So, What’s the Trouble With the States? By Adagbo Onoja

State Governance in Nigeria - CoverState Governance in Nigeria: Challenges and Way Forward For a Prosperous Future by Comrade Salihu Lukman does not really qualify to be called a book, (and this is not a problem that can be solved by calling it a booklet or pamphlet) but still an inviting text for a review of the sensitivity of the subject matter. State Governance has become part of the problem rather than the solution. This perception is widespread, with many a senior citizen as well as the World Bank taking swipes at particularly the individual and collective leadership of state as a layer of power in Nigeria. Apart from this perceived crisis of leadership at that layer of power, there is also the belief that many of the states are unviable, (which is one of the many lies upon which the Nigerian system is erected as no state in Nigeria lacks the human resources, agro-industrial potentials and the environmental contexts for rapid transformation).
Any text which to unravel the challenges and the ways forward out of this type of situation is bound to be tempting even if the text is a product of a consultancy, (though not in any commercial sense of the word in to this ‘book’). And not if the work is very, very current and the prompter was the N18, 000 monthly Minimum Wage controversy since 2010. Defining itself in terms of this prompter, the book isolated fiscal viability/threat of bankruptcy as the contradiction to be resolved with particular reference to poverty, inequality and unemployment. In four interesting though sometimes overlapping chapters, the author laid out the specifics of the challenges and the ways out. The best thing would have been a situation where we can compel every governor, aspiring governor and every major politician to read these four chapters personally. The basis for that is so that both those who would agree or disagree with the analysis and even the data would, nevertheless, be fully aware of such an analysis and even make it the take-off point for their own data and data. However, since there is no law which enables a reviewer to compel this set of politicians to read a particular book, I would proceed to pick out what I consider to be the key takes of the book in each of the four chapters.
Chapter One opens with the context of the book: how the passage of the N18, 000 monthly Minimum wage for public service workers sufficiently alarmed state as to institute a survey on the long term implications, especially in terms of the “matrix of employed government workers, total salary overhead and revenue in flow” and unemployment statistics. The survey had generated indicators suggesting the danger of bankruptcy, warranting the intervention of the Senate whose Public Hearing came to the conclusion that bankruptcy was real most of the states depended exclusively on Federation Allocation and/or allocations from the Excess Crude Account and were already heavily indebted to the point of spending 81% of their allocation on debt repayment.
These two works compelled further evaluation of State Governance, that being the making of the book under review. In what looks like a review of the debate which started on page 10 and which relied substantially on The NGF Minimum Wage Challenges to State Governments: Labour Policy Report 2011, CBN 2010 Report, etc, the author coalesced the problems the non-viability of the 36 – State structure. He did this on several grounds, the first of which is a huge recurrent cost that leaves nothing for development, (a situation that the minimum wage was posed as going to aggravate most of the states were going to spend more than 30% of their revenue on personnel costs). Second is how only about seven states would be considered healthy if the IGR/ ratio were set at 40% considered to be more realistic ratio, (According to the book, those states would be Edo, Gombe, Kwara, Lagos, Ogun, Oyo and Rivers). Third is the fact that only Lagos and Rivers states present a consistent scorecard of being healthy if all four criteria by which a state can be considered healthy were used, these being 40% IGR/ ratio, IGR/Personnel Cost ratio, IGR/Total cost ratio. Fourth is the reality of misappropriation as the major snag which weakens the financial capacity of the states, propelling many of them to more indebtedness and the ground is a more acceptable revenue situation which would be where Internally Generated Revenue can take care of personnel cost, (pp 15/6).
Each of these grounds has a graph ‘demonstrating’ it in the book until we arrive page 20 where the implications of the revenue structure were laid out. Though this book accepts the notion that the states are not viable because of the subsisting revenue structure, it nevertheless points out the fact of increased revenue since 1999 which though did not translate to more acceptable statistics of poverty eradication, employment and similar indicators of development. Instead, figures of poverty and unemployment rates are rising. It asserts that a broader development strategy revenue allocation formula is called for. In other words, the issues are the technicism of revenue structure and goes the politics of development, (p. 20).
Chapter Two focused on the challenges, singling out the technocratic infrastructure of the states as a fundamental source of the problem. The portrait of the civil service is one which is antiquarian as far as skills, talent, basic qualification, initiative and sense of urgency as far as getting Nigeria out of her unique underdevelopment is . This claim is exemplified in the management of the agricultural sector where governance at the state level (it must be worse at the federal level) has been reduced to endless importation of rice, fertilizer and even sugar without bothering about the expenditure associated therewith or the implications for national security.
Chapter Three has a set of general and specific recommendations, a bulk of which derives from the foregoing analysis while Chapter Four, the shortest of them all came up with its deductions. Needless pointing out it is a repetition of previous analysis. In all cases, the notion that high personnel cost associated with the Minimum Wage regime is itself a problem is prevalent. Similarly, the low IGR component of the revenue structure of state governments and the high recurrent/capital budget ratio are seen as critical contradictions. To these are attributed the rising figures of poverty and unemployment, a computation of which poses zones of extreme poverty against zones of relative prosperity in the country. The book argues that these are all outcomes of policy choices of policy drivers in the polity. The states which fall which zone can be seen on pages 50 and 51 of the book, leading the author to the concluding sentence that “what the realities facing our 36 states suggest is the need for a conscious drive towards instituting pro-poor, progressive and employment friendly policy environment”, (p. 51). ‘Pro-poor, progressive and employment friendly policy’ Uhmm!
The rest of the materials are appendix 1 – 5 which are opinion pieces by either the author or a collaborator on topics related in one way or the other to the subject matter. In all, it makes an interesting reading especially if related to the agenda of a comrade in politics most of whom go into politics with notions of provoking debates which they were used to in the student or human rights or gender activism, but, most of the times, finds that no one is interested in debating anything. Instead, what happens is the interface of what the late Professor Sam Aluko called the government of the night and the government of the day, the government of the day being the formal processes by which power is operationalized while the government of the night is the unseen, informal processes by which power is operationalized. The way it works out is that a contract awarded in the day time via open tender could be annulled in the night with the visit of a regional potentate, the chief from the president’s home town or the governor’s girlfriend. And so on and so forth.
There is a sense in which the book (or is it the author?) can be considered honest. The author says on page 10 that the agenda is to assist in stimulating and facilitating increased national discussion, debate, engagement and contestation on the economic viability of our 36 state governments with a view to “enthroning new governance framework in order to promote enhanced livelihood for citizens”. To the extent of this declaration, it be held liable for shortcomings because it is merely throwing open the debate, coming into it with no fixed but only tentative positions.
The reviewer’s critique of the book below should, therefore, be seen as a contribution to the debate, not a critique of the book as such. And my first observation thereto is that the book has been too restrained by the ‘consultancy’ context from which it originated. That can be the only reason why the problematic was defined strictly in terms of revenue structure. Otherwise, the author would have told us if the who really gave character to the 2nd Republic, (the Abubakar Rimis, the Balarabe Musas, the Jakande, the Solomon Lars, etc) were getting anything close to what the are getting today in terms of revenue. Of course, lack of money can frustrate even the most determined governor but even then, the wealthiest governor can still end up a disaster in governance if s/he has no ideology of governance in the first case. Methinks this is why none of the very, very few success stories among the current set of when we are discussing development still do not compare very well with say, Kaduna, Kano, Plateau and Lagos states in the Second Republic. The difference is explainable by the ideology of governance that informed the politics of the Second Republic as distinct from the ideologies of power behind the current generation.
The second point is the fact that the author provided no framework for his understanding of the concept of State Governance. Was he looking at it from the framework of federalism in Nigeria or the Rentier State which Nigeria is assumed to be a classical example or the Failed/Failing State or even primitive accumulation framework? For instance, there are those who shoot against creation of more states on the ground that it amounts, by implication, to devolution which they see as a machination of transnational corporations in favour of weak and fragmented centre. Being an Idoma man whose people are pushing for state creation, it would be suicidal for me to declare my support for this analytical framework here recognizing it as plausible framework. And there are many such frameworks. The point about a conceptual framework is that there has to be a context within which the discussion is taking place.
Some structural alignment is required to transform this book. Granted that it is not an academic text, that does not excuse it from proceeding according to certain norms. The overlaps observable in the books now could have been avoided if the book proceeded from stating the problem, giving us an insight into what the debate has been like and then bring in the NGF review, and so on and so forth. The way the book is now, these things are there but a bit too scattered for the book to have the bite it should have.

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