by Simon Kolawole
Asked by journalists to list his achievements, a governor proudly said: “Mr Bigg’s has opened an outlet in the state capital under my administration.” The reporters could hardly stifle their chuckle. Another governor told a group of editors that “peace obtained and maintained” was his biggest achievement, pointing to an award plaque given to him by an association of crime reporters whom he called “security experts”. These days, many governors would list payment of salary arrears as one of their biggest feats, and I am still seeing politicians celebrate the provision of well water, construction of wooden bridges and distribution of transistor radios.
One thing I have come to realise in the development debate in Nigeria is that we have not properly defined, or agreed upon, the indices and criteria of analysis and assessment. What is our collective understanding of development? What are our expectations? What should we get from the federal government, state government and local government? Who or what should be held responsible for the failings? If the indices are not well defined, how do we appraise the success of each level of government? If there are no goal posts, how do we know when we have scored? How do we assess our progress per time? What are the criteria we should adopt in reaching conclusions?
My opinion on the underdevelopment of Nigeria is slightly different from the position of the leading lights of the debate. Many see our problems from the perspective of the “unitary” constitution (suggesting that unitary systems can’t deliver development) and propose the need to restructure Nigeria along ethnic lines. After breaking down the definition of development into tiny bits, I always conclude that there are things to blame on the structure and there are things to blame on the leaders. There are “federal” problems as well as state/LG shortcomings. But there seems to be a prevailing narrative that dumps all of our problems at the doorstep of the federal government.
Our discourse today zooms in on the performance of state governments who effectively control the LGAs. Together, both control nearly 47% of federation allocations. To help assess the performance of governors, I want to propose what I call the “minimum of five credits” baseline tool. No, I am not saying a governor should have a minimum of five credits at O’Level. We are not discussing JAMB and university admissions here. Rather, we are discussing how to pull Nigeria out of underdevelopment. I am suggesting that a governor must target to score a “minimum of five credits” in office in order to be considered at all for a pass mark.
The five “subjects” in which the governors must have these credit passes are: education, healthcare, roads, water and inclusion. I understand that different states have different needs and what is critical in one may be less critical in others, but no state has yet conquered all these areas, so they are relevant to everyone. A credit pass would mean addressing at least 50% of the problems. I have found out that these “five credits” are achievable under the current constitution. This is good news as far as I’m concerned. It means no law stops the governors from attaining these minimum qualifications. By that, I mean we can still record some big progress under our current circumstances.
I will break things down further so that I am clearer. One, a governor must attain a credit pass in education. That means, in practical terms, if there were 500,000 children out of school when they assumed office, they must aim to reduce the figure to 250,000 in four years. This requires that there will be more classrooms built, more qualified teachers and more capacity to enhance standards. That would also mean at least 50% of the schools under the state government should have libraries that have books and laboratories that have chemicals. It is doable: it is about proper planning and efficient use of resources. Some governors are already doing well in this “subject”.
Two, a governor must have a credit pass in healthcare. Again I will simplify it. Infant and maternal mortality must reduce significantly during the four-year tenure. At least half of the primary healthcare centres in the state must have basic drugs and personnel to attend to common ailments. State-owned hospitals must improve bed capacity in those four years, meaning more hospital beds, more qualified personnel and more access for the ordinary citizens who can’t afford to travel abroad for treatment. I would add sanitation to healthcare. We will probably take care of many medical problems and promote healthy living through better sanitary conditions.
Three, a credit pass in roads is non-negotiable. I will also simplify my understanding of this. If there are 10 villages without access roads, at least five of them must be linked to a major road within four years. If there are 10 kilometers of bad roads in the state, at least five kilometers should be put in motorable condition within four years. You would be surprised how a simple road – even if untarred – can change the economic lives of a people. What some villagers need is just to be able to stand by the roadside and sell yams, tomatoes and bush meat to travellers. They alone can improve their economic conditions and empower them to be able to send their children to school and buy drugs or pay hospital bills.
Four, a credit pass in the provision of clean water should be compulsory. By clean water, I am not referring to wells and streams. I mean treatment plants and motorised boreholes supplying clean water to the people. If 50 villages do not have clean water, the governor must target to provide that for at least 25 of them within four years. In many villages, children wake up early and go to the stream to fetch water for their parents. They carry heavy buckets on their heads and walk for kilometers to and fro. When they get to school, they are tired and frustrated and then we start teaching them chemistry and mathematics. And then we will say failure rate is high. What were we expecting?
Five, and very important, is inclusion. By inclusion, I refer to giving the vulnerable people a voice and a space in government policies. I’m referring to women, children, the disabled and the unschooled. Several studies have shown that when you empower this group, you solve a wide range of problems in the society. Government policies must factor in the needs, concerns and interests of vulnerable Nigerians. A 50% score in this area in four years can make a 100% impact on the society. Many states are not doing badly in this “subject”. The end product, if this is well attended to, is that we are going to tackle many of the challenges dragging us backward as a nation.
Achieving “five credits” in four years, however, does not mean governors should start celebrating like they have invented something. Just as no undergraduate should boast about having five O’Level credits, no governor should be bursting our ears that they did these five things. I remember, as a football reporter, I covered a league match between BCC Lions and Julius Berger in Gboko, Benue state, in 1994. Goalkeeper Andrew Aikhomugbe pulled a string of superb saves in the dying minutes to help BCC to a 1-0 victory. I interviewed coach Shaibu Amodu afterwards and expected him to praise Aikhomugbe. But he simply said: “He was not put there as a decoration. He was doing his job.”
We don’t elect governors to be decorations – we elect them to do a job. No governor should be celebrating paying salary arrears or painting schools. The governors that should be celebrated are those that score distinctions – 90% and above — not mere credit passes. In fact, these “five credits” are just the irreducible minimum. They will contribute in no little way to poverty reduction, job creation and national development. There are more “credits” to target, such as the provision of housing (an urban issue), investment in legacy projects (tourism sites, fancy bridges, etc), enhancement of security, and making policies that will attract substantial investments in agriculture and industry.
There are plenty questions waiting for me, I know. One, what is the role of councils in all this? Are they there for nothing? The truth is that as things are today, the states are in total control of the LGA funds, so I would say councils should be centres for the implementation of developmental policies and projects at the grassroots until we have local government autonomy guaranteed by the constitution. Two, won’t the governors sex up the figures and claim that they are scoring credit passes? That is why the citizens must be awake to their responsibility of holding their governors accountable. Third party monitoring will also be a good device to match claims with reality.
Three, where would the states get the money to implement all these projects? Funding is a major issue, many governors will readily tell you. However, if the governors do their job competently and patriotically with all the federation allocations, development loans, bonds, joint LG accounts and IGR at their disposal, there is nothing stopping them from achieving these outcomes. More so, the states and councils can begin to push for a greater share of the federation account. I don’t understand why the federal government alone should take more than half and I have always advocated that the formula should be revised in favour of states and councils.
I am fully persuaded that most of the development problems we are battling with as a nation will be half-solved if the governors have a minimum of “five credits” during their terms in office. No doubt, there is a lot we need to restructure about Nigeria – but there is still much to be achieved under the current system. Let us perform an experiment for the next four years: all the budgetary allocations to health, education, infrastructure, water and housing should be judiciously spent on these areas. Stealing, over-invoicing and waste should be cut down by at least 50% at all levels of government. Let us review things in another four years. I suspect our progress would be monumental.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS
APC IN CRISIS
Anybody who is surprised by the APC crisis has not been paying attention since 2015. The party started out as a coalition of mostly aggrieved politicians who were out to oust the PDP from power – and they succeeded. Sadly, there has been no attempt to build the coalition into a family since they won power. For a party that is five years old, this is a big failing. I agree that a gathering of strange bedfellows will be prone to crisis and difficult to manage, but I have not seen any genuine attempt at integration. For those who are gloating, they may need to note that the ultimate victims of a troubled ruling party are the ordinary people whose interest automatically takes the back seat. Change?
Anytime I hear that public health personnel are going on strike, my heart skips a beat. The casualties are always the ordinary people who cannot to afford private treatment. Saving lives, I suppose, is the calling of those in the health sector. That should always be the consideration, especially when it is the poor, lowly Nigerians that will bear the brunt. The demand for improved welfare by the Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU) is, no doubt, legitimate but is the collateral damage caused by the strike worth it? To compound matters, doctors are threatening to go on strike if JOHESU’s demands are met. There is something peculiar to us in this country which I will never understand. Sigh.
If there is a Nigerian state that comes close to my idea of how the society should run, Lagos would be it, despite its shortcomings. I can say for free that it is one state where the leaders try to adopt and implement what they learn from advanced countries. That means not all of the estacode is wasted after all. The latest development is the establishment of a Small Claims Scheme to resolve civil disputes involving amounts below N5 million. The entire proceeding from filing of claim to judgment is a maximum of 60 days. This is a welcome development. It will free the police from debt recovery duties and at the same time save us from unending court proceedings that could last 10 years. Progress.
I am sensing that there would soon be the 28th amendment to the American constitution to make it a criminal offence to be black. Not so long ago, two blacks were arrested and handcuffed at a Starbucks outlet. They sat there waiting for a friend and were yet to place an order, which is like committing mass murder. Last week, Ms Lolade Siyonbola, a Nigerian graduate student of Yale University, fell asleep inside the common room at her dorm. Some white girl discovered the criminal offence, told Siyonbola she had no right to be there, and quickly called the police to restore order. Pronto, gallant officers were dispatched to the crime scene and the national heroes swiftly ID-checked the felon. Ridiculous.