I have decided to stay on the matter of Nigeria’s state governments for a second week, to surmount the temptation to write, at this time, about the election postponement and the accompanying mêlée.

Let me start with the clamour for more states, evinced by the recent proposal, following the 2014 National Conference, for the creation of an additional 18 states. It seems to be that new states are merely one of those compromise-arrangements that Nigerians are forever working out to temporarily assuage the ethnic aspects of the feelings of marginalisation embedded within our collective unconscious. States are in a way the snacks we hand out to keep various groups of Nigerians less unhappy as they wait for their turn to eat a proper meal at the kitchen table (Abuja).

You can therefore imagine my surprise, when, reading Richard Sklar’s magisterial “Nigerian Political Parties: Power in an Emergent African Nation”, I found that in 1957, Chief Obafemi Awolowo said that the Action Group’s “ideal” vision was that “every ethnic group in this country, and there may be as many as a hundred of them, should in the long run be constituted into a separate State.”

It doesn’t in any way sound practicable to me. Imagine a Nigeria with 100- or even 200 states. Of course, we now have the experience of decades of history to fall back on, to assure us that state creation is not necessarily the best way forward for Nigeria. Even in a state like Ekiti that is said to be ethnically homogenous, cries of marginalisation are still as loud as in any of the melting-pot states. Instead of getting obsessed with creating new states, we need to turn our focus towards recreating the relationship between the states and the centre.

Also, we need to find a way to entrench a healthy competition among the states; the sort of competition that can only bring greater benefit to the citizens. Governor Rabiu Kwakwanso of Kano State had barely spent two weeks in office after the 2011 elections when he paid a visit to Governor Fashola of Lagos. Kwakwanso said he was visiting to compare notes and exchange ideas with Lagos on issues relating to urban renewal and development. Our governors need to develop robust mechanisms for bilateral and multilateral cooperation – and competition. I’m aware that the Nigeria Governors’ Forum used to have a State Peer Review Mechanism, modelled after the African Union’s own. My suspicion is that that commendable initiative died with the NGF in 2013.

From the point of view of state leadership, last week, I argued that governors need to rein in their appetite for the personal use and disbursement of state funds. Another thing governors need to pay attention to is continuity of vision – and this is as important at the federal level as it is at the state level. We often have scenarios in which a new governor takes over and proceeds to immediately dismantle his predecessor’s programmes, purely on the basis of political and personal differences, and regardless of whether or not the programme or policy is an effective one. (In a previous article, I have expressed my hope that the All Progressives Congress, in the event that it wins the presidential election next month, will rise above the temptation of throwing out or abandoning every programme associated with President Goodluck Jonathan).

This would also apply in the event that the Peoples Democratic Party secures a win in the Lagos governorship election. Lagos has earned itself a reputation as one of Nigeria’s better-governed states (I’m not saying there haven’t been failings, or that there aren’t areas in which the level of governance hasn’t left much to be desired). This reputation is, I believe, to a large extent, based on the strength of the continuity of vision that the APC (and the ACN and AC and AD before it) has established in the state. At an event organised by the Kukah Centre in Abuja last year, I listened to Governor Babatunde Fashola point out that since 1999, Lagos State had had only two Commissioners of Budget and Economic Planning, and three Chiefs of Staff, and that this sort of stability helped engender economic development. I don’t think what he meant was that public officials should be allowed to keep a position indefinitely simply because it would be counter-productive to change them. The point, instead, is that we should strive to get the best brains and hands we can get into public office, and then give them the breathing space – and stability of tenure – to work. In other words there should be no reason why a new governor should take over and then think it is his duty to sack all of the appointees of his or her predecessor simply on the basis of association. Our governors should be able to rise above the base instincts that seek to convert every aspect of governance into the personal fiefdom of His Excellency.

Governor Fashola’s words about continuity made me think someone ought to commission a study to look in detail at the nexus between institutional stability (as measured by the rate of turnover of senior officials) and institutional output (as measured in terms of rate of positive change or development). I’m wondering how much of the current levels of dysfunction in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation is for example due to fact that in the last five years alone, it has had, on the whim of the petroleum minister, five different chief executives.

It’s not only Lagos State that stands as a testament to what a strong and deliberate sense of continuity can achieve. There’s an example from the PDP as well, and that is Cross River State. In spite of what seems to have been a bitter falling out, Governor Liyel Imoke has continued with the vision that Donald Duke, his predecessor, laid out – at least in the area of tourism, specifically the now very successful Calabar Carnival. I’m aware that early on in Imoke’s administration, it was reported that Duke complained publicly that Imoke had abandoned his Tinapa and Monorail dreams. However, today, according to news reports, the Monorail project is on course and scheduled for launch sometime this year.

There are many Nigerians who, on account of their frustrations with the PDP central government, tend to dismiss the party as an utter failure. That is not only untrue, it is an unfair representation as well. Let us not forget that it has thrown up its own share of governors generally deemed to have performed well. Apart from Governor Imoke, there is also Sullivan Chime of Enugu State, whose capital city, Enugu, was recently named one of the “100 Resilient Cities” of 2014 by the Rockefeller Foundation, alongside London, Sydney and Paris (the award comes with technical support and a suite of partnerships to help recipient cities “become more resilient.”). I’m tempted to add Governor Godswill Akpabio to this class, but this is open to debate, considering that he has a lot more money to play with, in his small state, than all other state governors.

I’m eagerly looking forward to Nigeria’s next set of governors. Perhaps, it is in this new set that we will have the first Nigerian state governor born after the civil war. Perhaps, we will also have the first elected female state governor, in Taraba State. Long overdue, if you ask me. And of course, I hope there will be a revival of the NGF, as a forum to spur useful debate, and development; and completely free of the poison of useless partisanship and presidential interference. Finally, I am very much looking forward to a prevailing quality of governance that supersedes what the 2007 – 2015 set of governors have been able to offer.

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