An Open Letter to H.E. The Executive Governor of Benue State
By Aminu Buba Dibal
I am pleased to congratulate you on your election to the office of the Executive Governor of Benue State (2023- 2027). By wide public account, it is a remarkable story of how integrity, a track record of excellence in public service, and utilized opportunities can endear a leader to its people.
The people of Benue’s choice of a Priest echoed a longing as Ferdinand Tonnie’s, who writing in 1887 and depressed by the changes that very rapid modernization was bringing about in his country, contrasted the traditional German community based on a “consensus of wills, living in harmony and dignified by custom and religion”, with the new type of society and association which derived from a union of “rational individual wills rested on the agreement and safeguarded by law”.
Applied to our context in Nigeria at large, our society has lost that solidarity of a “traditional society” and neither embraced the tenants of a new modern society of “agreement and law”, but state capture by most political elites to vanity which has no boundary by ethics, solidarity or rule of law.
The motivation and choice of your Excellency the Benue State Governor for this letter and its policy recommendations are solidarity and longing for good governance in Nigeria where seeming opportunity presents itself amidst the crisis of leadership in our country; hope that an ethically (clergy) inspired leader could lead from a faith-based value system thus assure an incorruptible, just and fair leadership; and the potentials of a “Clergy” (from Christianity or Islam) led government could introduce to governance style in Benue State and Nigeria.
It is important to recognize that the “Choice” of the Benue People represents the microcosm of the larger hopes and aspirations of Nigerians for a “credible personality” as a leader. All hope is not lost in our belief of a “religious elite” being potentially capable of demonstrating what good governance can be in Nigeria amidst our chaos, after lost opportunity in Taraba State with the choice of Rev. Jolly Nyame (1999-2003).
It is an experience that many of us remember with indignation and pain because of missed opportunities to showcase exemplary leadership and to good testimony of the constituency he sprang from.
Your excellency, Benue State and indeed Nigeria are in desperate need of a hero of good governance, not heroism in wealth accumulation (and vanity of its triumphalism) as a socially constructed ideal by our contradictory and largely corrupt society, however, cherish a functional system, but heroism in purpose, which demonstrates to Benue people, Nigerians and the international community that heroic democratic leadership is possible in Africa.
This could answer the people’s quest for a better society they often don’t actually know how to bring about but at least by choosing a credible personality as they did on 18th February 2023 in Benue, whom they believe and trust would not exploit their ignorance but would open a new horizon of visionary leadership that is open for active citizens participation.
State Governors in Nigeria whether generally true or not are largely perceived poorly by the public in terms of their credibility and believed that they actually inhibit the flourishing of democracy and good governance in Nigeria by for example their attitudes towards the independence of the judiciary, independence of the Houses of Assembly, LGA autonomy, State/LGA joint account, poor LGA elections, lagging annual audit reports, mismanagement of COVID-19 palliatives, mismanagement of Paris Club refund and state capture to mention few.
Your excellency, your election and track record present an opportunity for a new narrative on what can be possible at the state level in Nigeria to the benefit of your people, symbolic image of the constituency you sprang from; and probably be inspired by the following key dictum: “by their fruits, you shall know them”, and “a lamp is not kept under a bushel”.
It is against the background provided that recommendations are made here that underpin good governance and could set the foundation of a robust democracy, open government, and accountable and sustainable service delivery that would outlive your administration but to your credit.
1. An Agenda based social contract
On the basis of a participatory, inclusive dialogue process and best practices, your administration could identify set Agenda Objectives for the first four years of your term which could be professionally articulated to a development framework, well-funded and widely publicized as a social contract between your administration and the good people of Benue State.
Probably, a key agenda objective could amongst others include an Open Government Policy in the design, implementation, and evaluation of all government programs. This will nurture and sustain a democratic culture of transparency and accountability that would make it difficult for any successive governments to exclude the citizens in governance processes and thereby enhance service delivery and stem corruption.
A shared vision would make the people of Benue own and drive your administration’s agenda by creating a collective and shared burden. This is because the common Nigerian who bears the brunt of the social injustices suffered because of non-visionary leadership and corruption could be the most significant constituency to sustain the institutions, mechanisms, and policies that would be established by your administration to enhance participation and accountability when mobilized with the right information and the benefits of informed civic participation in democratic governance processes.
Most often, the ideas and efforts of visionary leaders largely depended on how they were also able to coordinate and mobilize the citizens on their ideas and vision to the understanding and buy-in of all. In 2019 for example, the current French President, Emmanuel Macron announced his plan to lead a national dialogue for two months in the face of national outrage over his administration’s policy to increase fuel prices.
Along with this, the French President set out 35 questions and debates in towns and villages across the country, between January 15th and March 15th, 2019, and won the support of the population.
2. Policy and Legal domestication
The constitutional reforms led by the national assembly especially pertaining to key legislations that would have strengthened the three tiers of government in our federation, supported a robust democratic practice, and underpinned good governance have severally been aborted when taken to the state assemblies for voting. It is widely believed they are sabotaged by state governors.
To set record examples in governance, the administration could explore through engagement with the legal adviser of the state, the Commissioner of Justice, and the Attorney General, to consider what can be unilaterally feasible within the legal framework for the state to domesticate/implement provisions or reform on the independence of the judiciary, independence of the House of Assembly, LGA autonomy, State LGA joint account, and LGA elections by the State Independent Electoral Commission.
Given credibility is a wide challenge in our polity, a framework for check and balancing could be strengthened or instituted between the state government and LGAs to ensure complementarity in governance.
3. Ethical Leadership Capacity Building
The value belief system of your excellency is obviously the foundation of what informed the track record of your outstanding public service. However, a key challenge you will grapple with in the course of your new responsibility is of value and ideology-bereft approach to leadership at even the highest level of your executive council.
This could pose a high threat and potential of undermining your focus on achieving your administration’s agenda, as politicians in Nigeria are largely bereft of any noble ideology, ethical values for leadership or an aspiration to being the transformers of their society, the place of their name in history but largely the philosophy of unbridled pursuit of public wealth accumulation and absolute monarchical type power for malevolent objectives.
However given the excessive powers Governors wield in Nigeria, their value standard, political will and approach to leadership sets the tone and guide the conduct of appointees. This thus presents the opportunity to transform and align your council member’s and permanent secretaries’ leadership ideology to your desired philosophy through capacity building. Some of the key domestic centres to explore for capacity building could include the Pat Utomi Centre for Values in Leadership (CVL) or Lux Terra Centre for Leadership or international at the Harvard Edmond & Lily Safra Centre for Ethics.
It is significant to recognize that a lack of ethical values as a philosophy for governance and leadership serves as a key basis for all forms of corruption and inefficiency in public service.
4. Budget Transparency & Accountability
The government budget is a public document, thus internationally accepted accountability mechanisms such as social audits, citizens report cards, public expenditure tracking surveys, etc. have citizens as central agents of the processes. Domestic instruments in Nigeria to make the budget an accessible document include the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, Fiscal Responsibility & Public Procurement (FRPP) Act, and budget public hearings.
In terms of our international obligations around revenue and budget Nigeria is signatory to include Nigeria Extractive Industry Transparency International (NEITI) and the Open Government Partnership (OGP), the pillars and approach of which requires active citizens leadership and participation.
However, the norm in Nigeria over time especially in states makes the budget a sacred document and extremely difficult to access, or the citizens are educated about its content and what it could mean in their lives when implemented.
This feeds into for example the poor capital budget implementation across MDAs of government at all levels, and for many years since the return to democracy is hovering between 21 – 26% even in the years of surplus budgets according to the former Nigerian Finance Minister, Kemi Adeosun (2015-2018).
Sir, based on the above, I recommend the launch of a behavioral transformation and governance awareness project that would be focused on information dissemination, social mobilization, and coordination of town hall dialogues across the state on good governance. The central objectives are citizens’ awareness and participation in sustainable and accountable governance.
In terms of structure, the project could be domiciled in the Office of the Executive Governor with structure in LGAs. The project could have a technical coordinating team with a key role of harnessing, simplifying, and disseminating information to town hall dialogue platforms across LGAs but with operations of sensitization across all communities in the councils.
The platform would hold town hall meetings to discuss social issues (and evolve) around – health, education, opportunities, infrastructure, and good governance indicators – Voice and Accountability, Political Stability, Peacebuilding, Government Effectiveness, Regulatory Quality, and Rule of Law. And Control of Corruption.
In terms of dialogue on good governance, the issues could be about basic rights and responsibilities of the citizen; monthly budget releases to the LGAs by recurrent and capital classifications in terms of what they are meant for; the complicity of citizens in facilitating corruption and the social cost of financial corruption; the functions of each arm of government; explanation on emerging policies, legislations as well as old ones as far as they have positive bearing for citizens; government programs and how to access them; ways to constructively hold elected officials to account; how to participate in the annual budget-making process; the functions of constituency office; which project is allocated to each constituency in the current financial year; the concept of community project monitoring; companies handling projects and commensurate budget releases/ timeline for completion; the meaning of the concept of the social contract; peacebuilding and national integration/development, etc.
Dialogue has proven to change perceptions of authority and legitimacy which is vital to fighting corruption and fostering development in societies like ours where the people do not understand authority and accountability given the archaic mentality and perception of democratic leaders as monarchical powers by a wide majority of Nigerians.
The stakeholder platform meetings in all LGAs could be co-chaired by representatives of civil society and youth leaders, Labour Union, NOA officers as well as members of the traditional and religious institutions with active participation of relevant government officials. Nigeria has several governance structures across the LGAs for almost all key sectors thus membership of the platform could be drawn from these platforms. For example, in the health and infrastructure sectors, we have Local Emergency Routine Immunization Coordinating Committees (LERICC) and Ward Development Communities respectively.
In the Education sector is the School Based Management Committees (SBMCs); In Agriculture is the Farmer Cooperatives; the Constituency Projects Tracking Group (CPTG) and the Media; for security is the Police Community Relations Committees (PCRC), Youth, Women, the physically challenged and minority groups.
The project could also sponsor media programs on governance issues, conduct public sensitization, and disseminate targeted bulk text messages with information on good governance and about initiatives of the government.
The technical partners for the project could be the following MDAs: Ministry of Information, Finance, Budget & Planning; Ministry of Information, Due Process Office, and the Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP). The technical partner MDAs should basically provide information to the project for simplification and dissemination in the LGAs’ dialogue platforms. The project will partner with the Press Secretaries’ Office to the governor for further information dissemination on the activities of the project.
5. Governance Coordination & Accountability
Your Excellency, on improving service delivery and accountability by MDAs, an Executive Quarterly Sectors Retreat is recommended, which MDAs represented by commissioners and permanent secretaries/DGs should attend. The agenda of the retreat should be on tracking the budget and policy implementation of MDAs in a project management approach based on the administration’s agenda framework.
The retreat agenda could start with a presentation by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning on budget releases and cash-backed, demonstrating compliance with relevant planning and the administration’s agenda frameworks. After this key presentation, each sector lead should make a presentation around five key points:
1. MDA’s Key Performance Targets
2. Budget releases/cash-backed for quarter
3. MDAs’ Agenda targets met or not
4. Projects, policies, procurements progress/completion status and or deadlines and,
5. Challenges & mitigation strategies.
This should be followed with robust discussion facilitated by the Secretary to the State Government on what is going on as planned, what is not working, and strategy for enhancing the effective implementation of the administration’s agenda.
As you probably consider this piece, crosscutting issues that could add value to the delivery of the recommendations are as follows: improve the revenue base of the state, cut exaggerated recurrent and capital budgets, improve the security situation in the state, explore opportunities around implementing the new concurrent list items such as independent power generation and rail system and check revenue leakages.
Your Excellency, Benue people believe you can change the fortunes of the state, thus the overwhelming support for you. You have high integrity in your personal and clerical calling and got legitimacy to leadership, thus have the moral authority to lead the transformation of your state and to be a model of democratic governance in Nigeria like Lee Kuan Yew, Mahatma Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela were to Singapore, India, and South Africa respectively.
Long Live your Administration, Benue State, and the Federal Republic of Nigeria.