"A good financial plan is a roadmap that shows us exactly how the choices we make today will affect our future". Alexa Van Tobel
he above quote taken from the New York Times bestseller book, "Financially Fearless" and authored by Alexa Van Tobel "accurately epitomizes the poor financial choices by the present Abia state Government and the impending debt crisis facing the state in the many years to come, not to mention the devastating impact on her economic future, if steps are not taken to avert them by electing State a seasoned and experienced financial expert in the coming 2019 elections, capable of articulating and implementing a plan to stave off the crisis. Of the many calamities have has befallen Abia state since its creation, none has been more glaring, devastating and pregnant with grave economic and developmental consequences than the deep financial hole all PDP administrations have dug for the state and its people. There is no denying the fact that if there is one important responsibility of any government at any level in a free society or democracy it is that of prudent management of the people's collective financial Inheritance and the provision of an improved standard of living. If we accept this as the guiding principle or yardstick with which to judge good governance there no doubt that the Abia people in the last 18 plus years have been dealt a bad deal in their choice of Governors.
To better appreciate our financial dilemma in Abia state today, the poor and albeit reckless expenditures of Abia state financial resources, the mindless borrowing, the malfeasance, the criminality and the total disregard and destruction of all financial management norms and processes, it will be pertinent to cite this quote by John C. Calhoun, the 19th century American Vice President, Statesman and political theorist who was quoted as saying, " Our government is deeply disordered, its credit impaired, its debt increasing, its expenditure extravagant and wasteful, its disbursements without efficient accountability, and its taxes (for duties, levy and fines are but taxes) enormous, unequal and oppressive to the great producing classes of the country". Even though John Calhoun was referring to the U.S Government at the time, there is no doubt those words are as relevant to the state of affairs in Abia state today as they were to the United States at the time they were said. To further buttress Calhoun's point, Dennis Kearney, a 19th century American Labor champion had this to say, "They have seized upon the Government by bribery and corruption. They have made speculations and public robbery a science. They have loaded the nation, the state and the city with debt". Whether we choose to accept it or not, it is self- evident that Abia State is practically bankrupt and to the extent that bankruptcy is about financial debt or rebirth, it is the great untold story of Abia state. Given that we are a nation of debtors, there is no denying the fact that it is a state in a deep financial mess all due to a Government that can best be described as a criminal enterprise than a functional administration.
On Aug 16th of 2017, Dr. Alex Otti, one of Nigeria's pre-eminent Bankers and Economist called a Press Conference during which he bemoaned the poor financial state of affairs in Abia while also questioning, criticizing and objecting to the processes and request for a $200 million loan approval from the National Assembly. So doing, Dr. Otti, proceeded to pose the following questions to the state Governor and his administration, namely:-
- How did a proposed original loan request approval for $100 million balloon to $200 million?
- When did a loan meant to benefit the Abia State Rural Access And Mobility Project become one meant for the benefit of the Abia State Integrated Infrastructure Development project?. (ASIIPD)
- Did the Governor submit the loan request to the State House of Assembly for approval before it was presented to the National Assembly?
Dr. Otti went further to inquire from the Governor what he had done with the over 120 Billion Naira his administration had received as Federal Allocation funds between May 2015 and August 2017, the 1st tranche Paris club refund of over 10 Billion Naira, the 2nd tranche Paris club refund of 5.7 Billion Naira, bailout funds of 14.105 Billion Naira, a loan of 30 Billion Naira, not to mention by the Governor's own admission, the monthly collection of one Billion Naira as Internally Generated Revenue which from my calculation for the 33 months he has been in office will amount to 33 Billion Naira. Now even the worst mathematician will be able to arrive at a total sum of over 200 Billion Naira and still counting if all these figures are added together. As expected neither the Governor, his Finance Commissioner or any of his paid sycophants could provide answers to any of these questions, rather what they did was to launch personal and vile attacks on Dr Otti which was not surprising in the least hence as it is common practice with Nigerian politicians, when confronted with facts they attack the messenger instead of the message. Is it any surprise that the National Assembly is trying to pass a bill which is aimed at regarding some criticisms as hate speech punishable by death?
When you consider the fact that this Governor, who cannot account for the Billions of Naira he has received over the past three years, is reportedly attempting to borrow 45 Billion Naira more, you begin to wonder if there is an underlying layer of fiscal insanity within his administration. This Governor is akin to giving a kid a penny and daring him to go and spend it. You know that's exactly what he is going to do. Isn't it ironic that we have entrusted the management of our state's financial resources to a man who did a poor job managing his personal finances as evidenced with his tax problems thereby giving credence to the famous words of the Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius who was quoted as saying, "to expect madmen not to do wrong is madness". That is not to say this Governor lacks control of his mental faculties. Far from it, I am simply saying to expect him to be an efficient and disciplined financial manager after what we know of his tax problems is to expect the impossible.
One of the defining responsibilities of Government everywhere in the world is the prudent management of public funds through fiscal discipline and accountability, both of which are lacking in this administration. This is an administration and a Governor whose fiscal policy can be best crystallized by four words, "borrow, spend and steal" instead of the economically prudent practice of "borrow and invest". The much I know about economics informs me that you borrow for investments and capital expenditures and not for recurrent expenses. I also learned enough in Graduate school to know that debt accumulation is not such a bad thing depending on what the money is spent, how it is disbursed and for what purpose it was secured, not to mention the terms of the loan, interest rates, repayment period etc. Unfortunately, that is not what this Governor has done. Yes, debt has its advantages and economic usefulness, but it can also be fraught with disastrous economic consequences which could be made worse when you have a state Government whose budgetary process is dysfunctional and its debt management abilities horrendous and irresponsible. The impending debt crisis in Abia state, in my opinion is the real underbelly of the fiscal incompetence of the Ikpeazu administration like every other thing he has done or failed to do. This is "code red" and unfortunately the biggest threat to the financial stability and future of Abia state sits in the Government House in Umuahia.
When you consider the fact that Abia State collects more money as Internally Generated Revenue, (IGR) than other South Eastern states, not to mention the extra 13% derivative revenue for being an oil-producing state, you begin to ask yourself why is it that Abia has the worst roads in all the South East and South South states ? why is it that the Governor still owes civil servants and pensioners several months of unpaid salaries? How come our schools and hospitals are in such bad shape? The answer to these questions is not difficult to imagine. It is simply financial incompetence and corruption. Today in Abia state, the most sought after job as I've been informed is that of a revenue collector. With the daily collection of daily fines, levies, taxes and the like from Ariaria market traders, Keke drivers, vehicle operators, etc by political operatives, party loyalists with no experience in revenue collection, it is not difficult to imagine the lack of accountability for these funds because of the kickbacks, the political payoffs, the secret bank accounts, the stealing etc that has been the order of the day. I recently heard a story of someone who left his place of residence abroad and came back home having been promised to get a revenue collection contract, only to return to his family disappointed and disgruntled when the promise was not kept. All these notwithstanding here we are with a man who as his predecessors have mortgaged the financial future of the state presenting himself for re-election as Governor.
As expected, his band of sycophants is already out doing what they do best, producing videos of completed, semi-completed and flagged of road projects, some of which will definitely be abandoned soon after the election if the Abia people commit economic suicide by re-electing him. It is quite laughable that this Governor expects us to celebrate the construction of a few roads in Aba as monumental achievements worthy of a song by a group of paid choristers. The daily showcasing, billboards with the Governor's picture and constant mention of the uncompleted flyover bridge at Ossissioma has become the Governor's go to play in projecting a false sense of accomplishment and the reason why he should be re-elected. My advice to the Abia people is for them not to be deceived by the propaganda regarding these road projects or the cycling spectacle of a magician who accomplishes his tricks by misdirection whereby he gets you to look at his right hand while his left hand is hiding something else he doesn't want you to see. The truth is that as much as the Governor can be commended for at least fixing some of the roads in Aba and elsewhere in the state, the reality is that governance is much more than fixing dilapidated roads. Governance is about providing employment for our teeming unemployed youths, well- equipped hospitals with beds, rehabilitation of moribund and abandoned industries, adequate security for the state's inhabitants, a sensible fiscal policy, etc. Our problem today as a people is that we have been conditioned to expect so little from our government and political leaders so much so that we see every little handout as manna from heaven to be appreciated and celebrated. We have also become a people who have not only lost our sense of common purpose but also our sense of perspective, so much so that we celebrate uncompleted projects hence we can no longer put in better perspective and real comparison what real accomplishments are, like those we can find in other states like Ebonyi, Anambra Enugu and Akwa Ibom
In conclusion let me state that the essence of this essay is not so much to highlight the failings of this Governor as they are obvious even to the blind or deaf but to state most categorically that now and in the years to come, Abia state will be groaning under a huge debt burden accumulated, mismanaged and squandered by a Governor who is devoid of any form of fiscal discipline and who has in the process borrowed and spent billions of Naira like a drunken sailor with no idea or set plan on how to repay the debt accumulated not to mention the rising and increasing interest rates of these loans. This is a man who has destroyed the state's fiscal stability and future prosperity and who will wreak more damage if he is re-elected, hence there is the absolute need for a better choice come the 2019 elections. The reality of our financial predicament today is that Abia is a state in need of serious financial reform. Even Pope Francis recognized the importance of fiscal responsibility and prudence when he said and I quote, "There is a need for financial reform along ethical lines that will produce in its turn an economic reform to benefit everyone." "He re-emphasized this point by adding that, "this will nevertheless require a courageous change of attitude on the part of political leaders".
To think that this Governor is capable of enacting any financial reforms in his administration if re-elected is beyond the realm of possibility. To imagine that this Governor has the courage of his convictions, that's if he has any, to be fiscally responsible is to hallucinate about me being elected Nigeria's President. It just won't happen. Luckily for us we have a proven economist, a financial expert, a seasoned banker in the person of Dr Alex Otti as a Governorship candidate in the coming 2019 elections. We must not only secure his services and expertise by electing him as our next Governor, but we must do so if we hope to avert the financial and more specifically the debt crisis that awaits us. Not everyone, despite our intellectual abilities, is knowledgeable in the ways of money and debt management money. Some know how to make money but not how to manage it. Others know how to manage people's money but not how to make it. That's why most rich people employ the services of financial experts and advisers to help them manage their money and that's exactly what we need in Abia state, a fiscal manager with integrity and probity come 2019. To the extent that this Governor got into the Government house by crooked means, there are things given to us in this life for the wrong reasons. What we do with such blessings is the true test of the man. This Governor has had his chance to do something right for the Abia people but has squandered the opportunity. It is time for a change. May God help us make the right decision in our electoral choices this time around.