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Governors biting more than they can chew

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A prosperous looking traveler tried to rig the security screening queue at the local wing of the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja. It was a Friday and as usual, the Airport was full of people traveling for the weekend. From the rear end of the line, another man shouted at the rigger in a baritone, “Governor! Governor!! Please respect yourself!!!”



The line rigger halted his move. He looked crest-fallen, no doubt embarrassed by how badly he had been caricatured. He recollected himself and shouted back at the one who called him Governor: “I no be Governor, I no be Governor” he protested. The humbled traveler rejoined the line from its end.

Please try and find out from now on what is the most common perception of state governors around you. A few decades ago, given their dominant positions in the Nigerian society, governors were very likeable persons. In spite of the volatile moods of those of them appointed from the military, governors for the most part were rooted in the local society. Most had their hearts in the right place when it came to labour matters and employee relations. Using personal charisma and often inspiring speeches and pronouncements, they drew millions of citizens to themselves and created a view of Nigeria that many wanted to see. Think of achieving governors like Abubakar Rimi, Aper Aku, Bola Ige, Jim Nwobodo, Ambrose Alli and Lateef Jakande in their performance in the Second Republic. Even at that time, the country was as difficult as it is now. But they made it work. From the start to the end, they had successes.

I am not a particular admirer of some of our present governors who have blown all that popular goodwill away. Look at the way many of them have cost us the anti-corruption war. Many are in the office lacking the passion, restraint and the right judgement in their actions and pronouncements. They rode to power on the back of the people and their lack of common touch is incredible.  In democracy, their authority derives from the people and the defence of the people’s interest is their primary responsibility.

It is frighteningly stupid of their association, the National Governors Forum to take a position against the national minimum wage legislated at a paltry N18,000. In apparent blackmail of the President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, the Governors Forum gave a cynical answer to the request for the implementation of the new wage by wickedly linking it to supply of more federal revenue to their coffers by demanding a withdrawal of fuel subsidies. From the cracks already emerging, it would seem to us that the governors’ views on the issue itself were not well coordinated or even thought out. Kwankwaso of Kano has disowned the position, saying he was absent at the meeting and did not send a representative. After the conclusion of the meeting, nobody gave him a briefing on its proceedings, he said. Adams Oshiomhole of Edo state, a product of the labour cadre, has gone back to the trenches. He not only said he will implement the new salary from July, he has spoken in a threatening manner to his colleagues, just as the Labour Congress has been doing. But the one that represents a huge lapse of judgement is Governor Amaechi who governs the country’s wealthiest state, Rivers. If honour was his article of faith, he should not put his signature as Chairman, Governors’ Forum on the statement repudiating the minimum wage, having earlier on committed himself to paying it on his individual capacity as Governor.

I myself do not support subsidies because subsidies compound rather than alleviate poverty. But asking the Federal Government to remove subsidies at this time is sheer exhibition of callousness towards the poor of the country, sixty to seventy percent of who live below prescribed poverty lines. Obviously, the governors are not concerned about the poor. But how many of our politicians, or their parties speak for the poor? Parties in particular exist merely as elite cartels for the sharing of loot. They represent the rich Nigerians, not the poor.

The issue of subsidies is itself mythical because, like most Nigerians, I am also confused and therefore unable to decipher the actual calculation of petroleum products prices in the country. While the government claims that it pays fuel subsidies running into billions and trillions of Naira, scholars and academics supply details that no such subsidy in reality is there. The reason for this confusion is of course the government which policies in this sector are opaque.

Be that as it may, any increases of costs in these products at this time will lead to several ill-effects in both the socio-economic and the environmental points of view. Don’t also ignore the fact that there will be a political backlash. It may seem as cheap populism but if prices pinch the people, they, as voters won’t forgive the government for its harsh policies. There is no doubt that this set of people is putting democracy as our system of government at a grave risk. The Governors’ Forum which has been at the fore-front of this unwanted advocacy seems to have bitten more than it can chew. They have been getting a beating everywhere. The most charitable of their critics have called them  the wrong men carrying the right message. Sad for the good ones among them, most Nigerians view governors as the manifestation of everything that is wrong in the country, be it corruption or the rigging of queues at public places. Nigerians would rather have their governments cut down on unproductive expenditures and corruption which consume much of the given revenues. In addition, the country has been very generous to her neighbours and numerous other international causes. Instead of wasting public money on these, government should plough back this home and pay our hungry and angry workers. Charity they say, begins at home.

Our governors enjoying the worst conceivable PR outlook may wish to deploy the massive amounts of money they control to staff their secretariat with the best experts in public policy, law, economics, Public Relations and Social Welfare. Instead, it is sycophancy that surrounds them. This precisely is why they are unable to see the benefits of paying decent, respectable salaries and decent accommodation that are enough for workers to maintain their families and to keep them from falling prey to others for bribes.

In Western democracies, the fear of public opinion is the beginning of wisdom. When the public opinion turns against the government on any sensitive social and economic issues, the future of the governments in those societies becomes doomed. In our own case, however, supposedly elected leaders have no hesitation turning against the people. The action of our governors suggests the level of contempt “elected” leaders have for the voters. This seeming audacity to pooh-pooh public opinion on petroleum subsidy by the governors tends to paint them as masters rather than leaders. While they see nothing wrong with how much their lifestyle eat deeply into government revenues at the expense of basic social services, our imperial governors had the effrontery to recommend subsidy withdrawal benefits that go to the ordinary people in the world’s sixth largest oil producer. Yet paradoxically, our almighty governors had no shame throwing the people to the wolves!

It is curious that the same governors who have failed to help the Federal Government to tackle those who make it impossible for our refineries to work for private advantage are now taking a very unpopular position, which in effect, is like hitting ordinary Nigerians who are already down.


Comments (1)Add Comment
written by Mustapha, June 28, 2011
Malam Garba, it is not the governors does not know what they are doing, it was reverse the case, the Nigerian masses does not know what they are doing as well as their fundamental rights. You see what is going today in the Arab world, is there any country among these (Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Syria, Yemen) that Nigerian political, social and economical conditions are better, the answer is obviuos no. All these countries are better off than Nigeria, but we are still folding our hands waiting for these governors to give us our own due, it is too unfortunate for Nigerian Masses.

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