Last week, some 29 governors were inaugurated throughout Nigeria. As expected, most made policy announcements that I believe foretell the direction their governments will take. From the populist to the controversial, one could tell from those decisions which of the governors has the right grasp on issues and which one is still fiddling with the control buttons. It is crucial we pay as much attention to state governors because their policies and actions impact our lives more directly than what happens in the Federal Capital Territory. We do not engage our governors enough, and some of them get by with some of the most egregious acts of misgovernance. Here are some observations from the governors whose immediate decisions made news in the past week.
First, going by some of the actions of the governors, they are still in an election contest mode. Some have yet to fully apprehend the reality of having won the elections and rather than being mindful of the tick-tocking of time against them, they are still staging popularity contests. For instance, the new governor of Oyo State, Seyi Makinde, while reading his inaugural speech, said he was going to scrap the N3,000 that pupils of all public primary and secondary schools in the state pay as “school fees.” I believe this is a misstep on the part of the governor who seems to think that by starting with such a populist move, he could win himself some friends. While we should all understand that the social capital of politicians is necessarily built on their likeability, I also think that sectors such as health and education should not be subjected to the intrigues of the politics of popularity. By scrapping school fees, he can look like a hero who rescues Oyo people from his predecessor’s villainy. The former governor who introduced school fees will be seen as mean-spirited and lacking the administrative acumen to procure the funds for free education.
Nothing in the report of Makinde’s speech suggested that he carefully evaluated the situation before the decision to make education free again. In the same address where he announced he was scrapping school fees, he also stated that Oyo State would not be able to pay the standardised minimum wage because of some “individual realities.” So, if he cannot find enough money to pay the proposed N30,000 minimum wage, how will he ever be able to pull off the feat of funding quality free education throughout the state? In the past, I had written on the scam called free education in the South-West; my submission is that what passes for free education is neither “free” nor is it an “education.” Despite “free education,” parents still pay sundry levies that mostly end up in private pockets. It is more practical to introduce a minimal amount as school fees to subsidise government funding of education than to offer cheap education that is not worth anyone’s while. Makinde says his decision was hinged on mopping up the number of out-of-school children in Oyo State, but a closer study of the situation will show him that the factors that cause children of school age not to be enrolled in school are more complex. He should have a rethink on this issue, and he should not be ashamed to reverse himself if necessary. The N3,000 goes a long way in these arid times.
Governor Makinde also announced the donation of his salary to the Teachers’ Pension Fund. He said it was a fulfilment of his campaign promise, what I see is an empty gesture. He is not the first governor to make such a move and will not be the last. Other governors also made similar promises, all in the bid to appear like a true man of the people. Lest we forget, in 2015, both President Muhammadu Buhari and his deputy, Yemi Osinbajo, announced they were taking a 50 per cent pay cut. How far has that move gone in curtailing the endemic poverty and corruption that multiplied like a virus under their watch? Should that not suggest to serious-minded leaders that nobody needs the distraction of a public officer donating their salaries when our country begs for far more comprehensive reforms? Discerning folk know that most of our problems have little to do with governors’ relatively meagre salaries. The real issues of corruption and waste in government are anchored on the juicy meat of their administration: their allowances and estacodes, not basic salaries. Why not forgo those instead? Until we get to the level when governors actively push for transparency in the disbursement of the humungous sums they receive as security vote, we should not take their choices to forgo their salaries seriously.
Second, our democracy is still at a rather primitive stage where politicians come into office and treat governance as individual sprints rather than a marathon. Nigerian politicians make a grandiose show of giving and receiving handover notes during the transition period, but that is as far as it goes. Some new governors either abandon ongoing projects or neglect maintenance on finished ones. It is not merely because they are vindictive, our politics is calibrated on this cynical attitude that necessitates destroying your predecessors’ legacies. You could land an own goal if you let a former governor take credit for launching an initiative you build on; even the people will insinuate such a governor has no independent vision. So, we tend to find ourselves in this quandary where new governors invest all the time and resources on starting disparate new projects. Consequently, this lack of continuity means they will achieve only a little progress, and yet the poor people of the state will be burdened with the costs of various unfinished projects that have no bearing with their lives.
While that inconsistency is terrible enough, destroying the projects initiated by your predecessor is far worse. Here, I refer to the attempted demolition of the Akachi Tower in Owerri, the Imo State capital, built by the immediate past governor, Rochas Okorocha, and inaugurated just shortly before he left the office. The exercise took place on Thursday, the very next day after the new governor, Emeka Ihedioha, was sworn into office. Of all the mean things people do to their predecessors in office, that must rank as one of the worst ever. I am quite aware that Ihedioha’s aides have denied he had a hand in the demolition of the structure, but I am not convinced that it was possible for some unseen forces to enter the state and carry out such destruction without the governor’s knowledge. By claiming he was unaware of the demolition, Ihedioha is, in fact, admitting to being too incompetent to know what goes on in his domain.
Third, governors should not just build on what they inherit, they also need to be smarter. On this one, I am talking of the new Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who signed an Executive Order towards managing the problem of traffic in the state. He directed the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority to run at least two shifts and work till 11 pm. While his zeal for getting some order on our roads is commendable, I also think the job of Lagos traffic is far beyond what LASTMA is equipped to handle. Given the rate of increase of Lagos population and the attendant complexity of managing human and vehicular traffic, he should not be putting more men on the job. Lagos traffic management needs less human interference and more machines that will optimise ability. LASTMA officials can only do so much. We are in the age of intelligent machines, and traffic management is more science/technology than the obsolete methods deployed by LASTMA people. Besides, they easily get overwhelmed by the complexity of traffic problems. That means that in addition to creating mass transits to move people in the fastest possible time, expanding roads and improving connectivity network, building functional traffic lights, using CCTV to monitor traffic, ensuring road traffic laws are sensible, creating parking zones, Sanwo-Olu also needs to look into the technology of using algorithms to optimise traffic management.
- Originally published in The Punch, June 6, 2019