Tales from the states
When former President Olusegun Obasanjo described state governors as emperors last year, the gibe at the messenger tended to dim the message . The riposte was not only from the supposedly traduced state governors, but also other citizens – he was not qualified to speak on such a matter because he equally operated as an emperor while he was a president. Again, continued the reprimand, why would he not consign his epistolary obsession to the federal level and avoid interfering with the goings-on in the states?
But we must admit that Obasanjo was only reminding us that as citizens, we have not demonstrated enough diligence in monitoring how the states are run because we are preoccupied with the activities of the government at the centre. After all, it is the reports on these activities at the federal level that hug the headlines on the front pages of newspapers. And because we do not pay enough attention to them, these state governors easily pass as poster boys of good governance. This is the case as long as these states do not have opposition parties that can let the larger society know the poor governance that goes on there. Yet, the citizens live in states where their lives are impacted either positively or negatively by the performance of their state governments.
Thus, it is necessary for us to be troubled by the mismanagement and brazen theft of state resources that go on as governance in most of the states of the federation. In most cases, the governors set up the states to fail by not allowing council elections so that they can keep on appointing those who would do their bidding as caretakers and manipulate elections for them. These caretakers are then sustained by doling out part of their statutory allocations to them to spend as they like without any question from the state governors.
The state governments do not spare any efforts in deploying their powers to oppress the citizens who do not cheer them despite their poor performance. They do not expect any dissent. They want all the citizens to just watch quietly as their floundering goes on. Those citizens who feel that they can no longer keep quite while their commonwealth is being stolen or wasted are easily taught lessons of their lives to keep their mouths shut.
Let’s consider Ebonyi State for example where Dave Umahi is the governor. A journalist, Charles Otu, looked around him and all he observed were indices of poor governance, frittered hopes and the absence of projects to match electioneering promises. The journalist wrote about this during the last Democracy Day and the state government was allegedly outraged. But the government was not ready to merely counter the journalist by publishing its accomplishments two years after election. Some thugs jumped into a vehicle and went to town in search of the insolent journalist who did not value his own life. The bus was branded with the name ‘Akubaroha Youth Assembly’, a youth organisation initiated by the governor allegedly serving as his strong arm. The thugs carrying guns jumped out of the said vehicle and kidnapped the journalist, but not before beating him up in the presence of people despite his struggle to escape. He was later taken to the state government house where he was again beaten for embarrassing the government. Despite this obvious complicity of the Ebonyi State government in the ordeal of the journalist, it has denied culpability. If the state government would like us to believe that it is innocent, it should not be difficult for it to convince us by sending security operatives to look for the owners of the vehicle, arrest them and unveil the real culprits.
There is also a case of brutalisation in Abia State that underscores the suffering of the citizens at the hands of their governors. Teachers have not been paid in this state. When a headmistress of a school complained about this to the wife of the state governor, Okezie Ikpeazu, who visited them, the headmistress was summarily demoted and redeployed to a remote area of the state where she could no longer complain about hunger.
Indeed, the lack of payment of teachers’ salaries has become another major index of the poor governance in the states. As the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) recently revealed, at least 19 state governors are owing their workers salaries. In Delta for instance, the non-payment of teachers’ salaries recently turned tragic. Some school principals who were going to resolve a teacher’s industrial dispute over their non-payment died in a vehicle accident. Up till now, the Delta State government is still owing teachers three months’ salaries. Worse still, the state governor Ifeanyi Okowa has been issued an ultimatum by militants under the aegis of the New Delta Avengers (NDA) to account for the resources of the state. Their grievance is that Okowa has abandoned the communities that produce the oil revenues that are used to run the state. According to them, instead of Okowa developing these communities through the funding of the Delta State Oil Producing Area Development Commission (DESOPADEC) he is busing diverting the money to develop his own part of the state. Up till now, Okowa has failed to respond to the challenge to publish the details of the funds he has released to DESOPADEC, the state’s allocations and internally generated revenue.
Included among the 19 state governors the NUT gave a 30-day ultimatum to pay their salary arrears with their Paris Club refunds are Benue which is owing 10 months’ salaries of teachers, Ekiti and Cross River (six months salaries), Kogi (15 months with half salary being paid since 2013); Ondo ( five months); Taraba (four months); Niger (three months); Oyo (three months for primary and secondary school teachers); Abia (five months); Osun (paying teachers half salary for 23 months ); Nasarawa ( half salary for 18 months to primary school teachers); Plateau (half salary since 2010); Adamawa ( four months ) and Bayelsa ( eight and half months). Others include Imo (paying 70 per cent monthly salary to primary and secondary school teachers); Kwara ( paying by percentage and owing four months ). In Borno and Zamfara states, the plight of teachers is compounded by the failure of the state governments to implement the national minimum wage.
All these state governors who do not understand that the essence of government is to positively impact the citizens are talking about 2019 when they have failed to use the opportunity they have today. This only goes to show that those who seek public office in these climes are only interested in what they would get from it. They are not really interested in serving the citizens. After all, it is through these official positions that they can make laws that would guarantee their life pensions. The governors who cannot pay teachers, other workers and retirees would continue to fund their extravagant lifestyles after leaving offices through the provision of huge pensions, medical facilities, security and accommodation for themselves and their children.
Yet, these teachers, other workers and retirees who are not being paid have the power to stop these governors from returning to their offices in 2019. They should not allow themselves to be given a miserable monetary inducement to return these governors who have worked against their wellbeing. They do not need to repeat the old excuse that in these climes, the voters do not determine who wins elections as they are often rigged. No, with the infliction of hunger on the citizens by the dismal performance of their leaders, they must seize the option of insisting on who have earned their votes despite official machinations.
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