That Governors’ Forum Warning on Looming Economic Crisis

That Governors’ Forum Warning on Looming Economic Crisis

Onyebuchi Ezigbo writes that despite the cheerless moment when accredited journalists were prevented from coverage of the main event of the induction programme for governors-elect organised by the Nigeria Governors Forum, the organisers succeeded in setting the mood for a smooth transition to the incoming administration

The ambiance of the gathering at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa in Abuja suggested that things are no longer rosy. There were tell-tale signs the dire situation in which the country currently finds herself at the venue of the induction programme organised by the management of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF). The usual broad smiles and joyous expression that adored the faces of the governors about to ascend the glorious position were missing. The opposite played out at Presidential Villa that fateful Monday.

The restrained atmosphere pervaded the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa. The key issues that dominated discussions during the event centred on the economy, insecurity and implementation of the new minimum wage. Apparently aware of the serious challenges that lie ahead of the incoming administration in many states, the newly elected governors chose to be more reserved in order not to be swept off by the surprises and challenges of their new office.

On the whole, 29 governors were elected at the March 9 governorship election, while elections in seven other states are expected at the expiration of the tenures of the governors. Out of the 29 governors-elect,

12 were re-elected as chief executives in states while the other 17 are new on the job.

The Zamfara state governor and outgoing chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum, Abdulaziz Yari became the man to fire the first salvo at the event and did so in a very succinct manner. The two-time governor presented the good, the bad and the ugly situation of things to the incoming governors in order to get them prepared for the onerous task ahead.

The Looming Economic Crisis

Yari got his colleagues on the edge when he warned that Nigeria stands the risk of serious economic crisis, if nothing was done to diversify her economy. Yari told the governors-elect that it has become imperative that all the tiers of government must work hard to increase their revenue base so that they would be able to meet the demands of the people. Yari who spoke from his experience as governor of Zamfara state in the last eight years said that it has been a challenging experience managing state economies that are totally dependent on accruals from the federation account. According to Yari, many states are facing financial difficulties due to poor internally generated revenue. He therefore told the incoming governors to learn from the challenges of the past administration in their various states and work hard to expand the revenue. Yari spoke of the stabilizing role played by President Muhammadu Buhari who was able to assist the states’ economy through offer of bailout fund. Yari also took up the issue of overburdening loan which he said no longer offered solution to economic problem facing the country. He told a bewildered audience that the states and federal government have resolved to discourage borrowing since it offers no solution to the present economic situation.

According to him, “It is imperative to note that the governors’ forum under my chairmanship and the National Economic Council under the chairmanship of the Vice President have agreed that borrowing is never a reliable alternative to solving our economic problems.” The Zamfara State governor, said that in order for states to meet their obligations, tax laws must be strengthened to bring in more revenue. Another issue raised by Governor Yari in his speech was the challenge faced by states over the payment of the N30, 000 new minimum wage. Yari said the federal government should ensure that key revenue earning agencies like the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Federal Inland Revenue Service, Custom Service and other sister agencies are made to function efficiently and optimally to increase revenue returns.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo further made the new governors more uncomfortable when he advised them to look inwards for ways to generate internal revenue to enable them pay the new minimum wage. For those who thought that the federal government was about to offer new bailout funds to states to pay the minimum wage, the Vice President’s was a kill-joy. Osinbajo said states should not continue to expect that the federal government can do more interventions because that may not necessarily offer much hope. He said the federal government has intervened in the financial crisis affecting states in the last three years through loans, bailouts and Paris Club refunds to the tune of over N1.1trillion. Giving details of assistance to states, Osinbajo said the FG had in the past three years, intervened through loans, bailouts and Paris Club refunds to the tune of well over N1.1trillion. He said the figure “represents the highest amount of federal government’s extra statutory allocations and interventions to states in Nigeria’s history and we are proud to say that there were no discriminations along party lines.

“Speaking on the complaint by some state governors over the difficulty in meeting the demands of the N30,000 minimum wage, Osinbajo advised the states to devise a means of improving on their internally generated revenue (IGR) in order to cope. According to Osinbajo, states must strive in the next few years to earn more in internally generated revenue. He said states must leverage their most advantageous agricultural produce, and working with the federal government’s initiatives in agricultural credit and the recently launched Green Imperative, with the Brazilian Government, adding that it was possible for states to generate significant revenues from agriculture.

He said, “We must more effectively collect Value Added Tax and increase our agricultural output, work with the federal government to make broadband infrastructure available all over the country, so our young people anywhere in the country can do jobs from anywhere in the world, from their villages in any corner of Nigeria.” Osinbajo, however, cautioned states against going on the over-drive in the effort to raise revenue from taxation. For instance, he said, “If a state is charging for right-of-way from communications companies and is hindering the laying of cables and other broadband infrastructure as an IGR measure, permit me to say that that will be penny wise and pound foolish. To tap into the millions of jobs in technology and other services that a country like India, for example, has tapped into, requires broadband infrastructure across the country.” Speaking on the federal government’s new policy outlook, Osinbajo said the president has made it clear that government will be focusing attention on human capital development and physical infrastructure. He said, “We will be working with the states on education, especially the education of girls, and we have begun some deep diving in this respect at the National Economic Council. We are doing the same with healthcare. We have already started to implement the one per cent of CRF in the Health Act and that was implemented in the 2018 budget and we intend to do so with the 2019 budget.”

Tackling Security Challenge

Osinbajo solicited collaboration between the states and federal government in designing more creative ways of decisively addressing the country’s security challenges. The vice president told new governors that one of the very critical issues that will take priority at the National Economic Council (NEC) is how to fund security more effectively. Osinbajo informed the gathering that the new thinking is collaboration between states, the federal government and the private sector on management of security in the country. He was full of praises for the governors for their support to the law enforcement agents through security votes. He reiterated the need for more effective collaboration of the federal government with the states, particularly in the area of community policing and involvement of citizens, civil groups, traditional institutions and the police. Osinbajo told the participants that, “As Mr. President has said, maintaining security is the first order of business for us as Chief Security Officers at the federal and state levels.

We must work together and seek even more creative ways of making our country completely safe for its citizens. I must commend the excellent support that governors have been giving the Police and Armed Forces posted to your various states. I know that large amounts of money are voted practically every month in support of law enforcement and security. One of the very critical things that the National Economic Council will have to do in its next meetings is to look at how to more effectively fund security. This has to be collaboration between states, federal government and the private sector. I know that several private sector organisations and individuals are keen to contribute in one way or the other to funding law and order and security infrastructure in our country and I am sure working together with NEC, we can do a lot more than we are doing at the moment.” Beyond insecurity, Osinbajo said the country was facing a myriad of other challenges in the areas of human capacity development, education, healthcare and unemployment, noting however, that as huge as the challenges may be, they are not insurmountable.

Interventions by Development Partners and Other Resource Persons

Speaking on the activities of development partners in the country, the representative of the Bill and Melinda Gate Foundation in Nigeria, Puala Basinga said the group is working hard with states to ensure the eradication of polio. He said 14 states are currently affected by polio. The foundation listed some of the affected states to include, Jigawa, Kaduna, Ogun, Lagos and Bauchi. The Foundation also tasked states in Northern Nigeria to improve on education of its young people as a way of stemming the high rate of mortality in the areas. Representative of United Kingdom Fund for International Development (UFID), Debbie Patner said Nigeria received close to £500 million in aids from the UK. Edward Kallon who represented the United Nations Secretary General, charged incoming governors to work for peace and security without which he said there may never be any meaningful development. He said the UN has been involved in the efforts to restore peace to troubled areas and to achieve sustainable peace and stability. According to Kallon, the UN office in Nigeria is currently engaged in collaborative ventures with the states to ensure the achievement of sustainable development goals.

Another interesting statement came from Mrs. Ibikun Awosika of the First Bank Plc. She told the governors hard facts as people bestowed with the opportunity to lead in government. First, Awosika urged the newly elected governors to engage in soul-searching and to ask themselves the purpose of their seeking to govern. Apart from advising them to set targets they can attain, Awosika tasked the governors to be humble and avoid being boxed by sycophants. She said for a nation to truly be great, the integrity of every governor and governor-elect was critical. She said, “I am pleading that now that you have the power, elections are over, now you are in office, you have the power and resources of the state and if you gain the trust of the people, they will pay more tax. When you gain the trust of the people by performance and the things that you do, ultimately you will benefit from it. Because, when you see a great man do great things that affect your life every day, when he is done with the office, the position is over, when you see him on the streets you will stop by to greet him and honour him.

“So my question to you is that how do you want your days to end? Because if you have a vision of the end of your days, you can walk back to where you are now, to how you want it to be and structure the actions that you take daily in your state. Think of every action and how it will affect the lives of those people who don’t not necessarily have a voice. They have the vote but not the voice. And when you see children that are hungry in your state, you have failed them in some way, yet you have the machineries and the capacities to help them. When you see people die from simple medical situations that they need not to, it means that the states have failed. But we have the capacity to make it different.”

On his part, Chairman of THISDAY Newspapers and ARISE News Network, Mr. Nduka Obaigbena, counselled returning and newly elected governors to define their goals from the outset and simultaneously cultivate the spirit of transparency and accountability. Obaigbena, who is also the President of the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), spoke on strategic communications as a member of the media panel at the induction programme. He told the incoming governors that the media are partners in progress with government and has remained so in Nigeria’s 20 years of unbroken democracy. According to him, governors must define their goals and have vision for each ministry under their administration, adding that they must make transparency and accountability their watchword. Obaigbena also advised the governors to learn how to communicate by regularly briefing the media on their activities, pointing out that the 1999 Constitution (as amended) empowers the press to hold public officers accountable.

One of second term governors, Simon Lalong of Plateau State, shared useful experiences with his colleagues. He spoke of the importance of maintaining peace in the states. In addition, Lalong advised the governors-elect on how to get started. For instance, Lalong gave his personal experience saying, “In the course of employment and appointment of political appointees, we tried to ensure a balancing act by spreading appointments across the 53 ethnic groups in the three senatorial zones as well as other ethnic nationalities resident in the state as the records glaringly show.” The governor said that was important to note that good governance, engendering justice and equity, good working cooperation, prompt payment of salaries and clearing of all backlog of salary and pension arrears as well as other inherited financial liabilities and other incentives were critical antidotes in managing security. Equally Lalong said that opening up of rural roads and urban renewal were also amongst the several measures in managing security challenges in the state.

On the whole, the induction programme by the NGR was a well-thought venture. The issues discussed were thought provoking and critical to the survival of Nigeria. It not only served its purpose of keeping the governors-elect abreast of the state of things, but it has also generated debates from the public. But for the cheerless moment when the NGF stopped accredited journalists from reporting the main event of the induction programme after the opening ceremony, the organisers deserve commendation for setting the mood for a smooth transition to the incoming administration on May 29.

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