These are challenging but interesting times in Nigeria. We stand on the threshold of converting our weaknesses and challenges into opportunities for wealth creation, value re-orientation, cutting down the cost of governance and frivolous expenditure and most important of all, enthroning the rule of law and sovereignty of the people. Possibilities abound in all areas of the Nigerian human endeavour and we are challenged to convert them into probabilities and make them certainties with an effective regime of new policy formulation and implementation.
Since May 29 2015, some governors and their deputies and now President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo have announced a cut in their salaries by 50 per cent. A committee has been set up by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission to review the remuneration of elected and appointed public office holders whilst the media has been offering suggestions on different areas of governance where reforms are needed and costs need to be reduced. There is a groundswell of public opinion that all is not well with the way we have been managing our resources and we expect a change in the direction of improvement in fiscal governance. In all these, there is a momentum building and that momentum is for a positive change. The tide is getting high and the leadership and the people need to seize this momentum before it wanes and people begin to get cynical while the leadership may likely lose focus and direction.
For the Presidency, the reduction in remuneration by 50 per cent is a good start but should not be the end because the official salaries of elected and appointed officials do not constitute the main source of the leakage of government revenue. The details are in the overheads and fancy capital projects including their over-invoicing. For instance, we spent over N400m in the Jonathan administration purchasing plates and cutleries in the Presidency and yet in the 2015 approved budget, we have purchase of “crested cockery” for the State House for over N77m. Upgrade of Villa facilities, procurement of household furniture and fittings are all recurring decimals in the Presidency budget and for 2015, they have approvals in excess of N1.27bn. All the billions in welfare packages across the Ministries, Departments and Agencies are still intact. Can the President cause these anomalies to be rectified? Nigerians were happy to be informed that most of the aircraft in the presidential fleet were to be sold and only a few retained. But we were later told that the information was wrong. But if the Presidency gauged the public reaction, it would know that Nigerians were expecting to hear that. Thus, a thorough review of expenditure heads is imperative.
Unfortunately, at the state level, stakeholders including the civil society, Organised Labour and the private sector have not seen detailed analyses of state budgets. Many states deliberately make their budgets unavailable to the public. You can hardly open a state website and see the details of their budgets just like the details available in the website of the Budget Office of the Federation. However, from the little available information and what everyone can see, governors are simply making a kill at the state level. Long convoys and motorcades of assorted limousines and SUVs herald their arrival; they fly in private jets and for some governors, the jets are purportedly owned by the state for their use. Contract awards are concentrated in the offices of the governors and the record has been poor over the years. The race to borrow and out-borrow one another has started at the state level despite their already existing high level of indebtedness which the Debt Management Office has already volunteered to help them repackage. There seems to be resistance and contempt for change at the state level.
So, the momentum for reforms is already being challenged and this is where we need the President to lead from the front. Time is ticking away and citizens are beginning to get agitated. It is possible President Buhari is taking his time before coming out with his cabinet. But, he is not communicating to Nigerians as to what exactly he is doing and at what stage he is in what he is doing. There seems to be a policy vacuum considering that the leadership has not announced new policy directions beyond what we heard during campaigns. Is the bureaucracy supposed to continue the policies of the outgone administration? Nature abhors a vacuum and the expectation is that President Buhari, as a citizen of Nigeria, who has lived here in the last couple of years, would have made key decisions that offer a direction of the policy agenda in the various fields. The honeymoon period, if it is not over, is far spent and we need to start work.
So, Mr President, you have the tide, the momentum, the support and the euphoria of the people on your side but it is fast waning and you need to latch onto what is remaining and reinvent that support. We went to the polls to elect a new president who understood extant challenges and had ideas of how to turn them around rather than one, who would learn on the job and take months to study where we are as a means of knowing what medicines to prescribe for the polity. If that is case, on what basis were the campaign promises made? If the presidential team was in place, we should be seriously responding to what is to be done with the National Assembly crisis, falling naira, auto policy, renewed onslaught of Boko Haram, preparations for 2016 budget, etc. We need answers in all spheres of national life and we need to start seeing the first steps in the direction of finding the answers.
For all facets of the civil society and other non state actors, the elections were just a step in the march towards nation rebuilding and we should not go to sleep. While we continue to ask the President to actually kick start governance, let us increase our watch over the governors and the respective State Houses of Assembly. The culture of mismanaging resources is the norm at that level. Just imagine their utterances during this period they have been asking for a federal bailout. As far as the governors are concerned, they played no role in the huge debts they incurred and their inability to pay workers. The fad is blaming the out gone administration for all the ills plaguing their states. State debts, employment of over 30 advisers and ghost workers, excessive security votes, inflation of contracts at the state level were not done by the Jonathan federal administration. Even if the claim that monies due to other tiers of government were withheld by the centre, states still have to account for the little they got; for he who is faithful over a little will also be faithful over much.
Let us all seize this momentum and change our nation for the better.