This Essay was submitted by Daniel Faithful Miebaka
With 7.3 million Rivers residents having expectations no less than any electorate in other democracies; the responsibilities of government ought to have evolved beyond the ‘basic’ duties which successive governments have struggled to deliver for the past 43 years. Citizens deserve more from their social contract lest the gift of democracy becomes their own undoing. They wait for each election cycle that births an ever increasing number of candidates unwilling to participate in
productive engagements with the electorates on moving the state forward through a people centered policy plan.
Although states are heavily influenced by the federal government, in practicing federalism governors are to primarily shield the states from national negative developmental realities like economic recession, dwindling oil revenue, inadequate healthcare and education financing, national security challenges, chronic unemployment and underemployment, and 82.9 million (40.1%) Nigerians living in poverty worsened by the Coronavirus pandemic of 2020.
Rivers State being the third highest producer of crude oil (21.4%) benefits from the 13% mineral derivation fund in addition to statutory federal allocation(FAAC), internal generated revenue(2nd ,140billion), value-added tax(VAT), budgetary support, local and international credits, but like many other states it suffers an underperforming budget due to dwindling federal allocation. States are limited in influencing the direction of the national economy, however, it is within their means to protect against external shocks by creating a self-sustaining state economy. The tax base can
be expanded without over-taxing residents by automating revenue collection, improving tax audits and enforcement especially among the top players of industry, blockage of revenue leakages and tax education. While creating an environment for commerce and industry to attract investors, commercial transporters and traders will be relieved by criminalizing extortion by unions
that exist to protect their welfare. The preceding efforts must be matched by prioritized fiscal spending, eradication of corruption in contract processes, and elimination of ghost workers in the civil service. Jobless economic growth is a development façade, there is need to expand the civil service; provide tax reliefs to companies employing stated number of youths and women (to correct
gender inequality); provide social capital investments that are measurable. The sort of cash handouts (₦20billion trader-moni) done by the federal government in the run-up to the 2019 general
election does not improve the economy; without a mechanism for tracking utilization and a repayment plan unaccountability, corruption and wastage of scarce resources is inevitable. Only persons who have verifiable means of identification should have access to state grants meant for doing business, at the expiration of the stipulated time the capital should be returned with low
or no interest thereby creating a revolving fund that is self-sustaining. Upgrading the state’s information and communication technology(ICT) center (Techcreek), and financing entrepreneurs in coding, gaming, artificial intelligence, ICT and new media will provide gains in the emerging digital
Reminiscing about the agricultural contribution prior to oil boom is satisfying. However, subsistent and crude agriculture as practiced then can never be the mainstay of any economy that seeks to thrive. With a new approach; food security is insured, revenue can be bolstered, unemployment tackled by replacing old subsistent farmers with mechanized agriculture involving younger persons,
investing in agricultural processing to profit from the value chain. 39% (760,000 hectares) of the landmass is suitable for agriculture and with 270 species of fish and other seafood, the potential for industrialization exists with possible exportation; there is huge potential in the canned fish
(sardines, mackerel, cod), cod oil and other derivatives industry; the use of tilapia for production of xenograft in managing burns patients is currently in high demand.
Healthcare financing is abysmal at the federal level with ₦46 billion budgeted for basic health in 2020, marginally higher than the ₦38.9billion proposed spending in Rivers State, the country has never met its pledge of 15% of the national budget for health that was made at the Abuja Declaration of 2001 by all African countries. With a federal and 3 state tertiary centers, 5 regional referral centers, 13 general hospitals, a primary and secondary center in each of the 23 Local Government Areas and 319 wards respectively all satisfactorily utilized by residents, it is obvious healthcare has remained a commitment. Investing in healthcare is continuous, as there is
need for upgrading, rehabilitation and expansion of facilities to match global standards for service delivery. The engagement of qualified personnel to run state facilities is another critical issue; because of lower remuneration compared to federal institutions, there is a preference for federal hospitals leaving the state facilities underutilized. By standardizing remuneration, state government will not only attract specialists but also capitalize on the potential for health tourism. The National Health Insurance Scheme(NHIS) of 2005 was created to amongst other things provide access to health services and universal health coverage, a target of the sustainable development goals(SDG)
by 2030 but as at 2020 less than 5% of the Nigerian population is enrolled in the scheme. While funding and legislative review of the scheme to allow for increased participation is needed to improve enrollment, state governments have failed to adopt the scheme or provide similar programs. If there is any benefit from health insurance it is the access to health services that would cater for the prevention and early treatment of diseases and also avoid the detrimental
effects of catastrophic spending that can destabilize families. The state house of assembly needs to adopt and domesticate an insurance scheme that will compulsorily cover all employees of government, enforce enrollment of private formal sector and encourage the participation of the informal sector; the fund will be enough to cater for specialist and interventional procedures
and treatment when needed and provide sustainable healthcare financing. Overall improvement in healthcare is within reach if aggressive childhood immunization, disease surveillance, and availability of emergency health services is the hallmark.
Poor maintenance culture results in infrastructural decay; maintenance preserves infrastructure and saves cost of rehabilitation. Regular turn-around maintenance is the way forward, for example road maintenance makes life easier; increasing access and ease of doing business. Heavily used roads can be taxed through toll gates to provide stable funding for repairs, road expansion and special lanes for heavy trucks will solve traffic congestion and destruction of the roads. Between 2007- 2015, 750 (out of 1315) primary and 24 secondary schools respective were built with 13,000 teachers employed, such legacies should be emulated, with maintenance and expansion when needed. There is need to capture state owned tertiary institutions and vocational centers in the infrastructure drive, and provision of heavily subsidized on-campus accommodation. Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency (RSSDA) between 2008/2009 – 2015/2016 session sponsored undergraduate programs in specific fields of benefit to the state in top 30 institutions of the world, covering thousands of students comprising indigenes and non- indigenes whose guardians are tax paying residents for at least 10 years; such programs should be continued till there are sufficient returnees to add to the body of knowledge available to the state. Special arrangements can be made for postgraduate scholarships with beneficiaries being in the service of the state for a period of time after completion. Bursaries and scholarships increase scholarly interest and support indigent students, merit based
scholarships as reward for academic excellence should be provided in addition to the compulsory free basic education in force in the state.
Security and justice delivery are fundamental for a peaceful society, having experienced decades of insurgency due to systemic marginalization and regional exploitation of mineral resources security has been a major concern and to attract investment and tourism the safety of lives and properties of residents must be paramount. Community policing is a topical issue, the need for focused policing with knowledge of the areas under coverage demands legislation to create a state police trained by global standards producing refined officers to eradicate police brutality and human rights violation plaguing the police force. Conscientious efforts must be made toward solving the policing crisis and protecting vulnerable groups like the old, women from gender prejudice that has resulted in rape culture and gender-based violence and children from molestation and abuse. Swift justice delivery
prevents unnecessary delay in administration of justice and evacuation of correctional facilities. A state driven policy against corruption with the prosecution and punishment of guilty state officials and private individuals no matter how highly placed will reflect on the moral compass of the larger society. Tourism will flow toward an enabling environment; with infrastructural drive the state will be accessible. Real estate is a profitable venture driving public-private partnerships in expensive ultra-modern housing, but focus must shift to providing standard low-cost housing. Investment in the gas industry at the disposal of the state can drive profitable state participation in power generation.
All objectives are measurable and geared toward regaining the trust of residents and the reposition of confidence in the government. If our society has a chance of changing it begins with ideas, hence, an open communication channel will be maintained throughout the tenure to carry everyone along in governance. We need new ideas not new leaders.