Obi’s Speech: Beyond The Applause

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Ex- governor Peter Obi delivered a speech on Covenant Christian Center’s “Platform” that has reverberated around the nation and generated reviews from all quarters. The message was made more poignant by its simplicity. In fact,  Obi’s analysis was so simple you need help to misunderstand it. The summary is that state governments in Nigeria are being run at more than double the cost.

Some of the areas through which public funds are wasted according to  Obi are the office of the first lady (with an allocation of 2 billion naira per annum) which only serves “to cause confusion”, an entourage of as many as 30 people every time the governor travels within the country costing a minimum of N3million per trip, a convoy of 15 cars, including 2 bullet-proof vehicles at N75 million each, over-inflated procurement and construction contracts among other things. In two of the examples he cited, Obi as governor, reduced the cost of executing the projects by about 500 per rcent.

Let us analyse the situation a little further by comparing the income of Anambra State to that of some other states.  At the end of 2013 (the period Obi was governor), the then  minister of Finance, Dr  Ngozi  Okonjo Iweala released the list of states with the highest allocation from the Federal Government. Interestingly, Anambra was not among the first 10. Delta (the home state of the Niger Delta Avengers), was third on the list. This list shows that the highest allocations went to – Akwa Ibom (N260 billion or $1.7 billion as at 2013),Rivers (N230 billion or $1.5 billion),Delta (N209 billion or $1.3 billion) and Bayelsa (N173 billion or $1.1 billion).

When the list of states with the highest allocations is placed alongside the list of states owing salaries another interesting phenomenon is revealed- some of the states with the highest allocations are in the list of states owing salaries. Concerning non-payment of salaries it is pertinent to note that the payment of salaries within the stipulated period is the minimum responsibility an employer owes an employee. Yet, some of these states owe as much as 5 months’ arrears of salaries despite the Federal Government’s “bail out” funds disbursed early in the year.

In the course of his speech, Obi also declared that at hand-over, he did not owe pensions or gratuities even though he met a debt of N35 billion in pensions and gratuities. This statement is important because most governors have not considered the remuneration of our senior citizens apriority. One of Obi’s predecessors was infamously reported to have referred to pensioners as “dead woods”. The crime these gentlemen and ladies who had given the best years of their lives to the service of the state committed was demanding that several months of arrears of pensions be paid.

Obi’s legacy coupled with the resourcefulness of his successor, have  put Anambra on the list of top producing states agriculturally. The state is on its way to becoming self-sufficient in rice production by 2017 and is poised to become a major exporter of vegetables. These achievements are more remarkable considering that Anambra State has the second smallest land mass in Nigeria and receives no oil revenue.

We can deduce from  Obi’s analysis that the debtor states are not meeting their obligations not because they are not “viable” but because the resources (especially in the oil-rich areas) of the states, are being plundered. Political vampires have literally sucked the blood of their citizens. Most of these vampire-governors leave the state house and buy their ways to the Senate but most of the time their seats are empty when proceedings at the National Assembly (NASS) are shown on TV.

The NASS on the other hand, has gulped a sizable proportion of national recurrent expenditure for the past few years. The NASS budget of N115 billion this year is more than the annual budget of 15 states in Nigeria. State budgets however, provide for thousands of citizens while the NASS budget is meant to service 409 individuals. Nigerian senators and members of the House earn more than N200 million in allowances per annum aside “lobbying” fees and of course the gains that we have just discovered accrue from budget “padding”.  So, no one needs to rob a bank in Nigeria or become a kidnapper or drug baron because getting into the NASS will yield higher dividends with less effort and risk.

In conclusion, the search for an alternative to crude oil seems superfluous after listening to  Obi’s presentation because it is clear that we are in a self-induced recession. The solution proffered by Peter Obi Esq., is simple: cut down on the cost of governance, reduce executive and legislative brigandage and invest in revenue generating projects. In Obi’s opinion, the national budget can be partly financed without borrowing or selling assets.

The big question then is, what are the implications of these revelations to millions of Nigerians living below the poverty line and the increasing number of jobless youth despite the abundant resources in our nation? What should the response of the people to these facts be? The popular reply is, “vote them out in the next election”. No! We should call them to account NOW. We need to go beyond applauding Obi and his exploits in government 3 years ago, and play our part NOW. We must demand that our representatives represent us. We the people , labour  unions, trade unions, student unions and any other Nigerian with a sense of decency and dignity, should demand a CHANGE. We need to march to the legislative houses in the states and the FCT and demand ACCOUNTS. The oppressed people of Nigeria need to go beyond rhetoric and take action NOW.

— Ogoazi is a Lagos- based public affairs analyst

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