9 November 2017

Nigeria: Accountability and Public Officials

While Nigerians, as a minimum, deserve a life free from hunger in a country so blessed with arable land and natural resources, both poverty and hunger continue to trail our national landscape. And with many of the rural communities lacking access to critical infrastructure for storage and transportation of raw materials from their places of production to markets, all the rhetoric about diversification is losing meaning.

Whatever government officials may be saying, incentives for youth participation are scanty just as credit regime to drive the agriculture sector does not exist. Yet there is no better time than now to make the much-touted transition from oil to agriculture as the growth catalyst for the Nigerian economy. Unfortunately, at a period when we should look inwards, most of the governors have continued the wasteful habit of undertaking frivolous foreign trips under the guise of going to seek foreign investment.

The situation, which started right from the inception of the current democratic experiment in 1999, is such that at any given period in the last 18 years, it was always difficult to have majority of the governors within the country except there is a meeting in Abuja for which many would simply fly in and fly out immediately after. They are either in Dubai or London as many of them hardly spend two weeks at a stretch in their various states capital cities.

Yet the indices of poverty everywhere make it difficult for us to understand the recklessness that drives this "investment trips" some of which are out-rightly bizarre in conception and clearly irresponsible in terms of the funds expended on them. A simple calculation of travel cost for the number of delegates, their accommodation, feeding and allied expenses reveal quite clearly that most of these foreign trips are nothing but a colossal waste of public funds. Besides, these trips are not driven by investment needs but rather as a conduit for all manner of economic mischief.

It is therefore time Nigerian leaders stopped these meaningless and wasteful trips and begin to think of how to develop the productive capacity of our people rather than a continued reliance on oil revenue. Perhaps this is the time to use such productive capacity as a basis for revenue entitlement in many of the states. Even in the distribution of oil revenue, there have been many options, including trying a system of matching grants in which states and local governments qualify for the larger percentage of national revenue but purely on the basis of what they produce or contribute to the common purse. In other words, the more productive states and local governments are, the greater the amount of national revenue they will attract on a grants-in-aid basis.

Apparently because we are running a system that is not based on productivity, there is also little or no accountability on the part of these public officials. That explains why to curry favour, officials in virtually every sector most often try to take one project or the other to the village or home state of the big man even when such decisions make no economic or political sense. This sort of recklessness, which has become rather prevalent, also accounts for the location of most of the universities/polytechnics we have in the country today.

With the decline in the oil revenues being shared every month in Abuja, the reversal of the looming catastrophe, would require not only transparency and accountability but also fiscal and monetary creativity both in Abuja and in the states. This is therefore the time for people in authorities to shun most of the unwholesome practices holding the nation back while putting on their thinking caps.

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