Governors globetrotting jamboree ……. Not less than 50 times in two years

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The Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP) has condemned the state governors' foreign trips, describing it as insensitive, callous and total disregard to the mandate of the electorate.

Apart from wasting public funds through these incessant and unnecessary trips, Sunday Trust investigations revealed that state matters also suffer as they are always left unattended to by the various state chief executives whenever they are away.

In the last two years alone, some of the most travelled state governors have left the shores of this country not less than 50 times. The trips, mostly for private business, medical check-ups and pleasure lasted for the minimum of two weeks, are funded from the state coffers.

Aside the state governors' immediate families, their aides are also beneficiaries of such globetrotting. These aides who enjoy estacode, at times even revel on the number of countries they visited within a particular dispensation.

This development has severally translated into ugly scenarios, particularly during outbreak of epidemics and social unrest. There are several instances, where many citizens perish during epidemics and crisis because the chief executives of the states are not in their domains to take certain decisions.

In Benue State, for instance, Governor Gabriel Suswam has made not less than 50 foreign trips since May 2007 to date, according to Senator Joseph Waku, who spoke to Sunday Trust last week on the public outcry generated by the governor's incessant travels in the state.

As at last Friday, Suswam was on a foreign trip that already lasted over a week. The governor, who travelled along with not less than 15 aides, had earlier told newsmen that the trip was financed by the Federal Government. Suswam claimed that he was accompanying Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, among other governors for the African Business Round Table of the African Union meeting with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The vice-president had returned earlier in the week together with the state governors that accompanied him, but Suswan is still in the United States, our correspondent gathered in Makurdi.

Governor Suswan, Sunday Trust findings revealed did a similar thing in January, when he claimed that he was attending the inauguration of US President Barack Obama. His critics said that the governor was never invited to the ceremony. In the last one month alone, Suswam has traveled to not less than four countries that included the United Kingdom and US, purportedly to meet with foreign businessmen. The governor's spokesman, Dr Cletus Akwaya said that it was difficult to compute the cost of these foreign trips. “In terms of naira and kobo, it is difficult to state the cost,” he said.

He disclosed that for commissioners, special advisers and special assistants who are always part of the delegation of the governor to foreign countries, there is estacode is $500, $400 and $300 respectively.

Akwaya berated Waku and Abubakar Tsav for faulting the governor, saying that foreign trips have been provided for in the budget saying, “it is simply impossible for a state governor to effectively discharge the duties and responsibilities of his office without having to make international travels”.

Akwaya said that the trips have attracted investment in Mbatyav Cement factory for over $3000million.

However, opposition parties in the state are demanding the governor to accounts for the trips, saying the trips are too often and with huge delegations.

The governor's first two trips to the US had to do with wooing agricultural technologists, while the third was to attend the Mzough-U-Tiv in America (MUTA), a gathering of Tiv people in the United States, Canada and Mexico. In the first two trips, he went along with over 20 aides whose portfolios have no link to agriculture. The governor said during his 2009 budget, that he was going to take some measures to cut cost, including a reduction in foreign trips. Critics said the governor has not kept his word on this yet.

The Benue State House of Assembly led by Speaker Terseer Tsumba, had to reconvene from recess to pass a vote of confidence on the governor to cushion the effect of his widely criticized foreign trips.

Governor Bukola Saraki of Kwara State, who is also the chairman of the Nigerian Governors' Forum (NGF), reportedly is among the most travelled governors. His numerous trips outside Ilorin, the Kwara State capital, are said to be “uncountable”.

Saraki's incessant travelling has been hinged on two factors, by a source close to the governor. “Saraki's family lives in Lagos where he grew up. He is one of the few people who have the President Umaru Musa Yar'adua's ears. Therefore, he has to go to Lagos every week to meet his family and go to Abuja to keep a tab on political developments,” the source said.

Apart from chairing the NGF meetings, the governor also travels abroad too. As a soccer fan, his critics have often accused him of flying to England to watch football matches involving his favorite team, Arsenal.

In Kano State, frequent foreign and local trips by Governor Ibrahim Shekarau and some of his aides is also generating criticisms from within and outside the party, Sunday Trust gathered. Findings revealed that Shekarau has been travelling to England, South Korea and Malaysia recently.

The governor and his deputy, Abdullahi Tijjani Gwarzo have since been into constant travelers, traversing the country in the last six month, visiting over 10 states. These trips have led to the suffocation of governance in many areas in the state.

A chieftain of the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) in the state, Alhaji Abdulmalik Danbilki Kwamanda, told our correspondent that the absence of the governor in the state, due to frequent trips, has been telling on the social wellbeing of the citizens.

“All this trips have been without any benefit to the people of the state, apart from costing the state hundreds of millions at a time when the revenue accruable to the state has fallen. Go to the city and you will see how malaria is devastating the lives of people. The environment is full of filth, Shekarau is busy receiving honourary degrees and titles,” the politician said.

Kwamanda has also accused Shekarau of spending over N100million sponsoring football spectators and the entire government machinery to Kaduna and later Egypt for the Kano Pillars and Al-Ahly football match. “This is apart from the estacode they collected from the foreign and local trips that amounted to hundreds of millions also,” the ANPP chieftain lamented.

Shekarau's media aide, Alhaji Sule Ya'u Sule, has dismissed the allegations of the governor's frequent trips, saying Shekarau “never embark on any foreign trip unless it is beneficial to the state people. Our governor doesn't sneak in and out of the state without the knowledge of the people,” he said.

Sunday Trust gathered that like his colleagues, Governor Ibrahim Gaidam of Yobe State also travels, though within the country and specifically to Abuja. Gaidam, who became governor only last January hardly spends up to two weeks in the state capital, Damaturu, without travelling out.

In the last 100 days, he spent in office, Gaidam has been to Abuja more than 10 times, where he stayed for over five days. Even when he is in Damaturu, our correspondent gathered, the governor spends his weekends in Maiduguri.

Sources said that Gaidam could not settle in office because of the legal battle he inherited from his predecessor, the late Mamman Ali. Senator Usman Albishir has been to the courts contesting his replacement with the deceased after the governorship primaries in the state.

His only foreign trip was to Saudi Arabia for the lesser Hajj, where he spent over two weeks. He was said to have proceeded to Abuja, immediately he returned last week. Muhammed Musa Potiskum, an aide to Gaidam, said that “the governor has never travelled out without cogent reason and it is always for the progress and development of the state.”

Oyo State is not exempted from the globetrotting jamboree. Only recently, the opposition parties in the state have raised alarm over the ceaseless foreign trips of the state governor, Chief Alao-Akala. They accused him of wasting millions of naira tax payers' money on his over 27 trips abroad.

His Special Adviser on Special Duties, Prince Diran Odeyemi, while speaking to newsmen, said that the opposition parties are only making mischief. He explained also that Governor Alao-Akala travelled only “for strictly official reasons,” adding that, henceforth, the impact of the Alao-Akala's overseas trips would be felt in the state, particularly in the health and education sectors.

Governor Danbaba Danfulani Suntai of Taraba State is the serving state chief executives that made the highest number of foreign trips in the North-East geopolitical zone. Suntai is said to have travelled to no fewer than 25 countries of the world in the name of wooing foreign investors.

Suntai's trips abroad have generated controversy shortly after he took the oath of office in May 2007, when he flew to Egypt. He came back after two weeks with 30 expatriate doctors he purportedly recruited for the State Specialist Hospital in Jalingo. The governor, Sunday Trust learnt, did not allow the dust raised by the Egyptian doctors to die when he again jetted to Malaysia where he recruited some expatriate engineers for the state construction agency, TARCMA. Like the Egyptian doctors' deal, the Malaysian engineers were discovered to be artisans. Thereafter, no month passed without the governor travelling to a foreign country.

The chairman of the Action Congress (AC) in the state, Inuwa Bakari has described Suntai's foreign trips an act of recklessness. Aminu Jika, the state Commissioner for Information, on the other hand, defended the governor's numerous trips, saying the opposition is only being partial about it.

In Kogi State, the Director, Centre for Human Rights and Conflict Resolution (CHCR), Idris Abdul, recently described Governor Ibrahim Idris, frequent trips to Malaysia, Korea and China as “worrisome and disappointing development.”

The CHCR said that with its pupils out of school for almost four months, the governor could not afford spending three weeks outside the state; adding that “it is not the priority of the state at this period of global economic crisis.”

Only last week, the Plateau State Governor, Jonah Jang flew to Israel, purportedly to learn better ways of harnessing the agricultural potentials of the state. This development occurred after he suspended all foreign trips and even local ones, after the November 2008 crisis in the state.

Our correspondent learnt that the governor has suspended foreign trips because of an alleged plot to assassinate him. Jang publicly declared that he was to be assassinated in the US, where he was billed to attend the Voice of America (VOA)'s Hausa service's 30th anniversary. He called off that trip.

But before the November crisis, Jang was among the globetrotting governors. He had flown to several countries, spending an average of two weeks per trip. Between 2007 and 2008 for instance, he was said to have travelled to the US, Zambia, Ghana, Namibia and South Africa, among others.

With the exception of his trip to Ghana, which was to attend a ceremony to pay the dowry of his son, Pam, who was then marrying a Ghanaian lady, the rest of the trips were said to be official. Since then, Jang rarely left his Du residence in the state capital. Even the usual trips to Abuja is said to be considered only when the reasons for doing so appear compelling; like the recent Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) special convention.

In Borno State, it is a sneaking game as Governor Ali Modu Sheriff sneaks in and out of the state whenever he is travelling. Our correspondent gathered that, not all members of the state executive council are informed about the trips. Sheriff is equally a common traveler to Abuja and neighbouring Chad Republic. Curiously, he is believed to have been travelling to other parts of the world through Chad and also returns through the same country. He leaves Maiduguri to Chad by road, while his aides return home, a source told Sunday Trust.

The implication of these trips, which the source said is also the worrisome, is that, Governor Sheriff apparently moves away with governance any time he is outside the state. “Every administrative and other governmental affair stands still whenever the governor is out of the state,” the source said.

People in the state easily tell, on visiting the state secretariat, whether the governor is in town or not. This is because many public officers, especially commissioners and other aides stay away from their offices when the governor is out of town. A government spokesperson, who surprisingly demanded anonymity, said that Sheriff's absence does not in any way hinder the operations of government, “because he monitors governmental activities wherever he is, and gives instructions where it is required, particularly where funds are involved.

Governor Murtala Nyako of Adamawa State is equally accused of globetrotting. A former lawmaker in the state, Abdulmumini Ibrahim Song, said the funds involved in Nyako's frequent foreign trips could be better used to reduce the plight of the ordinary people in the state.

But Nyako's media aide, Aminu Iyawa has denied the claim saying that the governor travelled abroad to woo investors. “The last time Nyako travelled out of the shores of this country was before the annulment of his election and it was on the issue of the hospital. Nyako doesn't need to go abroad before wooing investors,” he said.

While the image maker maintained that the governor is not known for globetrotting, Sunday Trust learnt that the retired naval admiral usually travels to Germany, China and Saudi Arabia.

In Jigawa state, Governor Sule Lamido only travelled to Germany, Libya, Cairo and Saudi Arabia, according to his media aide, Mr. Adagbo Onoja. But the governor has been travelling to Abuja, Kano, Gombe, Borno, Nasarawa and Kebbi States.

Commenting on Lamido's trips, a former member of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Nasiru Garba Dantiye said that there is no difference between Lamido and his predecessor, Saminu Turaki, as far foreign trips are concerned. He berated the governor for the recent statement credited to him that he was governing the state through his GSM mobile phone. “It is childish for someone to say that he is going to govern a whole state through text messages,” Dantiye said. He also likened it to Turaki's fax machine style of governing the state from abroad.

The Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP) has condemned the state governors' foreign trips, describing it as insensitive, callous and total disregard to the mandate of the electorate. The CNPP disclosed this through its National Secretary, Chief Willy Ezugwu, saying the trips are only one the several avenues of draining the public coffers by the governors.

By Nuruddeen M. Abdallah Additional reports by Hir Joseph, Macleva Fidelis, Andrew Agbese, Hamza Idris, Hasan A. Karofi, Isa Umar Gusau, Yusha'u Ibrahim, Sam Egwu and Aliyu Machika. Culled from Sunday Trust

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