Before Nigerian Governors Wreck the Country, By Zainab Suleiman Okino
Ex-Benue State governor, Gabriel Suswam
Sadly, no governor has been sent to jail in Nigeria since civil rule took shape in 1999, because the guilty have the means to subvert the course of justice. I hope the EFCC’s investigation of the Paris Club, bailout funds and the Suswam phenomenon will not end in the dustbin of history like others before it.
Those who are familiar with the antics of our governors will not be surprised at the latest findings linked to ex-Governor Gabriel Suswam, if the allegations of complicity are eventually proven. Having been confronted with a Suswam perspective at the weekend when I travelled with some colleagues to Benue State and came face-to-face with the deplorable condition of the roads; and especially from Markurdi, the state capital, to Otukpo, the ancestral home of the Idomas, it was unnerving but not the least surprising, in view of the latest findings. Suswam is already facing a N3.1 billion fraud charge instituted against him by the EFCC. Although, we ranted and heaped the blame (of the state of infrastructure in the State) on David Mark, who was Senate President for eight years, and who is serving his fourth term in office, the state was equally administered for eight years by Suswam.
Sadly, the current set of governors don’t fare any better; they are towing the inappropriate line of their predecessors, behaving like lords of the manor, running their states like their personal fiefdoms and ruining them in the process. Warts and all, the Buhari government has shown good faith in its relationship with state governors. When the government came in almost two years ago, it inherited a huge debt overhang and ballooning overhead costs; civil servants across the states were owed salary arrears running into months. Having enjoyed massive support across the nation during the election, the government’s subsequent bailout plan was a way to compensate the electorate through their states. With the exception of Kogi State, whose bailout request was politicised (the government of Capt. Idris Wada applied and was denied, but the same federal government ushered in Gov. Yahaya Bello’s administration with the bailout package, after he took over power), all the states received the bailout, and the disbursements were administered (based on their whims) by their governors.
Unfortunately, instead of paying the salaries of workers, many governors diverted the money to different uses, including the payment of contractors, and spent it on things other than what it was meant for. In states like Kogi, Osun, Imo, Bauchi and Benue, workers are still owed salaries. Kogi, in particular, engaged in an endless staff audit, largely considered a ploy to deny legitimate workers, whose names were used to justify the application for the bailout in the first instance, their dues.
It may not be a surprise, therefore, that the EFCC chairman’s confirmation is facing stiff opposition from the Senate, having been in the mix and on the radar of the anti-corruption organ for illegally partaking in the sharing of money that did not belong to them.
The outcry that greeted the misapplication of the bailout funds across the states prompted many Nigerians to ask for a probe. Many also questioned the propriety of giving more money to governors only for them to misappropriate these. However, the federal government turned a deaf ear when again it doled out more money from the Paris Club refunds to governors, ostensibly to reduce workers’ hardship during the last Christmas/New Year festivities. Notwithstanding, civil servants across the states still groan under the weight of unpaid salaries and allowances engendered by the governors’ insensitivity to their plight. But despite the best efforts to cover their dirty deals, regarding the Paris Club fund issue, it has since come to light that some of the governors are culpable after all. They are now enmeshed in a controversy over a sharing formula that included the principal officers of the National Assembly, probably to shut them up. So far, the sum of N19 billion was said to have been traced to the account of their umbrella body, the Nigeria Governors Forum, which opened two accounts for the purpose of diverting from the over N500 billion they received. It was revealed that the governors paid two percent of the refunds to consultants (of their choosing) and three percent to themselves, while an unspecified amount was paid in cash to the said principal officers of the National Assembly.
It may not be a surprise, therefore, that the EFCC chairman’s confirmation is facing stiff opposition from the Senate, having been in the mix and on the radar of the anti-corruption organ for illegally partaking in the sharing of money that did not belong to them. So what has changed, you may ask? Nothing really, because there is still no transparency and accountability, despite the change mantra propounded by this government.
Having appropriated so much wealth from the commonwealth, plus constitutional immunity, our governors wield enormous power. The combination of power, influence and money simply enhances their recklessness and dictatorial streak.
In Nigeria, governors are demigods; they are very powerful and can be dictatorial. They have the capacity to blackmail all, including the presidency, in order to have their way. The state houses of assembly are complicit; they do the biddings of the governors. During the constitutional amendment, they were given the opportunity to vote for their autonomy and henceforth be on a first line charge from the federation account, but the governors manipulated them to vote against their own interest, so they (governors) can have an easy ride on any issue. Therefore, the constitutional provision of checks and balances are never applied to the letters, especially at the state level. Having appropriated so much wealth from the commonwealth, plus constitutional immunity, our governors wield enormous power. The combination of power, influence and money simply enhances their recklessness and dictatorial streak.
There is, however, hope that the long of arms of the law can catch up with them, if the government is serious about fighting corruption to a standstill, and if anti-corruption agencies like EFCC, ICPC and even the police and judiciary are purged of bad eggs and are allowed to do their work unhindered and without interference from the executive. Sadly, no governor has been sent to jail in Nigeria since civil rule took shape in 1999, because the guilty have the means to subvert the course of justice. I hope the EFCC’s investigation of the Paris Club and bailout funds, and the Suswam phenomenon will not end in the dustbin of history like others before it.