Your Excellency the governor

Your Excellency the governor

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Congratulations for being sworn into the exalted office of chief executive of your state. Under our constitution, you are not only the principal administrator but also the chief security officer of your state. Some of our jurists opine that, under our 1999 constitution you enjoy more prerogatives than the incumbent of the high magistracy of our great federal republic. You would have drawn the envy of the Roman Proconsuls of old. Your constitutional immunity confers on you power to commit murder and get away with it. Yes, it seems a rather extreme thing to say, but that is the order of things on ground.

One of the northern governors once told us how he woke up one morning, beholding through the window of his mansion at Government House, the kaleidoscope of cars and the ghosts of unwashed masses passing by. He had an epiphany: “It is true that while we are not god; but god, in his infinite mercy, has given us absolute power over the affairs of men”.

One morning this governor was on his motorcade to Abuja when he beheld a beautiful building on the outskirts that had been constructed to lintel level. He asked his personal aide if he knew the owner. It belonged to Ahaji X, who had the misfortune of being one of his political rivals.

There and then he placed a call to his Chief of Staff. He left a simple instruction. If he returned that evening and the said building was still standing he should consider himself sacked. Without waiting to find out the reasons for that executive order, the Chief of Staff went to the Ministry of Works to get some bull-dozers. Within minutes, the property was brought down. It wasn’t that the man had constructed the building without planning permission. His Excellency merely wanted to leave the man in no doubt as to who is the boss of all the bosses – the Capo di tutti Capi.

What Sir Winston Churchill terms “the rare ambrosia of power” can be quite intoxicating. It often gets into people’s heads and they soon begin to behave like the possessed of Fyodor Dostoevsky, Russia’s great nineteenth century novelist. It takes an enormous level of civic virtue, maturity and self-restraint not to get carried away by the allurements of power.

One of the governors was in the habit of regularly calling up judges to issue diktats on the cases pending in their courts. No such thing as the independence of the judiciary exists in his political lexicon. Investors cannot implement any big profitable projects without giving the governor his own stake. Another was known to issue all the government contracts – large or small – strictly to his own fronted companies. No single individual other than members of his own family was ever empowered in financial terms during his eight years in office.

Until the recent initiative of the National Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), all the local government finances were usurped by the governors. One notorious nut-case has been in the habit of deliberately stoking up local embers of inter-ethnic violence so as to justify quadrupling his monthly security votes. One was openly videotaped taking bribes in dollars and pocketing same in his starched flowing gowns. This buffoon has desecrated the ancient and venerable Kano Emirate just to spite the king. Others are creating new emirates out of old chiefdoms in the Middle Belt to advance what Chief Olusegun Obasanjo describes as “Fulanisation and Islamisation”.

One of the eastern potentates – who suffers from a strange virus known as iberiberism – was in the habit of erecting idolatrous statues of foreign leaders while spending the money of the state in building private luxury estates in the name of his wife. He was only barely thwarted from making his son-in-law his own successor while purchasing the senatorial ticket for himself and the House of Representatives ticket for his own wife. He literally turned his benighted state into a personal family estate while oppressing everybody with his barely literate, overbearing loquacity. Like many others, before handing-over he borrowed massively from commercial banks at extortionate rates; condemning his people to debt peonage. I hear the EFCC will soon take him in.

Your Excellency, Mr Governor, let me hope your case will be different. You have an opportunity to write your name in gold. From day one, you must take charge. It is easy for your advisers to run rings round you and turn you into a prisoner in a gilded pavilion. You must know the state of the finances. You will need prudent in managing the scarce public resources. In an era of dwindling oil revenues, we must brace ourselves for secular decline in the level of statutory transfers from the federal centre.

You must give priority to generation of internal revenue. But you can only do that effectively when peace reigns and when you expand the possibility frontiers of welfare and economic opportunities, especially for medium, small and micro-enterprises.

You must also audit your human resources. Of late, many states have had difficulty paying salaries and statutory pensions to retirees. Ghost workers abound. You need a rigorous HR audit to flush them out. Jobs must be matched with functions, roles and outcomes. You need tough love. If there are redundancies, bite the bullet and cashier them off. You need a civil service that delivers.

Equally important is selecting your team. This has been the Waterloo of many a well-meaning governor. The easiest temptation is to bring in relations and old schoolmates. That would be a mistake. History will judge you, not them. Bring in strictly people with ability that will help you achieve your objectives. Donald Trump used to counsel that one must “bring in people that are smarter than you are – and distrust them”. But your cabinet should also reflect the diversity of the state while prioritising merit and performance. Nepotism is not only bad governance; it belongs to the original sin of corruption.

I would also counsel you to get an expert to design an economic policy blueprint for your administration. Four years will pass before you know it. You must hit the ground running, as the American Marines would say. Reinvent yourself as a performer. Be hungry for success. Set clear goals and targets for your team. Build a true cabinet in the sense of a team united together by a common vision. Be ready to kick arses. Follow the ancient African proverb which enjoins the king to “speak softly but carry a big stick”.

You will need all the wisdom and knowledge in the world. You will also need good luck. Politics in our own climes is a very murky business. The waters are always brimming with sharks. They will test your patience and resilience at every turn. You must therefore develop the skin of a crocodile. Keep a good sense of humour.

Celebrate success. Give praise where praise is due. Discipline and punish. But avoid destructive criticism. A good leader is also a teacher. Cultivate networks of informants who will tell you the naked truth, not what they think you want to hear. Be wary of fawning praise-singers and political prostitutes.

Good luck!


Obadiah Mailafia

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