I n the next 24 hours, Nigerians will head to polling units to elect a new set of governors to run most of the states of the federation. This exercise, which began in 1999 under a democratic dispensation, should be of concern to the electorate as we hit 24 years of civil government. Governors are supposed to drive development in their respective states.
In other words, while much is expected from the centre, more should be done in the states. Those aspiring to mount the saddle cannot be mere errand boys who rely on Abuja for feeding allowance. It is sad that most governors sit idle all month long, waiting for allocation from the Federation Account to manage their states. They have a ready-made excuse that there is hardly enough to survive on without running to the centre. This is sickening. All the states have something to put on the table, if only the governors put on their thinking caps. Agriculture alone, if properly, harnessed is one area that can boost the economy. All eyes are on oil, while other revenue yielding resources are ignored. In the First Republic when oil wealth sounded like a dream, agriculture was the mainstay of the economy.
The various regions did not wait for the central government to spoon feed them. The premiers were not as visible in Lagos as they were in their respective capitals. In the defunct Eastern Region, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe had ideas before assuming office as Premier. When he became Governor-General, his successor, Dr. Michael Okpara continued with the development strides. It was not rocket science that the East became one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Industries sprang up. Golden Guinea Breweries in Umuahia, the cement factory in Nkalagu, industrial complex in Port Harcourt and the cattle ranch in Obudu, these opened windows of opportunities. Presidential Hotels were established in Enugu and Port Harcourt. Education was used to liberate the people. Azikiwe thought out of the box. Having trained in the United States, he adopted the American model to set up the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN). That became the first indigenous Nigerian university, far away from the University College, Ibadan, which was still administered as a campus of the University of London.
The Premier of the Western Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo went further by introducing free education. It changed the environment. Children from poor homes jumped at the opportunity and going to school became more attractive than hunting in the bush for animals. Awo also faced agriculture. Money from cocoa was used to change the face of the region. The first television service in Africa came through the Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service (WNBS) and the Western Nigeria Television (WNTV). He built the Liberty Stadium and Cocoa House, the then tallest building in Africa. Up North, Sir Ahmadu Bello turned groundnut pyramids into massive infrastructure.
The Northern Nigerian Development Corporation (NNDC) became a vehicle for rapid development. The New Nigeria newspapers spread the word to all parts of the Northern Region. Some Second Republic governors continued from where their civilian predecessors stopped. In Imo State, Chief Sam Mbakwe was unstoppable. Prof. Ambrose Alli of Bendel State cared less about himself and gave his all to the people. Mbakwe established poultry farms in Avutu, founded the Imo State University, using the University of Nebraska, US as a model and revamped the leather industry in Owerri.
He involved the private sector in power generation through a company, PDS and capped it with water works, which saw clean water flowing in rural areas. Alli gave the state Bendel State University, Ekpoma and tarred many rural roads. It is to his eternal credit that all the roads in his home town were tarred but the one leading directly to his house remained dusty. His plan was to have that as the last project after completing all the roads in the state. All was not bad with the military. There were some forward thinking governors. Brigadier David Bamigboye of Kwara State and Col. Musa Usman of North- Eastern State placed value on education.
They went into scholarship exchange programmes with the Administrator of Eastern Region, Ajie Ukpabi Asika. In the Fourth Republic, some governors are more interested in ganging up, for political reasons. And this happens when elections approach. They do not gang up to connect roads or exchange ideas on agriculture, housing and education. Some of them even live in Abuja. Governors are elected to serve the people, not to serve Abuja or any godfather. The people must not stand aside while elected politicians reject accountability. We demand service and dedication from anyone who wants to preside over any state of the federation.