Umahi and the Ebonyi challenge, By Magnus Eze

Posted by News Express | 19 June 2015 | 4,005 times

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With the handover ceremonies concluded, newly-sworn-in governors are fast settling down for governance. Across the states, the chief executives are wont to make key appointments, especially their principal staff.

As they settle down for business, most of the new governors would have to confront empty treasuries, abandoned projects and salary arrears of workers coupled with huge debt burden. A very pathetic scenario is the North-Central state of Benue, where Governor Samuel Ortom apart from several months’ salaries owed workers, openly cried out that he met an empty treasury.

Governor Ortom also said he was yet to ascertain the debt profile of the state, considering the huge salary arrears, allowances, pensions, retirement benefits, bonds as well as other obligations to contractors.

In Ebonyi, the situation is so appalling given the meagre financial base of the South-east states, which receive about the least allocations from the Federation Account. Even though the Ebonyi State Government owes workers in the local government system the salary for only the month of May, the recent 50 per cent increase in the wages of workers in the state could not be paid because of the shortfall in federal allocation to the state.

The state governor, Chief Dave Umahi, has the unenviable burden of reconciling his campaign promises with the reality on ground. He began on a very commendable note, by engaging the critical segments of Ebonyi people, including the organised labour, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Ebonyi Elders Committee, traditional institution, permanent secretaries, local government care-taker committee chairmen and coordinators of development centres, and staff and students of Ebonyi State University. During the engagements, Umahi who painted a gloomy picture of the state’s resources gave a graphic picture of what he met on ground, thus: “Our internally generated revenue (IGR) is so abysmal as to be non-existent. Our skilled and trained manpower base is limited, placing a huge burden of capacity-building on us. Uncompleted projects in the state are many and spread across the entire landscape, with each carrying liabilities in hundreds of millions, if not in billions of naira.”

He noted that “the state is swimming in a large sea of debts, especially unpaid certificates and accumulated salaries to our civil servants, both at the state and local government levels. We are stepping into governance with serious financial challenges and a negative balance sheet.”

Worried by the dwindling revenue from the Federation Account, the new administration has said it would strengthen its revenue generation drive to augment the shortfall in state earnings. He, therefore, charged the leadership of the third-tier of government to be more creative so as to improve their internally generated revenue, promising to institute award for best-performing local government areas and development centres in the area of IGR.

For Umahi, the days of excess crude oil money were gone. The success of any governor or council chairman, according to him, will now depend on individual ingenuity and resourcefulness, rather than availability. The governor therefore called on council chairmen and co-ordinators of development centres to key into the programme of his administration, in order to further drive the governance process.

At this critical juncture, Ebonyi people must face the stark reality that business as usual would lead them nowhere. A wholesome restructuring and change of attitude to government business is exigent. The governor could not agree less as he enthused in his inaugural address to the people of the state. He said: “Elimination of waste, barricade against corruption, intelligent rationing of limited resources and accelerated exploitation of natural endowments will see us through. Therefore, the old mediocre methods, where they exist, must give way to the sophisticated demands of today. The collective interests of Ebonyi people will always override the narrow interest of individuals or groups.”

By way of roadmap for the new administration, the state would have to find a perfect mix of politics and governance; restructure the prevailing system where super structures exist, leading to so much resources being expended on running government. The cost of running government in the state has to be cut down. Ebonyi State is wholly agrarian, with the Abakaliki rice (now Ebonyi rice) being a household name. The youth population in particular should be massively mobilised to engage in farming and animal husbandry. The era of milling around politicians, waiting for hand-outs should stop. With very vast arable land, aggressive pursuit of agriculture and co-ordinated exploitation of the solid mineral endowments would turn the fortunes of Ebonyi and possibly make the state one of the richest economic earners in the federation. The quick resolution of the crisis surrounding the foremost cement company in the country, Nigercem, Nkalagu, would not only boost the state’s IGR but also create jobs for the teeming unemployed populace.

In achieving all these, the people must be ready to make sacrifices; they have to imbibe the culture of paying taxes, while the workers on their part give a second thought to their agitation for salary increase, knowing that the recent raising of their monthly pay by 50 per cent led to the non-payment of last month’s salary of teachers and local government workers.

Nigeria’s monolithic economy might not improve in the near future, so over-dependence on federal allocation is not the best for any state. The future belongs to immensely endowed states like Ebonyi, if their endowments are duly harnessed. Governor Umahi, being a major private sector player, understands the huge task ahead and has said he is determined to provide the opportunity for everyone to explore, including the enabling environment for genuine investors. 

Eze, a public affairs analyst, writes from Abakaliki, Ebonyi State. He can be reached by e-mail via Photo shows Governor Umahi.

Source: News Express

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