Records showed that the Peter Obi administration on March 17, 2014 bequeathed to the incoming Willie Obiano regime the cash balance of N9 billion. This was a healthy development. Against the profligate tendencies of the average Nigerian government, this was a salutary occurrence. However, the cash balance did not tell the whole story and presented in the veiled manner it was publicised was actually misleading. The outgoing regime had at its twilight, awarded contracts to the tune of N106b; committing the Willie Obiano administration to a huge post dated debt. On balance then, the new regime was actually overburdened with obligations which details were not made known to the public. The nature of the assets and liability handover has extant implications for accountability and smooth governance.
Why did the Peter Obi regime decide to embark on new projects months to expiration of its tenure? The answers have not been coming from Obi and his spokesmen. Perhaps too, the media failed in its task of asking the pertinent questions. Yet, whatever reasons may have informed Obi’s decision to initiate the mostly infrastructure and hospitality ventures at that late hour can hardly diminish the imperative of giving your successor free hand.
The contracts had the effect of tying Obiano’s hands. Without any known emergency about their need, they amounted to an imposition on the incoming government. How did Mr Peter Obi determine that his successor would see the projects as priorities; or even desirable? What did the exiting leadership expect to happen to the programmes drawn up by the succeeding government in the prevailing circumstance? It is to the eternal credit of Governor Willie Obiano that he followed up on these controversial works in the best interest of Anambra State and at the same delivering on his own plan of services. Alternatively, the rushed contracts would appear to have been influenced by a desire to impress; to strike a final bang before bowing out. Either way, they constituted avoidable influence on the operations of the incoming administration.
It should be taken for granted that a tenured government would begin to shun new projects more than a year to the expiration of its term and rather be concerned with completing or tidying up the details of ongoing ones. This is to be especially expected of a regime that places premium on discipline and fiscal controls as the Obi regime had been marketed.
The time to commence fresh works and services, except in certain exceptional circumstances, were the first two years of the second term. Aside from the lateness of the N106b contracts, their merit in terms of priority vis – a vis the N9b saved for the next government is further called into question. Two issues would serve to illustrate this point on the costly road not taken.
A liability of N1.9b representing salaries and allowances owed staff of the State Water Corporation mostly by the Peter Obi administration was inherited by the Obiano regime. The Obiano government liquidated this debt in October 2014, seven months after coming into office. This should have been treated as an urgent matter by the preceding administration and resolved before handover. Payment of the salary debt from the regime’s N9b savings would have afforded the new government the industrial peace and unencumbrances vital for smooth take off. Aside the mark of a higher handover figure, what was the point of transferring recurrent expenditure in the face of liquidity to the next government?
Surprisingly, the one project that Ndi Anambra looked forward to was never taken up by the Obi administration. Part of the N9b handed over to the Obiano regime could have been better invested in the airport site. The quest for an airport even dates back to the old Anambra State. It was a venture launched by then military Governor Emeka Omeruah in 1986 on the bases of Onitsha’s commercial status. The merit of an Anambra airport has since multiplied with the advent of Orient Petroleum. The business of the oil prospecting and refining firm in which the state government is a stakeholder and located near the site of the airport at Umueri makes a powerful case for execution of the airport project.
The reality of inflationary pressures arising from fragility of the national economy emphasizes the benefits of investing in a profitable venture such as the airport over keeping cash in the bank. If building the runway in 2013 were to cost one billion naira, the capital outlay today would be over two billion naira. In other words, had half of the N9b been ploughed into the airport programme by the Obi administration, its value in development of the airport would outweigh the physical cash received by the Obiano regime. And the present government would not have had to start from the scratch on the airport services.
The responsibility of outgoing regimes setting aside some reserves for the next government should be encouraged and sustained. However, governance would be enriched when the liabilities are lower than the assets.
Afuba, political scientist and media practitioner, wrote from Nimo, Anambra State.