What we have seen in recent times, especially at the state level, are things that would rattle anyone with some sense of modesty. It has now become quite fashionable for public officials, especially governors, to dole out huge cash and other gifts, even in concerts, as they are led in their mind and spirit.
Although Burna Boy and his team had visited Governor Wike at the government house in Rivers State to present his awards as the winner of the Best Global Music Album category at the 2021 Grammy Award, a homecoming party was later organized to celebrate him at Port Harcourt, the state capital last weekend.
Speaking during the party, Governor Wike, looking a bit tipsy, declared that the entire state was filled with joy over Burna Boy’s achievement. The governor went ahead to announce that all musicians who performed at the event would go home with N10 million each. His words:
“Those of you who have come to play, whatever you have agreed with the ministry of culture and tourism is not my business.
“All of you that have come today and the Niger Delta people that have come to play today to show the talent you have, I’m very proud of you. All of you will go home with N10 million each.”
This followed with a lot of cheers from the rowdy audience. In all these, most people at the event, including Governor Wike and Burna Boy were not wearing face masks, nor did they maintain any form of social distancing. This is in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nigerians, rattled by such reckless donation, took to Twitter to lampoon the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike. This line of action is not limited to Rivers State.
In a similar development, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State gave a veteran Nollywood actress, Lanre Hassan popularly known as Iya Awero, a three-bedroom apartment. No specific reason was given for the donation.
Disclosing this on Twitter, the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Gboyega Akosile, said the governor handed over the keys of the apartment to the actress as he commissioned, delivered, and renamed the LagosHoms, Igbogbo, as Prince Abiodun Ogunleye Housing Estate, Igbogbo. Handing over the keys to her, Governor Sanwo-Olu said:
”You don’t need to celebrate them when they die. You can celebrate them when they are still alive. This our Nollywood star who has worked for over 30-to 40 years. She needs to be celebrated. Congratulations”.
Sanwo-Olu’s counterpart in Ogun State, Dapo Abiodun did his own some months ago. He gave one Olamilekan Moshood Agbelesebioba, popularly known as Laycon, the sum of N5 million, a house and appointed him as youth ambassador. All of these are in addition to the N85 million Laycon won during the Big Brother Naija show. The Governor of Bayelsa State, equally, appointed Nengi and Trikytee, both of whom featured on the same reality show, as senior special assistants.
According to a Nigerian lecturer, Dipo Awojide, who commented on the matter, ”I don’t know why many people are excited with a state government dishing out Senior Special Assistant appointments to reality show participants. SSA on what exactly? And why? Do these reality TV stars have the qualification and competence? We’ve got a long way to go. A Governor that can’t pay salaries on time, yet he is spending public money like a drug dealer!”
The importance of celebrating people who have made immense contributions within and outside Nigeria should not be compromised, but the question that should be asked is: at whose expense are these gifts being doled out?
It is noteworthy that lack of proper accountability in governance has made for the prevalence of this father-Christmas lifestyle. A governor can wake up on the right side of his bed and decide to dole a house, car or even accord a position to an undeserving person by way of compensation or acknowledgment.
In most cases, these celebrities these respective state governments give money or dole out items to do not need it. They are already established and are daily smiling to the banks with endorsements from various sources and brands. For someone like Burna Boy, what will N10 million do for him? This is someone who charges nothing less than N30 million for a show. This is asides the numerous endorsement deals he has, particularly with Nigerian Breweries which is a first of its kind.
Even when they have a need of some of these gifts, can they be compared to the millions of people who are out there on the streets who are struggling to eke out a living under the harsh economic weather, talkless of the unemployment rate which is reported to have risen to 33.3% this year? Can they be compared to those who cannot afford one square meal per day? Can they equally be compared to the bulk of homeless people who have nowhere to lay their heads?
Asides the fact that this is a case of misplaced priorities, it is nothing but sheer turpitude and gross insensitivity to the plight of numerous disadvantaged Nigerians. It should be noted that Wike’s N10 million gift is coming in the face of queries that he is owing some set of workers and pensioners. It would be recalled that the Rivers Civil Society Organisations (RIVSCO) on March 10, 2021, gave Nyesom Wike a two-week ultimatum to pay salaries owed to some teachers over the past five years.
This is also happening in the face of rising debt profile of most states. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on 29 March, 2021, noted that States and Federal debt stock stood at N32.92 trillion as at December 2020. Its data titled “Nigerian Domestic and Foreign Debt (Q4 2020)” on its website said while N12.71 trillion was external, representing 38.60 per cent of the total debt stock, N20.21 trillion, representing 61.40 per cent was domestic.
According to NB, “Nigerian States and Federal Debt Stock data as of 31st December 2020 reflected that the country’s total public debt portfolio stood at N32.92 trillion. This is coupled with the fact that the Federal Government and many states are still struggling to source funds for the 2021 budget.
There should be a way of placing state executives under scrutiny based on these reckless expenses. Oftentimes, the monies these governors give these celebrities are government funds. Many observers feel some insensitive public office holders can possibly use the same avenue to steal public funds. Everything legal should be done to discourage these types of expenses except when there are absolutely necessary. That is one major way discipline and accountability in public offices can be instilled.