When Are We Going To Run Government Without Oil Money?

By Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku

A couple of days ago, newly-elected governors of the All Progressives Congress, APC, went on a visit to the President elect, General Muhammadu Buhari. Before they got there, there were speculations in the media as to what their mission to the president elect would be. That visit threw up two questions for me: one, why were governors who are going to be chief executives of their states going to visit another newly elected executive president even when they had not been sworn in? Two, under what auspices were they visiting a president elect who is going to assume presidential and executive powers in a fortnight, and who is going to preside over the dent of those who voted for him and those who didn’t? But the answers to these questions didn’t take long in coming: ever since the days of the in-fighting among the governors forum of the PDP, governors – recipients of public funds – became a force not to ignore at the centre. They became semi-tin gods any serious-minded politician would ignore to his peril, and to that extent, their visit to Muhammadu Buhari made some sense. And even though the media was awash with speculations and permutations of the agenda of that visit, and that the governors-elect were going to quietly make it clear to the president elect that nothing will change their prerogative of nominating those who were going to form his cabinet whether they were qualified or not, I still had my fears that qualification in being a cabinet member of the Buhari administration would be hinged on the politician’s ability to be primordial in the protection of interests skewed in favour of the man who has nominated them.

But I should have kept my fears and suspicions to myself. The governors did not go there to flex muscles. Rather, they went there to cry and wring their fingers over what they have alleged as the spending spree of the outgoing governors. According to the reports and statements credited to one of the governors-elect, the fact that the Federal government had not paid April salaries is an indication that the economy was not healthy. ‘With the huge expectation from Nigerians and people who have voted us into power, we wonder. We are hoping that the president elect will do whatever that is humanly possible to bring about a bailout not only in the states but the Federal government, at least for people to get their salaries and turn around the economy’, this governor-elect reportedly said.

About six months to the March and April General elections, politicians went on a spending spree on a scale never before experienced in the annals of electioneering campaigns in Nigeria. As a matter of fact, unverified figures being bandied in the public space say that the actual monies expended on the prosecution of the elections by both spectrums of the political divide ran into trillions of naira. While all of that was going on, oil prices dipped to an all-time low, fuelling fears that whoever won the election was going to inherit a bankrupt federal vault. But no one seemed to have cared about this. Most of the politicians who were falling over each other to take over the reins of power apparently are not in this because they have anything meaningful to contribute apart from the payment of salaries that they intend to pay to civil servants.

Figures from OPEC 2014 show that next to Libya, Russia, and the UAE, Nigeria has one of the greatest gas reserves in the world, at 79,626 million cubic metres and for want of strong political will flares a staggering 12,112 million cubic metres. Of all the OPEC member states, Nigeria has the highest population of a people who will die before 60 in spite of the tremendous wealth accruing from having one of the highest GDP market prices for her oil. This value of our oil sharply contrasted with countries like the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait which have export profiles that translate into earnings that rev the engine of development.

From 2013, daily production of oil in Nigeria nosedived and prices crashed significantly. Therefore, the fears that the governors elect have gone to express to General Buhari is truly unfortunate because nearly every top politician knows that Nigeria gets most of her income from oil exports. Most of it is stolen by these politicians, or frittered or stashed away in bank vaults overseas. A lot of the structures on ground do not favour the use of this oil wealth to promote sustainable development, good governance, poverty alleviation or the capacity building of Nigerians. Rather, it favours a ‘revenue-sharing’ formula where governors like the fellow above, who just wait till the end of the month to collect salaries for civil servants, with a large chunk of the monies going into their pockets. Is this how to become government? Is the business of government about paying civil servants salaries or about putting structures on ground to promote economic activity?

Up till now, I have often questioned the rationale behind blaming our leaders for the Nigerian predicament. But after I listened to the expression of failure from the governors-elect who went to wring their hands before an equally nervous president-elect, I am convinced there is truly failure of leadership in Nigeria. Our country ranks just 35 of the 52 nations of Africa, with a lower than average rating against countries like Ghana and South Africa. According to the Mo Ibrahim Index Nigeria Country profile, Nigeria is not a business-friendly environment, has poor infrastructure and one of the least developed rural sectors in Africa. Human Rights abuses are rampant, and women and children still live in fear for their personal safety and security.

The above – issues of accountability, national security, gender empowerment, a strong economy – are the challenges currently facing Nigeria not the payment of salaries. If those who have been voted in do not realize this, then immediately we are confronted with a situation where buck passing and hand wringing would characterize the failures that an overly reliance on easy money from oil brings.

• Etemiku,a communications manager with ANEEJ, wrote in from Benin City