Last week I listened to or read the speech of at least a dozen newly elected
governors, and I must confess they were full of hazard warning signs ahead.
Citizens have only one option – brace up before going on a roller coaster ride
at the sub-national level worse than they experienced in the last eight years. I
estimate that about 80% of the inauguration speeches of the dozen newly
elected state governors I listened to were uninspiring, and none captured the
changing demographics of the states, how to harness new technologies,
potential impacts of new federal legislation, prevailing and persistent
challenges faced by the people, innovativeness and original thinking that
should define the road ahead for sub-national governments at this time.
Apart from a few that dealt with anything meaningful, most new governors
spent half of the time praising their predecessors, who at best had disgraceful
legacies , with a commitment to continue the same purposeless and
rudderless path. Worse still, they did not bother addressing some of the
states’ most pressing challenges. I will list a few common to most states – high
debt profile, too many unviable and uncompleted projects, low internally
generated revenue, poorly equipped and demotivated civil service,
humongous outstanding salary commitments, challenging security situation
and the dearth of social services.
The commitment of loyalty expressed to their predecessors and not the state
is a new development peculiar to our democracy. It may be traced to the
absolute power conferred on them by the 1999 constitution, and as far back
as 2004, the Financial Times of London identified the overbearing influence of
Governors as the root of poor governance at the subnational levels.
Governors, who are chief executives at the subnational level, act as emperors.
They quickly appropriate the state legislature, and the judiciary is often at their
mercy. In practice, they have made the legislative arm an extension of various
state government houses. These subnational strongmen rule without checks
and balances, no transparency , and no accountability, as they are above the
law and enjoy endless immunity. The democratic checks and balances in our
constitution are stronger at the federal than the state level . This lax has
allowed governors to operate like lawless brigands.
A typical pattern in 2023 is that of the 18 newly elected Governors, as many
as 11 or 12 of them were selected and sponsored by outgoing governors.
Selecting, not electing, and sponsoring preferred candidates to become
governors may not be the worst offence against the people, but the quality of
governors and governance keep depreciating. Institutions of democracy are
also weakened or captured, and accountability to the people disappears in
favour of “accountability” to the new godfathers – former governors. The
phenomenon of state capture by outgone and former governors is present and
real and constitutes a danger to the development and aspiration of the people.
The new godfathers will definitely become virtual remote-control emperors of
The challenge before us now, with new godfathers in town and new governors
who owe them loyalty plus an assembly of handpicked Oh- yes-men, is how
do we hold our new governors accountable? How do we ensure budgets are
made for the people, not the new godfathers? How do we guarantee that
citizens enjoy services rather than state governments serving outgone
governors and new godfathers? This is a new phase in our nascent
democratic journey, and it is a challenge worth giving attention to if you go by
fiscal development in our various states.
A report by the Guardian newspaper of 17 April 2023 shows that of the 18
governors that have completed their constitutionally allowed two tenures plus
Bello Matawalle of Zamfara, who could not secure re- election, will pass on a
whopping over N3.2 trillion debt to the new state handlers. Overall, the
affected 18 sub-national entities’ debts rose 232 per cent, from N947.4 billion
outstanding in December 2014 – a few months before the outgoing state
chiefs took the reins. The amount owed to local and foreign institutions and
individuals has ballooned by N2.16 trillion to hit N3.1 trillion at the close of last
year. This is a bobby trap number one for the incoming governors. Aside from
this debt exposure, most of which we cannot account for their applications, are
outstanding salaries, pension and gratuity issues running into few trillions at
the subnational level.
It is a no-brainer that the road ahead for the new state governors in Nigeria is
filled with challenges and opportunities. The many difficulties will require a
strategic and focused governor to tackle and overcome these challenges.
Unfortunately , very few governors seem prepared with knowledge about their
states let alone strategies for developing them as revenue generating and
social service centers. It is no time to make excuses about these challenges
because the governors knew about them before vying for the office of the
governor, and most campaigned on these challenges and have fanciful
solutions for them in their campaign communications and manifestos. It is time
to walk the talk. These challenges are not insurmountable, but they require
these governors to think deeply, out of the box, be creative and be innovative
to solve them. It requires a total commitment to serve the people and not
tolerate much interference from any overbearing former governor or
Accountability to the people and developing people-centric policies and
programmes must be the guiding principles of the new governors. Time is
transient and waits for no man. Four years may seem a long time, but they
should ask their predecessors how their time flew past – those eight years of
tenure blew past as if it started yesterday. They must learn from that. The time
to plan, execute and evaluate is now, not tomorrow. The governors should
adopt bespoke approaches to solving the state’s problems and bringing about
developments that will positively touch citizens’ lives. This is not a time to
witch hunt or fight ephemeral battles that will only force governors to lose
focus on more important things.
I will articulate some key areas that state governors should focus on to drive
development and improve governance. Most Nigerians know these must be
done to improve the state; however, the problem is in the desire and ability of
the governors to implement these ideas.
Economic diversification is crucial for each state. Many Nigerian states heavily
rely on money from the federal government based on oil revenues, making
them vulnerable to fluctuations in global oil prices. State governments should
prioritize economic diversification by promoting sectors such as agriculture,
solid minerals, manufacturing, tourism, and technology. This will help create
jobs, boost revenue generation, and reduce dependence on oil.
State governments must explore innovative ways to generate revenue and
reduce dependence on federal allocations. This can be achieved through tax
reforms, improving revenue collection systems, exploring public-private
partnerships, and attracting private investments. Additionally, state
governments should adopt fiscal discipline by prudently managing resources,
reducing wasteful spending, and implementing adequate budgetary controls.
Infrastructure development lays the foundation for a better quality of living for
citizens. Improving infrastructure is crucial for economic growth and social
development. State governments should invest in constructing and
maintaining roads, bridges, airports (seaports and railways in collaboration
with FG), power plants, and telecommunications networks. This will enhance
connectivity, attract investors, and facilitate trade and commerce. However,
there is no need to embark on white-elephant projects that will have little or no
benefit for the state. State governments must complete already started
projects by the former governments and build on what is on the ground rather
than abandoning old projects to start new projects. We should stop the public
eyesores abandoned projects have become in many states.
Improving Education and Healthcare lays the foundation needed for
development. Investing in education and healthcare is essential for human
capital development. State governments should prioritize improving the quality
of education by upgrading school facilities, training teachers, and promoting
vocational and technical skills. Similarly, healthcare systems need to be
strengthened by building more hospitals, improving access to quality
healthcare services, and investing in healthcare professionals.
Agriculture is a crucial sector in Nigeria, and state governments should
prioritize agricultural development to ensure food security and reduce
dependence on food imports. They can support farmers by providing access
to credit, modern farming techniques, improved seeds, and irrigation facilities.
Additionally, state governments should invest in agro-processing industries to
add value to agricultural products and create employment opportunities.
Transparency, accountability, and the fight against corruption are critical for
effective governance. Unfortunately , states constitutes the weakest link in this
respect . State governments should promote good governance practices,
establish anti-corruption agencies, implement public financial management
reforms, and encourage citizen participation in decision-making. This will help
build trust, enhance service delivery, and attract investments.
Ensuring the safety and security of citizens is paramount for socio- economic
development. State governments should work closely with federal security
agencies to combat criminal activities. They should invest in equipping and
training security personnel, strengthening intelligence gathering, and
promoting community policing.
Collaboration and synergy among neighbouring states can lead to shared
development and enhanced regional competitiveness. State governments
should explore opportunities for collaboration and cooperation in areas such
as transportation, infrastructure development, security, and economic
integration. This can be achieved through regional development commissions,
joint projects, and policy harmonization.
Embracing technology and promoting innovation can drive development and
improve service delivery. State governments should invest in digital
infrastructure, promote e-governance, and encourage technology startups and
entrepreneurship. This will enhance efficiency, transparency, and citizen
Overall, the road ahead for state governments in Nigeria requires strong
leadership, effective governance, and a commitment to inclusive and
sustainable development. By addressing these key areas, state governments
can contribute significantly to the overall progress and prosperity of the
country. Governors must roll their sleeves and deliver service .