On May 29th, eighteen new governors and ten re-elected ones were inaugurated across Nigeria. Eight other states; Anambra, Bayelsa, Edo, Ekiti, Imo, Kogi and Osun are the off-season states whose previous elections slipped off the general electoral timetable due to reasons bothering on either pre or post-electoral litigations. These states stand as testimony to the aberration in Nigeria’s electoral processes. It is curious that such a huge number of states have had the judiciary intervene to determine the right governor for the people.
While the judiciary is expected to do its duties in a democracy as the third arm, those who fashioned the democratic system might never have factored in the peculiar Nigerian situation that seems to burden the judiciary with so much about elections. The expectations are always that the mandate should lie with the people. The number of litigations around Nigerian elections must tell us that some things are just wrong about the electoral processes and there must be efforts to correct them as the country matures in its chosen system of government. That could pave way for a more accelerated development.
Since the return of democracy in 1999, a lot of observations have been made about the roles of governors in the development or lack of same in the Nigerian story. In a very curious political paradox, governors often seem to be under the radar while the presidency seems to get most of the blame for either bad policies or dysfunctional implementations that have resulted in Nigeria becoming the poverty capital of the world with about 133 million people living in multi-dimensional poverty.
The people seem to give the governors a free pass while seemingly holding the presidency responsible for every and all problems in the country. Not many are literate or politically enlightened enough to realize that there are duties constitutionally assigned to each tier of government in a democracy; the federal, state and local governments. Curiously though, the state governors in Nigeria almost exercise imperial powers and through their regional and national associations like the South East, South West, South-South and Northern governors’ Forum and the general governors’ forum formed a formidable force against the federal government, the legislature and other government institutions that might be in any way opposed to their individual and group interests.
The Roundtable Conversation has followed the activities of most governors in Nigeria since the return of democracy in 1999 and believes that if Nigerians expect a leap out of the recent past in terms of lack of development, governors must step up their game and in the same vein, the people must begin to hold each governor accountable. It is a jaded cliché to always lament about the actions and inactions of the federal government but ignore the lethargic attitude to development by most state governors.
The average age of most of the governors elected newly or as returning governors is about 52 years. This means that they are all relatively mature but young enough to be aware of the development needs of the people. Most of the governors flaunt chains of degrees and years of experience in the public and private sectors. It is therefore expected that they are in both a mental and physical state to understand the implications of the jobs they have been inaugaurated to do on behalf of the people.
In the usual Nigeria fashion, some might be carried away by the euphoria of victory. Most governors in Nigeria wield so much power and revel in the influence they have over the people so much that not much gets done in eight years that is the maximum tenure for a governor. In more than two decades of continuous democracy, no state can boast of very remarkable development owing to the vision and works of a governor. The often over-publicized building of roads, bridges and renovation of schools with tax payers’ money must give room to real development that can improve the lives of the people.
Governors must realize that the campaigns are over and the oath of office they just took or renewed is a covenant with the people. There must have been a clear vision of the things that made them decide to vie for the office and the onus is on them to get down to business and assemble a team that can assist them get the job done. The style of elected executive in Nigeria is often to see appointments as favour and as such, minions and incompetent people get positions they often have no competence for. The result is the cycle of incompetence that yields no tangible developmental results.
Governors must realize that leadership goes beyond winning elections and that means that the ability of each governor to recognize competence and make appointments based on merit is a sine qua non to development. This is 21st century and governance is not synonymous with mere politicking for its own sake. Development stems from choices leaders at each time in a nation’s history is knowledgeable and competent enough to make. Leadership goes beyond the optics and razzmatazz of office. It is the ability of one so honored by the people to serve and in so doing understand what truly matters.
Nigerian governors must realize that the democracy they are part of is one that is about the three arms; the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. Since 1999, most governors seem to surreptitiously subsume the roles of the legislative arm under the executive. There are allegations that they often coerce the state assemblies to abdicate their oversight functions making them very unaccountable.
This attitude has often been mischievously hidden under either party allegiance or legislative/executive harmonious relationship. While the Roundtable Conversation supports a cordial legislative/executive relationship at both state and federal levels, it would be anti-democratic to strip the legislature of its constitutional roles that strengthens democracy for the benefit of the people. While the arms of government must work together for the success of democracy, the different constitutional roles of each of them must not be compromised on the altar of either party loyalty or extracted through executive subterfuge for very pecuniary interests.
Nigerian governors must understand their duties to the people. Education of Nigerian children is in three stages, basic, secondary and tertiary levels. Governors must understand that education is one of the most important tools of development so they must go beyond the repainting of colonial and other school buildings to comprehensively rejigging the public school system to what it was and which given their ages, they enjoyed as young people. The advent and dominance of private schools was made possible because of failure by successive leaders to address the problems of education holistically to enable public schools return to what was formally very functional.
It is really sad that almost 63 years after independence, no Nigerian woman has been elected governor. On the contrary, Kenya recently swore in seven female governors because there was a constitutional amendment in 2010 that made it unconstitutional for any gender to occupy more than two third of any elective position in the country. Nigerian successive governments, both military and civilian have maintained the patriarchal streak and the country has the poverty index to show for it.
Curiously, while men dominate most elective and appointive positions at both federal and state levels, it has been discovered that in sectors where merit is the criteria for selection, Nigerian women have always excelled. In the academia, sports, entertainment and the corporate world, women are in very top positions. However, when it comes to politics, money and violence are deployed by men to disenfranchise women. The Roundtable conversation hopes that more women can be appointed by governors to do what they know how best to do, lead and manage economic variables.
About 90% of the non-formal sector is reportedly controlled by women. It therefore amounts to cutting a nose to spite the face when men assume wrongly that competence in leadership is about gender. The poverty in Nigeria is a direct result of a lopsided system that excludes women. Governors must realize that women are the worse victims of poverty in the land. They must appoint more women to strategic positions beyond Women Affairs and other stereotypical ministries.
For too long, most Nigerian governors have neglected the primary healthcare sector. We just hope that the governors recently sworn in across the country understand that health is wealth and as such take the health sector as a priority sector. The people do not want governors using tax payers’ money to jet out to other countries to take care of their own health while neglecting that of other Nigerians they are supposed to be serving.
Nigeria has one of the highest child and maternal mortality rates in the world. The Roundtable conversation wants to see the governors prioritize healthcare not just for children and women but for all citizens. The essence of development cannot be achieved without a healthy and fit population. This also means that they must also take food security serious by doing everything possible to encourage and support agriculture beyond what the federal government can do. We equally hope that the governors realize that the people are today more politically savvy than ever. The fact that about seven governors who sought tickets to the senate failed in their bid must have spoken to the governors in clear, unambiguous terms. Performance is being monitored and the people seem to be at the barricades in different forms. The voters are taking notes and the time starts no