In Africa’s most populous state, where the physical and human resources are available to ensure a brighter future, the faultlines between state governors who uplift their populations and those who rest on their laurels is stark. Governors in Nigeria – who vied for election this week – hold a disproportionate amount of power, in part expressed through the immense resources handed to them from central government. And the ramifications of how they disburse the funds available to them is marked in the differences in economic and social development found between Nigeria's states.
If governance is carried out with negative intentions or through poor policies, the adverse effects can impact upon a whole generation. Babatunde Raji Fashola and Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, two leading lights in Nigerian state governance, serve as a marker as to what the future can hold when ‘good governance’ is embraced. The mass allocations to states from the nation’s oil revenue – of which governors are making the case for an increase - dwarfs those of many African countries, yet the average Nigerian can count on one hand which governors are making a progressive change for their constituents. Thus, the question must be asked as to why so many Nigerian governors leave so much to be desired?
In a country like Nigeria, bedevilled with a culture of impunity, and yet with so much promise for the future, governance is at times is spoken with the wrong dialect, or even language. But there are those who are fluent in ‘good governance’, and with the hope that their dialect is being spread, one can only hope that it becomes the lingua franca among Nigeria's politicians, local and national.
Rivers State, in south eastern Nigeria, is a state where the local government’s positive policy making and forward planning is impacting on the population. The capital, Port Harcourt, is an oil trading and services hub in the region due to its proximity to the largely foreign-run heart of the oil extraction industry. At the helm of government affairs in Rivers State is the maverick Governor Rotimi Amaechi of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). A graduate of the University of Port Harcourt, Amaechi served as the speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly from 1999-2007, taking the exalted leap to the governorship in 2007. Since his government’s inception, his people-oriented and progressive form of governance has changed not only the face of the state, but the mood of its 5 million inhabitants. Gone are the times when occultists, warlords and militants roamed the streets unchallenged. The decongestion of traffic has breathed new life into the daily commute in the capital and its neighbouring environs. The state now prides itself on its policy of free education and healthcare: each of the 24 local government areas in Rivers State now boasts a modern secondary school, with an additional 456 modern primary schools across the state. Each newly built school holds modern libraries, ICT facilities, science laboratories and recreational and sports facilities. Amaechi has also built 60 fully-functional healthcare centres, scattered across all local government areas.
Perhaps most impressive is Amaechi’s record in fiscal affairs. In a country where many voters see politicians as profligate with money, Amaechi refreshingly bucks the trend. He holds to a commitment to transparency on fiscal issues. “Every three months, I summon Rivers people to a stakeholders’ meeting where I give account of monies I received, spent and banked on a monthly basis,” he says. “At the last stakeholders’ meeting, I asked all commissioners to publicly give account of how the money released to their ministries were spent”. In total, Amaechi claims to have saved some N28 billion (about $181 million) since his administration began. As a consequence, and as a sign of international recognition of Amaechi’s fiscal foresight, international ratings and financial services agency Fitch affirmed Rivers State’s long term and local currency rating of B+ and national long term rating at AA- with a stable forecast outlook- the only Nigerian state to achieve such recognition.
While the the recurring pledges and foci of Nigerian political manifestos tend to revolve around education, healthcare, infrastructure, economic stability and the generic ‘progress’, the Rivers State government under Ameachi has proven itself as one of few which has adhered to the tenants of its manifesto and, in turn, good governance. Amaechi’s efforts have not gone unnoticed by the Rivers State citizenry. In Tuesday’s gubernatorial elections, Ameachi defeated his closest rival with 1,178,859 votes – nearest competitor, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) candidate polled 112,528. It is apparent who, and more importantly, what the people want.
Amaechi has a well-known rival in the performance stakes, the ‘working’ – as both Nigerian TV adverts and Lagosians proclaim - governor of Lagos state, Babatunde Raji Fashola of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). Fashola’s name has been reverberating not only on the lips of Lagosians but is known by all those who visit the ‘centre of excellence’, as Lagos is now popularly known.
Born into a prominent Lagos family, Fashola embarked on his educational journey with a degree in law from the University of Benin. The Nigerian Bar was his next calling, rising rapidly to the position of Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. The attractive nature of public policy drew him into the cabinet of the then Governor of Lagos, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. Fashola served with distinction on the state treasury board, the Lagos state executive council, and finally as Governor Tinubu’s chief of staff. Such was the active and effective role he played in the Tinubu administration that Fashola was handpicked to represent Lagos in the 2007 gubernatorial elections by his party. He won resoundingly. The transformation of Lagos has led observers and critics alike to pour encomiums on Fashola. Not only has crime reduced drastically in a city previosuly known for thuggery and the unwarranted loss of lives, but educational reforms are being felt by the youth, and a short visit to the city will not pass without having a Lagosian proudly pointing out where the governor has pushed the planting of flowers and shrubs amidst previously grotty roads.
The reclamation of eroded land lost to the Atlantic sea has led to the visionary conception of the Eko Atlantic City project. And with Lagos on course to become the third largest city in the world by 2015 with a population jump of 10 million, the beautification projects, the investments in sports and road rehabilitation, and the commitment to leaving a physical impact on a transforming city have all brought hope into the hearts of Lagosians. This was affirmed by Fashola’s outright defeat of the PDP candidate for the governorship of Lagos, Dr Ade Dosunmu, who scored 300,450 against the 1,509,113 votes Fashola garnered. The response to transformational leadership speaks volumes; in this instance Lagos has spoken for Fashola.
The yearning from Nigerians – and many across the African continent - for the kind of change Fashola and Amaechi have brought on a local scale to be carried through at a national level is too loud to ignore. We should not hide behind the fact that there are many roads left to travel towards transformational governance. Yet it should be a comforting thought to know that there are a few amongst the many who lead the charge towards progress. Governors Fashola and Amaechi, and before them Nasir El-Rufai in Abuja, are not the only individuals with the verve and foresight to affect change in the lives of the masses. Yet the current political environment that Nigeria finds itself in does not provide the ample opportunity for true talent to be showcased. The political culture of moneybag politics, intimidation and coercion that Nigeria embraces can and will change. In time, we can but hope that the Fashola’s and Ameachi’s of the country will be duplicated at a national scale and that the men with a reputation for “getting things done” in their localities can get even more done for even more people across the country.