The penchant of some state governors to travel outside their respective states on government expense, either for social reasons or for investment, has earned them appellations like “absentee governors and Diaspora governors.” In this report, BIYI ADEGOROYE and our correspondents x-ray some of the states involved and its impact on governance
ecently, Governor Sani Bello of Niger State was out of Minna, he went to Abuja, the nation’s capital, where he signed the state’s 2020 Appropriation Bill of N155 billion into law. He was not alone, but accompanied by some top government officials, including the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Hon. Bawa Wuse, and the Secretary to the State Government,
Such epochal event usually attracts pomp and ceremony in many state capitals, but once held outside Minna, underscored one of the allegations against Governor Bello – he spends the greater part of every month outside the state. It has been alleged that when he is not in Abuja, he is hibernating in Kaduna or outside the country.
Bello comes across as one of the governors who are said to be rarely available in their states to perform their traditional duties of governance for which they campaigned and were sworn into office. The development in such state has brought governance to a standstill as during such trips, commissioners, local government and civil servants spend such time pursuing their private businesses at the detriment of state duties.
While some of the governors claimed that they utilize such period to seek foreign direct investments, our correspondents who reported from Ekiti, Kebbi, Jigawa, Ondo, Benue and other states said that in most cases, the opposition parties have raised the alarm, calling the affected governors to settle down to business.
In some weird cases, some governors, particularly from the north have, a couple of times, hosted their State Executive Council Meeting in Abuja, and issued press releases, explaining decisions taken at such meeting to journalists in their home state
“During Governor Bello’s first term in office, he travelled outside Minna every week, partly because of his health challenge, and because he had no official residence in Minna. The Niger State Governor’s Lodge is under construction,” a source said.
In that first term, he came under heavy criticism from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and some members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) alike for his numerous travels. His frequent trips outside the state caught the attention of party leaders last year, and they could not discountenance the practice. Shortly after being sworn in for a second term in May last year, he could not wait to be hosted by the APC, but left the state for an urgent trip to Abuja.
In 2017, when the criticism was rampant and was brought to Bello’s attention, he retorted: “I travelled a lot, but not as much as they think but that is part of my job. My job is to travel and bring activities to the state not to hide myself in the room.
“I have to travel to go and address issues. Sitting down in one place when I do not have money is counterproductive. And all my trips have been official apart from one, during Christmas, when I went on vacation.
“For example, when I have the Economic Council Meeting, I have to travel. For the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, I have to go to Abuja. When I have the meeting of the Northern Governors’ Forum I have to travel to Kaduna or Abuja. So also is when I have security meeting in Kaduna. Sometimes we have to meet with Mr. President, I have to go.”
He said some of the trips enabled him to address Japanese investors and other nationals at the African Chamber of Commerce launch in Japan. The meeting with a private investment multinational company at the Lagos Free Trade Zone, Lekki, to establish trade partnership was also identified as one of the benefits.
Governor Sani Bello was at the UNODC Doha declaration Experts and Technical Groups’ meeting held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, to declare the state’s readiness to adopt Education for Justice (E4J) to fast track youth development.
He was in Abuja, where he met with the United States, African Development Foundation (USADF) to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for strategic partnership deal worth $10milliin over a five-year period at the residence of the USA Ambassador to Nigeria.
The governor also met with the European Union at their embassy in Abuja where he addressed representatives of EU and to seek assistance in the area of livestock and education. Beside, he was at the Presidential Villa, Abuja to sign MoU with the Royal Friesland Campina Wampco Plc on dairy products in Abuja.
Sani Bello was part of Nigeria’s delegation to a high level roundtable conference on Primary Healthcare and Human Capital Development jointly organised by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Aliko Dangote Foundation and the Nigerian Governors’ Forum held in Seattle, Washington where he met with Gates and Dangote in order to get support in the areas of agriculture, health, women empowerment and financial inclusion for the poor state.
The governor was in Abuja for the Nigeria-Vietnam Trade Investment Forum. He was also with the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the People’s Republic of China to Nigeria to get intervention in the areas of technical and vocational education to enable youths acquire skill.
Kebbi’s near paralysis
Governance in Kebbi State is in near paralysis because Governor, Senator Atiku Abubakar Bagudu, hardly spends time in the state, but oscillates between Abuja and abroad. His frequent absence from the state is affecting some government activities.
Our correspondent, who observed that the practice has been on for about two years, said various aspects of governance has been affected as the governor sometime comes to the state only to sign distribution of federal allocation when it arrives. It even got worse since Bagudu became Chairman of Progressives Governors’ Forum.
The development has angered top
politicians, retired civil servants in the state such that a collection of Hausa musicians in the state produced an album, urging Governor Bagudu to refrain from further globe-trotting, and pay attention to governance. The musicians were, however, arrested, detained for about two weeks after which they were granted bail by a court.
One of them, Mallam Alhassan said that if the Chief Security Officer of the state does not stay in the office, government activities cannot move.
He added that the governor hardly spends an entire week in the state as he is always engaged on official and other activities outside in the state.
“The situation has even worsened since the governor’s appointment as the Chairman APC Governors’ Forum. You will hardly see him spend complete one week in the state,” Alhassan added.
The leadership of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Kebbi State has frowned at the development in the state and the absence of the governors in their various states.
Speaking to our correspondent, the Chairman of the party, Alhaji Saidu Haruna, said that it will be difficult for the governors to do something meaningful for their peoples adding that Kebbi State governor should desist from it and concentrate on the people-oriented matters that will bring about developmental projects.
Yahaya Seriki, Media Adviser to Kebbi State Governor, in his reaction said describing his boss as an absentee governor is part of deliberate attempt to smear his name. To him, Governor Bagudu’s position as Chairman of Progressive Governors’ Forum places enormous duties on him, including traveling outside the state, and while on such trips, there are structures in place for the state to run seamlessly.
“Apart from serving as governor of Kebbi State, he also serves Nigeria in other capacities. This is a governor who even holds meetings with his commissioners and people of the state even at night. And when he travels, the machinery of the state is functional because the deputy governor and commissioners are on ground to keep the state running,” he said.
Seriki added that during some of those trips, either to Abuja or abroad, the governor attracts investors to the state.
Slow governance in Dutse
In Dutse, Jigawa State, governance is more or less on holiday, according to sources, Governor Badaru Abubakar spends more time in Kano and Abuja than he does in the state capital. In some cases, he is said to be in company of his Kebbi State counterpart, especially at various functions, and in the process, governance suffers.
A member of the PDP in the state, Alhaji Monsur Ahmed said: “The governor hardly spends five consecutive days in the state. He spends more time in Kano and Abuja and he moves around with his Kebbi State counterpart; they are like brothers.”
However, Auwalu Sankara, his Media Aide, said the travels have brought great benefits to the State. He disagreed that the governor travels too often, rather, he takes his annual holiday during which he attracted investments to Jigawa State.
Sankara said Badaru has, in his almost five years as governor encouraged large scale farming in Jigawa, leading to the construction of about five rice milling companies, providing employments as well as giving hope to farmers that their produce could be easily accessed for bigger markets.
A PDP Chieftain, who doesn’t want his names in print, also commended Governor Badaru, whose trips he said attracted the establishment of a multi-million naira industry in Gagarawa, by one Mr. Lee, a Chinese national now giving employment opportunities to Jigawa indigenes.
Similarly, the party chieftain said Badaru was able to attract some foreign investors from China on his frequent trips, to establish granite, gravels and tiles companies in Dutse which is today functioning hundred percent providing employment opportunities.
An APC party member, Sani Shehu explained that although they are not happy with the travels but they had not in any way affects governance in Jigawa.
However, Muhammad Ahmad, a former aide to ex-governor Sule Lamido lambasted Governor Badaru for dumping a Skill Acquisition Center in Kafin Hausa, a center he said has trained 10,000 annually in Tailoring, carpentry, auto-mechanic built by Lamido.
Akeredolu’s many foreign trips
Since the Governor of Ondo State, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, assumed office on February 24, 2017, foreign trips have been one of the significant features of his administration.
The governor had embarked on trips outside the shores of Nigeria twice for the wedding ceremonies of his children which generated reactions from various quarters.
Also, he had embarked on trips which he described as an attempt to woo foreign investors to the state as well as the strategy to study other countries initiative in specific areas towards replicating such in the state for employment and revenue generation.
One of such trips was when the governor jetted out of the state in July 2019 on a two-week vacation alongside his family for the wedding of his son, Jide Akeredolu which was held in Colorado, United States of America.
In late 2019, the governor dashed out of the state to attend the wedding ceremony of his daughter, Teniola in Mauritius. The wedding which was the talk of the state was attended by political office holders as well as members of the legislative arm led by the Speaker Rt. Hon. Bamidele Oloyeloogun.
Aside attending weddings of his children overseas, Governor Akeredolu had also been involved in securing deals abroad for the state. In July 2019, he was said to have secured a $6 million (about N2.1 billion) worth of new medical equipment from MedShare, a U.S.-based non-profit organisation in Atlanta during his visit.
According to him, during his visit to Atlanta, 20 container loads of new medical equipment from MedShare were secured to strengthen the state’s hospitals and health centers.
Similarly, the governor was in Thailand in May 2019 where he attended the Medicinal Cannabis Extract Development Programme.
According to Akeredolu, who stated during the visit, that the multi-billion dollar industry of Cannabis Sativa known as Indian hemp if harnessed will help to create thousands of jobs for the youths, adding that Ondo State which is known for her fertile land for the cultivation of cannabis will make judicious use of the Thailand’s program, which he said is centred around exploiting the possibility of medicinal cannabis.
Fayemi, ‘Diaspora Governor’
Since his inauguration for a second term, Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, has received lots of flack and has been tagged “Diaspora Governor” because of the frequency of his trips outside the state.
The situation has worsened since Wednesday, May, 22, 2019 when he emerged as the Chairman Nigeria Governor’s Forum (NGF), where he presides over the affairs of Nigerian governors. But some leaders in the state, especially those of the main opposition at one time or the other accused the governor of frequent sojourning.
The Ekiti State Chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in a statement by the State Publicity Secretary, Mr. Jackson Adebayo, called on Governor, Kayode Fayemi, “to stay in the state and govern the people instead of junketing about.”
The party said: “It is either Governor Fayemi is in Abuja, Kaduna, Katsina, Kano or outside the country,” adding that while ” there was nothing wrong in anyone being ambitious, the ambition of a man must not be at the expense of the people he is supposed to govern.”
But defending his boss on the frequent trips, the Deputy Governor, Otunba Bisi Egbeyemi said the submission of the opposition about his boss was misleading. Egbeyemi explained that the governor has been able to achieve links and connections with international agencies and development partners which have been the source of the ongoing transformation in the state.
The Deputy Governor said his boss had been able to use his global connection to cushion the effects of low allocations from the Federation Account and insufficient Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) to execute projects and provide good governance.
Egbeyemi made the clarification in his remarks at a special prayer session to usher in the New Year organised by the management of the Office of the Deputy Governor.
Egbeyemi said paying workers’ salaries and executing projects simultaneously amidst financial challenges are due to Fayemi’s untiring efforts to put smiles on the faces of the people.
The deputy governor urged workers to be dedicated to their duties and support the government of the day with quality service delivery to contribute their quota to the development of the Land of Honour.
He added, that Fayemi always think outside the box to defeat financial challenges and make workers and the people of the state happy with regular payment of emoluments, empowerment initiatives, execution of life changing projects and attracting investors.
Also Justifying his frequent trips, Governor Fayemi himself explained that he has only been spreading his tentacles to secure every available opportunity to source for technical and financial assistance needed to finance people-oriented projects in the state.
He affirmed that his efforts have been yielding positive results as various institutions have shown interest to render assistance. The governor disclosed that World Bank and Federal Government had released enormous funds for the state.
Fayemi, who spoke at a Town Hall meeting in Ikere Ekiti, recently, promised that his administration will not slack in its efforts to rebuild the economy, resuscitate damaged infrastructures and return Ekiti to a prosperous land.
“I have not been staying in the state these days. I have been looking for money to finance people-oriented projects because I don’t have the funds. I am happy God has been answering our prayers. World Bank had just released humongous funds to finance constructions of 1000kms rural roads, model markets and other projects. In addition, the Federal Government has given me money to address the areas affected by flood,” he stated.
Ortom, a globe trotter, says APC
Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State has also come under criticism over his frequent overseas trips to the neglect of development of the state. During such trips, the state is said to be practically closed down.
The Acting Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state, Mr. James Omguga, said the governor hardly sit in the state to discharge his duties. The accusation which circulated in the social media has gained much ground in the state, becoming topic for conversation on the streets on Makurdi, the state capital.
The APC also castigated the governor for his inability to attract foreign investors to the state, but like the defence of other states, Ortom’s Principal Special Assistant on Special Duties, Mr. Abraham Kwaghngu, warded off attacks, citing security challenges confronting the state since inception of the Ortom administration as a major hindrance.
Kwaghngu said Governor Ortom does not travel abroad like other Nigerian governors do, insisting that most of his trips ends in Abuja, the nation’s capital city.
“The governor did his best to woo investors to the state, but the security challenge is a big hindrance. People will like to invest where there is peace and stability so that the investment will not be affected, but where there is
no peace how do you expect somebody to come and set up an industry in such a place.
“Now that we have relative peace, we hope that more of such investors will come to the state. I want to tell you that the Governor Ortom doesn’t travel like other governors do. If he is in Abuja, it is for a special assignment or meeting or something that will bring development to the state, but he hardly travels abroad”.
He assured people of the state of more dividends of democracy as the challenges that confronted his administration in the first tenure including herdsmen attacks, payment of salaries have been reduced. He said Ortom has achieved a lot in all sectors of the economy especially in the area of education, health and infrastructure among others.
While some have argued that many of such trips, local or international are vital for development of the states, they have also expressed dismay over the manner and frequency. Also worrisome is the allegation the trips come with heavy financial burden on the states since they are carried out on chartered flights.
Putting his finger on the problem, Executive Director of the Centre for International Advance and Professional Studies, (CIAPS), Prof. Anthony Kila, blamed the trend not on the individuals but on the unitary system of government.
“The governors don’t hate their states. Our situation in Nigeria now has gone beyond criticising individuals. We have to understand that we have systems problem. Governors go about because we don’t have true federalism; because the trust of their power is just to manage and sometimes the authority to act does not reside in the state. That is why they have to go to Abuja or abroad to source for some.
“If most of the funds and powers they need come from Abuja or abroad, of course they will have to travel there. I think we need a governor of the future who will turn the states from cost centres to productive centres. If you have a productive centre then you won’t need to look away, rather you want to focus on it,” he said.
While acknowledging that governors have their own social lives, by rights, he admitted that some people by their nature do not sit by their desk, rather they go about – a practice they built before becoming governors.
Mr. Tokunbo Mumuni, Executive Director, Social Economic Rights and Accountability Project, (SERAP), warned against “frivolous trips, designed to enable the governors collect out of stations allowances from government,” stating that it is dangerous for such elected governors to fleece the people they were elected to serve.
“The problem of every state is domiciled in the respective states. They are better solved there and the people would feel better, seeing their governor address those issues- like good roads, hospitals, security and all round development,” he said.
Chairman of PDP in Kebbi State, quoted earlier Alhaji Saidu Haruna said the governors “need to change this trend because a governor who rarely stays in his state can hardly know and feel the problems of the people they govern, and rise to their needs.” He urged them to govern in accordance with their oath of office and their promise to serve the people.
With reports from Adewunmi Ademiju, Ado Ekiti; Adewale Momoh, Akure; Kabir Mohammed, Kano, Ahmed Idris, Birnin Kebbi and Cephas Iorhemen, Makurdi.