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Why is Governor’s office so seductive?


Martins Oloja

The ecclesiastical saying that there is a time for everything comes in handy today to interrogate some political matters that are weightier than the stale and inevitable tango between the sleepy executive and the restless legislature in Abuja. And here is the thing, it is time to examine what is so constantly seductive about the office of the Governor in Nigeria, that most politically active persons, federal and state legislators, returning foreign envoys, retired public servants, retired clerics, repentant militants and insurgents, special advisers and former Speakers want to contest that office. It is curiouser and curiouser that even former governors that have run for only one term and even serving as ministers, a former governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) all want to be nothing but governors. What is in it for the aspirants and even occupants of that office? Are they going to fulfill a constitutional provision for ‘welfare and security of the citizens, which shall be the primary purpose of government? Political intelligence has it that at the moment, Senator Chris Ngige, a former governor of Anambra state, a former Senator representing Anambra state, currently serving as a Minister is in a dilemma even as he is mobilizing fund to contest the 2017 election for governorship. So is Dr. Kayode Fayemi, former Governor of Ekiti State, a serving Minister who wants to return as Governor.

A former CBN Governor, a Professor of Economics who once contested the office, is said to be warming up again to plunge into the murky governorship waters. Mr. Dimeji Bankole, former Speaker of the House of Representatives who never had little or no experience before he was elected member of the House of Representatives, has been fighting to be governor of Ogun State, not minding the principalities and powers that would always frustrate him in his state. When his successor, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal raised his hand to be counted among those to challenge PMB, in 2015, he was quickly drafted by the powers behind the throne to accept to be governor of Sokoto State as a settlement. All protocols and legal processes were bent and broken for him to emerge as the only candidate. But the seducers got him with governorship ticket bait. What is in that office the occupants have added a qualifier to as “executive” governor” that is not in the constitution?

“There are a few exemplars that are quietly setting the tone for federalism at the moment: Lagos, Akwa Ibom,  Ekiti, Kano states, etc are strategically evolving as federalism brand ambassadors”

Ifeanyi Uba, an oil magnate, a successful football club owner and publisher of The Authority newspaper,in the eye of the storm over some allegation of missing N110 billion in his domain, would like to do all that is politically possible to be the next governor of Anambra state. Nothing else appeals to him. He had taken that road before. What is in that office?

Lest we forget, the late Abubakar Audu (24 October 1947-22 November, 2015) was twice the Governor of Nigeria’s Kogi state. His first tenure was from January 1992 until November 1993 when democracy crashed again to ‘militicians’ led by General Sani Abacha. And the second was from 29 May, 1999 to May 2003. He died of a heart attack shortly after the announcement of the election results on 22 November, 2015. He actually won on the platform of the APC, now ruling party. That was his third term. The man, Audu never placed premium on any other political or elective office, except the governorship he had been twice. What was in it for him? I hope these answers will not blow in the wind.

Can a good man who has been governor write a book to reveal the reason that office is so, so enticing beyond service to the people? We need an insider account from another Peter Obi who has begun a good job in that realm. He recently revealed in a colloquiumhow to be successful as a governor and how he institutionalized prudence in Anambra state with verifiable pieces of evidence. We do it regularly in the media. Bernard Goldberg, a CBS insider has through a classic, titled, Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News. Just as many CIA operatives and agents have been revealing in good books how they have used their powers to deal treacherously with the citizens. That was what John Perkins did in 2004 when he wrote a thriller, Confessions of an Economic Hitman, an account of his career with engineering consulting firm Chas. T. Main in Boston that worked for the powerful intelligence agency.

Really, we need a book on “Why Governorship Office is Seductive in Nigeria”. We certainly need more books and documentaries on this subject that may interrogate why Nigeria has been consistently recording and celebrating economic growth without development since the “soldiers of fortune” struck in 1966. Such revelations in books and documentaries may reconstruct the tone set years ago by a chartbuster, “Squandering of the Riches” by one of us, Lady Onyeka Onwenu, a veteran journalist and singer. The documentary explores the situation in Nigeria prior to the military coup of December, 1983 (that ushered in the then Major General Muhammadu Buhari to power). A resourceful television journalist at the time, Ms. Onwenu travelled across the country to talk to professionals such as bankers, industrialists, street traders, farmers, etc to capture the mood of the people in those weeks of rising dissatisfaction with the economy and with government corruption in a democracy of the then NPN under President Shehu Shagari. What has changed since 1983?

Now as most political leaders and rent seeking non-governmental organizations and individuals pay lip service to calls for federalism to drive development, I think we should reflect on the grave implications of our overconcentration on the central government activities and agencies while looking at Nigeria’s challenges of development. It is time we began to examine whether it is not another face of intellectual masturbation or corruption that we hardly interrogate the powerful impacts of the
massive nonsense, excesses, indolence, mediocrity and corruption in most of the 36 states of the federation. In other words, is there a sense in which we can claim that even if the federal government under any regime performs well, Nigeria can automatically migrate from third to first world even if the governors of the 36 federating units are unserious? I mean here, for instance, that even if the federal government maintains all the federal roads and federal schools in all the states, will good roads and quality education era emerge in Nigeria? I don’t think so.

At the moment, about 30 of governors cannot pay their workers regular salaries and allowances without recourse to the centre that is also struggling in the valley. Yet the lifestyles of these governors do not suggest that we are in a recession and the nation is a failing state. They still charter planes to attend frivolous personal events. They carry on with hundreds of personal aides, long convoy SUVs and all the wasters that destroy economic growth.

I was reflecting on this conundrum the other day when I stumbled on the difference between public service here and other lands. Specifically, in the United States, the serving Governor of Iowa state,Terry Branstad, recently accepted to serve as the U.S Ambassador to China.The longest-serving governor in US history, Branstad, 70, started a second run as governor in 2011. He previously held the office from 1983 to 1999. Will a serving governor agree to be Nigeria’s ambassador to even the United States? He may not even have had a house of his own. Even former presidents including Barack Obama have become tenants after leaving office. As for Bill Clinton, he was 40th and 42nd Governor of Arkansas. He was first in office from 1979 to 1981 and the state’s 42nd Governor from 1983 to 1992. Before that time, he had served as Arkansas Attorney General from 1977 to 1979. He served two termsas President of the United States (1992 – 2001). And it was after he left office he and his wife bought a $1.7 worth of a house of the Dutch colonial style in Chappaqua, a New York suburb through a loan.The Obamas are renting an 8,200 square foot brick Tudor home (built in 1928) in Washington D.C.The house is in Kalorama neighbourhood where neighbours includea former Congressman, the French ambassador and Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. Poor Obama, not on the Potomac River side, expensive houses north of D.C and Maryland where former Nigeria’s Vice President, former Governors and former Nigeria’s envoys to the United States own very expensive houses. That is the clear difference. There is no point talking about where our former presidents have retired to in Minna, Abeokuta and Otueke. They are not rented quarters anyway. They had worked very hard in office where recent reports from one of their spouses indicate that they receive a lot of expensive gifts while in office.

Let’s leave the federal capital powers alone for now and return to the point at issue here: the hard truth that cannot be kept in the grave is that unless all of us repent from our complacency and put pressure on the state governorswe in the news media underreport, unless we demand responsibility from most of the reckless governors who will always legalise huge pensions to themselves as they leave office, we will end up reading from the book of lamentation only till eternity. This is just a caveat that agitations by all the right-thinking members of the public for a constitutional return to federalism destroyed in 1966 by the military may not be heeded by the governing elite in Abuja now. But it seems to me that federalism can only evolve through critical and strategic thinking and breath-taking developments by the state governments. There are a few exemplars that are quietlty setting the tone for federalism at the moment: Lagos, Akwa Ibom, Ekiti, Kano states, etc are strategically evolving as federalism brand ambassadors. Sooner than later, they may not require special communication strategy before they become reference points for the road we should take. Lagos state, for instance, is standing out as the most organized bureaucracy driven by a very capable cabinet. The other day, the governor of Lagos state told the nation within the context of the controversy over Oshodi-Airport road that, “with the kind of capacity we have now, we can construct a 10-lane road to the Lagos airport with a whopping N10 billion within six months….” As I read yesterday on a Lagos notorious (danfo) mini-bus to be phased out soon, “To be a man is not a day job”. A very apt inscription, which depicts a fact that the “dynamic capabilities” you find in Lagos are not a flash in the pan. They began in 1999 and the state government has been fine-tuning and refining its bureaucracy in the state.

Have you been to Akwa Ibom State to see how a very restless Governor Godswill Akpabio (2007-2015) picked up an urban renewal and development plan gauntlet left by his predecessor, Obong Victor Attah, and developed the state capital and the state generally to a beautiful city and modern state? But for what a professional colleague, always calls unfortunate “minority syndrome” when we discuss this issue, Akwa Ibom state that has developed what will emerge soon as the most sophisticated and best equipped hospital in the country, would have become the opposition party’s example of how to set the tone for development. The quality of construction work any visitor can see all over Akwa Ibom state is simply breathtaking. Ekiti state recently taught the nation how to peacefully resist incursion by herdsmen though the instrumentality of the law. I was in Kano state recently, the economic development projects including strategic roads and an“Economic City”, etc being developed like that of Dubai by the Governor, Dr Abdullahi Umar Ganduje are remarkable for democracy. The point being made this week is that we should swallow our pride and vanity and return to our states to use available data to assess what our governors are doing. And we should use all available media to encourage them to shun mediocrity at all levels and get angry like Ambode and Akpabio to develop their states remarkably. That is the only way Nigeria can make progress through quiet federalism.

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