The term ‘State Capture’ was strange to me until it occupied our continental consciousness as Mr Jacob Zuma, former President of South Africa came under public scrutiny in his rainbow nation. He was accused of stacking State governance structure high to the ceiling with cronies and business associates in ways that were detrimental to economic prosperity and national security of the country that he, with other freedom fighters spent many years in trenches and mosquitoes infested jungles to liberate from the clutches of evil apartheid system of the Boers. Specifically, the erstwhile President of South Africa was accused of corruptibly enriching himself, his family and cronies through the help of those he installed in power and placed in corridors of power. He and his cronies were accused of hijacking State structures for personal gains to the exclusion of majority of citizens of his country.
This practice was dubbed ‘State Capture’ and as the world watched while many misdeeds of former President Zuma were reeled out under klieg light, the dark underbelly of greed, insatiable quest for material wealth and power by many African leaders were also showcased along the phenomenon of State capture. Gleaning from the South African and other numerous experiences from across the African continent, one won’t be wrong to conclude that an average African leader will stop at nothing to achieve his personal ambitions; including selling his nation and people to foreigners. Currently in Nigeria, we are beholding another specter of incipient State capture by public officials and highly placed politicians; especially State Governors. The rise and rise of ‘Their Excellencies’ in Nigeria and attendant executive recklessness of State Chief Executives both at Federal and State levels did not come to many of us as a surprise.
Any discerning mind in Nigeria and elsewhere that cared about what is happening in Nigeria would have easily guessed the direction that the increasing monetization of politics in Nigeria was headed. Not a few guessed correctly that very soon, some wealthy individuals including kleptomanic public officials will start buying political offices and public spaces off the itchy hands and corrupt consciences of the electorate. True to prediction, the chicken has come to roost.
What seemed remote to some Nigerians in our murky political landscape have crept invidiously on us. Their Excellencies, Chief Executives of the Nigerian State, ranging from the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to State Governors and to a lesser extent, Local Government Chairmen (or those handpicked by State Governors to fill their roles) have become demi-gods sort of in their respective rights and spheres of influence.
Under constitutional order, the President ought to be answerable to the Nigerian people through their elected representatives in the National Assembly. However, political praise singers and jobbers have gradually transformed the office and persons of our Presidents to some
Sort of African Czars. Rather than the people determining the political fate of our Presidents, our Presidents now determine the fate of Nigerian men and women according their moods, perceptions and wishes.
Ordinarily, the National Assembly of peoples’ representatives ought to check excesses of our Presidents on our behalf to ensure they govern us according to the constitution with the yearnings and aspirations of the electorate. Rather, Nigeria’s powerful Presidents have since castrated our representatives and most now do not only grovel at the feet of our Presidents, but also take direct instructions from them. Cast your mind to the forth and back journey of Nigeria’s electoral and Petroleum Industry Laws and you will understand my drift. Nigeria’s Emperor Presidents decide who occupies any of Nigeria’s public spaces based on their whims and caprices and not based on national interests. Their personal interests and aspirations currently translate to the country’s national interests. Citizens no longer matter in the affairs of the State as it were. Like the Brits way of paying homilies to their revered Monarch, it’s now ‘God save our Presidents’ in Nigeria. Sooner than we realize, we may have an Executive cum Legislative cum Judicial Presidents all embodied in one powerful individual.
At least this will help the nation attain the much desired reduction in cost of governance as the legislative and judicial arms of government will cease to exist all together. So much for our Presidents for now. Compared to the regressive transformation of office of the President, that of Nigerian Governors is something strange to all known democratic norms and practices. When we take a close look at the transformation of the offices of Executive Governors of Nigeria and their evolving personages, one cannot but shudder at the sheer political brigandage that resulted from the process. No transformational group in Nigeria has the quantum of destabilizing effects on the polity and politics in Nigeria like those of State Governors. Governors in Nigeria are akin to the famed guardian of Rhodes town in Ancient Greece mythology known as ‘Colossus’. They bestride their respective geo-political domains importunately, clutching what looks like the ‘sword of Damocles’ dangerously in one hand to ward off real and perceived enemies.
From all indications, Nigerian State Governors have succeeded in usurping State power completely in their respective jurisdictions and personify whatever their respective States represent. The resources of States in Nigeria today belong to the Governors to do whatever they like with them; mostly for their personal benefits and those of their families and cronies. I challenge Nigerians to travel to any State in Nigeria today and see if they will see any tangible development that approximates the volume of resources that accrued to the States. Rather, what one may likely meet are tokenisms of governance and pot-bellied State functionaries with their lackeys in corridors of power. Majority of citizens of almost all States in Nigeria live in abject poverty and squalor.
The citizens find it difficult to eat a round meal a day let alone the famed ‘three square meals’ that have become benchmark of survival in Nigeria. Without over-emphasizing what is common knowledge by now, most States in Nigeria are bereft of basic social amenities while salaries of State workers and pensions of retirees are perpetually in in arrears. Governors squander State resources on frivolities; especially their respective State allocations from the Federation Account through embezzlement, corruption and conscienceless stealing. We have witnessed how some State Governors diverted Federal Government’s bail-out funds that were granted to State Governments to shore up their wage bills during periods of national recession induced by global economic meltdowns. Emboldened by the docility of citizens that they have impoverished and their large cash reservoirs, some Governors now challenge constitutional orders of the nation by enacting laws or taking actions that are at variance with the Constitution all to spite the Federal Government of Nigeria. For example, some States created additional Local Government Areas (LGAs) by carving new ones out of existing and constitutionally recognized ones under varying nomenclatures. Others replicate tax laws that fall under the Exclusive Legislative List without recourse to constitutional processes. In the most bizarre and ridiculous display of executive recklessness, a State Governor in Nigeria continued to live in denial of a globally acknowledged COVID-19 pandemic by refusing all national and international intervention programmes while many residents of the State lost their lives to unexplainable deaths.
When it comes to local and State politics, State Governors in Nigeria have hijacked the entire processes, installing their relatives and cronies in political offices while excluding all others that dare to oppose them. They meddle in affairs of other arms of government (legislative and judicial) whose members they practically install across the nation against electoral laws and constitutional norms. Matter of fact, State Governors in Nigeria have completely ‘pocketed’ the legislative and judicial arms of government in their respective domains through financial inducements or withholding of their statutory fund allocations and use of political thugs to hound any dissenting member out of their fiefdoms. The unholy alliances of Nigerian Governors under the aegis of nebulous progressive or conservative Fora provide them with platforms for political intrigues and machinations that best serve their individual and collective interests only. When it comes to elections or political survival in the country, Nigerian Governors huddle into different groups to conduct nocturnal meetings at which they draw strategies to undermind opposing camps. But when it comes to their collective kleptomanic interests, they bunch into a unit, setting aside political and ideological differences (if any) and hold certain persons, groups and even the nation to ransom. Take the issue of excess crude oil sale account for example.
Time there was when periodic increases in the price of crude oil above budgetary benchmarks were saved for rainy days instead of being squandered on unproductive consumption. This savings helped Nigeria to cushion effects of global economic meltdown of 2008 when Nigerians hardly noticed the phenomenon that affected many countries and families elsewhere. However, the greedy and kleptomanic Nigerian Governors will not allow the saving schemes to flourish as expected. Instead, they arm-twisted the Federal Government into sharing the balance on the excess crude sales account to the three tiers of Government. Expectedly, most Governors frittered away their State shares alongside those of their respective local government councils without anything to show for it till date. Nigeria went into recession shortly after this profligate exercise in the absence of any economic cushion like the excess crude sales account; thanks to Nigerian State Governors. The current crises in the camps of both APC and PDP were generated and compounded by former and serving State Governors whose individual and collective ambitions tower over that of the nation. Let us leave State Governors alone for now and look at Local Government Chairmen.
Currently, Local Government as a tier of government in Nigeria is to all intents and purposes non-existent. This is no exaggeration as Nigerian State Governors have emasculated and subsumed local governments under State governance structures.
Although the Nigerian Constitution recognizes autonomy of Local Governments in the country, State Governors have progressively eroded the power of local governments; including their financial autonomy. All attempts by the Federal Government to restore administrative and financial autonomy of Local Governments in Nigeria have met brick wall of opposition by Nigerian Governors. Matter of fact, the incremental revenue value of local government allocations that State Governors routinely hijack and divert are too good to let go. In terms of
local government politics, State Governors have also succeeded in usurping it such that they now solely appoint their relatives, cronies and political thugs to take charge of local government administration all over the country. State Governors hardly conduct local government elections even after convincing the Federal Government to relinquish conduct of elections into Local Government Councils to State Governments through their respective shambolic and pretentious State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs). In most cases, Nigerian State Governors fill their respective SIECs with party men, relatives as well as cronies and use them to manipulate local government elections to favour the Governors’ candidates.
The spineless local government officials that are installed by State Governors are mere jesters and ‘yes men’ that have no control whatsoever over the resources of the local government councils that they superintendent over. A common practice across the States is for the local government administrators to submit their monthly wage bills to the State Governors for vetting. If the Governors are satisfied, they approve exact funds requirement with small ‘top ups’ in the name of security votes for the administrators. The last time that the Federal Government in breach of constitutional procedure decided to pay shares of local government funds from the Federation Account directly to local governments, all the State Governors rose in stiff opposition to the policy. They took the Federal Government to court and had that policy reversed in a jiffy.
Even before the judicial reversal, the State Governors had local government administrators under strict instructions to withdraw and remit the funds that they received directly from the Federal Government to them without delay. It was such a pitiable sight to behold the administrators obey the instructions of their Principals languidly while the masses are left in the lurch. Have I not justified my previous assertion that there is no local government in Nigeria as of today? Although I had excused the Governors to dwell on local government in Nigeria, my treatise still revolved around State Governors who have practically captured the Nigerian State dangerously in successive perpetuity. As things stand now, no hope for the common man and the whole hullabaloo about empowering the electorate through electoral reforms is as late Bob Marley said, ‘a fleeting illusion.’ May be the electoral reform will empower the peoples to elect who they want to become Governors based on whatever persuasions are at play. That is where it ends. Once the Governors are sworn in, the political game continues. As it stands today in Nigeria, State Governors are akin to a wrecking ball that destroys everything on its pendulous path. Unless a constitutional reform takes place to reign in excesses of Nigeria’s Executives of State comprising the President and State Governors, Nigeria may degenerate to a fiefdom of Lords and serfs. I doubt if this will augur well for us. Therefore as the political landscape begins to heat up preparatory to 2023 elections, let Nigerians of good spirit and conscience ensure that only true patriots and visionary people are allowed to occupy our political spaces. Without differentiation, we have had enough of deceits, intrigues, lies, kleptomania, nepotism, bigotry, ineptitude, greed and avarice to last those of us still alive today the remaining span of our lives from the stock of Nigerian politicians that we have seen thus far. We cannot survive another generation of their ilks and kinds as a nation. Let those that have ears listen and discern what elders of the land say before it is too late.
Usman Okai Austin is a current affairs and political analyst. He contributed this piece from Abuja