Central Bank of Nigeria deputy governor, Kingsley Moghalu, probably had Governor Ibrahim Shema of Katsina in mind when he was warning state governors against waste of funds accruing to their states through ostentatious lifestyles and bogus spending habits.
Shema has just splashed a largesse on the governor of Niamey region in Niger Republic, Hajiya Aishatu Bulama Kane: he constructed and handed over a "more befitting" residence reported to have cost N60 million (200 million CFA) to her. Her official residence was in "bad shape", the Katsina governor said.
Governor Shema committed no crime by helping a less-endowed state in neighbouring Niger. In an oil-rich nation like Nigeria, N60 million is chicken feed for a governor; the average governor's residence costs more than 20 times N60 million. Never mind that most Nigerians live in shacks or houses built with less than N0.1 million. If Alhaji Shema had used his personal money, there would have been no protest. But because he used taxpayers' money, he should have, at least, sought the taxpayers' permission.
While Governor Shema was building a "befitting" residence for the Niamey governor, workers in the state were demanding payment of N11 billion salary arrears. Katsina is the second poorest state in Nigeria, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, with 74.8 per cent of the population living with less than a dollar a day.
It is also one of the states with very little internally generated revenue (IGR); the government depends almost wholly on the statutory allocation from the federal government each month. The Central Bank of Nigeria Annual Report for 2011 shows that the state's IGR for 2011 was N3.2 billion, probably not enough to even pay salaries. As of June 2012, Katsina State also had an external debt of $74.15 billion, the sixth biggest among the 36 states and the FCT.
When, therefore, opposition parties in the state rebuked the governor, calling his action a misplaced priority, they were right. Why the largesse when the citizens of Katsina State are suffering in poverty? Why didn't the governor direct the meagre resources of the state to sectors where infrastructure is really in bad shape? Besides, Governor Shema did not get the approval of the House of Assembly before he spent the money.
Charity begins at home. But even if Shema had decided to begin his charity abroad, there are better ways he could have spent the N60 million in Niger: on projects that are beneficial to both nations. While commissioning the residence, for instance, Shema spoke of the need for collaboration between the two countries in addressing the security challenges currently facing them.
This, he said, would be by strengthening the Nigeria-Niger Joint Commission and improving intelligence gathering. We wonder how a new residence for the governor of Niamey would improve the security situation of Katsina.