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Nigeria & the way forward (11, and Final in series): The State level has held Nigeria’s “great leap forward”, back since 1999 – Tola Adenle

This title may be deceptive but it’s not deliberate.  This is NOT to exonerate former presidents who had the opportunity, especially, retired General Obasanjo (rGO) to set the examples from the top which is from where best practices must flow.  While Nigeria has not had the good luck of any of those who have occupied the executive arm of governance at the “federal” level from rGO since 1999, a window still existed at state level for the billions and billions in hard currency that have been allocated to states to filter down for genuine development to the people.

Neither is the title meant to exonerate the selfish National Assembly which has been peopled by a motley crowd of apparently-unrepentant profligate and greedy lot.

Unfortunately, it has not been so.  Most – if not all – governors have become so rich that many are supposedly rich that they have more financial muscles than many countries.  Also unfortunately, they have continued to get away with the looting even as several have passed through the supposedly corruption fighting agencies’ turnstiles.

Worse, this arm of governance found a way of annexing the third arm of governance, the local government levels, into its ambit by seizing allocations and then supposedly carrying out superficial projects for which local governments are billed and for which huge sums are deducted BEFORE the balance are released to the third tier – amounts that are mostly shared before very little are expended on salaries and very few projects.

This essay, though, is aimed at the Nigerian governors who’ve become so powerful that accountability has become non-existent and recklessness borne of impunity has greatly impoverished the people.

The very troubling current salary-back ups in most states have reached a proportion that people in market places, private hospitals and other little businesses in the country are feeling the lack of incomes to millions.

There seems no way out of the central government bailing out these states if utter chaos is not to take over in the country but having said that, the route to this big mess, while well known, must be re-examined to avoid it becoming a way of governance so that each governor gets into office, embarks on misguided, ill thought-out projects, appointments of myriads of appointees, and then LOOTING without a care because he – no females – yet – knows he would not have to account for these.  Even those who passed through the EFCC turnstiles move on to bigger things without nary a slap on the wrist or make other runs for governorships!

In the following essay published in 2010 by TEH NATION ON SUNDAY, multiple essays from as back as 2002 in THE COMET ON SUNDAY were excerpted to point at the growing burden that the executive arm of governance at state level was posing on the polity.  Loans and bonds – then a new thing here – were being taken without the borrowers caring for the long-term repercussions.

As I note somewhere in the following essay, there is nothing wrong in borrowing as such but it is necessary that governors who want to float bonds and take all these huge loans MUST GO TO THE PEOPLE for votes on whether the bonds should pass or not.  Governors cannot/should not be empowered to borrow for a need without the go-ahead from the people.  As things are right now, most states are so indebted that even after the central government says ‘yes’  to the pan-handling, the loans being owed internally and externally still means reduced allocation to the states would still be reduced because of deductions to pay external creditors.

The changes in mind-set by Nigerian governors IS A MAJOR ONE OF THE CHANGES WE NEED.  Perhaps the only change that we, the people need, is attitudinal:

While it may not be time “to rise up” yet in Dr. Utomi’s words which reflect what people are thinking, but now that the rampaging chickens of personal greed and impunity have come home to roost, it is time that Nigerians say – to borrow Pat’s words – “enough is enough”, and in the words from that old movie, Network – “we cannot take it any more”.

Here is the essay of 2010 with execerpts from as back as 2002 that warned about governors’ practice of borrowing their ways to states’ penury:

 

STILL ON OSUN JUMBO LOAN

Tola Adenle, The Nation on Sunday, May 2010

Two Sundays ago, I closed with a plea to Alhaji Bello and Osun law makers not to say ‘yes’ to a loan of [equivalent] over $120m because Brigadier Oyinlola has too short a time left in his term to make effective use of such a large facility. I will refer to two past essays from the now rested Sunday Comet – “Letter to all governors: Re: ‘Deficit Accounts’ of June 29, 2003 and “Letters to my niece: governors discover another mine” of October 2002. A short excerpt from the ’03 essay first:

“What I believe discerning voters would like to know from Ondo, Osun, Kwara … is simple: in full-page ads in a couple of newspapers popular in your states, show how much overdraft is being owed and to which banks, the dates taken; how much in foreign loans … the dates taken and who was the governor … military or civilian …
“In the recent past, I’ve had cause to write about states’ profligacy when Chief Adebayo went to the capital market to borrow billions of naira supposedly to enable him carry out development projects a mere months before the election …

“… I wondered in ‘Governors discover another mine’ how Adebayo could feel good riding in convoys that cost more than his internally-generated revenues …. These bonds that yield instant cash, though due ten, twenty, twenty-five years are like credit cards … it will provide the heady rush that credit card junkies report when they go on spending sprees … feeling empowered by the ability to buy anything until … Thousands and thousands will work for food in Ghana that has learnt to live within its means …
Borrowing to finance market or road construction or ‘other capital assets for developments’ is ‘voodoo economics’… the fancy ‘Reaganomics’, architect of today’s corporate greed …”

Here is from the October 2002 essay:

“Yewande, dear …

“I regret not taking in much Corporate Finance in college because I need it now! In spite of ‘B’ grades in the two courses that I had to take, I cannot claim to really remember much of stocks, bonds, debentures, etcetera … While I did not exactly idle away my time in college, I hated the course I majored in … Most of the electives I could ‘play’ with, however were pursued with gusto because I chose them in my area of real love: multiple courses in Literature, Arts appreciation, etc. Now, a smattering knowledge of Corporate Finance is needed to do justice to this topic but there is just nothing up there. As a banker, and working with one of the banks concerned in one of the transactions I am going to write on, I am sure you will chew this letter and use your knowledge to educate me …

“You know, of course, how passionate (parochial?) I am about Ekiti. When I read recently that the governor [Niyi Adebayo of the AD] went to the capital market to raise four billion naira or so, I almost stopped breathing. Lagos had earlier done it and I had been merely concerned, but just merely. After all, Lagos can pay the banks which undertook to lend … Correct me, dear, if I am wrong: isn’t a bond given for a certain amount at a certain rate and due on a pre-ordained date? … could lose value if interest rates rise which is generally the case here; once up, forever up! …

“Isn’t this the same as what happened in the past though under the description of “loans from external donors” which has left most states impoverished? Ask Governor Akande of Osun State who has been saying … how the federal government intends to start deducting N148 million naira monthly (or is it quarterly?) from its allocation … There have been all sorts of loans by past administrations … and from debts the man met, including several months’ salaries, there is nothing to show for the spend-mania …
“What did the administrations of three or so military governments and one civilian do with the loans? Well, you know I’m Osun by marriage and I travel the state fairly well but I can find nothing that resembles this kind of huge indebtedness … The secretariat built during those administrations is a jumble ramshackle resembling more a war camp than where people were supposed to sit all day and plan the take-off of a new state.

Talking of ‘take off’ … what happened to the tons of money for take-off many years ago? The befitting edifice the state has built now could not have been done if the present administration has been on a spending binge …

“You are a kid, Yewande, dear, but for those of us who’ve been around longer than the ascendancy of this country to the big league in stealing, fraud … if you spoke to somebody more skeptical than me, you’ll probably be told that the loans never left the country(-ies)of origin. Take-off grant: Did not cross the border into Osun, either; most of it, that is … based on evidences on the ground – there are no projects to show where these monies were spent …

“As someone who understands the implications of these borrowings even if not the working, I believe it is time each state works towards enacting legislations that would ensure that governors cannot borrow amounts in excess of what they can liquidate during their four-year term. A governor who borrows a huge amount (as it is being done now in the dying days of their terms) and cannot liquidate it AND also fails to win reelection must have to pay the state back. If he wins reelection, he must ensure liquidation before leaving or else he has to sell some of the stolen loot to pay off the loan.

“Unless something like this is put in place, the future of your generation and those to come are being mortgaged to banks with the proceeds not really showing up as in the case of Osun and many other states … In spite of President Obasanjo’s fasting and deployment of prayer warriors, Nigeria may still break … Those handouts from the Federation Account will be no more and what happens to those loans?

“… I do know from practical experience that cities and counties do raise municipal bonds in a place like the U.S. and when we get the property tax statements, each property owner is assessed part of this bill because it was raised to improve the community. Before such bond issues are embarked upon, it would have been voted upon so that those to pay the bill have a say in incurring it … In Nigeria … we the people, whose descendants for generations will pay … in every way imaginable, do not have a say …”

The same reasons that made me write above two essays several years ago were, and still remain my guide: good journalism – the end result as opposed to the craft as that can only be judged by readers – the greater good which sees and points out the ills of society with the goal of making things better for all, as well as point out to those in government or out of it who may be working against the interest of the masses who, ideally, are the ones they serve should serve. Even the former president whom I used to support like most journalists in the early going was not treated specially once he changed long before his third term ambition; my essays that concerned him also changed. THAT is the nature of journalism if practiced as it should be: without fear or favor.

The Osun loan is NOT in the interest of the state’s citizenry.

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