THE ROLE OF GOVERNORS IN NIGERIA’S FEDERAL DEMOCRACY: MEETING THE CHALLENGES
A PAPER DELIVERED BY HIS EXCELLENCY, CHIEF T. A. ORJI (OCHENDO), EXECUTIVE GOVERNOR OF ABIA STATE, NIGERIA
HOLDING AT THE PAUL H. NITZE SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTERNATIONAL STUDIES, JOHN HOPKINS UNIVERSITY, WASHINGTON, D.C, USA
DATE: TUESDAY, MARCH 12, 2013, BY 4.30 PM
DISTINGUISHED LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!
I bring you warm greetings from my good people of Abia State, in Nigeria. I must say I am very pleased to honor your invitation to be here in your Nation’s Capital City of Washington D.C. to speak on the role of governors in Nigeria’s Federal Democracy: Meeting the Challenges.
Nigeria, and in-fact the entire developing Nations of the World, continue to talk and dream about democracy, because we have all been inspired by the successful application of that principle in modern United States of America. There is therefore, no better place to continue that debate on democratic performance of governors, than here – where your founding fathers, faced by the centrifugal forces that could have torn the country apart into many divergent States, braved the odds to build a United States, that is anchored on true federalism, equality and democracy.
It is your ability to adapt to changes, make sacrifices if need be, but without jettisoning the value principles of your democratic ideals that continue to sustain America as a strong Nation in what is sometimes, a dangerously volatile world.
In many other developing Nations, democracy comes with a baggage of demands in openness, individual rights and transparency, which often generate their myriads of other challenges. That is why in Nigeria, we have made strong commitments to democracy, but are yet to adopt the ethos and values that guide democratic principles, beyond conducting elections into government offices, – that is ‘a government by the people’ to a large extent. But we have not fully come to grips with the other important arm of the democratic principle – which is ‘the government for the people’.
To put it another way, our democracy has not fully appreciated the unique role that ‘the people’ play for governors to emerge, and the return role owed to ‘the people’ through that singular action.
Any attempt to understand this disparaging trend in our democratic experience, have been quick in laying the blame on the Nation’s historical antecedents, the intervening problems that these generate, and the consequent major challenges, especially violent conflicts that often dominate the environment and impede performance of governors.
For us in Nigeria, we continue to see democracy as a great idea that has won our fancy, despite its capacity to generate new demands with difficult challenges- such as our Nation now faces in the upsurge of Boko Haram terrorism. Some commentators see this is partly a creation of democratic demands occasioned by recent global enlightenment, and openness in public issues, especially new in many Northern States of Nigeria. But in our best interests, we have no other choice than to continue to build on the institutional foundations that improve the performance of governments in our Nation.
I will attempt in this paper to shed some light on those issues that impact on the Roles of Governors in Nigeria’s Federal Democracy, and how we can collectively meet the challenges of serving our people.
I appreciate the opportunity which the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies has given to me to interact with you, the students of this renowned Institution, the Washington policy makers, the media, and all other interested parties and intellectuals that are gathered here.
I particularly recognize your world class leading graduate school – devoted to the study of International Affairs, Economics, diplomacy, policy resource and education, since this Institution was founded in 1943 and became a part of the John Hopkins University in 1950. Since then, you have not left anyone in doubt, of your ability to become a force in the provision of modern information on the world, and providing rare opportunities for many distinguished speakers from all over the world to share their opinions.
I believe that what we are doing today, will further strengthen that reference, especially in better informing our audience on the current prevailing challenges to democratic governance in Nigeria, and particularly of my own State – Abia State, in the South-Eastern part of Nigeria. I sincerely thank you for this opportunity.
I have chosen to present this lecture in six sections for ease of analysis and comprehension. First, I dwell on a brief historical background of Nigeria, to show why it has taken our Nation some time to key into a popular idea as democracy. I then look at the political context of democratic transition in Nigeria and the changing overview of the structure that supported that transition. This is followed by analysis of the role of governors in the Nigerian polity, influenced by our Nation’s checkered history, and the Nation’s elected officials as they attempt to interpret the institutionalized constitutional provisions in the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State policy, as stated in the Federal Constitution of Nigeria, 1999.
I also address the challenges of governance to show why we in Nigeria have not been able to meet the logical demands of good governance, which must be guided through specific values and not just ‘a wish list’. I added a portion in this discuss to show that the prospects of good governance – lessons from Abia State, is both real and possible, especially where there is the will to do things right. I tried to demonstrate that governance built on integrity, equity, participation of the people and truly people centered, will certainly advance the tenets of democracy.
My concluding remarks, share the opinion that until the political dynamics of Nigeria change to reach a high level of maturity that is less primordial and more attuned to democratic values of equity, it will continue to spawn violence and conflicts that also inhibit the desired roles of leaders in providing for effective delivery system of democratic dividends. The democratization of Nigeria to reach a peak performance will also draw strength when our Nation begins to seriously address the issues of ethnocentricity, mismanagement of resources, fiscal federalism, religious intolerance and other myriads of domestic security threats.
BACKGROUND TO NIGERIA’S GEOPOLITICAL AND SOCIO-ECONOMIC HISTORY
The geopolitical space we know today as the Federal Democratic Republic of Nigeria, emerged as a creation of the commercial interests of the colonial British Empire. It was to advance her commercial interests that Colonial Britain found it expedient to weld together the several contiguous ancient kingdoms and local empires – into what became a loose British Protectorate of the North and South of the River Niger Area.
The British Protectorates of the North and the South of the River Niger were later designated as Nigeria in 1898, although under two different political standards. In 1914, the two entities were formally merged, for administrative reasons, only, and became the Protectorate and Colony of Nigeria, with Lord Lugard as the First British Governor General until 1919, when he was succeeded by other respective Governor-Generals.
While there were serious agitations for autonomy of various sections of Nigeria, not just the North and the Southern Colony, the Colonial Britain continued to maintain a United Nigeria that was more fictional than real. That was why in the Constitutional Conference of 1953, held under the British Colonial power, a Federal Constitution was hammered out for Nigeria, with the three regions of Nigeria – North, West and Eastern Nigeria being granted significant autonomy to develop at their own pace.
The real implication from this is that each region became self governing – the two southern regions in 1956 and the North in 1959, each with its different conception of what autonomy means and what government responsibility to the people meant ( See Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, for more info).
When Nigeria was granted full independence in October 1st, 1960, it was already evident that Colonial influence had nurtured different head starts and leadership values, as well as fostered the fear that separation and domination will remain the incendiary issues of Nigeria’s post colonial politics.
The new Independent Nigeria in 1960 was built around a three regional structure, dominated by the three main tribes – (Hausa, Igbos and Yorubas), before a fourth region, the Midwest Region was created through a disputed political fiat. The New Nigerian State immediately adopted a British Parliamentary System of Government, without consideration to the ethnically diverse people made up of more than 200 ethnic groups, speaking more than 400 languages.
It was clear that beyond the euphoria of independence, the post colonial Nigeria was born with many handicaps (See Fact about Nigeria, US Library of Congress), which included:
- 1. Uneven rate of development in the 3 federating units
- 2. Fragmentation of National elites, which encouraged ethnicity, regionalism and religious conflicts- which often became cannon fodders for power and resource competitions.
- 3. A structurally weak and un-united Nigeria, easily pliable to authoritarianism
In spite of the frailties of the immediate post independent Nigeria, this era fueled the golden era of neo-colonialism and the nationalistic principles that drove Nigeria to become a Federal Republic in 1963, and thus severing all remaining ties with the British Colonial power, even though it remained a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations.
Like most newly independent Nations of the 1960s, Nigeria was plagued by the need for rapid development to satisfy the promises of independence and the yearnings of her citizens. The crisis of Nation building, weakened by the struggle for regional supremacy, suddenly reopened old wounds, leading to the first military coup d’etat in Nigeria on January 15, 1966. This was followed by a series of other military interventions, some of them ethnically influenced, and some contrived by influential businessmen and personalities. All these came to a head in the Nigerian Civil war of secession, which lasted from 1967-1970.
Between 1966 and 1979, the mode of political administration in Nigeria was purely undemocratic, and leadership change was through military coups, punctuated by spells of elected governments that lasted for less than 4 years until 1991.
It should therefore not be surprising to anyone that our Nation bred generations of young leaders, technocrats and all kinds of do-gooders, who exercised impunity in governance without any viable responsibility between governors and the governed. They changed very little even though the system had!
That is why it was possible in Nigeria in 1991, to think of an experiment in the building of a democracy, through a mixture of military and civilian administrators that will gradually nurture and deliver democracy to a future Nigeria. But that experiment ended in futility when the proponent, General Ibrahim Babangida was himself overthrown in a palace coup in 1993, just after a presidential general election, acclaimed as the fairest democratic election in Nigeria was annulled by the military partners.
It was Nigeria’s determination to continue to move towards a democratic State that forced it to replace its experimental governance with a transitional civilian government under a civilian technocrat, Ernest Shonekan. But the growing insecurity of the State, mismanagement of resources in public and private places, and the spread of impunity in all forms of the lives of Nigerians, once again hastened the intervention of the Military in Nigerian politics in 1993 under General Abacha.
It was only a natural intervention leading to the untimely demise of General Abacha, and the emergence of a repentant military General, Abdulsalam Abubakar, coupled with the growing voices of Nigerians for the elusive democracy, that finally lead to another elected government in Nigeria, under President (Retired General) Olusegun Obasanjo and other governors in 1999.
DEMOCRATIC TRANSITION AND NIGERIA’S POLITICAL STRUCTURE SINCE 1999
From the period of colonial rule to date, the story of Nigeria remains one – for the search for a constitutional and a political structure, capable of creating the unifying force that can liberate a healthy self expression of the citizens in a collaborative way that can also galvanize the energies of the Nigerian mosaic for effective development.
That is why, over the years, even in a system predominantly usurped by military adventurists – Nigeria managed to maintain its fame as ‘Africa’s workshop of democracy’ (see Richard Skalar); by retaining many of the fundamental building blocks of democratic polity, such as a dynamic entrepreneurial class, a large reserve of active intelligentsia, unrestrained highly educated centers, an outspoken legal community, a vibrant media and a courageous human rights organization. These however, were not enough to change the structural challenges and ingrained value systems missing in military regimes, and which were necessary for the growth of democratic institutions.
A truly Federal democracy, capable of creating conditions for effective elected leadership with good performance, merely began to take root in 1999, when President Olusegun Obasanjo, with other 36 governors of the States came into office through the ballot box. Other elections have since been held in Nigeria and political power transmitted without a complete break-down of social order. It is within this period that we can attempt any reasonable evaluation of the roles of political leaders, including governors of States, and the challenges they face.
We should recall here that the greatest disservice of Military Role in Nigeria’s politics were in its failures in clear directions and actions that include:
- 1. Failure to understand and forcefully establish the political structure that can conveniently drive the aspirations of the diverse people of Nigeria, within a context that can culturally affiliate them together with their kiths and kinds in a loose Nigerian Federation of a weak center.
- 2. Failure to develop the Nigerian economy despite apparent potentials of being a rich Nation, even in the era of growing importance of oil resources. Thus Nigeria remained perpetually a people, a country of huge potentials, incapable of transiting into a land of opportunities, and with a growing population disengaged from the productive and distributive economic processes of their Nation.
- 3. Failure, most importantly, to move the Nigerian Nation and structure, beyond the hastily welded mosaic State of the Colonial commercial interests, which bore the seeds of conflict and distrust.
It was earnestly expected that a Federal Democratic Transition in 1999, will commence by addressing these disparities (See Sam Oyovbaire, Nigerian Political Economy, 1960-1985; Before the Babangida Regime).
The above may define why the framers of the 1999 Democratic Constitution of the Nigerian Federal Republic modeled it after the United States, with Executive powers vested on the President and the State Governors; with an upper and Lower Houses in a bicameral Legislature. The bicameral National Assembly of Senate and House of Representatives, made up of 109 seats and 360 seats respectively, were designed to ensure that each of the many ethnic Nations or its collective grouping will be assured of some form of representation and a voice in the policies emanating from the legislative chambers.
Even at that, it is still noted in many quarters that the Federal Democratic System and its bicameral representatives often fail to address some salient needs of its constituent States, within the existing Constitutional structure of 36 States and the Federal Capital territory of Abuja. This has lead to the aggregation of Nigerian States within informal zonal structures believed to fully capture the broader aspirations of Nigerians within their preferred groupings of six geopolitical zones: viz
- 1. North-Central Zone (Benue, Kogi, Kwara, Nasarawa, Niger, Platue, FCT, Abuja)
- 2. North-Eastern Zone ( Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba, and Yobe)
- 3. North-Western Zone (Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara)
- 4. South-Eastern Zone( Abia, Anambra, Eboyi, Enugu, and Imo).
- 5. South-South Zone ( Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross-River, Delta, Edo and Rivers)
- 6. South-Western Zone ( Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, and Oyo).
This approach of defining Nigeria’s geopolitical structure in regional zones of contiguous, cultural and ethnic affinity, may not have a formal or administrative responsibilities at the moment, but they have the capacity to assume future role playing, including its potential emergence as the new structure of a democratically restructured Nigeria.
The assumption for now is that such regional structures, if well organized, have the capacity of addressing the economic, social and development needs of Nigerians, in an integrative manner that not only avoids the challenges of present day ethnically divided Nigeria, but can also arrest the prevailing cleavages evident in the North-South divide; and thus creating the bonding platform for a mutually interdependent United Nigerian Federation ( See Emmanuel O. Oritsejafor, Development Challenges in Nigeria: A Political and Economic Challenge).
What I have tried to do here is to show the extent that the structural nature of the Nigerian political system, and the roles that governors play within that structure, are not themselves settled issues, but up for future conjecturing.
What is however clear is that the fundamental challenges of democratic governance in Nigeria at all levels, remain primarily the issue of ‘How governors can achieve the sustainable development of their citizens and economies; contain proliferating conflicts and enhancement of their economies and body politics, and advance equity, justice and transparency in their State system. We can further understand these through the analysis of the constitutional and prospective roles that governors pursue through their leadership in their parties, their States and the Nation.
THE ROLE OF GOVERNORS IN THE NIGERIAN NATIONAL POLITY
I will begin here by re-stating that the roles that Governors of States play in the Nigerian Federal Democratic System, and how they individually or collectively (through The National and regional governors’ forum), meet the challenges of their offices, are derived from formal settings and the informal expectations that the Nigerian public have about the office of the governor.
The checkered history of Nigeria’s democratic transition and economic development, have imposed on today’s Nigerian Governors – under democratically elected governments, – the hard task of quickly and forcefully addressing all imaginable problems, be they personal in nature or those formal issues affecting the general welfare of the people. The main reason for this is because the accountability of governors to the people is expected to form the primary check on behaviors of governors while in office.
The Nigerian governors also derive their roles to the people from the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic, and can pursue such roles within the extent they can stretch their individual leadership initiatives. But of primary importance is that such roles must attempt to anchor their activities on good governance, and as much as possible, avoid the impunities of the past.
In the Nigerian National Polity, governors are the chief executives of their States and the Chief Security and Law Officer. The role of governors and all other organs of Government conferred with Executive Powers are provided under Chapter 10, sections 13-18 of The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and broadly articulates the followings;
- Promotion of democracy and social justice in the State
- Promotion of security and welfare of citizens as the primary purpose of Government.
- Promotion of the participation of the people in their governance, and in accordance with the Constitution
- Promotion of inclusive governance that embrace diverse sections of the citizens, and that respect their cultural diversity and belief systems.
- Promotion of the integration of all peoples of the State, devoid of any form of discrimination
- Provision of adequate facilities, goods and services that improve the well-being of all citizens
- Elimination of all forms of corrupt practices and abuse of power
- Promotion of State economy and efficiency in such a manner as to secure maximum welfare, freedom and happiness of all citizens
- Promotion of planned and balanced economy to ensure equity in the distribution of resources to all citizens, and the decentralization of the means of production and exchange in the control of many citizens.
- Provision of adequate shelter, food, resources, wages, education and health facilities to all citizens, including those with special needs.
- Provision of easily accessible, independent and impartial Court of Justice, etc
Beyond these constitutional provision of roles for governors, it is true that the extent that each governor succeeds in performing his role will depend on the quality of programs articulated, the dedicated professional team available to the governor beyond the existing bureaucracy, the degree and quality of leadership available, the applicable manifesto of the Political Party in power which is often non-existent, and the integrity and drive behind the total leadership.
In short, no successful role of a governor is without its challenges, but above all other things else, it must be anchored on the delivery of good governance, and this connotes –collective participation, consensus building, accountability, transparency, responsibility, equitability, inclusiveness, and more especially, it must be built on the rule of law( See Kayode Fayemi, The Challenges of Change: Democracy and Development in Ekiti State, Nigeria).
THE CHALLENGES OF GOVERNANCE IN TODAY’S NIGERIA’S DEMOCRACY
Two major related problems very often challenge the Governors’ performance, and these include unequal availability of resources, and the over dependence of many States on the purse of an over-centralized Federal Government.
These on their own create further challenges, which are either structural, national and intra-State in nature and bear with them the collective barge of the mis-representation of public service as ‘a sharing of the national-cake’, presided over by an abrasive governor if he will get enough for himself and his State.
The major challenges to governors’ roles however, remain the followings:
- The over-centralization of power on the Federal government, especially the concentration of resources in the centre, which heightens political competition at the center, create violent conflicts, reduce effective participatory democracy, and reduce accountability in public offices. The devolution of more powers from the Centre to the States will certainly liberate more assets for governors in their roles of deepening democracy and enhancing development.
- The challenge posed by an un-even federal system of government in Nigeria encourages mismanagement in the system, promote ethnocentric, religious and social conflicts, which on themselves drive insecurity of the State and increases poverty.
- Fiscal federalism and resource control by States will certainly challenge the initiatives of governors to develop workable-strategies for the development and security of their States, as well as improve on interconnectedness and interdependence of States for greater mutual benefits.
- Mismanagement of Public Resources in the Nigerian democracy must be tackled adequately, especially from the impact it has on our electoral process (See Michael M. Ogbeidi, Political Leadership and Corruption in Nigeria since 1960. A Socio-Economic Analysis, JNS, vol. 2, 2012). A credible electoral system is a sine-qanon in Nigeria, since a credible electoral system remains the only life-blood of a democratic system and the only affirmation for the legitimacy of governors, and thus equally demands its payments through the performance of governors. But when democratic leaders can win election through fraud and disregard for the electorates, then there will be no check on bad governance or even the incentive for governors to perform, (See Princeton N. Lyman, Electoral Reform: The Next Milestone in Nigeria’s Democracy, Yar’Dua Memorial Forum, March 19, 2005).
The above critical challenges to the role of governors in providing good governance have been further summarized and articulated in a seminal Paper by Irene Omo Bare, as follows:
- Over-centralization of the Nigerian polity
- Lack of economic diversification
- Lack of transparency
- Mismanagement of Resources
- Growing religious divide
- Growing human insecurity, rising from civil strife and new dimension of terrorism
- Leadership frailties and unpreparedness of leaders to assume high offices
- Deliberate violation of rights and impunity of governance as a short circuit to enforcement of authority
Added to these is the emerging strained relationship between the Legislative branch and the Executives branches of Nigerian governments, and decline of Party discipline in support of programs important in the effective performance of the government in power. These can be added to the growing power struggle between the Governors’ Forum and the Legislatures on key resource control and distribution issues of governance. All these combine to undermine the effective roles of governors in the building of democratic governance committed to the people.
I admit here that critical challenges still remain in Nigeria’s democratic governance. Yet there are also flashes of effective performance of governors in many of our Nigerian States, such as in our own State of Abia.
These and many other reasons give hope that democracy will grow and endure in Nigeria, while producing the quality of leaders to advance its cause, just as it did in your own United States of America. Our Strong optimism and belief in the power of democracy to survive the Nigerian odds arise from:
- Nigeria’s growing response against the overthrow of democratically elected governments in Africa and elsewhere. The latest being Mali.
- Nigeria’s consistent support and promotion of international democracy and security in Africa through the ECOWAS, AU and UN.
- Nigeria’s strong policy against entrenched dictatorship.
- Nigeria’s public response and condemnation against the manipulation of Electoral Process world-wide.
- Nigeria’s growing national norms against violation of human rights and democratic values through organized advocacy and civil disobedience.
These and especially the lessons we get from Abia and many other Nigerian States give good reason in our optimism for the survival of democracy and the improving role of governors in Nigeria.
PROSPECTS OF GOOD GOVERNANCE IN NIGERIA’S FEDERAL DEMOCRACY: LESSONS FROM ABIA STATE
Abia State is one of the 36 States of Nigeria’s Federal Democracy, excluding the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja. It is located in the South-Eastern geopolitical Zone of Nigeria, with a population made up mainly of people of Igbo race. It is a core State of the defunct Biafra of the Nigerian Civil-War fame.
Following the partitioning of the core secessionist areas of the South-Eastern Region into several States as part of the post- civil war efforts to remove future attempts at secession in the region, this was followed by over-militarization of the area, absolute neglect of infrastructure and local leadership failures – in the midst of personal survival. This was the case in the region until 1991, when emerging agitation from the people lead to the creation of Abia State.
The first political Administrator of the State, Capt Frank Ajebena was a Military Air-force Officer, who did his best within the short period of six months he was in office.
The first civilian governor that emerged in Abia State in 1991, after the transition to Federal Democracy, inherited a weak institutional foundation of democracy and poor economic base. The second civilian Governor of the State emerged in 1999 with his own idiosyncrasies in Government, which resulted in his leaving behind a fragmented elite in the State politics.
It is worthy to note that Abia was never a great beneficiary of the development resources from the Federal Center of Government, being a peripheral oil producing State, with a people mainly dependent on agricultural activities and commerce.
As major trading and middle-men businesses environment, Abia people controlled the merchandizing of local and foreign goods in Nigeria and through-out the West African Coast. The externally focused elites could therefore enjoy both economic power, security and the independence bestowed by personal wealth where-ever they resided, without consideration to the declining political power of their own fragmented elites and the absence of democratic values in the politics of Abia State.
All these can only partly explain the failure of the growth of institutionalized democracy in Abia State for a long time. But it was the struggle for resource control in the larger Nigerian polity that created the environment of violent conflicts, public policy failures, collapsing public values, and the gangster styled-politic of god-fathers that strongly challenged many good Abians to begin to take interest in the politics of their State.
I had myself witnessed the fragilities of Abia politics from a closed quarter, before I became the governor of the State. I was a top ranking Civil Servant in the past governments of the State – both under the Military and Civilian eras, spanning before the creation of the State in 1991. I was also a participant observer of the State Politics, having served as Chief of Staff to a democratically elected State governor, During this period and for 8 years, I closely experienced the uses, abuses and violations of the democratic rights of citizens in the exercise of a governor’s roles of service.
But I never had doubts in my mind that democracy and the positive roles of governors under that system, could work if only the governors applied the right values, focused on good governance and addressed the welfare gaps of their citizens. That was when I promised myself that if I had a chance to be executive governor, I was going to use my position to serve the people with humility, integrity and build enduring legacies of hope for future generations, no matter the odds.
That chance came for me in 2007, when I was elected as the 3rd Civilian Governor of Abia State. My urgent agenda was to tackle the key areas of State services that have the greatest impact to the growth of democracy in the State and other challenges of major importance to the State. I resolved the followings:
- 1. To deepen the democratization process in Abia State by removing the leadership impunity and the abuse of State power and resources, and create a merit-based system of public service and political administration.
- 2. To unite the ruling political and economic elites of the State from their fragmented stupor, and create a basis for a dignified political participation for them that will benefit the entire people and their communities.
- 3. To lay the foundation for the bureaucratic support for public governance, and the foundation for political institutions, infrastructures and values that grow good governance. And to also produce the enabling sustainable foundation of the new Abia Economic and Social System that would serve the general public.
- 4. To provide for the security of lives and property of our citizens, as the first principle of State governance.
- 5. To provide opportunities for the self employment and actualization of the good lives of our people, especially the youths, women and the vulnerable individuals, through a strong Youth Empowerment programme.
As a two term governor of Abia State for the past 6 years, our Administration has skillfully followed our resolve to change the face of Abia, and the democratic politics of our people through our un-wavering focus on good governance and we have good results to show for this:-
- When I came into power the political elites were fragmented due treatments meted out to them by excluding them from governance.
We moved quickly and commenced the uniting of the fractured political elites, converting our major opponents as allies and mending all fences in a conciliatory manner. Today, Abia State can boast of the most cohesive political and economic elite group, united in their State politics, their goals for the State and their missions for their communities. We are now a family, constantly involved in political debates that enlighten, and not political battles that sometimes consume men and resources.
- When I became the governor of Abia, our State was at the choking grip of a devastating war of insecurity, and we had become a dreaded kidnapping centre. Our citizens and our organized businesses, many of whom had been victims, or feared of becoming one, flee from the State, and abandoned their business organizations to safer grounds. Our economy was drastically affected and our people under siege.
Today, through our doggedness to do things right, we brought together our stakeholders in the State – including political leaders, religious leaders, traditional leaders, organized youths, the security agencies, and the military might of the Federal Government, and we were able to wage a relentless war against kidnapping and other forms of criminalities. Today, Abia State is generally acclaimed as the safest State in Nigeria.
Our all-inclusive participants’ case approach has been studied by security practitioners as a model, and for all these, the Security Watch Africa, awarded Abia State the Best Governor on Security Matters in West Africa, 2012. Today Abia State economy is booming again, investors – local and foreign have returned, tourism and night life, especially have become the fastest growing sectors of our economy.
- Since I came to office as governor of Abia State, our government has adopted dialogue, inclusiveness and spread of development to all our senatorial areas, as our combined strategy for the sustainable security of the State. We have at the same time embarked on massive re-training and re-integration of reformed criminals into our society, while at the same time creating employment opportunities for many of our youths through our State’s agricultural revolution that seeks to create young agro-entrepreneurs within out Liberation Farm Settlements. This way, we have been able to spread wealth and collective support at the grass-roots.
- When we came into office in 2007, there were no requisite infrastructure for growth of equity, rule of law and democratic values. Today, through our strategy of legacy projects, we have for the first time in 20 years, commenced the building of a befitting Government House
State Government Secretariat for workers, a modern conference center, an encompassing Information Centre – Broadcasting Corporation of Abia State, a legal monuments of modern Court Systems for the effective dispensation of justice. All these are important elements and institutional values that must be in place to deepen democracy, and guarantee its performance under the rule of law. It was for these great achievements that Abia State was honored as the ICON of Democracy 2012 in Nigeria, and we have been further challenged to do more.
- All over the world including the United States of America, I believe that democracy is cherished partly because it delivers its promises on people’s welfare, security and the esteemed ways and values important to citizens. In Nigeria we regard these as ‘democracy dividends’ and our governance of Abia State has been acclaimed for delivering democracy dividends to our citizens, especially in the areas of health-care, security and development of commerce.
In our legacy projects on health-care sector, we have established two world class diagnostic centers for disease control, a dialysis and ophthalmological modern centers, and equipped our General Hospitals in the Local Government Areas to provide the same quality of medical tourism that our people search for in India, United States and elsewhere.
We have equally established more than 250 Health Centers across the 17 Local Government Areas of our State, to ensure that adequate health care services are available to our cities and the rural areas. We have equally collaborated with both individual and government operators to ensure that adequate and uninterrupted supply of electricity is available for both household and industrial activities before the middle of 2013.
- Abians are commercial business people and self driven entrepreneurs and we have sought to address these needs through the building of many modern markets and relocating of many others from the urban areas for aesthetic convenience. These have created new jobs and self employment for our people. It was partly for this feat and the great recommendation of the Presidential Committee on Good Governance in Nigeria that our Government was chosen for award as the ‘Man of the Year, 2013’ by a Nigerian Newspaper Group.
- From a system with very weak institutional values and little foundation for growth, we have turned Abia State to a secured, judicially dependable State, with greater prospects for growth and development through the revival of agriculture as the mainstay of our State economy.
- We have also moved to check corrupt practices in our society and public service through blocking the leakages in our tax system through biometric registration of tax payers and introduction of electronic payment systems. This way, we have not only dramatically increased our internally generated revenue in the State, but we have rebuilt public confidence in our democracy and reduced our dependence of the Federal monthly Revenue sharing.
- Finally, in the management and administration of our State, we have restored the sacred trust of governors to the governed. Today, we choose to serve with passion, openness, transparency, selflessness, probity and accountability. Through the transition in our leadership style and the institutional values we have fostered in government, democracy is fast flourishing in Abia State, even under meager resources available to the State from the center. Our Government has two more years to complete our tenure and we have devoted these to the completion of our legacy projects, building many more services to our people and winning more jewels to our cherished crown of services
I have taken this much time to recount the exploits of our democratic governance of Abia State and the results we achieved, so as to shade some light on the conviction that Nigeria’s democracy can succeed and can move from potentials to actual show of abilities.
This will only require good leadership and good governance. The results we have gotten in Abia in increasing the amount of inflow of local and foreign investment into the State, are enough encouragement that we are on the right track.
What is particularly important in our democratic achievements is that we have been able to enjoy the support of our youths and the ordinary Nigerians, who are the guardian angels of our democracy.
They have been more consistent in their demands for the rule of the law, for sustainable security of our State, and pursuit of unrepentant advocacy of free and fair elections. And with our merit-based system favoring the youth and the poor in our society, participatory democracy has become more feasible without the intervention of vile god-fathers. Today ‘a government of the people, by the people and for the people’ has taken root in Abia State, and still doing so in many other Nigerian States.
CONCLUSIONS AND REMARKS
Our lessons from Abia State and the proof that it is possible to expand the good performance of governors in Nigeria’s democracy may appear encouraging, but it does not eliminate or belittle the many challenges that continue to exist in the governance of the lager federation of Nigeria which demand for urgent attention.
The truth is that Nigeria’s Federal democracy, and in-deed, that of any other State for that matter, will always be frustrated, when governors and governments fail to do what Governments are meant to do – which is the protection of lives and property of citizens, their ways of lives, and provision of sustainable opportunities for self development and growth of the national economies.
Nigeria remains a Nation of great hope and potentials, a Nation where the challenges of meeting the demands of democratic governance, should boldly confront the daunting opportunities and subdue them to create a new realities and new future. All that is now desired is to create the right leadership that translates potential and hopes into realities.
Our great hope in Nigeria arise from the facts that Nigeria is the 12th highest producer of petroleum in the world, or the 8th largest exporter and the tenth proven largest reserve in .the world. Even in the growing world of alternative energy and green fuel, Nigeria will remain important in the global strategic energy issues of the future.
Nigeria is the fastest growing market in the world with a wide array of unexploited mineral resources. Recently the Nation commenced the restructuring of its agricultural sector as the mainstay of its economies and this will require extensive input of foreign machineries and expertise to deliver. Nigeria is also becoming the fastest growing telecommunication market in the world, with the highest return on investment. With its high population of 154.7 million in 2009, and estimated 1.03 billion in 21000, Nigeria is certainly a country to watch, especially if this great Nation acquires the democratic ethos and values necessary to move its equally great potentials to great realities.(See Wikipedia, Free Encyclopedia)
If we can recall that it was just only in 1999 that Nigeria commenced its bold journey into a sustained electoral democracy, then it means that 33 years of Nigeria’s nationhood was wasted under military decrees and absence of clear initiatives for public change.
Even the prevailing issue of power sharing and resource management among the constituent parts of the Nigerian Federation have not been adequately resolved to reduce incessant conflicts. These are agendas for resolution through the deepening of democracy in Nigeria.
I must admit that in the midst of prevailing challenges, some governors of Nigeria States have made visible contributions to impose fiscal discipline in budgetary allocations, reform of federal procurement and in fighting corruption. But the broad areas of domestic security, political reforms necessary for a functional Federal democracy must be addressed to advance the Nigerian democratic project. All these and the controversies and irregularities that still trail Nigeria’s Elections will continue to create mistrust in Nigeria’s democratic experience and promote conflicts ( See Princeton N. Leyman)
I will agree in this lecture that democracy will thrive in Nigeria’s Federal governance and governors’ roles improved when:
- 1. Principled and credible leaderships emerge at both the States and the Federal levels of government, who are capable of employing foresight that rise above ethno-centric considerations, to initiate and drive necessary reforms needed to move Nigeria beyond its past limitations and just within its today’s demands.
- 2. When political and economic restructuring of Nigeria boldly address the limits of some important issues of national security and economic development – notably affecting resource control and fiscal federalism. These should not be ‘no go areas’ in Nigeria’s political parlance.
- 3. When matters affecting mismanagement of resources in the Nation, especially in public offices, begin to attract the opprobrium and public resentment they deserve from citizens, the legal system and the governments.
- 4. When there is equity and rule of law that makes Nigerians love their Nation by choice and not through persuasion.
Nevertheless, I will finally conclude this lecture by a caution that – until political dynamics in Nigeria begin to change substantially, until the Nigerian democratic transition begin to reach appreciable level of physical and emotional maturity, when consolidation of leadership and governance become less patrimonial and more value oriented, perhaps – violence will continue to overwhelm even the most dedicated Nigerian leadership, be they governors, or presidents. This will continue to make our democratic elections, matters of acute controversy, and the performance of roles of elected officials even more controversial (see USAID, OTI Field Report September 2001)
But there is great reason for the optimism that Nigeria will survive as a united Nation, even in a restructured and stronger form.
THANK YOU FOR LISTENING!