The Nigerian democratic space is bereft of ideological content and identifiable programme of activities to engage statutory governance requirements after electoral victory. The poverty of the philosophy of governance has remained the bane of the current Akwa Ibom state government occasioning adhoc initiatives and blurred vision. For Obong Nsima Ekere, this is an absurdity that must be reversed. The result is a well articulated and defined roadmap, “The New Vision for our collective prosperity”.
Among the various politicians trying to pitch to the electorate in this season of electoral activities, Obong Nsima Ekere, the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) party in Akwa Ibom stands out in the crowd. His manifesto struck a chord with the people as an agenda of sweeping reforms and bold initiatives that extends over areas usually ignored. As outlined in the agenda he unveiled, he is especially keen to restructure key institutions that are central to the enshrinement and deepening of good governance. By this token, governance and institutional reforms is an important pillar of his five-point(Economic Prosperity, Infrastructure & Rural Development, Education, Health & Social Protection, Security, Governance and institutional reforms)agenda.
Across the states of the federation, governance deficit and institutional weakness is a malaise that has affected both public and private sectors. These lapses undermine the capacity of a state to attract significant investment; by extension, they stunt meaningful development and progress. Akwa Ibom is an example of these negative consequences. For instance, regardless that the state is one of the top two leading oil producing states, it is not on the list of five states mentioned in the World Bank ranking of Ease of Doing Business in Nigeria.
Hence, much of Akwa Ibom’s need is not so much about inadequate resources as it is about repositioning key institutions to become more functional, focused, purpose-driven and result-oriented. This might be a tall order, but for Ekere, it is a familiar territory. He has done similar work at NDDC, which, hitherto, was mired in bureaucracy and marred by inefficiency. Upon his appointment, Ekere has transformed the NDDC into operations and has been praised by governors of the Niger Delta states. It is the same pragmatism he will bring to bear if elected governor of Akwa Ibom State. A hint of his capability is reflected in the vision and strategy clearly outlined in his manifesto. He is not waiting till after the election is won before working out his action plan. The plans he outlined shows his level of preparedness to turnaround the fortune of Akwa Ibom. Of the five “Pillars of Change” in his agenda, the fifth thematic area, Governance and Institutional Reforms, is instructive.
Under this, restoring financial autonomy to local governments tops his proposals. This is a bold step that will engender growth, opportunities and development at the grassroots. The local government system suffers from a core institutional deficit, a problem acknowledged in the Nigerian governance system, but whose reformation is like a taboo none wanted to break. Ekere proposes removing the encumbrances.
He also plans a revolutionary approach to state spending. His proposition of the adoption of zero-based budgeting instead of the traditional envelope style budgeting will help various departments and parastatals of government in the state to get the appropriate amount of money and efficiently managed. The approach has the advantage of aligning the felt need of the state thus eliminating redundant spending and corruption.
His agenda contain the introduction of an executive bill in the State House of Assembly to pass into law the application of project Monitoring and Evaluation (M & E). This is also another smart move that will help enshrine due process and diligence in government capital expenditure and developmental projects. It is a smart way of curbing the culture of sham contracts and shoddy executions of government projects. For a long time, certain sharp practices have created a vicious cycle that drains government resources, especially where capital expenditure is concerned. An M&E initiative will plug the loopholes exploited by dubious contractors and corrupt government mandarins.
Ekere also plans to send a second executive bill to the State House of Assembly to institutionalize continuity in development planning beyond a political regime. This is a well-thought measure that will banish the culture of abandoning projects and jettisoning policies and programmes midway by new regimes. This culture, now part and parcel of the government tapestry of Nigeria, festers in various forms across the different tiers of government, a seemingly insurmountable problem that drains the country of monumental funds. Unquantifiable resources are wasted because of projects discontinued by a new regime of the same party or programmes abandoned by an opposition party that took over power. Not only will such a law put an end to the waste, but it will also ensure seamless development irrespective of the party in power. More importantly, the interest of the people will be paramount in every developmental initiative taken by the government. What Ekere proposes will be a big positive for good governance.
This is partly what he meant in his declaration to reform regulatory institutions in order “to remove outdated laws and replace them with development-friendly ones.”
With his experience as a former deputy governor of the state and his present assignment as the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Ekere should understand that a motivated civil service is the fulcrum of a successful government. That must have informed his decision to include in his agenda the repositioning of the state’s civil service. And simply, he has pledged to ensure that the civil servants will receive their entitlement when due. “This is consistent with the place of the Civil Service as the engine room of government,” he said. His inclusion of training programmes, promotion and other developmental issues in the interest of civil servants, is an indication that the civil service will be accorded due attention by a government headed by him.
As to attract Direct Foreign Investment, deliberate strategies will be adopted to improve the business competitiveness ranking of Akwa Ibom State. He has said: “A deliberate effort shall be made to promote partnership and cooperation with development partners to help drive critical issues of governance, sustainable development and institutional reforms.” His agenda also rhymed with APC’s Zero tolerance for corruption and impunity. He plans to take it further by the relevant institutions of law enforcement to enhance efficiency in their operations. Akwa Ibom APC governorship candidate while unveiling his manifesto has referred to himself as the man “to bring 21st century strategies to address the 21st century challenges that confront our people and state.” Nsima Ekere’s pedigree indicated as much; his agenda embodies it.
Hon Eseme Eyiboh, erstwhile spokesperson, House of Representatives and current Chairman, cross river basin development authority.