Obasanjo Is Right; Governors Are Emperors
I have never liked Mr. Olusegun Obasanjo, the former president. Not necessarily on personal basis. My not liking him is because of how he murdered all the exceptional patriotic opportunities given to him by Nigerians who elected him their president in both 1999 and 2003. Not only did Mr. Obasanjo fail woefully to electrify Nigeria politically and economically, but also that rather than sending corruption to its immediate grave, he fully revived and crowned it into the very monster it is today in Nigeria.
In other words, he squandered the father of modern Nigerian opportunity on the altar of corruption. He further made the fourth republic synonymous with corruption and incompetence when he single-handedly imposed highly inexperienced and corrupt Goodluck Jonathan on Nigerians as their president, hoping that with that he could control the presidency from his Ota farm. So, for Obasanjo to call governors emperors, it’s obvious that it’s the same imperial powers he displayed throughout his eight year as president he is today accusing them of.
Having expressed my reasons why Mr. Obasanjo is the wrong messenger here, because it was Mr. Martin Luther King Jr. who insisted that the focus should always be on the message rather the messenger, I think we too should focus on message from Mr. Obasanjo rather than Mr. Obasanjo the messenger. In other words, we should all agree with Mr. Obasanjo that present governors — like their predecessors — are not mere governors servicing their states but rather are more of almighty emperors imposing their hegemonic imperial powers on their states and the people.
But different from modern-day emperors like the famous Emperor of Japan, Nigeria’s state governors so notoriously running their states with such absolute monarchical dictatorship, comparable only to the French ancient-regime before the 1789 French Revolution. For instance, not only is the Emperor of Japan just a figure head, he is constantly on the eyes of the media. But the case of our emperor governors is different. Not only are they hardly scrutinized by the mass media because all media focus is always on what goes on at federal level, but also because Nigerian mass media mostly operate on cash and carry basis, even the skeletal media attention is always not allowed to fly by the governors since those media owners are on their payroll.
Besides buying off local media houses, the emperor governors have had no difficulty buying off community leaders, after all, the so-called state councils of chiefs, whose members could have been another source of public scrutiny on the governors. But as appointees of the governors, who serve at the pleasure of the governors, it would have been suicidal to confront the pay masters. In other words, logical that who pays the piper always calls the tone, the emperor governors have all members of the state councils of chiefs as trusted foot soldiers. And giving our emperor governors such absolute powers as the sole administrators of their states comes from their state houses of assembly. Here we are simply talking about governors’ boys who are there just as mere rubberstamp.
Making their absolute hegemony encompassing is that the very fact that local government council chairmen are hand-picked by the governors instead of being elected by voters as mandated by the constitution which insists on their elections so as to ensure the full autonomy of local governments as an independent tier of government. To the extent that there is no limit to the emperor governors could go in controlling the states as colonies, not only they refused to conduct local government elections, but those who did, did so, conducting a kind of kangaroo elections. However, local governments’ absolute control comes with governors having no opposition in operating joint accounts with local government councils.
But what makes the whole thing criminal and corruption-ridden is that while the governors operate joint accounts with their local councils, without joint signatory to the accounts makes the governors the sole signatories to the funds belonging to both the states and the local government councils. Since the governors have always withheld their funds for capital projects, no wonder local government chairmen are only there to pay salaries. Because they refuse to demand the governors to account for their councils’ federal allocations, equally the governors have no problem looking the other way while the equally unaccountable council chairmen go ahead bloating the salaries with large number of ghost workers on their payrolls.
Agreeing with Obasanjo that what we have are emperor governors is not enough. In this era of change, we should do everything possible to dismantle these imperial powers accumulated by the governors. Clipping their imperial wings should start with ensuring that the autonomy of the 774 local government councils is quickly restored and respected by the governors as it is clearly stated in the constitution. For this reason, President Buhari should insist that henceforth local governments and state governments should no longer run joint accounts. This would mean that all the three tiers of government should have their allocations from Federal Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) directly paid into their respective government accounts by the CBN at the end of allocation meeting; and that any such joint accounts with any commercial bank should be blocked by the CBN.
The president should also mandate the CBN immediately separates cash reserve ratio (CRR) on private sector deposits from CRR on public sector deposits with the goal of increasing the public sector deposits from the current 20 per cent to 95 per cent if not 100 per cent. This way, all public funds with commercial banks are quarantined to the extent that the governors and the leadership of the National Assembly are forced to either implement the treasury single account (TSA) or have their public money deposited with the commercial banks attract zero return on deposits.
Also keeping these governors accountable by preventing them from diverting public funds into private accounts requires the president to besides proposing my Fiscal Sunshine Bill but also accompany it with the software, which I am developing to constantly track all public revenue inflows and funds outflows to the extent that by making it easy for the public to follow the money, the days when governors and other public officers hiding and diverting public funds should be numbered. This way, once passed into law as the Fiscal Sunshine Act, public revenues inflows and expenditures — federal, state, and local governments — are truly not only transparently accounted and justifiable, but publicly trackable. And with the Fiscal Sunshine Software, anti-graft agencies like the EFCC and ICPC can easily monitor movement of public funds to the extent of stopping any spending without appropriation. Since all movement of funds should be by e-transfer/e-payment mode so that Fiscal Sunshine Software can capture, approve, and keep tracks of such funds, the CBN should ban banks from allowing any form of cash withdrawals by governors or any public officer. Therefore, no public fund can be released through e-transfer since that is the only way for the software to approve such transfer and at the same time make it available for public viewing by mere logging in.
In an effort to curtail unnecessary debt accumulation by governors, the CBN should ban commercial banks from granting any form of loan to governors or their agents without first getting the Debt Management Office (DMO) debt sustainability analysis and approval along with the CBN authorization to go ahead. Even issuing government bonds should be allowed in the bond market without the express approval from Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) and DMO. With the amendment bill insisting on all borrowings being only for capital projects, no longer should government borrow to pay salaries. In any case, all borrowed money should by law be purely for capital spending.
To ensure that governors do not spend public funds as though personal money to be spent at will, especially the case of stomach infrastructure, Fiscal Sunshine should ban any form of gift — both giving or taking by public officeholders — either as politician, public appointees, or employees. But where gifts are inevitable, like in diplomatic circles, such received gifts should be immediately deposited with the “Public Gifts Deposit Office,” which should be established at federal, state, and local governments. With this, it becomes completely illegal for anyone in government to spend public funds in the name of gifts without appropriation. Fiscal Sunshine should make it security votes and ecological funds illegal unless appropriated, transparently spent and accounted for with all processes involved posted online for public viewing and comments.
But to fully clip emperor governors’ wings so as to force them to leave their imperial comfort zones, a new partial fiscal federalism law should insist that from January 2019, all the three tiers of government should henceforth spend their federal allocations purely on capital projects, while their recurrent expenditures to come from internally generated revenues. This will force the governors to fold their sleeves and get to work.
Besides the Fiscal Sunshine insisting on e-procurement, as part of the expanded local content policy of the government in the construction industry, the Nigerian Construction Industry Bill should be proposed to stringently target January 2019 as the deadline when all contracts paid for with public money should only be awarded to 100 per cent indigenous construction companies.
With e-procurement banning such contracts and Fiscal Sunshine Software refusing to authorize such a contract payment, no longer should a governor award contracts to some Lebanese, Indian, or Chinese construction companies that are fronting for them.
The establishment of Workers’ Bank of Nigeria (WBN) should ensure that every public worker, including political officeholders should not only have their salaries, pensions etc. paid into their WBN accounts, meaning that throughout the period as a public worker or appointee, all moneys earned from government should be paid into WBN.