– By Sunshine Anifowose
I met Clement Watershed recently at a Seminar on Business Management in London. He is the young owner of “Watershed Confectionaries” in Manchester, who studied Political Economy at the University of Westminster. Beyond his reputation as a successful entrepreneur, Watershed is also an astute political analyst who is vast in politics of development and underdevelopment of nations around the world, especially West African Subregion countries, including Nigeria.
Watershed said to me during a conversation: “Mr. Anifowose (he pronounced my surname eloquently), considering the abundant natural and mineral resources God has bestowed on your country, the Nigerian economy should be at par with growing economies like Malaysia, Singapore, and even Portugal; unfortunately, your country Nigeria is haplessly poor in terms of rich thought; productive idea; effective leadership; working citizenship; viable economy and also poor in all indices and areas of development”.
Although, I attempted to disagree with him as a Nigerian with a modicum of patriotism but with a relaxed smile, this friend of mine sat me down and shed Iight on his relationship with some prominent Nigerian government officials and immigrants. He also gave hindsight on his findings on Nigerian political ecology to justify his claim on Nigeria’s pathetic situation.
Nonetheless, I enthusiastically asked Watershed to explain in clear terms what he meant by his assertions on Nigeria being poor in all ramifications or “indices of development” and he analytically gave his reasons convincingly; specifically hammering on the nation’s history of leadership failure, corruption, weak institutions, faulty constitution, lack of a viable national economy policy, political intolerance and financial recklessness. I was downcast and heartbroken. How a Briton could grasp the theory and practices of politics in my country beats my imagination.
One of the fundamental problems of Nigeria as analysed by Watershed came to mind this morning while reading about the fabricated prevarications orchestrated by some human characters in the name of playing opposition politics on the N100 million earmarked by the government of Ekiti State in 2017 appropriation to celebrate children in our State. While explaining what he meant by “citizenship poverty”, Watershed, currently undergoing his PhD in Public Policy at the University of Newcastle, United Kingdom, said “the theory of political spontaneity being implemented by your politicians and their followers cannot help your nation grow; you should start implementing “theory of inclusiveness”.
I studied Geology in the University of Ado-Ekiti so I did not understand what he meant by “theory of spontaneity” or “theory of inclusiveness”. To my dismay, Watershed noted that, “from the angle of the centrality of political party, a policy is only good when it is initiated and implemented by your political party (referring to me). Whereas, a similar policy is adjudged bad and useless if it was implemented by an opposition party”. According to Watershed, “Political Spontaneity” is an act of acting selfish politically to score political points without considering public interest. That is when you are only concerned about the interest of your political party, against public interest and object to any reform coming from same angle because the person engineering the reform is not a member of your party”.
“No American or British Political leader and citizen will condemn a good policy irrespective of the party initiating the policy provided it is good; rather, they will come out to support the idea and initiatives. We engage in ideological campaigns but Africans campaign with names and emotions”, Watershed stated.
Backing up his position, Watershed surprisingly said, “Nigerian opposition political Elites instigated the large population of their ill-educated masses against removal of fuel subsidy some years ago; it worked in their favour, the opposition got power, four years after rejecting the policy, the new party now in power, which was the then opposition, had turned out to implement the policy its members had mobilized the people against when they were opposition. That is retrogression. That is double standard. You delayed the progress of your country for four years, capitalizing on lack of understanding of what fuel subsidy entails by the electorates. That is wickedness”.
Oh! God of Watershed!!! I left my hotel room the following day, departing to Lagos via British Airways ruminating about my encounter with Clement Watershed. Truly, theories proffer solutions to social challenges. I was theoretically tutored and practically enlightened by a foreigner on politics and governance in my country.
In Ekiti, my home state, the political actors, just like their contemporaries across other states of the federation are guilty of political spontaneity. The elitist opposition politicians, through their chauvinistic mechanism and mechanics, whips up sentiment against every policy of government regardless of whether such policy is meant for the public interests simply because such policy, if prevailed, will boost the popularity of the incumbent, their opponent. Let me go down the memory lane. The attempt by the then Segun Oni’s administration to hygienically boost the morale of children in public primary schools in the state by feeding them with egg, milk and tea twice a week was met with reckless criticisms by the opposition. The opposition figures, supported by their low-livered supporters, had, in a move to make the initiative unpopular, alleged that the plates being used to serve the children have fetish incision, otherwise known as “Gbere” in Yoruba. The programme, supported by the United Nations and European Union, died on its arrival due to crude politics that was played by the opposition in Ekiti State.
I also remember with nostalgia that the opposition in the State, in the name of criticizing the man who defeated them at the poll, described the dualization of Ado-Ekiti township road flagged off by the Fayose administration in his first term between 2003 to 2006 as a “white elephant project.” Reacting then, an opposition to the Fayose administration, Senator Bode Olowoporoku, elected on the same platform with Fayose but defected to the defunct All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) in an interview with the Nigerian Tribune Newspaper stated that; “Ekiti state has no single industry yet the Governor said he want to spend N3.2bn on dualization of roads within the state capital. Instead of awarding road contracts because he wants to collect kick-backs from contractors, he should provide jobs for the people.” I imagine Ado-Ekiti today with a single lane road today? No serious investor will come to a state with wretched road infrastructure! I can vividly recall that the opposition, at a sponsored rally in 2004, nick-named Fayose “Gomina Elewure” because the state government warned that goats must not be seen roaming on the major roads within Ado-Ekiti, the state capital and goats caught were arrested by the State Environmental Board.
It has been opined that opposition against Fayose in Ekiti, through the Nuhu Ribadu-led Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Former Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo basically killed the Ekiti State Integrated Poultry Project initiated the Fayose administration in 2006 because the project would rival his own poultry farm in Ota, Ogun State, built in the second republic.
Recall that Obasanjo flagged off Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) but instead of feeding the nation, he built farm for himself at Ota. As a civilian President for eight years, Obasanjo did not build a University for Nigerians but he built a University for himself at Ota. Under Obasanjo, grass and rodents took over national library in Abuja but he built a library for himself at Abeokuta, Ogun State capital. Sorry to digress, the blogosphere has never remained the same ever since the Ekiti State Governor, Ayo Fayose announced to the world that he would be spending (the programme has started already) N100 million to celebrate all children in the state this December and that 10, 000 indigent children in the state would be provided with Ankara fabrics to mark (Christmas) the birth of Jesus Christ.
To me, the project is timely, masses oriented and populist in nature. However, the opposition in Ekiti and those against Fayose for his radical views on national issues would not agree that such program is masses-oriented and that such benefits are the children’s rights.
To the opposition, spending N100 million on children when workers are owed four months salary arrears is height of wickedness and therefore, the project must be stopped.
In fairness, l agree with the opposition on principle. A labourer deserves his wages and remunerations! However, I disagree with their hypothesis which has branded the Children Christmas project as a misplaced priority.
Ekiti, like about twenty other States of the Federation are currently owing workers salary because of the fall in global oil price which started in 2014 and got worst in 2015 and 2016. Nigeria is a mono-economy country whose foreign exchange is solely based on proceeds from crude oil just like Ekiti is a civil service state that is basically reliant on the Federal monthly allocation.
The interpretation of this comparison therefore is that, once the price of crude oil falls globally, income which accrues into the federation account falls and this affects all the three tiers of government.
Asides from States like Lagos where industries and firms pays fat taxes and with population substantial for growth of Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs), Ogun with manufacturing firms benefitting for sharing boundary with Lagos, Kano and Kaduna with higher population and factories and oil producing states collecting 13% oil derivation plus their monthly allocation, virtually all states in Nigeria were crippled financially from August 2015 to the end of 2016.
So, due to the fall of global oil price, some states went bankrupt because of the bad loans their governors, present and past had taken from commercial banks and capital market. Ekiti had no taxes to collect from her agrarian people and unfortunately, the account of the state had been used to obtain loans by the administration that handed over to Fayose. As the oil price falls, allocations coming to Ekiti drops yet loans are deducted from the allocation from the source by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for the loans creditors. Ekiti borrowed about N40 billion under the predecessor of Governor Ayo Fayose.
Consequent upon the foregoing, two to three months allocations are merged to pay one month salary from August 2015 till early 2017. If my calculation is correct, Ekiti should owe more than 12 months salaries by now but the bailout fund provided by the federal government in 2016 plus share of the Ekiti State from the refund made by Paris Club into the federation account saved the situation.
Let me state expressly that apart from workers salaries, government must make provision monthly for security though exclusively reserved, emergency in case of disaster, primary health care, important trainings and re-trainings of personnel, fuelling of generators, maintenance of government vehicles, government house and protocol etc.
Despite that government workers are the most important stakeholders in Ekiti State, other sectors cannot be abandoned. The artisans are also important. The students, the children, the traditional rulers and commercial drivers are equally important. Government cannot because workers must be paid their salaries leave all roads in the states untarred or unmaintained for four years. Some medicinal drugs must be made available by the government to curtail spread of diseases. Snake ante-venom vaccine must be made available at all government hospitals, etc.
It is also worthy of mentioning that Ekiti State Government under Fayose in his first term never owed any salary, instead, he left N10.4 billion to the cover of Ekiti people. He paid workers on the 23rd of every month and all arrears owed workers by his predecessor were paid by him. Promotion of workers were done as of when due. Cooperative deductions were done promptly. And when he came back in October 2014, he paid salary promptly before the nation’s economy collapsed in July 2015 due to global fall of oil prices. And now, everything seems to be coming back to normal in Ekiti. There’s no month in the last six months that the government did not pay workers salary. In 2009, there was global economic meltdown in the world which affected the global oil of price for six months. That also affected the revenue into the federation account and allocation to states. It is good to therefore recall that within six months, Ekiti State Government under the leadership of Segun Oni owed two months salary that forced workers to embark on strike.
Now back to the Christmas largess for the children, I, despite being part of the government, would not be happy with Fayose if he had used N100million to buy cars for his commissioners and special advisers. I would have kicked within house if he had used the money to pay for furniture allowances of political office holders working under him to the detriment of civil servants. Local Government Chairmen, their deputies, aides and councillors are also being owed more than. eight months salaries and none of them has collected a dime as furniture allowance since they got the crest of power. Commissioners and state political appointees are being g owed five months salaries and none of them has collected a dime as furniture allowance three years since they were appointed. The suffering is general phenomenon which must be generally addressed.
The children are the joy of the world. Celebrating children with N100 million per annum is not what a reasonable human being should condemn for any reason. From the N100 million, government bought the Ankara fabrics; bought 250 sewing machines; hired indigent tailors who would be paid stipends and to go away with the machines (EMPOWERMENT); bought Christmas gifts to be distributed to children in all towns and villages; bought food and drinks to be used to entertain the children at a party to be hosted by the governor in two weeks time and many other unseen expenses.
Fayose to me is only following the tenet of the Yoruba proverb that says “Don’t eat with all your ten hands at all time”. The Governor confidently told a group of students that visited him recently that “I want to manage what we have to touch all sectors so that i would be remembered for something when I leave office. What people can see with their eyes that I did is what I would be remembered for, not payment of salary, though very important too”, he stressed.
In conclusion, as a rooted Ekiti man, I believe those condemning Ayo Fayose on every move made by his government in the media, especially, the freely-given social networks, are doing so basically to protect their personal political interest. “How do we have access to power if we don’t destroy the incumbent government and her programmes?” That is political spontaneity as propounded by my friend, Clement Watershed. In the process of destroying Fayose’s policies, the opposition damages the reputation of the state as an entity. The reputation of Ekiti should be well guided by all and sundry irrespective of whatever disenchantment or dissatisfaction we have against Fayose. Opposition should source for alternative mode of criticism and campaign strategies to sell their party to the people as being done in the western and other civilized world instead of engaging in what I call Watershedian political spontaneity. Our advocacies should be issue-based and our criticism should be guided by logic commonsense and sense of patriotism.
God bless Ekiti State, Nigeria.
Sunshine Anifowose is the Personal Assistant on Administration, Stomach Infrastructure and Special Duties to Ekiti State Governor.