State governors must learn to cut the cost of governance

Where will you find leaders who indulge in ostentation in times of turbulence and complex economic challenges? Perhaps only in Nigeria! Recent reports indicate that many state governors are still acquiring extremely expensive cars and sports utility vehicles (SUVs) and other items of luxury for themselves at public expense. Indeed, some of the governors reportedly have as many as 12 bulletproof cars in their garages. We must register our strong disapproval of this trend in governance as it simply defies logic and common sense.

In the past one year about 28 states government were almost too poor to pay their workers’ salaries. The inability of the states to pay salaries attracted the attention of the federal government. In July 2015, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in a special intervention package, doled out between N250 billion and N300 billion by way of soft loans to enable the states meet their salary obligations to their workers. But these monies made little or no impact as many of the states claimed they still could not perform routine functions. In some states, workers are still being owed salaries, some by as many as eight months. That perhaps explains why many of the financially distressed states are scrambling for the N90 billion recently set aside by the federal government for another round of bailout.

Therefore, the question remains: Why will a governor of a state unable to pay salaries and pensions expend humongous sums of money in bulletproof cars in addition to a fleet of other cars maintained at public expense? The average cost of a bulletproof car is put at about N75 million. That amount, without the cost of monthly maintenance, is big enough to defray the monthly salary of a department or two in government. Why should the governors, at austere times, when many Nigerians cannot afford a good meal, indulge in extravagant lifestyles? Who are they trying to impress? Or is it, as many people have argued, to protect themselves from their misdeeds?

The current perception of the populace is that many of our governors have failed to plug leakages and wastes, which over the years have become institutionalised in their states. Top officials in some of these poor states are still ferried around in private jets and helicopters mostly to attend unnecessary social events, including marriage ceremonies and birthdays. The ostentatious lifestyles of most governors do not offer logical persuasion to the citizens they govern that their states are broke.

Indeed, former Anambra State governor, Mr Peter Obi has proved beyond doubts that the states could be viable if their chief executives learn to trim the cost of governance. While speaking on “cutting cost in governance,” at The Platform, an annual programme organised by the Covenant Christian Centre in Lagos last week, Obi rightly blamed the poverty of the states on the over-bloated spending habits of most governors. He said his eight years in power were years of prudence: he slashed the cars on his fleet, travelled in commercial airlines without a retinue of staff, reduced the number of visitors to the Government House and shutdown the state’s liaison office in Abuja, which for many of his colleagues serves as a playground.

Obi left over N75 billion in the state’s coffers. “It costs an average of N2 billion to run the office of the First Lady in every state in Nigeria,” said Obi. “Multiply by 36. Nigeria can still function on its income if only we learn how to cut cost. We need to cut the cost of governance. No governor needs a house in Abuja.” What’s more, he used the state money to create the platform for a productive economy.

Most of the current governors may do well to understudy Peter Obi’s years in government and eliminate the waste.