Tuesday, January 06, 2009

A tale of failed 37 budgets in 2008

THE failure or non-performance of state government budgets in this country is the bane of our national development. The Federal Government alone can't bring the much-needed development to the grassroots without the states and local governments. The states and local governments hold the key to our corporate national development while the Federal Government can only complement in strategic areas. We could be in the league of developed nations if the states and local governments spearhead national development from the bottom. The Seven-Point Agenda can't achieve anything from the top alone without involving the states.

No amount of Federal Government effort will change our dire underdevelopment situation without the two lower tiers of government playing overriding positive role. If the state governments were to consistently and faithfully implement their budgets, there would be less misery and poverty in the land because the states have more direct touch to the needs and aspirations of the people. About 70 per cent of the social infrastructure amenities needed by the people is statutorily the duty of the states to provide.

For example, it is not the duty of the federal government to provide water, primary and secondary school education and roads across the country. Whereas the Federal Government has a duty to play part in the development imperative at a larger dimension, the day-to-day functionality of essential social infrastructure amenities is the responsibility of the states. The failure of the states in this regard is tantamount to the failure of the country. The ill-defined federal structure has made it so. The country can only make it developmentally when the states do the right thing and that would bring change to the entire country.

I find it hard to reconcile the clamour by Nigerians always seeking performance at the federal level and nothing is said about the states. The impression one gets is that the Federal Government is the one that would provide everything we need as if there is only one administrative machinery in the country. Nobody seems to realise that there are 36 semi-autonomous federating states in the country with constitutionally recognised government, legislature and the entire paraphernalia of government like the one at the federal level. The same administrative structure you have at Aso Rock is replicated in all the 36 state capitals and they have power to do anything in their states in whatever manner they desire it.

I have been following media reports of spot interviews of Nigerians on what they expect from government in the New Year and the refrain is the same - we expect President Yar'Adua to wake up and provide light, water, repair dilapidated roads, schools and healthcare, provide uninterrupted electricity, create jobs for the masses, etc.

The question I keep asking myself is: Is it only President Yar'Adua that would provide everything the citizens of this country need? What about the state governors? What are they suppose to be doing? What is their duty in the scheme of things? If Yar'Adua should provide all that is needed in the country, what then would the state governors provide? What are they suppose to be doing with their billions of naira budgets?

Not a single Nigerian in all the interviews ever mentioned or expected his or her state governor to do anything to make life better for the people. The whole attention is on the President and the Federal Government. But the governors are there with all the state allocations and internally generated revenue that were supposed to be used to provide basic necessities for the people. Like the President, the governors are there to serve the people at the state level. If the Federal Government alone were to be criticised for failure to implement budget, what then is the purpose of creating states and maintaining a federal structure?

Wrong orientation has made Nigerians to always ignore and exonerate their governors and instead heap blames on the president and also shift responsibility from the states to the Federal Government in the quest for quality life. And because the entire focus is on the Federal Government, the governors have unfettered freedom to mismanage state resources unchallenged.

Regrettably, governors arrested by the EFCC for looting state funds receive unwarranted support from the same people they impoverished while in office. The appalling condition of the states engenders discontent that is misplaced and directed against the Federal Government.

The federal budget is just one of the 37 budgets made in the country annually. Though the federal budget may be larger in absolute terms, it compares with the budget of the 36 states put together. What the federal budget sets out to achieve nationwide is comparable to what a state budgets set out to achieve within the states. Therefore, the same yardstick should be used assessing budget performance at the federal and state levels. The president and the governors alike should account for the budgets they made.

Unfortunately, every year, the performance of the federal budget beclouds that of the 36 states with the result that Nigerians lose sight of what the governors have done with the state budgets. The impression has erroneously been created that the federal government alone should handle the whole gamut of development needed across the country while the billions of naira in budgets at the states evaporate into thin air without any mention.

The Awards published on December 31, by ThisDay newspapers for the "best" performing governors of 2008 gives an insight into what is going in the states and what the governors are doing with the state budgets. According to the newspaper, seven out of 36 governors did something that merited acknowledgement. The question is what happened to the other 29 governors that recorded nothing perceptible in 2008? What did they do with their budgets in 2008? This is why the country remains in sordid state year-in-year-out without respite.

We are all aware that the verdict passed on the performance of the federal budget in 2008 was zero. While the executive blamed the delay in passing the budget by the legislature, the lawmakers in turn blamed inefficiency in the federal cabinet. We may ask what is the verdict on the performance of the state budgets? Going by the assessment published by ThisDay, the verdict is again zero. And what is the cause of the non-performance at the state level? Did the state legislatures fail to pass the budgets on time or was it again due to inefficient cabinet in all the states?

What hope has the country when budgets made are not utilised to achieve anything at both federal and state levels? And, why is the criticism directed only on the Federal Government and nobody talks about the states? Certainly, there is deceit and failure of governance at all levels. And the existing political structure in the country is not helping matters.

According to ThisDay, the Governors that recorded perceptible achievement in their states in 2008 include: Peter Obi (Anambra), Gabriel Suswam (Benue), Liyel Imoke (Cross River), Emmanuel Uduaghan (Delta), Sule Lamido (Jigawa), Bukola Saraki (Kwara) and Babatunde Fashola (Lagos).

Peter Obi was acknowledged for entrenching transparency and budget discipline that has saved the state huge amounts of money in contract awards. Good, but saving money is different from using the money to serve the people. The Governor should take a step further in ensuring that the saved money is utilised judiciously to develop the state.

Gabriel Suswam like Peter Obi is acclaimed for prudent budgetary discipline and revenue generation. The Governor should use the saved funds to lift Benue State, which is one of the most backward in the country. Liyel Imoke is simply riding on the tourism bazaar of his predecessor, Donald Duke. He has not come up with a fresh idea in other sectors that are begging for attention in Cross River State. The people will not eat tourism. And by the way, how many of them ride the cable cars or sleep at the luxury Tinapa resort?

Emmanuel Uduaghan is recognised for using his expertise as a medial doctor to improve healthcare services in Delta State. Good, the people are benefiting in the free maternal healthcare. Sule Lamido is picked for focusing on education with the comprehensive rehabilitation of classroom facilities for conducive learning in Jigawa State. This is commendable as his effort if sustained is capable of lifting this educationally backward state.

Bukola Saraki is making waves with the revolutionary agricultural production in Kwara State with the presence of Zimbabwean farmers who are introducing agro-based industrial activity in the state. Certainly, the people are benefiting in this regard. Finally, Babatunde Fashola is acknowledged for showing signs of articulated thinking in his approach to governance. He has embarked on a massive infrastructural redevelopment of Lagos under the mega-city project. But a lot still needs to be done as the project is just at the incipient stage.

All these are like a drop in the ocean. The country is in total decay and the governors must play a critical role to bring about change using the budgets of their states