Dimgba Igwe: Stella Oduah should spare GEJ and tender her resignation

by Dimgba Igwe

princess_stella_oduah_ogiemwonyi_10In the face of the prevailing national outrage, can Ms Oduah save Jonathan the misery of sacking her by sending in her letter of voluntary exit? That’s the least she can do in the circumstances, hiding behind no further excuses! In the acceptance letter, the president should remember to thank her for the good work of renovating the airports during her tenure

At the executive session of the conference of the Nigeria Guild of Editors at Asaba, Delta State, I posed a question to a panel of governors – three governors and three representatives of governors.

I was curious to know what they were doing to reduce the ratio of recurrent budget in favour of capital budget provisions. I argued that in Nigeria, the recurrent ratio of our typical budgets is growing so high that it is beginning to look like the only purpose of government is to finance governance.

Recurrent expenditure is the portion of any budget spent on consumption while the capital side of the budget goes into development of infrastructure. But as we all know, it is not just that the bulk of our budget goes into sheer consumption, even the little reserved for capital expenditure is frittered away into diverse labyrinth of corruption.

At the federal level, for instance, it was not until the advent of the current Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, that Nigeria achieved UNDP’s recommended benchmark of 70/30 recurrent-capital expenditure ratio. In terms of the UNDP ratio, only few states like Akwa Ibom at 82/18 and Kano State at 75/25 ratio have exceeded the mark, but states like Lagos State, Ogun State and few others are close to the benchmark.

Three of the governors, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, Delta State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Ekiti State, and Mr. Peter Obi, Anambra State, took turns over the next 30 minutes or so to tackle the question whichever way they could. The definite impression I got from their explanations was that the high cost of governance is inevitable because of the nature of our society. In Nigeria, government is the highest employer of labour and therefore, needs must employ people to take them off the streets. In Nigeria, job-for-the-boys is inevitable for political considerations.

When Uduaghan came to office, for instance, he never wanted more than 12 commissioners to run the state. But then, the drastic political consequences of such undue radicalism, he was informed, were too high for him to confront. In the end, he ended up with nearly double the optimum number he required for a cabinet. That translates, of course, into higher cost than he would have invested in bureaucracy.

The Uduaghan story in Delta State is not only a mirror of the situation in all the states of the federation, it is also a reflection of the federal situation which is burdened with a bloated cabinet. During General Yakubu Gowon’s regime, for instance, Nigeria ran effectively with only 12 federal commissioners, compared to the over 40-member cabinet average. The world’s biggest economy and also the most powerful nation, United States, has only 15 Secretaries (ministers), including the Vice President!

Uduaghan continues his response by referring to the political factor. In Nigeria, he noted, there are political interests to satisfy. You can’t be elected into office with the help of various political stakeholders without giving jobs to their nominees, for instance. “Dimgba, I know you very well,” Uduaghan said. “I know your relationship with Chief Osoba. If you are a governor today and Chief Osoba calls you with an appeal to give a job to somebody, would you turn him down?”

In effect, the pressure of political stakeholders is another major challenge that bloats our bureaucracy in Nigeria. Besides, it is not all recurrent cost that is negative, as Fayemi and Obi argued. Recurrent cost that provides jobs for the people is ultimately one of the engines that drive the economy. The importance of this cost factor can only be accentuated if you can visualize a state where there are no civil servants and teachers or where the public sector workers are not paid monthly. In which case, how would fund be injected into the state’s economy?

Of course, that is not discounting the psychological factors which Uduaghan urged Fayemi to elaborate on with a personal example. When Fayemi was first elected governor – or confirmed governor by the Appeal Court – he was coming to work from his country home, some distance away from the state capital. He drove to work quietly, shunning noisy siren and all the road drama that go with executive movement in our states, among the men of power. Were there not cases where a road was vacated for a governor’s endless convoy to pass with all the noise, pomp and panoply? Was it not reported that even the airspace was closed because of VIP movements, especially in the occasions of either the movement of the President or the First Lady? Was part of the Federal Capital, Abuja, and Victoria Island not closed when the First Lady hosted events at Eagles Square and Eko Hotel? Was Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, not partially closed for days and the state governor’s movement curtailed when the First Lady came to town?

With such background in mind, the notion of a governor driving quietly with minimal drama to his country home every day for weeks was incomprehensible to Fayemi’s kinsmen. So they sought audience with him for some clarification.

“We thought it was said you have been sworn in as the governor of the state,” they asked. “We come to confirm whether it is true or not.”

Fayemi affirmed that it was true indeed. “If it is true,” the elders pursued, “how come you don’t have the vehicles that flash light in the air and make noise?”

Fayemi said he had all that. The elders of his town then wondered why, if indeed, he had all that, was he not putting them to maximum use? “How would the people of the town and the neighbouring towns know that our son is now the governor of the state?”

This then is to indicate that with our people, the drama is part of the substance of power. To many people, it may remain totally incomprehensible why a minister in a country where official unemployment rate stands at 24 per cent (perhaps, with the unofficial figure put at double that figure) needs two armour-plated limousines priced at a whopping sum of USD 1.6 million (N255 million) as addition to her ministerial fleet and protocol. Ironically, it is not just that she allowed a cash-strapped parastatal under her to buy two-bullet proof cars for her use, it is that they came at twice the market price and, as The Punch reported, twice the price of the British Prime Minister’s more sophisticated armoured Jaguar brand.

But this is part of the drama of power in Nigeria which comes with its own special intoxicating hubris compounded by total insensitivity. It is what happens when a government seems to grow fat with impunity; when corruption rules the crest and no one seems to be cracking down on series of vast national brigandage that had gone on before. Our rulers would not need to shield themselves from us with special bulletproof cars, perhaps houses and airspace, if only they worked hard to provide security for us all. Economic, political and physical security.

There are few questions that bother me in this Stellagate. Was it the government’s official policy to provide bulletproof cars for all her ministers since any one of them can always come under special or imagined threat? In that case, is Stella Oduah then being demonised simply because she was the  unfortunate one whose grubby hands were caught in the cookie jar? If the answer to this question is positive, then it presents us with the larger question of the cost implication of such a huge extravagance going round Jonathan’s cabinet.

But, if not, who approved Stella’s peculiar misadventure? If she had no approval, is Oduah’s boldness then a reflection of a prevailing culture of abuses in the Jonathan cabinet? Or perhaps a possibility that cabinet portfolios are now turning into a private fiefdom with the ministers as the warlords who do as they please unfettered by fear of a presidential sanction?

There was once a country where the official policy was that all government officials no matter how highly placed should only use Peugeot 504 as official cars. One of the memories etched in my consciousness in those days, was seeing a ramrod (then) Colonel Mohammed Buhari and Brigadier Mohammadu Shuwa, each morning coming out of their olive green Peugeot 504 official cars as ministers and members of the Supreme Military Council in the mid-seventies when we worked in the same office block, the Six Storey Building, Broad Street, as it was called then. In those days, it would have amounted to a capital offence for a minister to dream of a bullet-proof car, even if you were paying from your own pocket.

Today, I grow nostalgic for Nigeria of those days. Indeed, in Achebe’s immortal words, once upon a time, there was a country! But today, to parody the title of Ayi Kwei Armah’s classic novel, Why Are We So Blessed?

In the face of the prevailing national outrage, can Ms Oduah save Jonathan the misery of sacking her by sending in her letter of voluntary exit? That’s the least she can do in the circumstances, hiding behind no further excuses! In the acceptance letter, the president should remember to thank her for the good work of renovating the airports during her tenure.




Read this article in the Sun Newspapers


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

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