He surely doesn’t need elaborate introduction. For eight years, he presided over the affairs of Anambra State as governor. Though, for the greater part of those years, his tenure was characterized by massive political intrigues from all corners of the state, like the famous Rock of Gibraltar, Peter Obi surmounted all the man-made hurdles strewn on his path.
He eventually emerged after eight gruesome but eventful years in office, as one of the best and most prudent governors Nigeria ever had.
Unlike many of his contemporaries then and now, Obi signed off in Anambra in March, 2014, leaving behind many rock star developmental projects littering the state. In addition, he also left a huge amount of money in the coffers of the state. This outstanding record of performance attests to the way and manner he managed the resources of the state during his tenure which made him stand out as a good manager of resources. With a background in banking and finance, when it comes to financial matters, Obi is surely a man who knows his onions.
So, when he recently made up his mind to say a few things about how Nigeria’s political leaders have wrecked the economy of the country, it was big news for the media. Obi blamed the Nigerian governors under the Goodluck Jonathan administration for the current recession assailing the nation’s economy. He said rather than save for the rainy day, many of his counterparts in the states at that time were reckless in their spending and all entreaties to make them see reason and save money fell on deaf ears.
The former governor who disclosed this while speaking on Consumer News and Business Channel, CNBC Africa, last week, said Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the immediate past minister of finance and Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, now Emir of Kano, appealed to the state governors at that time, to endeavour to build savings for the country, but the governors kicked against the idea and took the two public officials to court.
According to Obi: “I was in government when the likes of Okonjo-Iweala, Olusegun Aganga, Sanusi were crying let’s save; we collectively said we didn’t want savings, and we are now in this mess… I was in government when Ngozi Iweala was crying, meeting after meeting, ‘let’s save money; we need to save for the rainy day.’ We said no… Some said this woman should not be found near this country.”
Obi’s startling revelation is coming on the heels of recent media reports that the greed and selfishness of the nation’s former governors are exerting tremendous pressure on the finances of state governments, even after they have left office. By calculation, more than N37.367 billion is expended on servicing 47 former governors in 21 states for the payment of pension, provision of houses, staff, and vehicles which are replaceable between three and four years.
The payments are, in many cases, besides provisions for medical expenses for the former chief executives and members of their immediate families which run into hundreds of millions of naira. As expected, these pensions and entitlements are draining billions of naira from the resources meant for development in the states. The matter is made worse due to the fact that some of the governors ended up becoming senators. As senators, they are entitled to another round of mouth-watering salaries, allowances and severance payments independent of what they drain from the states’ lean purse.
These revelations have clearly shown the type of characters we keep in public office in Nigeria. It is sad that governors who held the destiny of their subjects running to several millions of people in their hands could turn deaf ears to the wise counsels of those who were in the know of what to do to sustain the economy of the country. The depth of greed and selfishness of Nigeria’s office holders and the negative consequences on development in the states and the country at large can only be imagined.
One can even see the recklessness associated with these set of public office holders who, rather than listen to Okonjo-Iweala and others, went as far as saying “this woman should not be found near this country.” What this means is that they believed they could do whatever pleases them at any point in time and they must crush anybody that attempted to stand in their way. That is the way we are in Nigeria.
Every now and then, Nigerians elect people into public offices expecting them to serve the people and assist them to make their lives better. These people come to the electorate promising heaven and earth and promising to be servants of the people. But as soon as they assume office, they automatically transform themselves into masters of the people or slave dealers. That is the irony of our situation in Nigeria. This way, a greater part of the resources meant to uplift the living standard of the people and make life more meaningful to them is channelled into the private pockets of the so-called leaders who have made personal aggrandisement through bribery, corruption, stealing and other vices, their major focus as public officers.
To feather their nests, projects, mostly white elephant projects, are initiated not because they will add value to the lives of the people, but because of the kick-backs and other financial rewards that would accrue to them. Many even pay for the projects upfront. But as soon as they leave office, the projects are abandoned by their successors who prefer to initiate fresh projects from which they can reap immense benefits rather than servicing old debts that will fetch them nothing at the end of the day.
According to recent publications in the media, Nigeria, today, has more than N5 trillion worth of abandoned projects and if you trace the history of these projects, you will find that they are predominantly caused by contractors’ neglect due to the fact that the money meant for the projects have been diverted by awarding authorities, mostly the governors and other public officers.
The report of the Presidential Projects Assessment Committee, PPAC, set up in March 2011, by former President Goodluck Jonathan, to look into cases of abandoned federal government projects had it that the country had 11,886 abandoned projects that would cost an estimated N7.78 trillion to complete. If the government does not start any new projects, it will take more than five years budgeting about N1.5 trillion annually to complete them all – and that is assuming no cost-over runs or delays. In the face of the dwindling economic fortune of the country, how can this problem of abandoned projects be solved?
In March 1992, then military president, General Ibrahim Babangida said: “Frankly, I have kept asking my economists why is it that the economy of the country (Nigeria) has not collapsed up till now?” That was 25 years ago. Today, the grim reality is that the Nigerian economy has completely collapsed and we don’t need any arm chair economist to tell us anymore. And if what ex-governor Obi has just revealed is anything to go by, Nigerians now know where the country’s problem started from.
There is no doubt that we have a big problem on our hands. It is unfortunate that people are already crying about recent measures aimed at taming corruption in the country when, in fact, we need to be more stringent in the fight against corruption and other vices that threaten to bring the country to its knees. Perhaps, this can begin by stopping these politicians who continue to feed fat on the nation’s lean coffers from multiple sources after wrecking the finances of their various states. Although Nigerians appear docile, the time has come for them to wake up from their slumber and confront these merciless buccaneers.