By INYALI PETER, Calabar
WITH the current economic crunch orchestrated by the global fall in oil prices, many States in Nigeria are now running lean cabinet to cut down cost of governance to reflect the economic reality. But Cross River, one of the states that receives the smallest monthly federal allocation and with a monthly Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of N1.2 billion is currently running one of the largest cabinets in the country.
Governor Ben Ayade recently applied to the State House of Assembly to approve the appointment of 30 more Special Advisers after making over 200 appointments in just seven months. This is a state that has high rate of unemployment.
The large cabinet has so far given more people opportunity to contribute to the running of the State against the usual euphoria in Nigerian politics where few minorities would decide for the majority of the public. He has created additional ministries which means that responsibilities can now be shared into smaller units for maximum execution. For instance, the new Ministry for Infrastructure has relieved the Ministry for Works of the burden of handling infrastructure development.
Aside from ensuring effectiveness by giving specific and concise responsibility to a designated ministry, the government of Ayade has also been applauded for involving more youths than any other administration in the state. This is so because the governor has created more appointments where youths would function effectively.
However, despite all these enormous benefits of Ayade’s enlarged cabinet; he has come under attack and wide criticism as many have argued that using political appointment as a means of creating employment is a bad omen for the growth of the state economy. What is more worrisome is how the governor intends to match the financial implication of the large and “unnecessary” appointment with the true financial position of the state. This is because, almost 40 per cent of those appointed are yet to be allocated office space or given appointment letters, not to mention enjoying the statutory benefits of the appointment.
When the current democratic dispensation was ushered in on the 29th of May, 2015, Cross Riverians were expecting Ayade to follow the train of change by his counterparts from Kaduna, Kano, Oyo, Lagos, Benue and Abia states who have cut down the number of political appointees as well as their monthly salaries and allowances by 50 per cent. Regrettable, all this hope has not seen the light of the day., the State House of Assembly is now being seen as a rubber stamp to the executive. It is expected that the governor, in the shortest possible time, would increase his appointments to over 230.
Nevertheless, although the state sits third behind Lagos and Kaduna as the state with the highest Internally Generated Revenue (IGS) in Nigeria, according to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics, investigation reveals that in all the states, governors have taken the path of honour by cutting down salaries more than Cross River.
Further investigation shows that, coincidentally, the top three states, in terms of IGR, still top the chart in terms of debt profile of states in Nigeria.
According to research by Web Management Office, Lagos still tops the chart with the debt rate of about $1.17 billion, Kaduna with $234 million and Cross River in third place with $142 million . Other states are ranked among the least indebted states with Abia incurring as little as N6.766 billion debt, Benue, N6.62 billion as well as with $72 million for Oyo State.
With the debt of $142 million and a huge task of civil service salary and allowances to pay, instead of increasing the 19 Special Advisers appointed by the Imoke administration to 65 (when the House eventually approved the 30) and 13 Commissioners to 29, he should run a lean government to reduce the cost of governance in the state.
From a political point of view, there are feelers that the loss of power by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the centre to the All Progressives Congress (APC) has played in greatly as some party heavyweights who were penned down to be sent to Abuja for federal appointments have now settled for state appointments to remain relevant ahead of 2019 general elections. Perhaps, this may be a political calculation to destabilize the APC who would be stronger going into the elections with a federal minister and other federal appointments, as they hold advantage at the federal level.
Lamenting over the situation, Cross River born human rights activist and a chieftain of the APC, Barrister Okoi Obon Obla, described the situation as “scandalous” and “horrendous” adding that, it is totally out of sync with the principle that at a time like this; serious and focused government must be lean, focused and small.
“What is almost a financial insolvent state that has been adjudged by the Debt Management Office as the third largest debtor in the country doing with a scandalous large and unwieldy government of 28 commissioners, 28 ministries and army of special advisers and special assistants? It is incredible and it surely accentuates the fact that the government is directionless and purposeless. The House of Assembly should not indulge the governor which in this case I doubt”, he lamented.
Obla further noted that ordinarily the recent proposal by the governor would have been an opportunity for house members to prove their commitment to Cross Riverians by not approving it but based on antecedent, the assembly is pliant and a rubber stamp to the governor therefore, the application was just to fulfill all righteousness as well as legalize what is morally illegal.
According to him, “the House of Assembly is a pliant and rubber-stamp to the governor. Recently, the governor constituted boards of corporations, commissions and parastatals. He even appointed boards for companies such as Calabar port Authority, Inland waterways authority and Seaport Company in his frenzy to appoint every dick and tom into government even though these areas which the state government do not have the jurisdiction to operate”.
Contrary to Obla’s thought, a member representing Bakassi/Akpabio/Calabar South Federal Constituency, Rt. Hon Essien Ayi while fielding questions from our reporter recently in Calabar, said that while democracy is different from military rule is its characteristics of touching so many people which is reflective of Ayade’s appointments, adding that as politicians, it is incumbent on the governor to settle people who made him.
He said, “What is politics, it is that you must be able to touch a lot of people and as a politician you should be able to reach out to those who really worked for you to make you what you are. The governor has spread the appointment in a way that should reflect at least every local government because you cannot satisfy everybody. From his appointment, every ward in the state is fairly represented and that is what politics is all about”.
Also, a public affairs analyst and elder statesman, Chief Utum Eteng who also reacted said that the governor has demonstrated that he is completely oblivious of the states problems noting that if he was, we will understand that the state is not in the best of times therefore running a lean government would have been the viable alternative to managing the resources of the state to meet the enormity of the challenges.
“Well, it is very simple; I do not think the governor is in firm grips of the problems confronting the state because if he is, he will not go about making this numerous appointments. With the economic crunch in the state and knowing that his appointment has just been political settlement not for productivity, he is depleting the state resources and also he is very lucky that he has a house of assembly that cannot really sit down to investigate into the economic status of the state”, he said.