POLEMICS: ABIA STATE GOVERNMENT’S BIZARRE PROJECTS-BUNKERING METHODOLOGY

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By Shaft

Abia State is dubbed “God’s Own State”. Ironically, Abia appears to bear beautifully the toga or the image of classical antithesis of God’s doctrinal principles in the management of the affairs of the State. Beyond sloganeering, Abia State may be distant from the cuddle, embrace, and firm grip of God given the ambivalent dispositions of the political elites in charge of governance in Abia State. Whereas, normatively Abia State is christened “God’s Own State”, Abia political elites overseeing governance in the State apparently are determined and resolute to snatch the last vestiges of godliness found in Abia from God. It would seem the political elites are in self-serving tugs of wars and in contentions with God over Divine proprietary right and rulership of Abia State as truly “God’s Own State”. Perhaps this mortal versus Immortal wresting match in the affairs of Abia State may not end soon. Abia State political elites from all inclinations and body language appear very determined to frustrate God from having His way and manifesting His desires in Abia State. These statements or scenarios presented herein may indeed sound like over-exaggerations on the surface. If carefully analyzed from the contexts of the prisms of favoured pet projects and programs/policies of Abia political elites, past or present, the picture becomes more glaringly crystal clear and less obscure to any discerning mind.

Bizarre Priority

 Are you doubting, how about this weird project puzzle or teaser? You can decode the sign if you know how to “kotala sign”. Abia State political elites very strangely believe at this material point in time the priority that is most pressing is the erection/completion of super-modern palatial Government House. The new Government House flagship project is seductively attractive and appealing to the political elites for obvious reasons. The reasons you can figure out easily if you understand the seductive aura or magnetic appeal of coziness and luxury surroundings, in the min-sets of Abia political elites. Compare and contrast the prevailing circumstances surrounding the new Government House project with another project King David and his son King Solomon initiated and completed in honour of God as found in the Bible accounts. I am not suggesting or insinuating herein Abia State Government embarks on similar project. The imports of the cross reference and similarities in the two projects rest squarely on the scale of grandeur and enormous costs of execution, among other pertinent considerations. Do you notice any paradox/contradictions or semblance in terms of Divine acknowledgement among the political elites of Israel of the supremacy of God in the affairs of the ancient Israeli state David and Solomon governed under divine principles and contemporary Abia State ostensibly decorated with toga of overshadowing banner of “God’s Own State”?   David and Solomon spent substantial amounts of personal wealth to honour God by building and dedicating the Temple edifice in appreciation of God’s faithfulness and benevolence. On the contrary, here in Abia State, our political elites have decided to plunge enormous resources of Abia State in this parlous times of economic hardship on the heels of unquantifiable debts profiles to build a state-of-the arts palatial Government House to be funded with tax payers’ monies. What an irony! This is bizarre indeed.

Cemetery of Uncompleted Projects

Micro and macroeconomics provide us with analytical tools to aid in making wise economic choices especially in public sector domains and environments. Can the political elites in charge of public affairs in Abia State explain convincingly to Abians the anticipated benefits derivable by building new luxury State House for the Governor, as well as the perceived obvious short and long terms implications for the fragile economy of Abia State from cost-benefit analyses? Such explanations are not out of place but imperative. We must not be oblivious of avalanche of more important uncompleted projects inherited   from past administrations and/or initiated by present leadership in the last four years of first tenure in office. In these particular contexts, Abia State is more like a cemetery of uncompleted projects littered across the spectrum of Abia landscape. Enyimba City Economic Zone and jinxed Osisioma flyover projects are two prominent examples. What of the ridiculous and conspicuous presence of dilapidated   networks of unmotorable roads in the urban centers of Umuahia, State Capital, and Aba?  What of piles of outstanding unserviced salaries arrears and other outstanding emoluments/benefits of retired senior citizens in gratuities and pensions?  What of recently negotiated minimum wage salary structure for public servants that featured prominently in the last elections campaigns and promises? What of the armies of unemployed youths in Abia State? Our space is insufficient to categorize and itemize completely various challenges or problems confronting Abia State in different fronts. You can fill in the gaps and ponder over these vital issues.

Yet the political elites are satisfied and believe the best legacy for posterity is to squander state’s resources on new Government House project that would constitute a liability eventually in terms of furnishings, regular maintenance and associated expenditures to compound the situation, instead of funding value-adding capital projects. Why not spend the earmarked funds in taking care of backlogs of outstanding unpaid salaries/pensions arrears; prompt payments of the newly approved minimum wage, and many other outstanding financial  deficits and obligations, if the government is myopic or insensitive to realize the government can sensibly invest the funds in capital projects to boost the state economy?

Projects Bunkering Methodology

Too often we notice how governments perceive and react on the issues of ill-legal oil bunkering business by corporate organizations and individuals. Nigerian nationals and foreigners involved in these shady deals normally are criminalized though justifiably as enemies of governments and Nigerian state and dubbed accordingly economic saboteurs. No doubt, these elements are indeed enemies and truly economic saboteurs.  Notwithstanding, there are other faces of bunkering business. Government and the officials knowingly and unknowingly engage in bunkering by different means and ways of various magnitudes. Any states’ governments sponsored projects such as new Government House projects can be classified as Project-Bunkering initiatives because such projects are potentially no less inimical to the economic survival/wellbeing of the states and peoples in question. Projects bunkering characteristically entail misplaced agenda and priorities backed up by officially approved means of wastefully siphoning away states funds on mere fancy pet projects without much real or tangible economic benefits/gains to the citizenry. In recent times, such analogous policies/projects included Rochas Okoroacha’s infamous wasteful expenditures in Imo State on artistic/aesthetic projects and his creation of ill-defined state organ branded Ministry of Family Happiness. Ekiti State under Ayo Fayose’s administration suffered huge losses of state funds in the quest to construct grandiose new Government House and gulped billions of Naira. Abia State’s recent decision to embark on multimillion or billion Naira new Government House project generally has been perceived as classical state government sponsored project-bunkering initiative in the court of public opinion. Public perceptions of the project amount to state-sponsored and directed economic sabotage against the down trodden in Abia society. Osisioma flyover project seems to be moving subtly on this track given the curious slow pace of execution and huge financial burden on the state. Other aspects of projects-bunkering initiatives may involve various uncompleted networks of roads in different parts of Abia State.

Public Opinion Advocacy/Perspectives

Abia State political elites may reason otherwise or fail to be persuaded by the position of Polemics on the economic futility and necessity of embarking on new Government House project at this time, given the grave economic outlooks and prospects in the state. Perhaps genuine patriotic concerns strongly expressed by well-meaning personalities on this subject in recent past may convince Abia political elites to reconsider the decision more objectively from fresh perspectives devoid of personal attachments and sentiments.

Tonne Iredia, argued in May 12, 2013, Vanguard Newspaper publication as follows.

Democracy is acclaimed worldwide as the best form of government but its features appear rather easy to bastardize. In a democracy, power is said to belongs to the people and that they exercise it through a government that is made up of a group of persons selected by the people.
What this suggests, is that government ought to constantly feel the pulse of the people on public policies, projects and programs. However, in many developing societies like Nigeria, this hardly happens. Indeed, the representatives of the people who ought to function as the servants of the people, more often than not, lord it over the people. Quite often, these overlords operate above the laws of the land. For instance, in order to have an easy drive from one location to another, they use the instruments of power like the siren and law enforcement agencies to scare away from the public space, ordinary citizens who are going about their lawful businesses. Although the Nigerian constitution clearly stipulates that the main purpose of government is the security and welfare of the people, insecurity has become a recurring feature of public life in the country. As for the welfare of the people, what appears paramount is the pleasure of the “rulers”. This explains why our leaders-another name for the peoples’ representatives-make their own accommodation and feeding a priority. The Governor of a State for example, being the first citizen of the State lives in the best accommodation in the State. Yet when a new Governor assumes office, the said best accommodation suddenly becomes inadequate and has to be renovated, if not entirely replaced with a new Government House. Even Akwa Ibom State, generally applauded for its many first-class projects virtually began with the building of a new Government House. The argument that what the immediate past administration in the State wanted to spend on renovating the premises was almost as high as the cost of a new Government House is not the issue. Rather, what we need to ask now is: for how long had the Government House been in existence to require massive renovations or the building of a new one? The last time I sought to glance through government projects in Nigeria on the net, what many States pasted to have done or were doing were interesting. In Abia State, the government was busy with the construction of what it called a new and befitting government house at Ogurube layout. The cost of fencing of the site alone was put at N175million. In faraway Abuja, renovation, construction and installation work at the Abia house at a cost of N150million were also in progress. The state government was also spending N500million on quarters for commissioners. In neighboring Imo State, Government demolished and renovated the existing Government House in Owerri. The cabinet office, the office of the Secretary to the Government and the Governor’s office were all restructured. The old Multi-Purpose Hall was transformed to a mini conference Hall with state-of the art facilities. Meanwhile, the immediate past administration of Chief IkediOhakim, had before leaving office begun the development of the permanent site of the Government House Complex at New Owerri. That massive renovation would be undertaken in Ibadan from the day Otunba Alao Akala left office was not in doubt as Governor Abiola Ajimobi avoided the governor’s office in the state secretariat, Agodi. The program for the handing over ceremony was supposed to hold in the executive council chambers but it ended up under a canopy erected at the parking lot. The luncheon fixed for the Banquet Hall of the Government House was also shifted to a private location-the Ibadan Civic Centre. Interestingly, Alao Akala had before leaving office, worked not only on the Ibadan location but had also built an ultra-modern liaison office at a cost of N170.9million for the State in Lagos. The edifice which has among other things 15 Guest room chalets was to serve as the new Governor’s lodge in Lagos. On its part, the current Ekiti State Government is building a new Government House at a hilltop close to the present one. It has also awarded the construction of the second phase of the new Governor’s Office at a cost of N2.02bn. It is to be completed in 13 months according to the State Commissioner for Information, Mr. Tayo Ekundayo. Of course, projects such as new office or residential accommodation for Governors are usually completed on schedule. Only last December when former President Obasanjo visited Katsina, one of the projects he inspected at the instance of Governor Shema was the New Government House which was at the time under construction at Modoji. The beautiful structure appears ready now for show casing to groups like the Good Governance Tour Team but the many questions that analysts would ask about the project may never be answered. If those in government are there on behalf of the people, why do they build, renovate, refurbish and rebuild new Government Houses when many of those for whose sake they are in power are homeless? In the case of Katsina, there is no evidence that government felt the pulse of the people before embarking on the building of a new Government House. Indeed, the story is that a local newspaper-AL MIZAN-had published the findings of its survey showing that the people were against the project. The government has however been touting some strange logic that the funding for the project was sourced from interests which accrued from the state’s resources, lodged in the different commercial banks and not from grants allocated from the federation account. The other pertinent question concerns the use into which the existing Government House will be put when government moves to the new one. Is there a possibility that the speculation that it may be donated to any Governor as gratuity for serving the state will come to pass? Whatever is the answer let our leaders remember that other nations that are not engaged in our kind of covetousness are no fools, hence successive British Prime Ministers for instance enjoy only No 10 Downing Street. They dare not waste public resources in restructuring customized Government Hous      es.

With Tonnie Iredia’s statesmanlike commentary on political elites addictions and propensities for wasting public funds on new governments houses projects Polemics leaves you to draw your own conclusions.   

Editor’s Note

Polemics is a regular Column created and managed by ShafT.

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