By Casmir Igbokwe
In a transparent and sane society, there would have been uproar by now. But ours is a country of anything goes. So, there was not even a whimper. We simply shrugged off the revelation that the former Bauchi State Governor, Mohammed Abubakar, spent N50 million for each trip to Abuja from Bauchi as governor.
At first, the allegation seemed unbelievable. But coming from the incumbent governor of the state, Senator Bala Mohammed, it is not impossible. In a media chat to mark his first year in office, Senator Mohammed affirmed: “N50m just to go to Abuja, it is there on record. I don’t even take it. My protocol, yes, as a governor, will take N3m to N5m to go with me. We are not saying this to beguile anybody but it is there. If you take N50m times four, that is N200m, you cannot do anything, you need projects.”
I had expected that ex-Governor Abubakar would have called a press conference to debunk this allegation. Since he has not done that, I assume that there is an element of truth in it. The reaction by his media aide, Ali M. Ali, that the allegation was diversionary is unsatisfactory. Ali wondered how N50m could be spent on such travel when the ex-governor usually stayed in his house in Abuja on such occasions. “This is unthinkable,” he noted.
Yes, it is unthinkable! But I am not sure Ali has the details of everything the governor did when he was in office. And it is not certain if he consulted him before his swift response. Thus, we need to hear directly from the governor. We need to know some other details, including how the state government spent about $3 million to repair its 50-seater aircraft that is currently parked. The governor said the state needed extra $3 million to effect another repair on the aircraft he described as valueless.
The Bauchi episode replicates itself in many other states. It confirms the common knowledge about how those at the helm squander our commonwealth and leave the majority of us in penury. Some waste millions of naira on champagne alone. Some travel in chartered aircraft when commercial airlines are at their service. And they move with a retinue of aides whose travel perks also run into millions of naira.
This is why I admire the former Governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi. Faced with similar opportunities when he was governor, Obi chose a life of prudence. He never moved with unnecessary convoy. He travelled only on commercial flights and in economy class too. For him, the millions of naira spent on preparing food for him at the state liaison offices each time he travelled outside the state were unnecessary. He stopped it and only preferred to take his meals in his hotel. He deployed the money he saved from all these to the development of his state such that he never borrowed a dime throughout his tenure as governor. Rather, he saved a lot of money for his successor. So far, he has remained the best governor Anambra has produced in all ramifications.
Why can’t other Nigerian leaders emulate this philosophy of Obi? Why is there so much wastage in the governance of the country? Currently, Nigeria’s debt stands at about N33.078 trillion. The other day, the Nigerian Senate approved the Federal Government’s $5.513 billion external loan request. In March this year, the same Senate approved FG’s $22.7 billion external loan request. And in this April, there were reports that the Senate approved President Muhammadu Buhari’s N850 billion domestic loan request. Why are we on a borrowing binge? Why spend billions of naira to service loans and mortgage our future when there are other creative ways of generating money?
In case they have forgotten, here are a few of these creative ways: One, they should block the security vote loophole. We must learn to run a transparent government where every kobo spent on people’s behalf must be accounted for. As it is currently, security votes are not accounted for. It gives room for serious embezzlement and encourages shady characters to vie for these top leadership positions just to grab state resources. It is not healthy.
Two, all governors travelling outside their states must go with commercial airlines. Whoever wants to charter aircraft should do so with his personal money. The Presidency, on its part, should reduce the number of aircraft in the presidential fleet. There are at least nine planes in the presidential fleet when only two or three would have been adequate.
Three, political office-holders should reduce the number of their aides and political appointees. Some governors have hundreds of aides who draw salaries every month. The functions of some these aides overlap, indicating that some of them are not necessary. In some states, you have special assistant, senior special assistant and special adviser on one position. The Presidency is also guilty of this. Most times though, these appointments are political. They are meant to compensate some people who helped in the campaign for elections. There must be some other ways of compensating these people without creating avenues for haemorrhaging the resources of the state.
Four, all the states paying life pensions to ex-governors must put a stop to it. Some of these former governors receiving these pensions are currently serving as ministers or senators. Hence, they earn double pay simply because they served the state for eight years. This is not right.
In some states, the entitlements are outrageous. A typical example is Lagos State, which first introduced this law during the tenure of Bola Ahmed Tinubu. According to the Lagos life pension law, any ex-governor who served the state for two terms is entitled to a house each in Abuja and Lagos, six brand new cars every three years, life pension of N30 million per annum, etc. In Akwa Ibom State, a former governor like Godswill Akpabio is entitled to N200 million annual pension and many other benefits. Meanwhile, Akpabio had been a senator and is now Minister of Niger Delta Affairs. Some other states with this double pension law include Edo, Delta, Rivers, Kano, Katsina, Niger, Bauchi, Borno, Abia, Oyo, Ebonyi and Gombe.
Good enough, some states have abolished that law. Zamfara put a stop to it last year. And the most recent is Imo State, which repealed it a few days ago. Kwara State suspended it in 2018. It is not certain why it has not completely abolished it.
Five, government at all levels should stop depending wholly on oil, which is a depleting resource. The Federal Government has done well by trying to revive agriculture. But it needs to do more. There is no reason relevant ministries should not encourage manufacturers to mass-produce goods for export, especially to sister African countries. Car manufacturing company, Innoson, for instance, should be able to export its vehicles to some neighbouring countries.
In all, if our leaders are able to cut cost of governance and diversify their revenue base, there may not be any need to take humungous loans. As for Bauchi State, all I can say is, sell that aircraft and plough the profit in some developmental projects in the state. Call ex-governors to render account of their stewardship if need be.