Continued from last week
And so what we find are governors complaining about how the other guy spent all the money, and they themselves get into their lives of luxury and cannot be bothered about the people. Most governors are owing months of salaries or pensions, or both. It’s tough to justify why a sane person will want to be governor of a Nigerian state today given the problems especially when they haven’t given the matter very deep thought. Again no governor should ordinarily keep money for the next one to come and spend. But they should also not entirely mortgage the state in the name of highfalutin, hare-brained projects. In my state, Ondo, the new governor says he inherited N220billion in loans from his friend, his predecessor. It’s impossible to tell where such monies were spent in that state, where apart from the capital, all else seem to have fallen to pieces. Truly we aren’t progressing at the pace that we should be maintaining.
So what could be the way forward? Something sustainable and manageable. This puzzle should not be easy to solve but the first thing is to be truthful to ourselves. Governance is not meant to be a walk in the park, and certainly should not just be about photo ops or egotism.
The puzzle to solve is that if a government must borrow, the project it finances MUST generate at least a fair portion of the cashflow for its repayment. That is a tall order but it is a good place to start. Borrowing to build primary schools, or even roads, from abroad or the commercial bond market, is simply a stupid idea. Humanitarian projects (even essential projects like education and health) should be funded from self-generated cashflow – and grants. For commercial or foreign currency borrowing there should be a ROI – Return on Investment – clearly stating your projections and how you wish to achieve the financials. You could borrow therefore, to develop tourism in your state so long as you generate enough money to ensure that people can find a way to your tourist attraction. Also, you can only tax people who are breathing and producing. You cannot tax dying people. The sight of hundreds of people scrambling and fighting over gala sausages in Ekiti comes to mind. The entire multitude of them are untaxable. This is where public sector jobs come into play. Many of them could be employed in low-paying jobs in our villages – tourist guides, environmental workers, low-level health workers, trained teachers.
We have ignored the fact that our public sector is small and toxic for too long. There are thousands of job opportunities in every state in Nigeria. Those jobs must be created, especially to reintegrate our rural areas to some level of modernity. According to Jerry Rawlings in a 1990s interview he granted to an Italian journalist, our cities and villages have a toxic, parasitic relationship. The cities suck the villages dry; of farm produce which they buy for cheap and price down during harvest seasons, of human resources as boys rush off to cities for useless jobs like the riding of ‘okada’ bikes etc. Our salvation seems to lie in the ability to reintegrate our villages with the path of progress. This is where we all missed the mark of development in black Africa. Our nationalists were too enthralled with the allure of developing cities, building skyscrapers – of course with technology from foreigners – at the expense of inclusive development that span our entire countries. But by now, those of us who took over from them should have corrected earlier mistakes… only that we are only compounding the problems with even more egregious choices.
And so, whether at national, state or local levels, we are in dire need of philosopher kings. We are in dire need of leaders who will redefine the way we think, who will think deeply and bring out the best in their people. We need leaders who will understand the need to develop our most important resource – our human resources – because it is only by doing so that we can achieve sustainable development. This will happen by sustaining intense, relevant public education which will explain civic responsibility to our developing generations and make them productive. We need leaders who understand the urgency of now. We need leaders today, who will rethink the public sector and disperse them to every corner of the nation, to provide much-needed services and to show government presence. We need leaders who understand that this is the only way to harness our disparate and stranded human resources. We need leaders who understand that a trained responsible citizen means great cashflow for the government. We need leaders who understand that you can only tax the productive; the taxable. We need leaders who understand that the ‘majority’ which should ‘carry the day’, in any democracy, is actually our children unborn, because they are ultimately the largest in numbers, except we intend to become extinct as a specie or race sometime soon. And so our decisions today should always ask the question; what will our children unborn think about this? This should be the golden rule.
But first and foremost, the revolutionary governors who will transform Nigeria, should first stand to scrutiny. They should be ready to lead spartan lives of example. What we have seen in the majority are wastrels, cocky fellows who soon give up trying and resign to grabbing their own from an unfortunate people. And then the people clam up and look for ways to avoid whatever their obligations are. And a vicious cycle ensues. We need communicators for leaders; governors who will explain very succinctly to their residents each step of the way how their money is being spent. There is nothing wrong if a governor briefs his people daily through a live TV program; or these days maybe via Facebook Live and so on. This way, such a governor can achieve voluntary compliance with laws and tax obligations. It is the loss of trust that is at the bottom of our issues as a people.
The debate still continues. I propose a systemic and sustainable approach to funding state development. I posit that a single youth, living in a conducive environment, with guidance from his/her leaders, and a mindset of patriotism to this nation, can create something that will bring the world and all the money a state needs. I believe that our youths and the not-so-young should be deliberately focused by our leaders, on solving our myriads of problems and that as we solve those problems, we will unleash value and productivity and therefore government revenue will increase. I say that to increase the chances of that happening, we need to organize and tidy up after ourselves. It is not everything that is about money. An authentic leader can show the way and others will follow. Little incentives can work magic. Our higher institutions could be put to work to solve real problems and our academia should stop thumbing their noses to society. A governor can unleash the power of intellectualism in his state university and polytechnics in a way that shifts focus onto them and brings the world and their chequebooks. I believe that there is no problem too tough to solve if only we try.