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Nigerian Governors Fight Back, Say Federal Government Responsible for Rising Poverty

They accused the central government of failing to protect farmers and others from terrorists.

Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF)
Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF)

Nigeria’s 36 state governors under the aegis of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) have come down hard on the federal government and the Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Clement Agba, over the minister’s claims that state governors were responsible for the rising poverty rate in the country.
The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) had recently disclosed that 133 million Nigerians were poor.
In a statement issued Saturday by the spokesman of the NGF, Abdulrazaq Bello-Barkindo, the governors insisted that it was the federal government that abandoned its promise and primary responsibility to the citizens.
They cited the failure of the federal government to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty as it had promised, as well as the inability of the federal government to protect farmers from terrorists.
Describing the minister’s assertions as diversionary, the governors said it was the responsibility of the federal government to provide security for the citizens.
The governors lamented the people in the rural areas abandoned their farms due to the worsening insecurity.

They said: “The tirade early this week by the Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Clement Agba, on the 36 state governors, where he blamed them for the rising poverty index in the country comes to the Nigeria Governors’ Forum as a surprise. The minister got his message totally wrong.
The governors noted the minister’s attacks were not only unnecessary, but also a brazen descent into selective amnesia.
According to them, the minister, who should be responding to a question demanding to know what he and his colleague, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, were doing to ameliorate the hardship Nigerians were facing, attempted to defray the notion that rising levels of hunger and lack were peculiar to Nigeria.
“True as that may be, Agba went further to explain that their government, through many of its social security programs, has been dedicating resources to alleviating hardship, and then goes further to accuse state governors of misdirecting resources to projects that have no impact on the people.
“While rightly pointing out that 72 per cent of the poverty in Nigeria is found in the rural areas, the minister said the rural populace had been abandoned by governors.

“This assertion is not only preposterous and without any empirical basis, but also very far from the truth. It is Mr. Clement Agba’s veiled and deliberate effort, as a minister, to protect his paymasters and politicise very critical issues of national importance.
“Instead of answering the question thrown at him by journalists, Agba veered his attention to soft targets that happen to be 36 governors.
“It is the opinion of the governors that the dereliction that the minister is talking about lies strictly speaking, at the doorstep of the federal government which he represents, in this scenario.
“First and foremost, the primary duty of any government is to ensure the security of lives and property, without which no sensible human activity takes place.
“But the federal government, which is responsible for the security of lives and property has been unable to fulfill this covenant with the people thus allowing bandits, insurgents, and kidnappers to turn the country into a killing field, maiming and abducting people, in schools market squares and even on their farmlands.

“This dereliction of duty from the centre is the main reason why people have been unable to engage in regular agrarian activity and in commerce. Today, rural areas are insecure, markets are unsafe, and life for the common people generally is harsh and brutish.
“The question is, how can a defenceless rural population maintain a sustainable lifestyle of peace and harmony when their lives are cut prematurely, and they wallow permanently in danger?
“How does a minister whose government has been unable to ensure security, law and order have the temerity to blame governors?” the governors queried.
The governors noted that many other states have been implementing pro-poor programmes.
The governors said, “Although the minister committed the folly of tarring all 36 governors with the same brush, there cannot be a one-size-fits all reply to the minister’s misguided outburst.
“For example, it is the federal government that, in its campaign message in 2019, promised to take 100 million Nigerians out of poverty. Today, records show that more than 130 million Nigerians are living below the globally accepted poverty line of a dollar a day,” the governors said.
The governors argued that the country’s cash cow, the Nigeria National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPC), had failed to remit statutory allocations to states in several months.

The situation, the governors explained, had compelled them to rely on other sources of revenue like, the SFTAS programme and other interventions anchored by the NGF, to fund states’ activities while monies budgeted for such federal ministries as agriculture, rural development and humanitarian affairs are not being deployed in the direction of the people.
They also argued that last week’s directive by the House of Representatives that the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouk, should quit office if she was not ready to do her work of alleviating poverty in the land was “a resounding vote of no confidence on the ministers among whom Mr. Agba serves.”
President Muhammadu Buhari had also on Thursday accused the governors of thwarting development in the country by tinkering with local government allocations, saying an unnamed state governor misappropriated half of local government funds.

Chuks Okocha in Abuja