Dr. MacFarlane Ejah is a public affairs analyst, a chattered mediator and Executive Director, International Training Research and Advocacy Project, INTRAP. In this interview with CHIEMEKA ADINDU, he analyzed the 2021 budget as presented to the Cross River State House of Assembly by Governor Ben Ayade where he said the state seemed not to have any definite plan and blueprint to work with. He believes the governor has been presenting unrealizable budgets over the years.
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The 2021 budget presented by the governor seems to be least when compared with his previous budgets. Do you consider the budget more realisable this time?
The budget in terms of amount: yes. To the ordinary man, the amount looks small but that’s not where we look at; we look at budget in terms of performance. Budget performance is what we should be talking about here. From previous budgets, how much of our budget has been implemented? Budget performance is less than 10 per cent. Budgets are supposed to be plans you make to guide you in implementing what you need to carry out; and it is proposed based on expected income that is coming. What are the incomes to the state? You’re talking about statutory allocation from the local government, internally generated revenue, grants, loans, and credits. So, these are things that we are talking about. So, if you do a retrospective analysis of all our budgets, I think they didn’t take these sources of income into consideration because when your budget is way way above your expected sources of income, sometimes it looks as if I don’t understand what we are doing. But for this year, the difference is just that the budget is looking a bit realistic in terms of figure but when you scrutinize a budget inside, we have the recurrent expenditure and capital expenditure, it’s more on the recurrent side. We expect to have more on the capital side, so it is the capital side of the budget that gives you an idea that we have infrastructural developments, so and so level of development. But when you are having recurrent budget side, you’re having a huge amount; the question is: are you going to employ? Has the wage bill suddenly increased? What is increasing? So, these are the issues we are talking about. The capital side should be driving the economy and we’re not seeing that; that’s the only issue I have with the budget and I think that we really need to look at them and factor it into consideration.
While presenting the budget, the governor said there’s going to be a shift from big projects to focus more on agriculture, youth employment. What do you think about this proposed shift?
I think the big problem that this present administration has it that we don’t seem to have a blueprint. We don’t have a document guiding its focus. We don’t have a plan. The governor comes out to say this is what I want to do and the plan says how do I go about it? So, if you say you are an agrarian-driven government, you’re a government which is focusing on employment, creating of jobs and all that; where is the plan to drive it? We don’t have the plan. You don’t think for the people, you think with the people! That, however, is not to say that Cross River as a state didn’t have a plan. So, if you’re connecting with the previous plan of the government, we don’t see that connection. The government came on board and we didn’t have a transitional committee coming up with a report to say that this is what this government did, this is where they have a challenge, this is where they did better. So the major challenge we are having is that there’s a sharp disconnection from the previous administrations. There’s no plan for continuity; and so when you’re saying you’re going to create jobs: jobs in which domain? In which area? We move from that and say we created rice farm here. For God’s sake, how did we come to be creating rice farm in Calabar? Calabar is not a rice belt. It doesn’t mean because rice grows, cocoa grows here, but this is not the cocoa belt. We know the cocoa belt is old Ikom which is Ikom, Boki, and Etung and that’s where the ground is best suited. It doesn’t mean if you plant cocoa here it will not grow, but you can’t. You’re coming to say you’re putting rice factory here: to do what? You’re planting rice farm here: to do what? When the old Obubra is the rice production belt. 47 per cent of the rice you call Abakiliki rice today comes from Abi Local Government Area. A sizable percentage comes from Obubra and also comes from Dansara rice farm at Ogoja.
If you’re using rice as an agricultural area, in a state, if you want to develop an area, you look at areas of comparative advantage, and focus activities in that area. So, if you say you’re going to do employment, I don’t understand where are the evidence of the gaps in the areas of employment you’re going to do. These are part of the challenges we’re looking at. Talking about civil service, you want to replace admin officers, fine. Cross River State used to be the second best civil service state, it had the second best civil service in Nigeria in the previous administration. We cannot pride ourselves with that; so when you are saying you want to employ, where are we employing? Are you going to employ at the 7th year? This is the 6th year, we’re doing budget for the 7th year.
What kind of employment are we talking about, because I don’t see political appointments as employment. So, if we’re talking about employment within the civil service, there’s a process and procedures that follow. There is circular for people to declare vacancies, people apply and interviews are done. You’re in Cross River? So, I don’t know if you’ve heard of any of the interviews that have happened. So, if it’s going to take an administration one tenure or one and half tenures to just be gathering CVs and applications and then you want to do employment; which year are you going to do the employment? I just think that there’s a sharp disconnect between the government itself and the planning team. We have intellectually sound people in Cross River that can put things together. Employment comes in different dimensions. So, let’s stop talking about white collar jobs; the civil service has a limit to which it’ll take. So, we should look at the area: things that can create jobs. Take for instance the carnival. It created a lot of opportunities. With the articulation of carnival from Donald Duke era, Calabar eventually now is recorded as the state capital with the 4th largest hospitality industry in Nigeria. After Lagos, Abuja, Port-Harcourt, it’s Calabar. Now, for the hotels you have here, if you do an aggregation that each hotel employs 20 people: so if you have a hundred hotels, so you’re talking about 20,000 people who have been taken off the job market. So, there’s a value chain system.
The governor also said the budget has provision for the creation of neighbourhood security watch to curb insecurity in the state. Do you think this is going to eradicate insecurity in the state?
Cross River State before this administration was about the second safest state in Nigeria. If you look at the crime index today, how long will it take you? Will it take you one tenure to create neighbourhood security? And how did you arrive at neighbourhood security? Neighbourhood security is not the issue, let’s stop thinking for people, let’s think with people. The government has not had opportunity to create a regular roundtable discussion with the people. Even when they had discussions, they have not kept fate with the things I’ve heard. I give you example: where I live, there’s a refuse dump; the governor came in three years ago and climbed the refuse dump and told us he was going to relocate that refuse dump at Lemna, to two places; either Edundu or Akamkpa. That’s more than three years. So when the governor speaks, its policy, and when it is not translated into action, we seem to lose faith. Even when they had good intention; it takes a lot for people to believe. So, when you’re talking about neighbourhood security… neighbourhood security is not responsible for the issue.
What do you think is the major problem?
We are having insecurity because we’re not talking to people, we are not discussing, we’re not being honest, we’re not being sincere.
You’ve been in Cross River State. Night life in Calabar, people were going out 10 o’clock, 1am and you were not harassed but now, 8pm, everybody has gone back to his home. How do you describe that as being safe? Kidnapping was not part of Cross River State, but it has appeared to become a new source of employment. How can you say it is the safest? For all the kidnapping that has been going on, who has been arrested?
What is the best approach you’re suggesting to the governor to ensure a lasting solution?
We have security chiefs. At the government level, are the security chiefs meeting? Let them hold their meetings, articulate their security plan, come down to the people, discuss with the people. You call a police officer today to come in, that there’s an active crime, he tells you sorry, there’s no vehicle and he’s telling you the honest truth. So you want to transfer your aggression, if you do not know to the ordinary man on the street, the ordinary police officer. He is not the problem. Is he going to use his legs to come and arrest the criminal? For those who even come sometimes, they’re based on some community relationships that we have. Some drive their personal cars, you owe them ability to refuel them. How many police stations have functional vehicles? Security is a function of adequate logistics. How many of them have functional vehicles? Even the functional vehicles they have, Police vehicles today, You pursue somebody on the road, sometimes they have issues, no fuel.
Do you feel there’s no synergy or adequate meetings between the governor and security chiefs?
That is actually very important. At that point, you have a synergy of all the security people working together; that’s number one. Number two, I think, like I keep saying, the police is a victim of under-funding. If they cannot speak, let those of us for whom the police service is being provided speak, they’re underfunded. How do you patrol a place? A division doesn’t have a vehicle and you have police post under you. So, how do you manage? The police is becoming very ancient while criminals are going modern. So, how do you begin to pursue somebody with guns and catapults, when the person has an active modern gun. How do you use bicycle to pursue somebody who has a very fast car? Even when you talk about neighbourhood policing, people sit back to begin to police. We expect that for it to be functional even when they effect community arrest they need to call the police. Response time is important. There is a huge trust deficit between the community and the people policing. We talked about the issue of the crisis we’re facing, police brutality that came up with the #EndSARS protest. #EndSARS, I think, started about early October, about 7th or so. By 7th of December, it’s going to be three months. What report have we had? We’ve not had anything. People are not sitting back. Even the ordinary police has lost that self-esteem, the zeal to go to the street to work. They are human beings like us. They live in the same community. They buy in the same market. So, if they’re protecting us and they don’t have confidence in us, we don’t have trust in them, then even their lives are in danger. So, we need to address the issues.
Do you think the suggestion by the State House of Assembly calling for the suspension of this year’s carnival is wise?
Well, I think that is being proactive, for me, I’m not even looking at it from the point of damage done by miscreants as I call them, I look at it from the health impact, the issue of COVID-19. Now, during the process of that looting, in the infectious disease hospital, there’s a particular freezer that was taken away, two of them in particular. They contained active COVID samples, active TB samples and other infectious diseases. So it has been taken away. It could move out in different places. Bringing people together, when we’re talking about carnival, you have the people in the bands, you have a large crowd you can’t hold, it’ll provide a very fertile ground for spreading of any public health disease; so I think that I stand by them being proactive.
These are part of the processes we’re looking at. Are you connecting with the people? Are you thinking for the people? These are two dimensions of governance. So when you think with the people you feel what the people are saying, you’re connected with the people, you listen to the people. But when you’re thinking for the people, you just go ahead and think that they don’t know anything; so you know the best you want to do for them.