Home Interview/Opinion Corruption, Poverty: Damning statistics give verdict of the downward slide of Enugu State
Interview/Opinion - 2 weeks ago

Corruption, Poverty: Damning statistics give verdict of the downward slide of Enugu State

 

By Ikem Okuhu

Enugu State is not looking good at all, and the time has come to reverse the politics of headline-hugging and citizen brow-beating as is currently the approach of those in government. Casting them aside would make for a healthy appraisal that could alter the state’s imperilled direction the state has been steered has to be now and not one minute later.

 

Those who have been granted either the grace or gruesomeness to be in charge of the social and economic management of the state should, for the sake of posterity, shelve the prevalent politics of attrition and embrace workable methods of delivering the state from its current state. They will not have anything to lose if they do this, except if their mission is the mission of King Rehoboam, who was recorded in the second book of Kings, chapters 10-11 as rebuking his (former) friends and associates who had gone to him to plead that he alleviated their suffering by telling them: My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist! Whereas my father burdened you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. Whereas my father scourged you with whips, I will scourge you with scorpions.”

 

You see, Rehoboam, as the Bible captured it, was so gracious he even allowed his old pals to come close to ask the question that elicited this rash response. I am told that nearly all the kingmakers behind the gilded diadem on the head of the present governor of the state, Peter Mbah have been kept at bay and relate with him through the impersonal medium of virtual meeting rooms.

 

If, like Rehoboam, wise counsel is unwelcome, perhaps because many politicians package aggrandizement as community imperatives, this intervention is made in the hope that statistics generated by independent parties speak to the powers that be and persuade them to rethink.

 

Data from BudgIT, the organisation that uses creative technology to simplify public information placed Enugu State 19th on fiscal performance for the year 2023. Nineteenth out of 36 states is poor by every standard and this should concern the leaders of the state. Agreed the governor took the reins nearly one year ago on May 29, 2023, the seven months during which he was in charge of the state contributed to this position.

 

But this is not all. The National Bureau of Statistics in its report for 2023 ranked Enugu number 25 out of 36 states and Abuja in Gross Domestic Product. As frightening as this is, I know that many government trumpeters would defend this by claiming many of the states ahead of Enugu have more resource endowments, but the shame thickens when it is understood that Ebonyi State made it to the top 20 of the NBS measurement.

 

It is also noteworthy that Ekiti State, with a population of 1,647,822 also made it to the top 20. Ekiti State was, a few years ago, on the verge of insolvency, but today it is notching up numbers. I do not know what Ebonyi State has that Enugu does not have and even more, but leaders of the state appear to be doing a lot of things that are positively impacting its numbers while Enugu unabashedly regressed.

 

Driving the appalling statistics notched by Enugu State is a combination of corruption and lack of creativity in revenue generation. Again, I must stress that the statistic is not mine, as far as the corruption index is concerned.

 

Enugu State was rated the 22nd most corrupt state in the country. It was rated the 11th of the 19 states in southern Nigeria, and the 4th of the five southeast states.

 

These are numbers nobody should be proud of and speak volumes of the use to which minders of the state’s resources have put them over the years. As things stand, it does not look like things will be better in the future, considering that the current administration is not doing much to reverse the trend. Apart from the excessive focus on taxation, even when receipts from the federation account to the state and the 17 local council areas have remained opaque.

 

The tax regime in Enugu State is debilitatingly unwholesome. In Enugu, no one knows what revenue source belongs to the state and the one to be collected by local councils. The government has increased the tax on businesses so astronomically that businesses are scared to open their shops. A recent report listed companies that have left the state in the recent past, and the feeling is that things would get worse.

 

 

In nearby Abia State, the administration there has focused on infrastructure revamp, and with the activation of round-the-clock electricity in the industrial city of Aba by Geometric Power, the remaining businesses struggling to breathe under the chocking tax regime are most likely to migrate to this increasingly more comfortable city.

 

In the face of these huge concerns that call for soul searching the biggest news out of Enugu has always been about plans and intentions. The plan to provide portable water in the capital city within 180 days of taking over power as promised by Governor Peter Mbah during his campaigns has been laced with limited success. Critics have spent most of April 2024 releasing embarrassing photos of poorly constructed road projects, even as neighbouring Ebonyi was shown, using more enduring material for similar projects.

 

On May 4, 2024, an article published in the Daily Sun newspaper, titled, “Enugu electricity market: When the disruptive innovator blazes the trail,” had a government media aide praise the governor for taking steps to position his state to benefit from this devolution of the power sector.

 

These “steps,” according to the writer, was the signing into law of the Enugu State Electricity Bill, into law passed by the Enugu State House on 15 September 2023. The writer, in the article, sang praises of the governor’s innovative intentions and even went to the familiar course of lacing the act with the endorsement of Babajide Kolade-Otitoju, the presenter of Journalists’ Hangout on TVC, whom he claimed described the governor as “a man to watch.”

 

Hear him describe his principal: “He is the smart and young Enugu governor topfull of uncommon ideas and main currents in modern governance, unqualified managerial abilities, and excellent understanding of the working of the economy. He has brought disruptive innovation to governance. In less than one year, Mbah has sifted Enugu from the nave to the chap, and the people wake up to new developments to paroxysmal shouts of Hallelujah.”

 

I tried to understand what this portion of the article means but could not. All I could see was an attempt to evoke the imagery of Christianity by the mention of “nave” and “chap” (did he mean “chancel”?). In all its windiness, there was nowhere the writer discussed tangible steps to move from intention to putting the ground running. I felt concerned that an Executive Bill passed by the House in September was signed into law eight long months after. If it would take the governor eight months to sign a Bill he introduced, only God knows the number of years it would take to bring investors to begin the construction of power plants. And tell me which investor would come to a state where the industries that would take up the bulk of the electricity they produce have taken flight for reasons of an unfriendly taxation regime?

 

News headlines from Enugu have, like the immediate past government become predictable. Under former Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, press releases from his prolific media team had predictable headline such as, “Civil Servants Hail Governor Ugwuanyi for Paying 13th Month Salary,” or “Jubilation as Ugwuanyi Visits Motherless Babies Home,” or “Chief of Army Staff Hails Governor Ugwuanyi for Security.” It took no other form.

 

The current governor, like his predecessor, appears to have taken to predictable headlines, only in his case, he appears to mistake intention for delivery of projects. It is either you are reading how the governor plans to make Enugu an industrial hub, or how he plans to embark on one project or another project, or even how he intends to end the insecurity that has the state on a vice-grip since he assumed office.

 

Governor Alex Otti has commissioned scores of projects since May 29, 2023, when he was sworn in. He leverages completed jobs while the “disruptive innovator” in Enugu has remained on the intentions’ tangents. Perhaps the only project Governor Mbah has completed was the donation of vehicles to the military and security services in the state for security, and this even has its issues.

 

I was listening to an audio broadcast by a perceivably disgruntled member of the governor’s political party, the PDP, in which he was alleging that a close aide of the governor tried to pass these vehicles off as new purchases. If this was true, then the state’s corruption index was under-ranked.

 

The vehicles so donated, as the person behind the audio broadcast who identified himself as Olo 1 of Olo in Ezeagu Local Government Area rightly said, were cars recovered from former aides of Governor Ugwuanyi when Governor Mbah took over. I say this because, in the course of my 18 months as an aide to Ugwuanyi, I was allocated a Hyundai Accent which I returned to Government House Enugu when the administration of Governor Mbah demanded it. I know at least five other people who also returned their cars, all of which were repaired and covered with flex bearing the new “Distress Response Squad” (DRS) tag of the state security apparatus.

 

It would, therefore, be unfortunate if these vehicles were passed off as brand-new: It is a new low we shouldn’t sink. I would want to assume that with all his failings, Governor Mbah should be smarter than pass off recovered vehicles as new requisitions. The plangent wail emanating from the uncomplimentary rankings of Enugu in corruption, poverty, and fiscal responsibility indices is loud enough to trigger some disturbances in the eardrums of the hard of hearing.

 

Enugu is being put on a sky-dive without safety equipment, and the fall, no the inevitable fatal crash into the abyss of economic meltdown below will replace the contrived headlines crafted to paint serenade the good-intentioned governor.

 

My Igbo people has this proverb; “Asochaa eze, ekpudo nkata n’iru gwaa ya okwu.” Transliterated, it says, “After avoiding (you may use fearing or respecting) the king, you cover your face with a basket to speak the truth to him.”

 

But who will even summon the mettle to speak to a king worshipfully described by his acolytes as a “disruptive innovator”?

 

Ikem Okuhu, a marketing communications professional, is the author of PITCH: Debunking Marketing’s Strongest Myths.

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