One of the challenges thrown by Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo during the recently-concluded two-day National Economic Council, (NEC) Retreat was the reduction in the cost of governance through drastic downsizing of political appointees. But Delta State Governor Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa said that it would be difficult to cut down cost of governance through the appointment of aides in a democratic dispensation. He spoke with some senior reporters, including the Deputy Bureau Chief, Abuja, Mohammed Abubakar, shortly after the retreat. Excerpts:
Reducing cost of governance through political appointments
I think that when political aides are appointed, they are appointed to specific jobs, it is very important to stress it because people don’t understand this. I give you an example, like in my state we have what we call the Waterways and Land Security Committee; people may feel its jobs for the boys, but it is not because having gone through the days of arms struggle, and where we find ourselves at the moment, if you don’t do that, you just find crisis in every part of the state. Even with their presence, we still have some of these issues, but they are doing a lot because they have the real intelligence in the communities and they know what to do.
Beyond that, they have influence on their peers to keep them from committing crimes, otherwise most of the southern states where you had the arms struggle, you will find a situation that if you do not use some of them to be part of the process to achieve peace and gather intelligence, you will be at a loss. The government agencies would not be able get you such information, but some of them (appointees) play a lot of roles especially with issues concerning vandalism, with issues concerning the bunkering and issues concerning kidnapping.
So sometimes the situation demands that you appoint these aides because they have their roles to play but in totality, the amount that you use to pay their salaries and allowances does not actually add up to a lot of the cost of governance. Truly the current situation in many states which you may call an ‘over bloated’ workforce is because most governments felt that they needed to intervene in the gap created between getting our youths employed and the number of people coming out of the universities or other various forms of higher institutions. And in that intervention, you find out that most even the federal government exceeded reasonable limit of employment and they were trying to play the role of a private sector, which in itself was not really strong and up till today, is not strong and you find that you have relative salary levels that are very high, that is actually where the problem is,
But the truth is that we need most of them, even if we don’t need all of them. Can you actually retrench at this moment; it is political. I believe that various governments will employ the number of youths that will actually be needed for the course of the states.
States viability in the present economic reality
I actually believe that all states are truly viable, just that it is going to take us time to rediscover ourselves. Almost all states are actually in financial crisis at the moment; if our economy had been driven in such a way that it was competitive and people have been trained to look elsewhere to generate funds, it would have been healthy enough for us by now. But unfortunately over the years, the oil economy destroyed everything about other sectors of the economy, we were living on a kind of rent economy, where everybody waited untill the end of the month to come to Abuja to pick funds because there was enough coming in.
Unfortunately, we did not utilise the money to diversify the economy, we were just satisfied as the oil prices are going up essentially to the extent that we found ourselves just happy, we did not think about the future, and that destroyed our future mentality. I think that what we see now is a challenge, it is making us to think anew, we now begin to think of what to do and that is part of the retreat we had recently. Sometimes challenges help you to brace up for the future and everybody is beginning to think of how do we generate revenues internally, how do we expand, how do we get the industries to work, how do we cause investment to thrive? So we are going to really think out of the box, we are going to think alright. It is not something that is going to happen at the moment, we are at the process of thinking straight, it will take some years for us to get these things materialize.
The Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF)
I believe that the failure to save for our nation in the past was a great mistake, we did not know when the monies kept coming in, even in the last four to five years when the oil truly boomed at its peak, that it was going to come crashing down suddenly, we would have saved a lot. The governors then were quite forceful and they needed to have all their monies in their hands, I believe that all of us now realize that it was a mistake. The money we would have saved in the SWF would have helped us, see where we are at the moment with all the huge monies that came into the country, we spent all of it and possibly much of them may not have been spent directly on those things that will yield huge internal revenues for the various states.
But the greatest challenge that we have is that in anticipation of the huge funds coming on a monthly basis, many states also proactively looked into the future and awarded contracts against this kind of background of inflow of money and suddenly when it came crashing down, many states also left a lot of infrastructure debt that is hanging on the various states at the moment, and that is an issue.
Feats of the governors’ retreat
It was essentially a worthy venture, we had to have some of the ministers with some other invited guests talking to us, concerning the plan of action of the present administration, and how they think they can partner with the states. It also gave us the opportunity to interact with each other. Although some of my colleagues felt that there was the need to have invited persons from the private sector to speak to us to have a good understanding about the business climate and how it could be improved. Essentially going down the whole retreat we had a rewarding experience.
Delta Beyond Oil
Delta Beyond Oil was actually started by my predecessor and I agreed with the concept because we can’t keep on thinking and relying on oil economy. I tell people that oil economy brought a lot of setbacks to our economy, to our youths because we were no longer thinking. Those that went to school were no longer ready to go out, they were satisfied after finishing schools they just stayed in their communities, rather than going out to face one form of challenge or the other. But we are beginning to put it to practice in our schools because if you are talking of Delta Beyond Oil, you must be thinking about creating an investment climate and environment, and that means you must be ready to give the people the seeds. You must be ready to provide land for investors and access to land titles.
We also realize that we need to create jobs for the youths because as long as they keep on roaming on the streets, it is really a big issue. But along that line you have a major challenge, how do you get them out first? Because they want to get rich, they want to make millions, not thousands, so it’s an issue. Some are used to begging politicians, now politicians don’t even have to give because there is no free flow of cash, so it’s an issue.
People normally do contracts, but there seems fewer contracts out there because you have very little funds left for capital expenditure so a whole lot of issues are involved. We started our programmes in two fronts. One is the Youths Agriculture Entrepreneurship Programme, (YAEP); the other is the Skills Training Entrepreneurship Programme, (STEP). We are focusing on training because we want to be able to follow it through.