the three arms of government is guaranteed. The roles and functions of the Executive, the Legislative and Judicial arms of government are clearly spelt out. This is meant to safeguard the spirit and practice of democracy. As a check on the Executive Arm of government, both the Legislature and the Judiciary ought to be independent. But a situation in which lawmakers depend on the occasional handouts by governors is unhealthy. It is the seed of corruption. It renders the legislature incapable and impotent when dealing with the executive arm. Nowhere is this more evident than in the so-called constituency projects. By this practice, lawmakers are given contracts to be executed in their Local Government Areas. It is a form of patronage that encourages corruption.


The result is that even when governors commit terrible, impeachable offences against the people who elected him into office, the legislature, so compromised and so subservient, is unable to check them. Most Houses of Assembly are indeed no more than an extension of the governors’ offices. Against this background, Speakers of the House struggle to be in the good books of the state governor. One of the problems is the manner in which elected officials are produced from the different constituencies as aspirants often seek the blessing of the state governor before they can even get the ticket. The governors therefore have a big say in who wins elections with the result that the successful candidates become beholden to the governor, the Godfather of state politics.

The judicial arm gets its subventions at the pleasure of the state governors. Even capital development in form of building and maintaining courtrooms depends on the whims and caprices of the governors. Often the judges suffer in silence. Judges work under terrible conditions and become susceptible to being compromised. As a result, the Chief Judge tries to be in the good books of the Executive Arm.

In the award of contracts, political considerations often outweigh other factors. Roads are constructed to please local titans. Party stalwarts get contracts to strengthen them politically. As a result, when they fail to properly execute the contracts, the Executive Arm is unable to take any serious actions against them. The result is that too many abandoned projects fill the states. Apart from awarding such contracts to party stalwarts, close friends and family of the State Chief Executive enjoy undue patronage. Governors’ wives start pet projects which serve as a conduit for siphoning huge funds away.

Some states have not witnessed any palpable structural and physical development since 1999, compared with the funds at their disposal. Some of the ex-governors currently serving in the National Assembly have serious allegations of fraud against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Staggering sums of money which could have been used to ensure rapid development in the states are in the secret bank accounts of some of these former governors and other officials.

The consequence of this is that development is stunted. Roads are in a bad shape. Health facilities are not well funded. Schools suffer from very terrible infrastructure deficit. There are many schools without teachers.

The current practice where the state governments go to Abuja monthly to collect allocations from the Federation Account has encouraged indolence. The drive for internal sources of fund generation is weak in most states. As a result, the huge wage bill occasioned by the bloated civil service has become a liability. Most states cannot meet their financial obligations to civil servants. Some governors are now interrogating the size of their civil service, having come to the realisation that political patronage brought about a bloated government workforce that the current allocations cannot cater for.


The third tier, the Local Government is the greatest culprit in the system. With too many employees who have no work to do, they are often the first casualties when funds become inadequate to meet obligations. In some local governments, workers only show up at the end of the month when salaries are due. These days of epileptic payment of salaries, they do not show up at all. Sadly, primary school teachers are placed under local governments. The morale of primary school teachers is low as they do not feel motivated to carry out their functions anymore. This is unfortunate.

The people should begin to hold their leaders accountable and make their leaders know that the days of fraudulent and inept governance are over. At the so-called Town Hall meetings where some governors meet the people, the truth should be told to their faces. The people should take their voting rights more seriously. They should not be swayed by cheap promises or the easy monies provided before elections.

All citizens must be watchdogs of democracy. They should not wait for the authorities or some security agencies to point out acts of criminality going on under their noses. It is true that some states are better governed than others. When all the states are properly governed along the egalitarian principles of fairness, equity and justice, the anguish in Nigeria would be minimised and democracy would have a greater meaning to the people. The situation now is such that many governors and different Houses Assembly are not living up to the expectations of the people, thereby constituting a dent on the armour of democracy.

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