BT COLUMNIST: Cold Facts With Abbiba Ivy Princewill
The past few days have seen new revelations come to light that the most acclaimed Governors in the last dispensation wasn’t squeaky clean after all. Social media has been ablaze with criticisms of Babatunde Fashola’s use of the public purse and is questioning his so-called ‘achievements’ in office considering the huge resources he had at his disposal and yet very little on ground to show for it- the roads of his city are still as dirty as ever. The roads even in middle-class suburbs are unmotorable, during rainy season- half the city is flooded including the elite suburbs, the city the most important in the country has no mass rail system, clean water or toilets in slum areas after 8 years of his rule + a yearly budget that is larger than the entire GDP of some African countries.
Well, I am not interested in engaging in a debate about him. All I want to say on this is if any public office holder is found mismanaging the public purse. He should be charged to court and the justice system should run its course. I believe in trying people in a court of Law, not trial by the public.
However, the newly sworn in set of governors have a lot to learn from this entire fiasco. The simple takeaway from this is – since 1972- Nigeria has not had anything close to a functioning government that delivers public goods to its citizens instead we have had 43 years of official government neglect. The political class and their economic counterparts have only been interested in sharing the proceeds of the Niger Delta’s Oil for 4 decades. But there is bad news for the 36 of you; you are becoming governors at a time when the fundamentals of the global oil market have changed substantially because of new technologies and innovation in the Energy space. The era of 100 dollars per barrel oil is gone forever – big oil is gone- no more ‘awoof’ money. The monthly allocation from Abuja will continue to drop, you will have difficulties paying salaries and balancing your budget and delivering to your people on the receipts from Abuja. It was never sustainable in the first place and now it is impossible to rely on Abuja, alone. Nigeria would have to start running an economy and government like the rest of the world and that means raising revenues by direct taxation of its citizens.
Therein lies our problem, citizens pay tax to their government in return the government delivers services to their people but in for over 40 years. The Nigerian government has not delivered any service to its citizens- no roads, health, education, water, waste management- nothing. So, how do you tax a people, who have no trust in the system and who for their entire lives have not felt the presence of the government that is the challenge for you the new set of governors. How do you tax a population, you have not delivered public goods to since 1972?
My advice for the new governors; keep it simple – Build the foundation of trust between the government and its citizens by delivering basic services to the people. After consistently doing that for 4 years, you can then introduce a personal income tax or service tax, people would happily comply and pay taxes providing revenues for the government to run the state and get independence from Abuja. But, before you can do that you must first turn around, the huge trust deficits that exist between the governing class and the people they govern. The link between governments and their people is just like a relationship – give and take – I pay tax, you deliver. If you haven’t delivered in 40 years – then, you have to show good faith to get my trust back. So start delivering and I would pay tax because you have shown me that you have changed. You won’t leave me out in the cold, again. So for our new Governors, this is not the time for white elephant projects or unsustainable projects. Let us go back to the basics and do the simple things- these are a few ideas.
- Launch operation no potholes in your capital city- all major roads should be fixed to cut commute times and reduce stress levels for your people.
- Build Link roads connecting rural areas to the city- so farmers can transport their farm produce quicker and save money + avoid wastage- 70% of farm produce gets spoilt between the farm and the market.
- Build public toilets/Latrines in your urban slum communities.
- Create and organized system of waste collection and disposal.
- Appoint a competent team of commissioners – not more than 20 – at this point in our nation – we need our commissioners to be even more competent than federal ministers. You are trying to create a state economy. If it is possible to have 30% of your ministers from the diaspora so be it – go to any of the top public policy schools in the US, UK and Canada and source for competent economic advisors and administrators from your state – to help build the capacity of the state – if you don’t have a state tax body – set up one immediately.
- Partner with NYSC in your state – the corps members that are posted to your state – use them effectively – organize a 4/6 weeks boot camp – where you get people to train them on how to prepare lesson notes and send them to public schools around the state to teach the kids reading, writing, arithmetic and ICT.
- Train people as community health workers in rural areas where there are no hospitals and let them be the primary contact for sick people in that area- let every rural village have at the very least- a functional dispensary.
- Build public taps and bore holes in poor parts of your state to give them access to clean water. The whole point of government is to make our lives easy – water is a human right.
- Buy 200+ buses that go the length and breadth of your state as a means of public transport.
- This might sound laughable but Governor Fayose was absolutely spot on – stomach infrastructure is key. This idea sounds crazy to middle-class snobs, but it is the right thing to do – Nigeria is a tale of 2 nations – Only 30% of Nigerians live above the poverty line while a whopping 70% live in grinding poverty- we need certain stop gap measures in place to take care of their basic needs especially the slum communities in our urban cities. They live in appalling conditions and the vast majority of them live in worse conditions than people in the village – who even though they might not have a toilet- can often feed themselves 3 square meals- suggestion – introduce feeding for the poor urban class who have no jobs in exchange for their services – like trash collection, filling up potholes, building public toilets, etc. like an apprentice scheme- where they get fed 3 square meals, learn a skill + render a service to society.
Lastly, innovation can help you deliver good governance to your people – so surround yourself with competent and informed people. 60% of our population is under 35 – Your cabinet needs to reflect that reality- you need young advisers not just for youth affairs but in your main cabinet- why can’t your commissioner of education be 32? – you need the vitality and idealism of youth to be aware of the aspirations of your teeming young population.
About Abbiba Ivy Princewill:
She has an LLB from King’s College London and is currently studying for an LLM in Securities Regulation at University of California, Los Angeles. She has deep interest in Finance, African Politics and the state of STEM education in Nigeria. Connect with her on Twitter here.
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