BAYELSA AND THE GOVERNANCE QUESTION

There is a certain sense in which a feeling of entitlement can be justified. But there is equally a plethora of reasons why growing up and living a life with an entitlement mentality is extremely damaging. Entitlement stifles every ounce of creativity in a person and leaves the person a pauper of sound reasoning. When one feels entitled, the tendency for laxity and slothfulness becomes very high. The entitlement mentality often shrinks the productive capability of able-bodied individuals.

A sense of entitlement leads one to blame outside forces and leaves one with little time for introspection and profound self-examination as a means to solving one’s problems. Everyone. The government. The neighbours. The uncles and aunts. Everyone but oneself is the cause of the problem. Thus it gives others undue authority over personal affairs of individuals; for if you do not believe that the cause of your problem lies within, you must continue to look upon others to help in solving your problems.

Beyond the individual level, there is some apparent institutionalization of the sense of entitlement. More than 50 years after the independence era, many African commentators still opine that the primary cause of Africa’s developmental backwardness remains the undue interference of the West in Africa’s affairs. One can deduce from the arguments of such scholars that the only way out of Africa’s developmental quagmire seems to be from the input of the West. They do not see the foolery of the argument they are presenting. They do not see the mismanagement and plunder to which many African post-independence leaders have subjected her enormous resources. Their continued blame of colonialism as the bane of African development is clearly breeding a ground for mediocrity. Thus, instead of problem solving, such views lead to unproductive blame game and an eternal entitlement to outside intervention. This does not imply that there aren’t parts of our problems caused by the West. However sticking to that narrative alone is a dangerous single story which must be avoided.

Take a trip from the macro level to the micro. Due to the unsustainable structure of our federalism, states have become redundant entities whose major stock-in-trade is to proceed at the end of every month with plates in hand in a beggarly manner to collect their own share of the “national cake”, an entitlement to which they contribute little or nothing.  A look at the “State of States” Fact Sheet recently released by BudgIT (a civic organisation that makes government data, especially budgets, understandable and accessible for the public) would leave most passionate citizens angry. The truth is this; most Nigerian states contribute nothing to the national treasury from which they draw their monthly liquidity. But that is not really the annoying part. What is annoying is that more than 60% of the states are not fiscally responsible. They collect these monies with very little or nothing to show. A look at their various financial statuses left me perplexed. Apart from three states, Enugu, Lagos and Rivers, the rest of the states run monthly deficits. Their monthly recurrent expenditures far outweigh their revenues. The result can already be guessed. ALL the states in Nigeria borrow to fund their capital projects. Even states like Lagos and Rivers whose revenue to recurrent expenditure ratio is on the green side still have humongous debt profiles. But my surprise from the statistics released by BudgIT is Bayelsa.

Hear what the BudgIT survey says about her: “the oil-rich state is neck-deep in debt, with a total debt stock topping N110.8bn as at the end of the fiscal year 2015. Her average monthly recurrent expenditure commitment remains abnormally high at N11.05bn. Bayelsa is a poster-child of mismanagement; she currently owes workers up to 3 month salaries although her population is less than that of Alimosho Local Government (of Lagos State)”.

I have been one of those who will continue to argue that while we condemn the despicable system that makes the federal government owners of resources found at “people’s backyards” and make a case for the restructuring of that unjust system, we must not be blind to the mindless mismanagement and plunder to which most Niger-Delta leaders have subjected their resources. I still argue that enough money has come to a state like Bayelsa for her to have had all the indices for a 21st century developed state pointing upwards.

But it remains disturbingly outrageous to see that this is not the case. Infrastructural development in Bayelsa state is not at par with the amount of money it has gotten over the last 17 years. From Diepreye Alamieyeseigha/Goodluck Jonathan to Timipre Sylva and then to Seriake Dickson, the rhetoric has almost remained the same. Plunder. Loot. Mismanage. How does one even explain the fact that Bayelsa state despite its small size and population has more recurrent expenditure than states like Kano, Rivers and Anambra which are bigger than her both in size and population? Both her personnel and overhead costs exceed that of states twice her size. With a monthly deficit of N4.9bn she ranks second to AkwaIbom as the states whose monthly recurrent expenditure exceeds their revenue. How do we explain this flippancy in government? Are states like Bayelsa and AkwaIbom paying her unemployed youths some monthly stipend? Why is the cost of running government outrageously high in a small state like Bayelsa with only 8 local governments and 24 House of Assembly members? How can a state like Bayelsa owe workers salary for even a minute? From their website, the current government seem to be showing some commitment but the physical results of that remains to be seen.

This ugly trend is part of the reasons why I often do not take seriously the political submissions of Senator Ben Murray Bruce. Granted, he is a federal legislator whose primary focus is to see that the federal government is run well. But his outright silence on the state of affairs in his state is worrisome to me. Bayelsa with the money it has so far received has not shown enough commitment in delivering the dividends of democracy to her people. While it remains very important to hold the federal government accountable, Bayelsa and indeed Niger Delta citizens should rise to ask their leaders pertinent questions. What have they done with their revenues over the years? From the BudgIT report, between the years 2011 to 2015, Bayelsa state received a total of N747.1bn as FAAC allocation and N38.7bn as IGR; what has it to show for such huge amount of money? I think it is high time we paid some attention to states. I agree that the structure of the Nigerian state shifts attention naturally to the centre. However, we must find some time to beam our searchlights on our various states. The level of mismanagement and lack of transparency you will see there will leave you bewildered. Download a copy of BudgIT’s State of the States Fact sheet and weep more for the future of this country and our states being mortgaged through humongous debts. That document is a study in confirmation of a country at a standstill at best and at worst going downhill in its HDI. Bayelsa citizens, it is time to look inwards; time to ask hard questions.

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