Governments as entrepreneurs

August 16, 2011 

by Tola Adenle

Most “evangelists” and other “men of God” who preside over new-age churches in Nigeria already operate as entrepreneurs.  Now, state governments seem to be saying, if them, why not us?

An entrepreneur, the dictionary says, is a contractor, an organizer of business, trade or entertainment.  In all the dictionaries I checked to look up the word “government” – to rule, political administration and the exercise of authority are the key descriptions.  Now, I do realize that various levels of governments in any country have to organize customs and excise sections, that will collect tariffs, property taxes etc.  These, though, do not entail entrepreneurship whose ultimate goal is always profit.

State governments buying properties to rent is a strange and passive way of generating revenues, much like the buying and selling that characterize our economy.  If I am employed to teach Literature at a school and I discover in the course of teaching that my students are deficient in Mathematics, I cannot start spending part of Literature period to help the students in Mathematics because I may be well-intentioned but it would not work for the students’ overall good.  The purchases by Chiefs Adefarati [Ondo] and Adebayo [Ekiti] are not in the overall interests of Ekiti and Ondo.

The case in Ekiti State is a bit different from that of Ondo because nobody has come forward to say the property’s cost is inflated or that the title is held by private individuals as in the case of Ondo.  It came to light through one of the many people who want to become governors in ’03 at all costs.  The manner that Aspirant Babalola (“Asp.” may become a new title!) went about it was less than noble, nay, irresponsible IF the various newspaper accounts are correct.  I hold no brief for the governor but I became interested when I first read it because of the purported involvement of retired General Adebayo.  While much younger men who were governors like him today sit atop billions accumulated from, among other sources, cornering choice government real estate for themselves, the General, I understand, left government without owning a house in any of the Western State GRAs.  I believe he is too circumspect a gentleman to start engaging in unseemly practices in his twilight years.  I feel a sense of relief that the non-matter was to be a campaign issue that went awry because it was a non-issue, at least in the way the chief wanted to use it.

Governor Adebayo, like his Ondo State counterpart, has no business becoming a developer unless it is of a government housing estate.  The purchase shows the result of not seeking counsel because it is apparent he is no economist.   And spending the three-year rent collected on starting the construction of the Igbara-Odo Road as reported may be okay but how does the governor intend to cover the cost of the completion?  It is like the bizarre story a young man told me of how, while working for one of those “financial houses” of Babangida era, they would go to purchase yam flour outside Ibadan to sell to “wholesalers” – putting the customers’ money to work to generate returns on customers’ deposits!  I never asked whether they offloaded the lorries at Oritamerin or Bodija Markets.  J.P. Morgan and other earlier visionaries who started big-time financial houses must be turning in their graves!

To go by newspaper reports, most governors are now brazen and seem to act with fiat.  Why? Their commissioners are equally corrupt and would rather be dead than found voicing their own opinions because the pittance/crumbs of stolen bread from the table are worth more than being kicked out of government.

Item:  Since I am Ekiti (via Ise) and Ondo States, having my state governor ride around always in convoys of cars, two or so of which cost about the same as what the state generates annually  (a measly N20 million)makes one feel wretched.  Such profligacy!   And this governor is not alone in taking the people they govern for rides (unfortunately not in those pleasures-on-wheels).  We all read of the governor of Kogi who bought choice properties worth millions of dollars abroad, including the mansion in Potomac Maryland, USA.  Naively, he did not know that such matters lie in the public domain in the United States and that while it is possible to buy under your relations’ names, the dates, prices of purchase, original owners (if a property is not brand new) and other such information, can be checked by anybody who has access to a computer or who can walk into City Hall to check such information.

Item:  If N20 million naira is all that Ekiti State can generate internally, it is NOT a viable state; ditto more than thirty of the others.  After all, governors’ wives generate multiples of such at those “now you see it, now you don’t” modern day “better life …” launches on a single day.  Meanwhile, governors, chairmen of local councils and the biggest bottomless pit this side of the Great Divide, the National Assembly feed fat on handouts from the Federation Account.  Every which way one turns, our shadow, the important Sovereign National Conference keeps chasing us, and as day follows night, we cannot escape it.

Item:  As a business, Ekiti State Ltd. would have gone bankrupt; ditto other states whose governors spend money for their personal needs –

  1. as if it is their personal money and
  2. as if they are presiding over buoyant entities.

It is in pursuance of such lives of opulence that Chief Babalola created the storm in a tea cup, as the saying goes;that somebody has budgeted his own N600 million to become governor of Ondo State.  To do what for Ondo State?  I do not know the guy and have just heard of him but apparently he is in a business that he understands well.  Jimoh Ibrahim can help Ondo State more by establishing industries that would employ thousands.  I read that he’s banking on winning from the votes of families whose kids he awarded scholarships.  If this is pay-up-time for those poor families, how will Ondo State pay him back for this N600 million investment, I wonder? Government House Roads in all states have become the busiest of all the political roads now that everybody can see that it is where most stealing can take place.  The National Assembly is equally “lucrative” but some of the guys there are shining their limousines to go for the gold of government houses.

In the U.S. whose system we claim to copy, the smallest towns must generate ALL their needed revenues except for areas like education to which the federal government contributes a certain amount per enrolled child in school.  Even a town of five thousand must find money to generate its own electricity, water, tar its roads, train and maintain its own police force, etc.  A city (pop. under 15,000) near Vegas and even though it is the only town in Nevada with no gaming (casinos, etc.), has one of Nevada’s highest property values.  It has a city hall containing a gymnasium; a recreation center that has outdoor and indoor pools (affordably priced for everybody); very clean streets, a very good library where not only some of our own Soyinka’s books could be borrowed, but where I was pleasantly surprised to find a relation’s book listed and borrowed from the County (local government) library for me!  Boulder City, Nevad, not only has enough utilities (water, electricity) but sells water to nearby California (about three hundred miles away).  Around the same time, Vegas (pop. about a million, budgeted over $5 billion (yes, over five billions dollars), most, of course, internally generated.  Please digest that.

How do they do it?  Every penny is accounted for which enables each agency pay its way.  There is no “lucrative” government position.   All monies due to town governments are collected, e.g. property taxes and you either can own a property or not because that tax is due quarterly and you only get a set time to pay after which your property can legally be sold by the town to recover its debt.  It sounds harsh but it is a just system and you can see what your money does in town.  A town can also raise a bond issue to finance, say, expansion of schools.  I am not aware of a town borrowing money outright; towns go bankrupt when they are no longer self-sufficient.  Individuals can then purchase such “distressed” towns and pump money in to revive them.  It is not possible there or in any serious society to have men who could not maintain an only car in their families become governors and before one could say “kini k’a se s’oko yi, o” (what do we do to this clunk!), the man who was on first name basis with the eba seller in a mechanic village has the latest model cars of every manufacturing giant in his official residence and hurriedly-built personal mansions.

The purchase of the house at Victoria Island was no smart expenditure because it is still “buying and selling” and for N385 million naira, Ekiti, would have benefited more from investment on agriculture by waking up the rural areas, stem rural/urban migration through local jobs, say, a mixture of the old Farm Settlements and whatever agricultural investments those who understand such might have advised.

Hopefully, the property would always remain Ekiti’s.



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