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Now That Change Has Come

CASMIR IGBOKWE e-mail: casmir.igbokwe@theunion.com.ng

Owelle Rochas Okorocha is an interesting character. At social functions, you can’t but admire his swagger. When he gets up to talk, he first draws attention by chanting, “My people, my people!” And the crowd will roar, “My governor, my governor!” As the governor of Imo State, Okorocha has made some impact – positive and negative – in the eastern heartland.

Before he became governor, his house at Umuodu Mbieri in Mbaitoli Local Government Area of Imo State, could compare to any modern palace of a first class royal father in Nigeria. But within the first three years of his tenure as governor, he reportedly built what could compare to a presidential mansion, complete with a ranch, a big estate and multiple buildings.

President Muhammadu Buhari, who visited Imo recently, was said to have expressed shock at such open display of opulence. Being a progressive governor, Okorocha had dreamt change. Many Nigerians also clamoured for it. Today, that change has come. The All Progressives Congress has taken over the mantle of leadership at the centre. Many Nigerians are happy about it. But with the white elephants in Imo and elsewhere, is there any hope that this change will not be cosmetic; that it will not be like demolishing one palace to build another? The answer is blowing in the wind.

With the current trend of events in many of the so-called progressive states, there seems to be little hope. A few days to the inauguration of this new administration, workers in Osun State embarked on an indefinite strike over six months unpaid salaries. Retirees are also being owed arrears of pensions.

In Oyo, Cross River and some other states, the scenario is the same. Many of the states are reeling in debts. Lagos, for instance, is said to be the highest debtor state in the country with an external debt stock of $1,169bn and domestic debt stock of N278, 867bn. Why should Lagos owe this much? Why is Osun overburdened with debts? What happened to the earnings of these states from excess crude account, federation account, internally generated revenues and ecological funds? The governors of these states have a lot of explanations to make.

Anambra was similarly a debtor state until Mr. Peter Obi came on board as governor. He changed the situation of the state and handed over N75bn assets to his successor. This is in spite of the fact that the state does not collect oil derivation money. Real change will start when we begin to manage our resources prudently. Happily, Buhari appears set to lead the way. He has rebuffed plans by the same profligate governors to nominate ministers for him. He told them that the task to appoint ministers rested with him and nobody should tell him what to do in that regard.

The President should also ignore lobbyists and appoint people of integrity into his cabinet. The idea of having 42 ministers and ministers of state or hundreds of advisers and special assistants is superfluous. He is reported to be considering 19 ministries. That is good news.

After all, the United States, which is far bigger and richer than Nigeria, has a cabinet of only 23 members. Buhari should do everything possible to put an end to fuel subsidy regime and consolidate on the liberalisation of the power and oil sectors. Nigerians are impatient.

They have high expectations. He should not disappoint them. The President had also talked of probing the immediate past administration. That is not a bad idea. But if we must solve the problems of the future, we should not waste much time on our past mistakes. I suggest he hits the ground running and focus on real governance for which he was elected. Probe will not yield any positive outcome judging from antecedents.

But if he insists on it, then he has to make it go round. You cannot, for instance, probe the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation in isolation because other ministries and parastatals were not manned by saints. Look at the Central Bank of Nigeria under Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. Recent media reports indicate that for three years running (2012 to 2014), the CBN has been operating without approved financial statement and reports.

Neither has the apex bank made any submission to the National Assembly in line with the CBN Act. Financial experts described this as a major statutory infraction. This largely happened under Sanusi as Governor. What of the Customs, the Police and the armed forces? A lot of shenanigans happen in those outfits and some other ministries, departments and agencies of government. It is either we probe them or we put machinery in motion to reform them. President Goodluck Jonathan put it succinctly when he said any probe must go beyond his tenure.

He asserted, “The Attorney General is aware of massive judgments debts. If we aggregate all of them, it’s almost going to $1 billion. How did we come to this kind of huge judgment debts? These issues should be probed. How do you allocate our oil wells, oil fields, marginal wells and all that. Do we follow our laws? All these should be probed. And I believe all these and many more areas should be looked at.”

There is need to even reform the thinking pattern of many Nigerians. The mechanic who rips his client off needs serious reforms. The civil servant who refuses to do his job because his palms have not been greased needs to change. The emergency politician and contractor who parade the corridors of power asking for one favour or the other from public functionaries deserve to be reformed.

The journalist who demands brown envelope before doing his professional duties needs total overhaul of his mind. Above all, the self-styled progressives who inflict pains on their citizens by their actions and inactions need to go through some reorientation. The days ahead promise to be very interesting. Happy Democracy Day Nigerians!

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