Enugu governor’s ill-conceived car largesse – Punch Editorial

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The Prado jeeps at the Government House before distribution
The Prado jeeps at the Government House before distribution

Barely a month after receiving bailout from the Federal Government, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State has seriously diminished leadership by his decision to buy official cars for 24 state lawmakers and 24 cabinet members. Ugwuanyi’s action is ill-conceived. It is out of touch with the harsh economic realities facing the masses, and no excuses can atone for this recklessness. Stripped of every pretence, the governor’s action is a bribe to ensure the legislators do his bidding at every point in time.

Although public sector workers in the state are passing through untold adversity, the governor has embarked on a totally unnecessary project without considering how to bail them out of their predicament. Vitalis Nwobodo, the Enugu State Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress, lamented, “The economic situation of workers and pensioners in the state is pitiable. Some pensioners have not received pension and gratuity for upwards of 10 years and 20 years. Some have died prematurely, while the wives of some of the men have left due to their incapacity to provide for their homes.” These workers, who are feeling the pinch the hardest, should demand accountability and responsible governance from Ugwuanyi.

At issue is the wasteful deployment of public resources to service a tiny fraction of the population at the expense of infrastructure development. In fine details, Ugwuanyi has just splurged about N552 million on only 48 officials – each of the Sports Utility Vehicles costs N11.5 million, apart from additional costs for insurance – in a state with a population of 3.267 million (2006). What is the benefit of the public treasury to the rest of the people? The governor’s action is an excess baggage of recurrent expenditure.

Ugwuanyi, a first term governor, should critically rethink the development model of his administration so as to deliver concrete achievements to the state. By spending so rashly on recurrent, as is the ungainly practice by the executive in Nigeria, the state will continue to wallow in underdevelopment. Although Enugu projected an income of N48.3 billion from the Federation Account, and N19.25 billion as internally-generated revenue in 2014, it has seriously fallen behind in meeting its obligations to its workers and contractors.

However, with the drop in crude oil prices, revenue has plunged, creating additional administrative hiccups for clueless governors. Recently, Ugwuanyi admitted that his administration inherited a debt of N32.27 billion in owed salaries, pensions and gratuities to public servants. Even with a bailout of N14.2 billion (N4.2 billion from NLNG dividends and a loan of N10 billion from the Central Bank of Nigeria), in September, the state is still in a deep hole. Pascal Okoli, the state’s Accountant-General, said, “… the state is in (a) serious financial stress.” Therefore, it is fiscal impunity for Ugwuanyi to embark on the cars purchase adventure.

His defence that the SUVs are “pool cars” that would be withdrawn at the end of the four-year term is an afterthought and insulting to the electorate. And, why should a pool car worth N11.5 million be allotted to a legislator whose car loan, by the benchmark of the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission, is only N5.3 million? Is the expenditure captured in the 2015 budget?

We charge Nigerian workers to employ all legal avenues to force self-serving governments to toe the path of good governance. A recent example of popular protests in South Africa readily comes to mind. Students embarked on nationwide peaceful marches following the news that university tuition would be hiked by 10 per cent in 2016. The protests forced the government to halt its plan. In scrapping the planned increment, Jacob Zuma, the South African President, said, “Government understands the difficulty faced by students from poor households, and urges all affected to allow the process to unfold to find long-term solutions in order to ensure access to education.”

However, other governors in the country are as reckless as Ugwuanyi, despite the fact that income from crude oil to their states has declined by 50 per cent. Apart from Kaduna, Kano and a few others, many states are still operating with bloated cabinets. Lagos State, for example, has a 37-man cabinet; Taraba has 112 special advisers, senior special assistants and 20 commissioners; Ogun has added five to the original list of 18 commissioners; while Akwa Ibom has 23 commissioners.

The latest estimates say as many as 22 states still owe workers’ salaries. Combined, all the 36 states owe commercial banks a debt of N685 billion, according to Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo. Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State turned logic on its head after taking a loan of N10 billion shortly after his assumption of office. He allegedly expended N7.4 billion on salary arrears and used the rest to buy cars for 13 commissioners, 18 advisers, and state lawmakers. These are misplaced priorities.

As a result, capital projects, which create jobs and boost capacity in an economy, have attenuated. As it is, it is only perceptive state governors that will survive the economic turmoil ahead. As a sign of the fiscal fragility, the total distributable revenue available to the three tiers of government in September fell by N47.14 billion to N389.94 billion from August 2015. The masses are not putting enough pressure on the governors, allowing them with their passivity to get away with many indiscretions. The civil society and the labour centres should impress it on the governors to lead by example and cut down on the high cost of running government. (Punch)

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