The campaigns are supposed to be towards general elections; but a casual observer of the political scene could be excused if he says the build-up is only to the presidential election taking place 25 days from today.
That is also the date of the elections of those who will be members of the 10th National Assembly. And a fortnight from that date, governors and members of the state legislatures will also be elected. While 18 men are competing for the office of the president, 837 candidates are contesting the governorship elections in 28 states.
Yet, in serious terms, the focus seems to be mainly on the presidential election. In fact, some pundits are projecting that it is the outcome of the February 25 presidential election will shape the dynamic of things during the March 11 state elections.
The state of play in the campaigns is consistent with a trend in which the problem of governance is virtually attributed to what takes place or fails to happen at the centre. This should not be the case. In fact, some of the almost anonymous parties which frivolously present presidential candidates ought to concentrate their energies and very limited resources on the state elections. They could target state executive and legislative elections in places where they could muster relative strengths. Those state elections could turn out to be the low-hanging fruits for them, as they say.
Instead of seeing governance as shared tasks among the three tiers of government, all eyes are riveted on the centre. A politician who lacks the capacity to be a local government chairman makes a bid for the presidency as his entry into politics. Little attention is given to the quality of leadership at the sub-national levels in some states of the country. This is evident in the profiles of some of the characters who have emerged as governors in some states in the last 24 years. The evidence is clear. It is an abysmal lack of the political orientation of taking development as a holistic process in one political economy. Invariably, the output in terms of the impact on the quality of lives of the people of those states has been dismal.
As a result, the federal government is held responsible for virtually all governance issues, from security to sanitation. That has been the public expectation of the presidents in this dispensation, from Olusegun Obasanjo to Muhammadu Buhari. But there appears to be a low expectation of the state governments in many otherwise informed quarters.
What is sorely lacking in the discussion of governance in Nigeria is a sense of integrated development. The Nigerian federation is hinged on one political economy despite the relative autonomy of the 36 sub-national governments. There are policies meant to deliver public goods that could be successfully implemented only if the federal and state governments embrace the concept of integrated development. And this could be done without prejudice to the constitutional provisions on federalism.
For instance, no matter what is the federal government policy on any area of education or healthcare, the direct impact on the people would be ultimately determined by what happens at the state and local government levels. No matter the efforts of the federal government in the provision of pipe-borne water, this basic substance of life will not be available to many people in remote rural areas unless the state governments also make provision of potable water a priority.
This point is sometimes brought into a sharp focus in situations such as those of insecurity and public health emergency. The management of the multi-dimensional crisis triggered by COVID-19 was not only a test of governance on the part of the federal government, it was also a challenge to the capacity of state governments and local governments. The figures of infection of coronavirus had to be supplied by the state governments while vaccination is carried out at the local government level. The weak links in the chain of the national efforts against coronavirus infection were those states where the governors elected to be cavalier with the virulent pandemic. Two governors actually denied the existence of the virus. A sense of responsibility should always be demonstrated at all levels. Since elections in a liberal democracy are basically about the choice of leadership, making that choice should be correspondingly taken seriously at all levels.
The other day, Minister of State for Budget and National Planning Clement Agba unwittingly provoked a debate when he blamed the state government for the worsening level of poverty in the land. The minister, who spoke in the wake of the release of the data on multi-dimensional poverty by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), accused state the state government of misplaced priorities and neglect of the rural communities.
Agba made his case against the state governments like this: “The governors are basically functioning in their state capitals. And a democracy that we preach about is delivering the greatest goods to the greatest number of people. And our demography, shows that the greatest number of our people live in rural areas, but the governors are not working in the rural areas.
‘“Right now 70 percent of our people live in rural areas. They produce 90 percent of what we eat. And unfortunately, 60 percent of what they produce is lost due to post-harvest loss and it does not get to the market.
“I think from the Federal Government’s side we are doing our best. But we need to say that rather than governors continuing to compete to take loans to build airports that are not necessary, where they have other airports so close to them, or governors now competing to build flyovers all over the place, we appeal that they should concentrate on building rural roads so that the farmer can at least get their products to the market.”
The minister’s statement expectedly drew the ire of state governments and a section of the public. Agba’s statement was perceived as a lame excuse in the face of the scathing, but legitimate, criticisms of the Buhari administration.
However, the basic argument of the minister has not been faulted. For, what’s the sense of priority of a state governor that invests billions of naira on an “iconic” multi-storey building in the state capital when millions of the people lack pipe-borne water? Take another sample. A state governor invests billions of naira to erect a magnificent shopping mall at the state capital in a state with meager internally generated revenues. Meanwhile, local government headquarters lack decent market stalls and villagers helplessly spread their wares on the bare ground in the market squares. This culture of executing random projects is reminiscent of what the highly cerebral liberal politician, the late Ojo Madueke, would call “monumentalism.” In a period when state governors are canvassing austerity because of limited resources, erecting these monuments of vanity is simply unpardonable in a poverty-ridden environment.
Come to think of it, the subsisting vertical revenue allocation formula is as follows: federal government – 52.68%; state governments -26.72%; local governments – 20.60% and derivation fund for the oil-producing states – 13%. With the political and administrative emasculation of the local governments by most of the governors, it is an open secret that the state governments more or less control 47.32% of resources available to the account federation. However, the state governments are not held responsible in proportionate terms. It’s as if only Abuja is responsible for the making and unmaking of Nigeria.
Last year a budget of 17 trillion naira was passed by the National Assembly after a process that, at least, attracted public interest. There were debates and disagreements between the executive and the lawmakers before the budget was finally passed. In the 36 states the total of the respective budgets passed was six trillion naira. The processing of the budgets in most of the states was hardly reported. It was not a matter of debate in most cases. Yet, these were the budgets to answer the questions of basic education, primary healthcare, sanitation, water supply, feeder roads, social housing, food security, etc.
Far from absolving the federal government of its huge responsibilities, it should be stressed that not enough attention has been paid to governance at the state level as reflected in the state of play in the current campaigns..
The foregoing central questions development constitute some of the issues on which state elections should be based. If membership of political parties were based on the propinquity of ideas, the presidential and governorship candidates of a party ought to embrace fundamentally the same programme on the core issues of development presented by their party. For elections, parties (and not candidates) ought to own programmes that should be sold for national, state and local government elections.
The good thing about such a political culture is that even if a party doesn’t win the presidential election the programme of the party would be executed by governors who emerge on the party’s platform. In the Second Republic, the politics was remarkably based on party programmes unlike in this dispensation when candidates parade manifestoes that members of their parties, much less the electorate at large, do not even understand, For example, the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) was easily identified by its “four cardinal programmes” of free education, free healthcare, full employment, and integrated rural development. The presidential candidate of the party in the 1979 election, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, lost the election; but governors emerged on the UPN platform in Lagos, Ogun, old Oyo, old Ondo, and old Bendel States.
The UPN programmes were implemented in the five states between 1979 and 1983. Talking of the UPN, it was a case of “by their programmes you shall know them,” to paraphrase a famous Biblical passage (Mathew 7:16). The UPN states were among the first to establish state universities in response to the surge in the yearning for tertiary education. Those universities have produced quality manpower for leadership in the public and private sectors. Similar things could be said of the other parties of the Second Republic.
Therefore, pundits should not ignore the political dynamic at the state levels. The campaigns for the governorship elections should also be vigorous. It is important that the choices before the electorate at the state level should also be given due attention in discussions in the public sphere.
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