The Absentee Governors

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Frequent absence of governors from states depicts low moments in the path towards a mature democracy

Governor Darius Ishaku’s decision to relocate from Taraba State to Abuja has raised pertinent questions about governance and the rule of law in our country. The people of Taraba just know that their governor is outside the state without any explanations about his whereabouts and why. Apparently under pressure, his spokesman, Bala Dan Abu, said on Thursday that the governor is in Abuja for medical reason after suffering from what he described as a ‘domestic accident’. Meanwhile, the governor reportedly signed the 2020 Budget of the state in Abuja where he has been holed up since last December.

As absurd as it may seem, there is nothing that Darius is doing that is unusual. But we should be concerned about what governance has been reduced to in Nigeria. Since 1999, the trend has been that governors hardly stay in their states. If they are not in Abuja, they are outside the country. In April 2004, the then Minister of State for Finance, Mrs. Esther Usman, publicly decried this situation: “Four days to seven days after the FAAC (Federation Account Allocation Committee) meeting, the exchange rate goes up; that means that they (governors) are using the money to buy up dollars. Make telephone calls to any of the states, ask after the governor and you would be told he has gone abroad.”

Almost two decades later, the situation has not changed. In fact, the current trend is that majority of the governors, including those whose states are challenged by bandits and insurgency, have practically relocated to Abuja. But there are critical issues that should not be glossed over in this madness. Number one is the responsibility of governance in a democracy which requires that an elected official identifies physically with the people. The only way that can be done by a governor is to live in the state. Besides, a governor cannot absent himself from duty without credible reason established through due process. There is the moral imperative of the governor being minimally a role model of responsible citizenship. Even in a case of medically proven illness, the governor can only be absent for long if he informs the state assembly and transmits the instruments of power to his deputy accordingly.

The explanation being offered for the absence of Governor Darius in Taraba State is rather lame. “No aspect of governmental activities has suffered a setback as a result. All government projects are going on smoothly and government has continued to meet its obligations to contractors while progress is being monitored by appropriate government ministries and officials,” explained Abu who added: It is “wrong and misleading to suggest that the governor’s absence has affected morale of civil servants and governance in the state”. On why the governor did not transmit power to his deputy in line with Section 190 of the 1999 Constitution (as Amended) Abu said “the Governor is not on vacation and he is not unable to discharge the duties of his office. He has been conducting his official duties diligently,” from Abuja.

In this age of instant information, it is possible for corporate executives to run their organisations virtually from any location without much loss of effectiveness. But a state is not a business. It is governed by a social contract that binds a governor and the governed. That contract dictates that an elected governor is present and available to minister to the needs of the people. His presence at work is what inspires their confidence. The prevalent absenteeism among state governors is therefore a new low in our increasing culture of insensitive governance. It can only further erode our already weak democratic culture as lower level officials emulate the absentee governors.

If for whatever reasons Governor Darius is unable to live in Taraba, he should follow the law by transferring power to his deputy until he is able to discharge his responsibility to the people who elected him. Darius cannot continue to ‘govern’ his state from Abuja!

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The prevalent absenteeism among state governors is a new low in our increasing culture of insensitive governance