By Sulaiman Salawudeen
Evidently, the ‘working’ mentality in the developed world and the ‘frozen’ mindset in ones which have shamefacedly spurned/repugned quite pervasive gestures to the promptings of progress represent two opposing worlds in the estimation of the value of cost as against quality in public administration engagements.
To define, while governance cost considers how much it takes in liquid terms to achieve a desired public end, an end which largely involves leadership and project delivery, quality of governance measures concrete/observable consequences of financial commitments on various programmes and policies of government on the citizenry.
Depending on the focus and fidelity of actors on the political plane, as shown by/in the two worlds into which nations have been broadly politically/economically stratified, cost should be a prime predictor of quality. That is the cost may have to be high for quality to be high, and vice versa. However, cost as a measure of quality in governance may/do not always have to move in the same direction. In fact, systems where standards of socio-infrastructural facilities are kept magically high, and where unflagging bureaucratic transparency/accountability have legitimated performances at tiers of administration, have equally promoted achievements of high governance quality at the lowest imaginable cost.
In any case, against the abject impracticality of free-of-cost governance anywhere, the price attached to each public/official responsibility seems to differ too markedly between regions where leadership foci are torn in-between altruism and egocentrism.
I admit, in my country, the cost has not always determined quality. Factually here, cost and quality have obviously been uni-directionally inversely related – contracts awarded for one project at a price that would conveniently offset the bill for a minimum of ten! From N4.66 trillion in 2012, Nigeria’s budget has 2022 ballooned to N17.126 trillion, while external debt exploded to N17.15 trillion from N6.54 trillion it was in 2012. The country’s total public debt stock – domestic and external – closed at N44.06 trillion for the same year 2022, and to service the debts, Federal Government has, in the past 10 years alone, officially disbursed a whopping N15.22 trillion, according to a release by the Debt Management Office (DMO).
If borrowings were permitted and approved mainly on the fact of their necessity to improve an entity’s infrastructural accomplishments, where is the justification for Nigeria’s position of 132 out of 137 countries ranked on an infrastructure basis in the 2018 Global Competitive Index? From the centre to the regions, Nigerians have harvested low-quality governance at the extremist highest costs. Here, the purpose of governance seems to rubbish/reverse Jeremy Bentham’s Utilitarian expression of “the greatest good to the greatest number”.
The rot would seem located mainly in ‘padding’ – a sneaky practice in which contractors, through collusion with public officials/political office holders, quote insanely exaggerated figures for contracts, the balance – around 5000 or more percent of the actual cost of which will then be shared between/among parties at some point, and this is aside ‘permissible’ pilfering of adjusting contractual terms mid execution, through upward variation of bills attached to agreed quotes, in consequence of whatever magnitude of fluctuation in market prices.
Padding has however rubbished capital, much as it has recurrent, expenditure, and reversing this has been one of the many vociferous, but fruitless, campaigns of the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC). But, the error, as adverted earlier, is often facilitated by professionally compromised career officials functioning permanently as willing accessories abetting treasury atrophy rather than serving as honourable guards detached in the poise to smoothen observed creased performances of fleeting actors.
The decay of exaggerated input cost and depressed output value has however consumed the centre, much as it has the constituents. As we write, most communities all over the states of the federation are in decades-long friendship with ‘darkness’, physical and in varied other forms. This is despite the states’ monthly income of humongous federal allocations, occasional receipts from other sources, alongside all manner of unvetted borrowings. In spite of tantalising benefits accruing as oil producer, Ondo, even under Rotimi Akeredolu, seems to have only compounded a logjam in monthly entitlements of workers, introduced by Olusegun Mimiko. In the twilight of Kayode Fayemi’s leadership, Ekiti became entirely unconnectable, as some major roads and all link bridges collapsed.
Osun workers have resorted to vigils in the effort to make government redeem entitlements due to them as the outcome of the half-salary debacle brought by Rauf Aregbesola. In spite of Ogun’s wealth, some roads across places in the state have been in roaring shapes of disrepair! Although in Oyo State, the late Abiola Ajimobi had won renown for impugning workers’ concerns alongside those of retirees, the post-Ajimobi phase appears especially sorry for the state. For the entire eight years of Ajimobi’s administration, Oyo state borrowed and owed N90b to lenders, and Ajimobi’s commitments to infrastructural renewal in the state seemed second to none in recent history. Today, just about four years of Seyi Makinde’s stewardship, Oyo’s debt rose from N90 billion to N250 billion in a state where the most to point to in terms of infrastructure are yet the ones undertaken by the erstwhile administration.
Few road repairs here and there, a circular road project that has barely taken off, expansion of the interchange at Iwo Road which remains barely 20 per cent completed and the “Light Up Oyo State” project which returned darkness to initial spots just two weeks after launch, assessors must have grave tasks to justify Oyo’s magnificent debt profile against GSM’s puny infrastructural accomplishments! Is Makinde displaying just innocent prodigality or familiar deliberate thievery?
Never mind the current global recession fueling inflation everywhere, Nigeria’s political leadership has always been in love with high figures, a trait exhibited as a prime strategy of conmanship in governance. Of course, the trouble with us has always been not how to make money, but how to spend it. Amidst reports of record-breaking heists by public officials, the federal government continues to claim it is broke and cannot, therefore, meet basic obligations, including salary increases as being pleaded by labour associations – excluding the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), even as appeals to it for the redemption of eight months arrears of entitlements to the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), which accrued during a recent strike, have so far fallen on deaf ears! But, salaries and allowances of political office occupiers have remained a secret affair owing mostly to their indefensibly bloated sizes. Today, in fairness to conscience, despite gargantuan outlay, delivery of leadership services to Nigerians has been neither effective nor efficient, and unhidden moral deficit of the political leadership compromises whatever little accomplishments are being recorded. It is time the country’s leadership engaged the reverse gear upon corruption to institute a whole-scale humanistic governance system that locates the masses and allocates them prime welfare in a country wherein all they (the masses) have been tutored about are lessons of hate and rejection, and endemic decays which have displaced them from every of life’s comfort zones. Cash so scarce that millions have found none to feed even once a whole day is being hoarded by a few in private vaults until such went entirely molten and unspendable! Here is no systemic arrangements to protect/empower the weak – it’s just one grand scheme of mass disablement/deception! To insult the injured, the country’s apex bank, while trying to change some of the country’s currency, recently announced it had spent over N800 billion between 2017 and 2021 to maintain the naira, and that N281 billion had been committed to printing 500 million pieces of the new currency from the Mint, and Nigerians, who have been at war among themselves lately over access to the new notes, now procure the notes at charges that threaten their very jugulars. This is even as unprecedented petrol scarcity is pushing the price per litre of premium motor spirit (petrol) towards a thousand naira! What a paradise Nigeria has become for Nigerians!
As barrel, not just pot, bellies, and fat necks compete for attention at executive council meetings and grandiose international conferences – essentially advertising wrongly channeled commonwealth, even while supposed objects of governance at the home fronts enjoy ‘multidimensional’ penury, the national association of marabouts and traditionalists may have to prepare immolations to appease the gods to soften hardened hearts of the presumptive maladjusts. What, perhaps, the harvest of lampoons and censorious speeches have failed to achieve, the spirits may have a way to effectuate! Ethical revolutionary practice by the political class may really have to be conditioned extra-terrestrially if the masses must be loosened from asphyxiating imprisonment. When will contracts for road repairs yield way to those for the repair/renovation of human lives that have been serially accident by dislocation conducts of public leaders? The wealth of the few in positions cannot never ginger such collective purchasing power critical to spurring the buoyancy of a large market potentially available in a land of over 200 million. This is the worry of traditional microeconomics; it is why wealth must spread!
- Salawudeen, writer/freelance journalist, writes via email@example.com