Dele Olowu contends that our governors are working hard, making our country livable

One of the curious features of the confused federalism we operate in Nigeria is that the various layers of government tend to treat each other as rival entities. Oftentimes, in this traffic of abuse produced by this strain, state governors and sub nationals are left with the dirty end of the stick. In general terms, governments and incumbents in Nigeria are treated with routine resentment. It is sometimes said in explanation that the repressive character of colonial governments and the requirement for an appropriately hostile response from the citizenry produced this model.

This legacy of resentment and hostility has settled down, and has over the years established a convention which formulates popular response to governance. This however does not fully explain the peer hostility between the federal government and subnationals. And in particular it fails woefully to legitimate our habit of regarding our governors as real or potential felons! The Nigerian union has had a varied experience of administrators, some exemplary, others hideous beyond description. But there would never be a need nor would it serve any useful end to hold out the derelict administrator in our imagination as the Nigerian governor. But this has become a fairly popular distraction.

When bored or in need to fend off a fight with the missus, pick up governors and give them a generic tongue lash. You cannot go wrong. Speaking recently after a Federal Executive Council meeting in Abuja, the little known Minister of State for Budget and national planning who goes by the name Clem Agba, accused governors of building flyovers instead of investing in projects which can improve life in the rural areas. He explained that 72% of poverty can be found in rural areas and that governors have not done enough at this level. The minister also announced, sounding as if he had just discovered a new planet, that he has travelled around the 109 senatorial districts and that all federal initiatives have amounted to throwing water into a pond owing to insufficient support from state governments. This song of lamentation has given a bit of face to this otherwise fringe figure. Now he has also earned more prominence and headwind as the President has also weighed in on this matter. President Buhari has decried the tendency of state governors to encourage corruption in the local governments and consequently, retard development in the jurisdiction.

Buhari was speaking at a meeting with members of the senior executive course of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies in Kuru. The statements of the head of state and the minister of state have come together in close confluence. But however there are not a revelation. In fact they constitute part of a continuum of broad infirmities which have historically hobbled public governance. These issues are innumerable and it will be unfair to label gubernatorial failures as either unique or more common than others. Several aspects of our national life have been and continue to be undermined by malfeasance. This is a continuing shame and we require to summon a national resolution to make our stream of governance purer. One of the caricatures being peddled around concerns the alleged corporate and academic bareness of several Nigerian governors. This is hogwash and is meant to prevent a concentration of minds on the real issues. State governors in Nigeria are an impressive parade of outstanding academics, solid professionals, accomplished civil servants.

The cerebral net worth of some of these governors can perhaps compare in terms of acuteness with those of well-established think tanks. Even though this quality is no guarantee against moral failure it nonetheless helps refute the notion that the Council of States is a gathering of village idiots. Is it possible for people so competent and highly qualified to post no returns of service after four or eight years in the saddle? Is it possible that they retarded development by failing to provide land for federal government initiatives? Is it possible as alleged that they ate up local government resources and left the jurisdiction to stagnate? By 2023, 17 governors are most certainly not coming back to the saddle. They have completed their full eight-year terms. There is some historicity therefore in inviting a more dispassionate review of the work of these servants of the people without regressing into damaging hyperbole or uncritical veneration.

Electorates, particularly those in Nigeria, tend to be seduced by the establishment and expansion of civic infrastructure. Of course the sight of a new road opening up and changing the neighborhood is a noisy and dramatic method for any governor to make his bow. Nigeria needs over 800 billion dollars over the next 10 years to fix our infrastructure deficit. So there is enough window in this area for governors who seek eminence and distinction to operate. But it must be however understood that states are neither built nor transformed by bricks and mortar alone. Building the bridge of understanding as well as cultivating a sense of union amongst the people of a state is a more existential commitment than turning the sod every now and again. Managing people and enabling them to live in peace and work for a common transformation is no mean feat. Our governors working with other levels of power have been able to make our country livable.

If we do not give credit to our governors on this count, to whom is the credit due? It is easy to recall how difficult and different things were in the past in parts of the country. In 2013 the Ombatse juju shrine rumpus ravaged Nasarawa State and led spectacularly to the killing of 70 policemen. Even during the civil war Nigeria did not experience this level of carnage in one day. It was a disconcerting set back and its aftermath affected civic and political life in the state. But one governor after the other, they have been able to keep a lid on the ethic dysfunctions enabling the state to march on merrily into a sunny future. Such difficulties once faced the Delta State as Ijaws and Itsekiris fought between 2003 and 2007. It was internecine affecting local life and crude resources. The crisis is over but not many would understand how successive governors, sometimes at great corporate and personal cost, have managed to maintain the peace. The imperative of maintaining peace is as important in the south as it is in the north. In the north, from the quizzical challenges in Kaduna to the cauldrons in Zamfara and Katsina, the peace challenge has taken a huge toll on the assets of the Governors. But they have stood their ground. They will all be remembered for their exertions in this line of work.

But it is at the level of Infrastructure that our governors have performed most memorably. And even here, someone is on hand to spoil the banquet! Clem Agba, the minister for budget and national planning, says that state governors are building flyovers instead of developing projects that will improve the rural areas. He also says this neglect has raised poverty levels in the rural areas. To sniff so maliciously on the work of a long line of governors from across party lines who have valiantly changed the face of Nigeria is to be guilty of unmitigated cynicism. It is only such cynicism that can ignore the massive work that has now made Lagos a development model; the transformation of Ogun into a growing industrial hub; the restoration of Kaduna as a destination for international investment; the promotion of civic peace and a new concern for expanding private initiative; the revamping of infrastructure in the eastern states just to name a few. All these are important strides for which our governors deserve applause. Those who lag behind should be urged to keep apace.

We need not be delayed by Minister Agba’s notion that the rural areas are more populated and therefore deserve more attention. Even if that were so, the ratio by which development has been deployed to the rural areas cannot be described as odious. But the demography is changing and many state capitals alone are by themselves more populated than the rest of the state. Edo, Enugu and Oyo are examples of this emerging reality. But ultimately, whichever way we choose to go, it is important to acknowledge how we hang our pearls. Our state governors, or at least many of them, have worked hard and well. We destroy idealism when we mistake it for greed or self-help. There is a mountain of malfeasance around. But a lot of it comes from across the horizon. When next you meet a governor tell him something positive.

Olowu is a veteran Journalist

Related Articles