The lavish and immodest lifestyle of Nigerian governors can be measured by their penchant for frequent and often needless foreign travels, writes CHUKWUDI AKASIKE
In the Second Republic, governors showed a high level of moderation compared to the current crop of governors who are not only stylish, but also take pleasure to the extreme while in office. While some state chief executives in those days were satisfied riding on horses, todayâ€™s governors not only fly in airplanes, they acquire private jets for their regular expensive trips.
One could recall vividly how former Governor of the old Sokoto State, Alhaji Shehu Kangiwa, lived a life of moderation before he died while playing polo in Kaduna on Nov. 17, 1981. The former governor, through his frugal nature, was able to complete projects like Argungu Grand Fishing and Gusau Hotels, many Primary Health Centres, four technical schools, four commercial schools and vocational training centres.
The Birnin Kebbi Polytechnic, Sokoto Investment Company, Sokoto Cooperative Bank, Sokoto State Library, Rice Mill, Sokoto Foam factory, Tamba Animal Feeds, Modern Bakeries and Ceramic factory could be traced to the efforts of the governor. Many other former governors like the late Sam Mbakwe of Imo State, and Alhaji Lateef Jakande of Lagos State showed restraint in how they managed their statesâ€™ resources. Jakande, between 1979 and 1983, was content with using his old Toyota Laurel car while serving as governor.
Surprisingly, todayâ€™s governors ride in expensive jeeps and buy private jets in the face of grinding poverty afflicting a majority of the people. Apart from that, the unnecessary display of opulence by elected public figures could be found in castles built with taxpayersâ€™ money. The situation is such that many Nigerians have formed the opinion that governance in the current democratic dispensation is without a human face.
But one disturbing issue is the rate at which current state executives globetrot without minding how bad their expensive travels affect their statesâ€™ treasuries. Most governors in Nigeria enjoy spending time abroad and by the time they are back to their states, the excuse is always that they have travelled abroad to woo foreign investors.
Two governors have been away on health grounds in foreign land for several months. While the Taraba governor, Danbaba Suntai, is still in a German hospital after a plane crash on Oct. 25, 2012, his counterpart in Enugu State, Sullivan Chime, has been absent from office for almost three months, apparently on health grounds.
More than 70 per cent of the governors have continued to visit foreign countries without considering the need to develop their states. Even with the uncertainty in the nationâ€™s airspace leading to a series of air crashes, state chief executives still move about, abandoning the task of governing their various states.
For example, Governor Isa Yuguda of Bauchi State was accused by the opposition parties of gallivanting around foreign countries since his inauguration for a second term in office. It was an attitude he was said to have begun during his first tenure and the belief is that the situation is responsible for the slow pace of development in the state.
But those who thought Yuguda would be apologetic on the matter were wrong. The governor had insisted that it was not necessary that the citizens of the state must see his face before he works for the development of the state. To him, it is possible to develop the state from abroad.
â€œWith or without my face, I will do my job, which I am doing. The world is a global village and one does not need to be in a particular place to be effective. I can govern the state well from anywhere,â€ the unperturbed governor had said in response to the deluge of criticisms that trailed his obsession for flying abroad.
In Rivers State, the ACN demanded an end to the frequent foreign trips of Governor Rotimi Amaechi. Describing the governorâ€™s journeys abroad as incurable foreign tours, the opposition party said the state chief executive had travelled for more than 200 times since he was inaugurated as governor. On the excuse that such trips would afford the governor the opportunity to attract investors to the state, the state Publicity Secretary of the ACN, Mr. Jerry Needam, noted that such excuse was unacceptable.
Needam is of the opinion that valuable funds that could have helped to rebuild ailing industries had been wasted on foreign trips. The party, however, called on Amaechi to bring to bear on Rivers people and its economy the benefits of his foreign trips to justify the tax payersâ€™ money spent on the numerous overseasâ€™ trips.
But a social crusader and human rights activist, Mr. Ben Ukaeje, expressed fear about the dangers in the Nigerian governorsâ€™ globetrotting attitude. Ukaeje is of the view that the series of air crashes involving men and women in the top echelon of the society are enough to make the governors have a change of mind on the numerous pleasure trips. He observed that the council chairmen were also in the habit of abandoning their local government areas to state capitals and Abuja.
â€œAll these things are happening because our current leaders do not know the meaning of governance. They see leadership as a thing of pleasure; they see governance as a clarion call to embark on a spending spree. But in normal situations, leadership is supposed to make the leader feel a sort of pain because of the welfare of his followers. The leader is supposed to embrace moderation so as to ensure that the commonwealth is evenly shared among the people of the country.
â€œWhen leaders spend huge sums of money on regular overseasâ€™ trips, the masses will see it as a display of frivolity. Except they see the gains of such frequent trips abroad, nobody will believe that the purpose is to woo investors. Again, the danger of air crashes is always there. If unnecessary trips are avoided, the risk of being involved in any plane crash would be reduced. This is the truth because we all know that the frequent air mishaps in Nigeria have painted a bad picture of our airspace,â€ Ukaeje added.
Many observers believe that the Sosoliso air crash, Dana, ADC, Bellview and helicopter crashes are veritable pointers to the fact that our airspace cannot be regarded as the best, especially considering the sequence of these crashes. Government officials that are jet-crazy are expected to have considered this trend and reduce the frequency of their presence in the air.
The acting chairman of the African Renaissance Party, Chief Jackson Omenazu, told Saturday PUNCH that the governors were not elected to junket from one foreign country to another. The ARP chief regretted that the system in Nigeria had made it possible for leaders to travel indiscriminately without caution. He recalled how a governor from the northern part of the country suddenly woke up, decided to fly his private jet and got involved in a near-fatal crash. Omenazu explained that such a situation would have been avoided if the said governor was concentrating in the task of rebuilding his state.
â€œThe truth is that before they became governors, most of them were concentrating on their private businesses. But when they became governors, junketing from one country to the other became their hobby because such trips are paid for with the taxpayersâ€™ money. The problem again is that only a few persons that love this country have had the privilege of being in government,â€ Omenazu said.