Our Squandering Governors and ICPC’s Indictment

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RingTrue

with Yemi Adebowale; yemi.adebowale@thisdaylive.com; 07013940521 (text only)

My biggest issue with President Muhammadu Buhari is that more often than not, he encourages corruption through his actions and inactions. The recent report of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), which monitored how states spent the N338 billion bailout funds given to them by the federal government confirms my position. According to the report released last week, 16 of these squandering governors stole or diverted a substantial part of the funds.
When Governor Rochas Okorocha made this atrocious request for bailout last year on behalf of these failed governors who have consistently failed to meet the rudimentary responsibilities of paying civil servants as and when due and providing basic infrastructure in their states, I campaigned vigorously against it, warning the president not to accede to their ludicrous demands. For me, it amounted to rewarding governors, who ordinarily, should have been severely punished for looting their states’ treasury. These governors were not voted into office to give excuses. I argued that they should resign if they were incapable of doing their jobs and allow people with good ideas and political will to come in. But they mounted pressure on Buhari who settled for a political decision and gave N338 billion to them, specifically for payment of the backlog of salaries. He also instructed the CBN to arrange another N300 billion bond for them. It is very sad to note that governors, who ought to have been impeached and prosecuted, got a pat on the back from Buhari. The incriminating ICPC report has justified my position that the governors should not have been given one kobo in the first place.

According to the report issued by the ICPC, Okorocha of Imo State, Samuel Ortom of Benue State, Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State and Abdul-Azzez Yari of Zamfara State were most prodigal in the management of the bailout funds.  Imo State applied for and received bailout funds of over N26 billion. In the course of analysis by ICPC, it was discovered that some transfers were made into some funny accounts which were not related to salaries and emoluments as follows: “N2 billion paid into a Government Account; N2 billion paid into an Imo State project account, N2 billion transferred into a microfinance bank; and a management fee of N21 million paid into an unspecified account.

The ICPC report on Imo State tallies with that of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission that had earlier arrested the Principal Secretary to Okorocha, Dr. Pascal Obi. Two others — Uzoho Casmir and Iheoma Kenneth — who were described by the EFCC as the director of finance and treasurer respectively, were also arrested by the EFCC for allegedly assisting Okorocha in the mismanagement of the bailout funds.
Benue State received over N12 billion for the payment of salaries but, according to the ICPC, Ortom “mysteriously paid over N70 million into the account of the office of his deputy. The report states that in Benue State, the total debt from staff salaries and emoluments amounted to about N12.5 billion. The state received about N12.5 billion as bailout fund and disbursed about N10, 852 billion with a balance of N1. 650 billion unaccounted for. Analysis of the documents submitted revealed an alleged double payment of about N37 million in favour of Ortom’s deputy. This double payment is presently being investigated by the ICPC.

In the case of Osun State, the ICPC stated that the state received N34.9 billion as bailout and disbursed N16.3 billion. Almost N18.6 billion is yet to be accounted for by Aregbesola. The report adds that the commission is investigating allegations that the state had not paid salaries since July 2015. The fact that Aragbesola got a bailout for seven-month salaries and paid half salaries for the duration is in public domain. So, what is the ICPC still investigating?

In the case of Zamfara State, it simply duped our globetrotting president. The state requested for about N32.512 billion bailout, but received N10.020 billion. However, ICPCdiscovered that the state did not owe civil servants and pensioners any arrears as at the time our Johnnie Walker released the bailout. In order to utilise the funds, Yari reportedly made overture to the Zamfara State House of Assembly requesting to use the funds to settle some liabilities amounting to about N10.020 billion. It was approved. Said ICPC: “The money was then used as outstanding of payment to 14 local government areas of the state, amounting to N4,262,560,629.83; outstanding payment for fertilizer for the 2014 farming season, N3,056,300,000; N265,256,342.76 for construction of Bungudu-Nahuche Kyabarawa Road and hostel block at Abdu Gusau Polytechnic, T/Mafara at ₦55,000,000, among others.” This was how Yari utilised a dubious bailout he collected for salaries, even when he was not owing salaries.
Other states still owe salaries, months after receiving the bailouts; an indication that the funds may have been mismanaged. According to the ICPC, in 16 of the states that received the bailouts, figures of amounts paid out as salaries did not tally with bailouts received. Most of these governors love this type of money. It is free money and they are already asking for more from Buhari.

Just as I wrote in RingTrue last year, most of our governors are accustomed to just going to Abuja monthly to collect handouts. They lack the slightest idea about how to make their states viable. Most of them are even too lazy to sit down with forward-looking Nigerians to fashion out how to make these states viable. Industries and industrial estates are dead in these states. Many governors have not shown ingenuity in terms of making their states viable and improving their Internally-generated revenue. They have great untapped agricultural potential that can make them viable, yet, they are struggling to survive. Most of them can’t point to a single industry whose emergence they have motivated since becoming governors. So, the industries are not there and commercial agriculture is in comatose. How then do they intend to make their states viable?
The late Obafemi Awolowo built the enviable economy of the defunct Western Nigeria around agriculture and agro-allied industries. There was nothing like running to the centre for bailouts. Then, this country operated fiscal federalism. The scope of operation of each region was determined by its resources and cash. There was fiscal discipline, while only people-oriented projects were implemented.

But in this era, governors who can’t pay civil servants because of dwindling handouts from Abuja pocket billions of naira annually in the name of an unconstitutional “Security Vote.” Allocations are dwindling; yet, they live big and operate with a retinue of aides – special advisers, senior special advisers, special assistants, senior special assistants, personal assistants, private secretaries and the rest of them. For God’s sake, what is Okorocha doing with 16 commissioners and a retinue of aides in a supposedly poor state like Imo? Okorocha and his colleagues spent billions of Naira on their re-election, yet, they can’t pay salaries. So, where did all the billions spent on election come from? The answer is obvious. They also pocket the allocations to the local governments.
Irregular payments of salaries by these governors have impoverished civil servants, forcing some of them to resort to begging in order to survive the hardship foisted on them while the governors and their cronies live big. You will find them travelling around the world with a large entourage in the name of looking for foreign investors. Many will still remember Okorocha travelling to Turkey with about 100 people to study Turkey’s industrial prowess. Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State went all the way to Dubai to host his daughter’s wedding.
At times, I wonder if Buhari is aware that most of these governors from hell have mortgaged their states. I can authoritatively say that this is mainly responsible for their inability to pay salaries. Many have taken huge loans beyond their repayment capacity. The monthly direct deductions from their shares of federally-collected revenue to service the loans are now impacting negatively on their finances. A critical analysis of the contractual obligations/other deductions from the February allocations of the 36 states by the Federal Account and Allocation Committee showed that virtually all our states are deep in debt with very little to show for it. Imagine a state like Osun with a debt portfolio of almost N120 billion within five years of Aregbesola. So, what did he use the money for? This is the question Buhari should be asking instead of approving bailouts for them.

Again, these governors, amidst dwindling revenues still implement populist policies. Yearly, they spend huge amount of money sending pilgrims to Jerusalem and Mecca. Two years ago, one South-west state spent over N500 million on such pilgrimages. These governors often implement programmes that are not in tune with the financial realities of their states. Imagine states implementing free education when they can’t pay salaries of the teachers in the schools. Imagine what just N1000 per pupil (per term) in public schools will do to their IGR and teachers’ salaries? Late Awolowo had the financial implications of his free education programme in the defunct Western Region properly worked out before implementation. These days, these governors just introduce all sorts of free things – free education, free health, free books, free marriage, and the rest of them, without sorting out the financial implications in the short, medium and long-term. Some of them have even introduced free lunch in public schools without thorough financial plans. Osun State started this, and had to quickly dump it.

Again, many of them complaining about financial crunch are able to squeeze out money for absolutely useless projects. They delve into all sorts of things that ought to be private sector-driven. For example, what is the business of these governors with building stadia and running football clubs amidst supposed financial crisis? Okorocha’s Imo runs Heathland Football Club. We also have Abia Warriors in Abia State, 3SC in Oyo State, Akwa United in Akaw Ibom, Wikki Tourists in Bauchi and Lobi Stars in Benue State. These are states that can’t pay civil servants, yet, release billions of Naira to run football clubs. Former Ekiti State governor, Kayode Fayemi spent about N1billion building a new Government House when Ekiti civil servants were battling for their salaries.
I hope the ICPC will go beyond just publishing this report. The commission should sit down and discuss the report with Buhari. Perhaps, this will convince him to stop wasting our resources on bailing out squandering governors.
This morning, I urge Buhari to deeply reflect on the position of foremost industrialist, Aliko Dangote on his heart-rending bailout. He said: “This gesture encourages laziness on the part governors. I don’t believe the federal government should continue bailing out the states; they have to sit down and plan to cut costs instead of looking for bailouts and being lazy.’’

So Much Falsehood about Budget 2016
It’s a pity that majority of Nigerians are being misled about issues surrounding the wishy washy 2016 budget submitted by our president. Two days ago, a friend of mine who works for an oil company told me that our lawmakers were responsible for all the issues surrounding the budget and that they should be recalled by their constituencies. This is the erroneous belief being propagated by agents of this administration to deceive the people. It is a shame that we are still talking about budget 2016 in May. It is even more painful that everything around the budget has been reduced to propaganda. Nigerians need to know the truth; that constitutionally, power over the budget rests with the National Assembly.
The President only lays a proposal. When the ministries, departments and agencies come forward to defend their budgets, the lawmakers can amend, add or subtract. Otherwise, there will be no need for budget defence. When the lawmakers are satisfied, it is brought forward as a bill, passed and sent to the president for assent.

It is preposterous for a bill already passed, to be returned to the legislature as being planned. This is not the standard. The president can sign and also forward an amendment bill to the legislature; or withhold his assent. If he fails to sign after 30 days, the legislature can override him and it becomes law, which he must implement. It is an impeachable offence not to implement such a law. Unfortunately, our president has succeeded in intimidating the National Assembly. Our lawmakers are no longer capable of averring themselves. We should be honest enough to admit that the errors/padding that came with the first budget submitted by Buhari is largely responsible for budget 2016 delay. It was withdrawn and the head of the budget office fired. The resubmitted budget also came with huge errors as attested to by some ministers while defending their budgets. Clearly, Buhari should be absolutely blamed for this budget delay. Further delay is unhealthy for our economy. Buhari should sign and forward a budget amendment bill to the lawmakers. There is also room for supplementary budget. So, let’s embrace peace for the sake of our nation. Enough of this delay, so that we can move a bit forward.