By AbdulYassar AbdulHamid
A state governor leads the executive branch of the government of his state; he/she commands the authority of the affairs of his/her state. The constitution of Nigeria vests executive power in the governor; it charges the governor with execution of law, appointment of state judiciary and other regulatory bodies, among others – subject to state assembly’s approval. Has any governor contemplated the enormity of these duties before joining the race?
However, It seems both the governed and the governors are confused of what the latter’s responsibilities should be. While the governed are left with the narratives of image makers, hired by governors to whitewash even the dimmest picture of ugly happenings, to feast on, some state governors lack, arguably, pre-knowledge of what their responsibilities are, or at best are flagrantly abdicating their responsibilities. Their eyes were, and still are, upon the luxuriantly exalted seat including all the paraphernalia attached to it.
Their case is that of a proverbial teacher, who accepted teaching as a profession and was ready to teach, but unfortunately axed classroom management out of his handful of responsibilities. Like the narrated teacher, many a state governor have accepted to serve, be called first citizens of their states, taken over a high-brow abode and travelled everywhere in the world, but are secretly slicing out some duties that require high sense of responsibility and readiness to serve. For God’s sake, what are state governors for?
One of such social blunders was made about three months ago when the heated argument between the Nigerian Labour Congress and the government over national minimum wage was boiling. As widely reported, the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, under the chairmanship of the governor of Zamfara State Abdulaziz Yari, in its usual reckless outpourings declared that the governors were not elected only to pay salaries to civil servants. Of course, this may not be the only duty, and it may even be more annoying if the state governors decide to disown it as their duty. Part of their responsibilities is to build roads, provide education, electricity, to secure their states, etc; but is there any way they can do away with payment of salary? In principle, the governors are justifying some of the 36 states’ inability to pay salaries they owe to civil servants in their states for many months.
If a civil servant, for instance, accepts to go to his place of work on time, serves diligently and do his utmost best to live up to expectations as a good citizen of his state or nation, why is it some state governors are found wanting or contemplate on whether payment of salaries is a priority or not? Then one asks: what are governors elected specifically to do?
Extract salary from any welfare programme, what one has is a distorted copy of torture. Yet, I have not seen a governor who forwent his salary or allowances because other sectors needed serious attention.
In essence, as part of their constitutional responsibilities, according to Section 12(2b) of the Nigerian constitution, security and welfare of the people (citizens) is the primary purpose of government. By implication, if the president is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, a state governor is the Chief Security Officer of his state. Each takes an oath as enshrined in the constitution to protect lives and property. The coveted titles Commander-in-Chief and Chief Security Officer cannot be dropped at will. If it can be thrown at will, then the gain overshadows the service; and leadership will be lost in the woods or exist only in name.
Sometime in February, 2018, the debate on state police re-resurfaced to the fullest. This was, perhaps, due to the acutely serious security challenges the country has been passing through. There were incessant attacks of the so called Fulani herdsmen in Benue state (with all its mass burials and the arrests made thereafter), horrendous bandits’ attacks in Zamfara that claimed scores of lives and destroyed property worth billions of Naira; and profligate abundance of kidnapping and armed robbery cases in many parts of the country. What the proponents of this idea were advocating for was that each state should control its own police.
The saga of state police divided even closest allies. The Vice President, Yemi Osibanjo endorsed it, while President Buhari voted against it. Many commentators cited power devolution, albeit with political undertones, as the main reason the Senate should fast-track the bill; but with the current political atmosphere in this space called Nigeria, the decision to give state governors power over the security apparatus will undeniably embolden them and make tyrants of sorts out of them. Remember how state independent electoral bodies are used to commit all kinds of electoral tyranny against the opposition elements.
For instance, Benue state governor Samuel Ortom and Zamfara state governor Abdulaziz Yari performed below expectations. Benue state governor Samuel Ortom used all the available spaces to accuse the federal government and security apparatus of the deteriorating security situation in his state although he could change the narrative by swinging into action and taking, sincerely, all the necessary steps to curtail the violence then.
In the same vein, citing helplessness and lack of control over the security of his state, the Zamfara state governor Abdulaziz Yari dropped his invaluable responsibility as the Chief Security Officer of his state. He said: “We have been facing serious security challenges over the years, but in spite of being [the] governor and [the] Chief Security Officer, I cannot direct security officers on what to do nor sanction them when they err.” Nobody can deny the despicable security situation in the North-western state; but one wonders if a state governor is meant to have total control over security machinery of his state before he or she can evolve workable measures to arrest the situation.
To put the above constitutional provision to test and shield one of his own, former Niger state governor Babangida Aliyu, described governors as mere glorified Chief Security Officers of their states when he paid sympathy visit to the Benue state governor Samuel Ortom. He said: “Governors lack control over security apparatus in their domains who are answerable to the federal authorities; l remember when l was governor, l established a cordial relationship with the security agencies through payment of their allowances as well as the purchase of vehicles.” It seems the former Niger state governor was talking from both sides of his mouth. He lacked control over security apparatus and established mutual relationship with them. The question remains what are state governors for?
If that is the case, why could Samuel Ortom and Abdulaziz Yari not establish cordial relationship with the security machinery over whom they had no control to save their states? It is one of these: it is either they play politics which is unbefitting of a governor; or they lack the readiness to serve.
The debate is not about Babangida Aliyu, Samuel Ortom, name a governor, has no control over security apparatus of his state; no, it is not. It is about their unflinching commitment to service.
This negative attitude spewed by some governors has been proved wrong by the Kaduna state governor Nasir el-Rufai. Despite a long history of ethno-religious conflict in Kaduna state and being the state with a highly complex society that records far more serious communal violence, perhaps, in recent times than any other state in Nigeria, the governor has accused neither the federal government nor the security apparatus of his state. What he showed was the right attitude to work. He galvanized security machinery of his state into action, visited many affected areas along side security officers, called on the different ethnic groups to refrain from violence and took concrete actions where necessary.
A governor as a chief executive officer of his state is expected to show quality of good leadership. The game of blame will take him nowhere; but only truncate the chances he has of good service delivery and protecting lives and property upon which he took an oath.
AbdulHamid wrote in from Kano and can be reached at email@example.com