The holy month of Ramadan is rightly acknowledged as a perfect time to demonstrate the beneficial attributes of generosity and kindness, especially to those members of society who are in need. However, it appears that the Zamfara State government took this injunction to an extreme when it recently announced that it had spent N2.7 billion on Ramadan gifts to the less-privileged citizens of the state.
The state’s commissioner for information, Alhaji Ibrahim Birnin-Magaji, explained that the sum was spent on giving foodstuffs and clothing materials to recipients across the state’s 14 local governments. Arguing that the state government was merely meeting its social obligations to its citizens, he claimed that the expenditure had not inhibited the government’s ability to provide much-needed infrastructure.
Such charity does have its positive aspects. It is a welcome departure from the norm, in which public officers often seek to appropriate national resources to themselves and their cronies without any consideration for those they purport to lead. It is a practice which also falls largely within the religious and cultural practices of Zamfara State and the other states surrounding it.
However, it must be stated that the generosity of the Zamfara State Government is also paradoxically demonstrative of a profound poverty of thinking. By most measures of economic development, Zamfara ranks among Nigeria’s poorest states. It is in dire need of social infrastructure like schools, hospitals and roads. The state’s internally-generated revenue is relatively low, making it heavily dependent upon the N2.5 billion monthly allocation it receives from the Federal Government.
Given these facts, the expenditure of N2.7 billion on just one item, Ramadan gifts, is clearly the manifestation of financial recklessness that is incompatible with effective governance. It reinforces a culture of dependency, by making the citizenry look forward to government handouts instead of seeking to better their lot through self-improvement; it inevitably creates opportunities for corruption, since the purchase and distribution of Ramadan gifts is open to all kinds of misappropriation; it also weakens government effectiveness by diverting resources from long-term development efforts to the temporary gratification of immediate needs.
Zamfara’s wastefulness is even more apparent when its Ramadan expenditure is compared to that of neighbouring states. Kano, for instance, claims to have spent N146 million for the same purpose. That is almost 20 times less, in a state that is more than three times larger. The financial outlay is all the more amazing, given the perennial complaint by state governments that they need a larger share of national resources in order to carry out their functions.
This misplaced expenditure is not peculiar to Zamfara. All over the nation, at the federal, state and local government levels, governments are pouring resources into projects which are wasteful, non-priority prestige undertakings designed solely to gratify the egos of the public office-holders who proposed them. Some states are building five-star hotels instead of providing portable water. Others are seeking to acquire aircraft and bullet-proof vehicles, even though civil servants are being owed salaries. When this is combined with the outrageous amounts that public office-holders draw in salaries and allowances, it is no surprise that the dividends of democracy are so rare in so many parts of the country.
If this trend is to be halted, the legislative arms of the various tiers of government must be more assiduous in their duties. Since no money can be spent without the approval of the state houses of assembly, legislators should be less willing to agree to fund projects whose long-term value to the citizenry is doubtful. If a project is not self-financing, of dubious viability, or imposes unnecessary financial burdens, it should not be approved. The overly-generous Zamfara State would do well to teach its citizens to fish, instead of merely providing them with it.