Across the states of the federation, new governors have been elected to take over from the old ones while some serving governors have been given a fresh mandate. In about a month’s time, the governors-elect will all take a new oath of office to start a fresh mandate. At the federal level, Muhammadu Buhari’s presidential mandate has been renewed for another four years. Barring the decisions of the election tribunals, these fresh mandates will run until early 2023. This discourse seeks to set the tone for governance under the extant reality of economic, moral, political and social crisis bedevilling the nation.
The first point is to sound a caveat that unlike previous years when the resources were relatively more abundant, these are lean times and every governor will have to put on his thinking cap to raise the resources to fulfil his campaign promises. It may even be difficult to source for funds to do the basics like paying the new minimum, the backlog of salaries, pensions and gratuities. Most states of the federation are already under the burden of excruciating debts which are secured by Irrevocable Standing Payment Orders mandating the Accountant-General of the Federation and the Central Bank of Nigeria to deduct a good percentage of their statutory allocations at source. The internally generated revenues of most states are very low and cannot pay for their recurrent expenditures. Again, most states have large loads of contractor arrears for ongoing and completed projects. So, the fiscal situation is very grim in most states.
It is against this background that governors are starting their new terms. For those coming in newly, this is not the time to play to the gallery or to make a lot of unguarded promises. First things first. It is imperative to confirm the financial state of states in terms of debts and all payment arrears and commitments. This will give the new helmsmen a good understanding of what is doable, areas to place emphasis in terms of priorities and raising new revenue. Let the determination of the fiscal state of health be guided by empirical evidence, not politics and attempts to paint the outgone office holders in a bad light. After this determination which in most states will likely show that the states are in the red, and going through a fiscal crisis, the governors should approach the people with the findings through expanded stakeholder forums and the publication of the details in multi-media platforms. This approach should be about the building blocks of popular participation and the foundation for transparency and accountability.
Yes, the governors may have made plans on how to run the states, raise fresh funds and probably told the electorate about these during the campaigns. But the foregoing will provide the opportunity to get an actual buy-in from the people who may even suggest fresh ideas on how to manage the states’ fiscal situations. Even if the forums end up endorsing the governors’ ideas, there is a window for larger buy-in from the citizens thereby increasing the chances of success.
The foregoing makes a case for increased transparency and accountability in governance going forward. The people are beset with a lot of burdens and challenges and will not tolerate the kind of excesses that was the norm in previous years. The average Nigerian is already at a breaking point and may not be best suited to be called upon to make further sacrifices for the benefit of the political class. Therefore, the elbow room, margin of error and mistakes are highly limited. it is advisable for the governors to cut their perks of office and those of the legislative arm as well. They should be seen to have a heart for the sufferings of the people by leading by example. Very simple things like cutting down the number of cars in their convoys, reducing security votes to the barest, trimming the size of advisers and appointees, etc. will go a long way to sending a message that a new dawn has started.
Legal provisions on fiscal responsibility and public procurement need to be implemented to the letter to open up the governance of states. Citizens should get the opportunity to contribute to budgets, monitor and report on them while the budget documents and the process leading to their finalization should be open. For contracts leading to procurement, the processes should be very transparent and open. Contracts are not to be awarded for the fun of it as it is advisable to complete existing projects before starting new ones. The emphasis on transparency and accountability is because many Nigerians will resist impositions or calls to make sacrifices if they do not see any change in the leadership. There will be temptations on the part of governors to recover campaign finance expenses through all manner of dubious contracts. However, it is in the best interest of all that these temptations are resisted.
It should be clear by now that the depth of fiscal crisis in most states requires that the governors appoint the best eleven as their commissioners and key advisers. The days of appointing mere political supporters into positions that they know little or nothing about can only worsen the already bad situation. The best may not necessarily have to come from the ruling party. The governors need to reach out to the wide variety of competencies available in their states.
On a parting note, governors need to be more creative on how to increase their IGR, not by further increasing the tax of those already paying but by ensuring that those who are not already paying are brought into the net. For no one who earns an income has a right to live off the sweat of others. The payment of tax is a serious citizen’s obligation.