Just like maidens

State governors in Nigeria are just like maidens: they are meek until they are married. When they are hustling for votes they are humble and sober and sweet.

When they get elected they show or are pushed to show that they have another side, another face; the meekness of Moses before the elections becomes the strength of Sampson after the elections. But it is really not their fault. There is always a retinue of sycophants, flatterers, bootlickers, grovelers and fawners who are happy to inflate for the Boss the power balloon. They tell him what they think he wants to hear namely that he is God-sent, God’s Deputy on earth and that his mission is divinely ordained so there is no vacancy where he is. In every government, there is also the ubiquitous master of ceremony (MC) whose duty is to make government functions worthy of his hire. He does quite an elaborate recitation of the names and titles of the heavy hitters at the ceremony including Lords Spiritual and Temporal (or Temporary). The state governor brings up the rear and gets a princely amount of time devoted to him and his, always, beautiful wife. The governor is then introduced as “His Excellency, the Executive Governor.” You would think the man has just circled the globe. This form of introduction is not necessarily an instruction from the governor but it is the sycophant in the MC that is on duty. I hear this at every function and I thought I might have been wrong in thinking that the term “Executive Governor” is not listed in the Constitution. I faithfully combed through the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and I saw nowhere a state governor is mentioned as the “Executive Governor.” What I saw throughout the Constitution is simply “Governor.” Those who surround governors, whether by ignorance or a desire to exhibit the pomposity of the power inherent in that office, prefer to call him “Executive Governor” to inflate the governor’s ego balloon. But there is no such designation in the Constitution. It is simply a case of identity theft. The designation “Executive Governor” belongs to Mr. Fiction.

You might think the reason a governor’s designation is prefaced with “Executive” is because he is the head of the Executive arm of the government. It isn’t because when the Deputy Governor sits in for governor as the acting head of the Executive arm he is simply called Acting Governor, not Acting Executive Governor. In any case, the Deputy Governor is never addressed by anybody as the Deputy Executive Governor. At the federal level, I never hear anybody call the President, “Executive President” even though he heads the Executive arm of government. The reason this anomalous situation is happening in the states is that the sycophants want the governor to think that he has powers he doesn’t really have. And because the Houses of Assembly in most of the states, the opposition parties and Labour have either been pocketed or are simply weak, the governor asserts his all-encompassing sovereignty. Many of the governors have this fictitious designation on the state stationery and their call cards and other official documents. If you have them, your Excellency, throw them away because you are merely dressing yourself in borrowed robes. It is fake and your hold on this designation is as fragile as porcelain.

The governors are not alone in this ego-inflation saga. The love for power and its accoutrements is a human habit but in Nigeria it is an obsession. The intoxicating nectar of high office gives birth to an abundant lack of humility. As a rule, once in high office we just don’t know how to be humble. A few years ago, I was a board member of one of the Federal Government Commissions. We had a Chairman, a pleasant, highly accomplished man, who always called himself the Executive Chairman but the Commission’s Establishment Act only created the office of Chairman, not Executive Chairman. A couple of times he, in collusion with the Chief Executive of the institution we had oversight functions over, would appropriate the powers of the board and take decisions without any board meeting. He always claimed that there was an emergency which needed an anticipatory approval. On one occasion he claimed that his decision was based on the directive of the President. We knew he wanted to be a defacto sole administrator. I wrote him a letter telling him that the Act did not provide for a sole administrator; that for any emergency he only needed to call an emergency meeting of the board and that whatever the President wanted done could be done within the powers available to the board. I told him if he usurped the powers of the board again his illegal decisions would not be ratified. I advised him to seek legal advice on his powers. That letter checkmated him because he knew he was wrong. In almost every Nigerian enterprise this huge appetite for power keeps turning up like a bad penny.

I am sure Nigerian leaders watched the swearing in of the American President last year. The President Elect, Donald Trump, was seen in the rain carrying his own umbrella by himself and every other big man or woman did the same thing. And when the ceremony was over, the outgoing Vice President, Joe Bidden, just went to the Amtrack train station, boarded the train like everybody else and went home. There was no fanfare. His life had returned to normal again.

Some years ago, I went to a conference in Cape Town, South Africa. We were all waiting for the South African President, Frederik de Klerk, who was to declare the conference open. At the dot of the appointed hour he arrived with only one security car accompanying him. There was no cavalcade of cars behind him. And because there was no woi woi and twang twang hollering of a deafening siren we only saw him slip quietly into his chair unheralded. That would never happen in Nigeria. In our dear country, security men must pull the chair for the President or Governor to sit down so that his gubernatorial fingers are not soiled by the pulling of the chair. And when he gets to the podium to speak a policeman or soldier stands behind him, ramrod straight like a flag pole. When Trump speaks or Britain’s Theresa May addresses a crowd do you see any bodyguard standing behind them? Their security arrangement is discreet but effective.

The rot and gangrene affecting the Nigerian polity arise largely from the promiscuous invocation of unearned presidential and gubernatorial powers due to their fierce fidelity to the concept of avariciously grabbing unmeritoriously whatever quantum of power is available in the stratosphere. The temptation to indulge in excess seems overpowering. As it is often said appetite comes from eating. That is why a Governor would cart away 20 cars belonging to a State Government on his exit from office. The idea is to continue to live out of office in the same haughtily luxurious fashion as he did while in office without being afflicted by the disease called withdrawal syndrome. The pompous trappings of the presidential or gubernatorial office are capable of preventing the occupant from seeing himself as a servant of the people. Instead, they tend to let him think that actually he is not part of the government but the government is a part of him, perhaps a small part of his big self. This is what leads to megalomania.

I am of the firm view that the present architecture of governance has failed woefully to deliver. I believe the Federal Government is overloaded with responsibilities that it is incapable of executing. Since 1999 no president has succeeded in discharging those responsibilities with any measure of satisfaction. As a corollary to that, I believe a lot of those responsibilities and resources should be transferred to the states because they are nearer the people. It is easier for people in the states to carry placards to their Government houses than for them to attempt to enter the impregnable fortress called Aso Villa. This proximity may compel the state governments to be more accountable if they do not want to have regular skirmishes with their people, and risk being voted out during the next election.

The fear of many people about giving more powers to the states is misuse or abuse. The (mis)management of the Paris Club refund in several states is a cause for concern. The problem here seems to be that the various Houses of Assembly are simply behaving as unconcerned bystanders content to do the Governor’s bidding, right or wrong, for a mess of pottage or to use a more colourful lingo, stomach infrastructure. The various NGOs and citizen groups have not been able, for some strange reasons, to make their impact felt too and hold their Governors to account. That must change.

The idea of immunity for the President, Vice President, Governor and Deputy Governor, I believe, was to keep these officers away from distraction by professional litigants. The provision has been tested over the years and most people think these officials should enjoy immunity on civil matters only while they should be held to account on criminal matters. If that happens a lot of sanity will return to governance. As things are there is too much impunity, too much pomposity, too much illegality, too much corruption which the removal of immunity on criminal matters can help to cure. As we are now we are victims of Greham’s law: the bad drives out the good. That is why our governments at the centre and in the states are wobbling, not working.



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