Let the Accountability Debate Continue!

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The public spat between the duo of Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, has inadvertently stoked the accountability debate and Nigerians will want it to continue, writes Olawale Olaleye 

Known for courting controversies, often based on conviction, the Kaduna State Governor, Malam Nasir El-Rufai, served the first salvo in his latest outing. Last Friday, he descended on the National Assembly and said the legislature lacked transparent budget. He made the statement in his good will message at the closing ceremony of a 5-day retreat ‎of the National Assembly management personnel in his state.

With his characteristically caustic tongue, he doubted whether the National Assembly, particularly the Senate,  was in support of the fight against corruption by President Muhammadu Buhari.

“The National Assembly is seen as an opposition to the fight against corruption. The National Assembly, particularly the Senate is not seen as one of the fighters of the war against corruption and that image has to be worked on now that we are going towards election year. The leadership and members of the National Assembly have to do something about the narratives. I don’t believe that it is entirely true‎; I also don’t believe it is entirely false, but it is important that the National Assembly does something about its image.”

He would not stop there. He went on to address the National Assembly budget, where many thought was originally his stop. “No transparency in your budget. Nobody knows your budget, how much you get paid. Publications are made about your salaries and allowances that I don’t believe are true but cannot be defended because there is no transparency about your budget, personal cost and so on and so forth. I think you can do something about that to clear all the rumours and remove all the evil stories that are largely untrue,” he stressed.

Quickly, the Senate Leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan, who was there to represent the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, countered the governor and said the National Assembly was involved in the fight against corruption and supported it at all levels of governance contrary to whatever the governor believed.

“In the National Assembly, we fight corruption through our support and as a matter of facts, the anti-corruption agencies are our creation. And for our budget, it is always at the public domain,” he said, adding that the legislature and executive must work together to deliver on promises to Nigerians.

“Nigerians expect higher and better performances in terms of service. As legislators, we are prepared to continue to support the administration of President Buhari either through the fight against corruption or in the confirmation of political appointees. Nigerians will change the country if we fail to perform,” he said.

Perhaps, his reaction was too mild for the Speaker, House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, who fired back by first reminding the governor that instructions had already been given to the appropriate quarters to publish the National Assembly budget some days back.

“We are not happy with the statement of the governor that the budget of National Assembly is not transparent. You will have some kind of misfortune if you attempt to join issues with intellectuals but as intellectuals, we expand issues and add discussion. So, I will like to challenge you to champion the call for transparency in budgeting and budgetary process of National Assembly to other arms of government,” he said.

But that was not the point that unsettled the fray. Hear him: “We want to see clearly, how Chief Executives of states are paid, what they spend monthly as security votes, and also publish what happens to local government funds,” he added, clearly challenging El-Rufai.

Expectedly, El-Rufai took the challenge in good strides and disclosed details of expenditure by his government last Monday. In a statement, El-Rufai said he operated a transparent government and that there was nothing to hide about his expenditure, thus giving details of the state government expenditures including his salary and pay slip. He then challenged Dogara to present details of his too.

In the statement signed by Samuel Aruwan, spokesman to the governor, El-Rufai said the challenge was a necessary step to improve and strengthen democracy, noting that the Kaduna State Government has consistently made public all its budget details.

The statement disclosed that details of actual spending in 2015 for security in the state budgets are also publicly available via the annual report of the Accountant-General of the Federation accessible on www.kdsg.gov.ng, adding that the 2015 accounts of the state government have been audited, and the audit summary published in major newspapers and on the state website in June 2016.

“El-Rufai is today making publicly available his pay-slip as governor of the state. In February 2017, the state government paid the governor a net salary of N470,521.74, with the following details: Income, Deductions, Basic Salary: N185,308.75; Hardship Allowance: N370,617.50, Gross Pay: N555,926.25; PAYE: N85,404.51; total deduction: N85,401.51 and Net Pay: N470,521.74.

“The amount may appear puny but it reflects what the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) approved as the salary and allowances of every state governor adjusted to reflect provision in-kind of accommodation and transportation.

“El-Rufai would like to reiterate his call for the National Assembly leadership to do the same and disclose the details of its budget, and the salaries and allowances of its leadership. The call to open National Assembly is not a personal one. It is one which the leadership of the National Assembly owes to all Nigerians. It is therefore disingenuous for the Speaker to use state government budgets as the excuse for the opacity of the National Assembly budget.”

“There is no state government in Nigeria with a budget nearly as opaque as that of National Assembly. In March 2016, this National Assembly, led by its Chairman, promised to provide a detailed breakdown of the National Assembly budget. Nigerians are waiting,” the statement said.

Dogara, of course, responded by releasing his salary pay slip, which showed that he earns about N402,500 monthly. Releasing the speaker’s pay slip on Tuesday, the House of Representatives spokesperson, Abdulrazak Namdas, said what El-Rufai published was his state’s security budget and not his security vote.

Namdas, Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, stated this at a news briefing in Abuja. He said El-Rufai was undermining and distracting the National Assembly by his claims that the N115 billion in the legislature’s 2016 budget was for all the members.

“Salaries and allowances of about 3,000 legislative aides, and salaries, allowances, equipment and maintenance of about 5,000 staff in the bureaucracy of the National Assembly,” he said, urging the governor to concentrate on governing Kaduna State, particularly addressing security issues facing the state.

“As a senior citizen, El-Rufai should not overheat the polity with tendentious and unfounded outbursts. We note that what Malam El-Rufai published was the security budget of Kaduna State and not his security vote expenditure. We wish to advise the Kaduna State governor to concentrate on his efforts in governing Kaduna State and stop undermining and distracting the National Assembly in playing its constitutionally assigned role in nation building.

“He launched an attack on the National Assembly on Friday, April 7, 2017 and continued on Monday, April 10, 2017. We are aware that there are serious security issues he should be grappling with in southern Kaduna and other governmental issues facing him,” Namdas said. According to him, the National Assembly is not opaque and since the constitution was amended in 2010, the legislature was put in a first line charge.

“Its budget became part of statutory transfers, together with the Judiciary, INEC and others. You cannot find details of the budget of the Judiciary and INEC in the national budget. It exists elsewhere. Of course, from 1999 to 2010, the detail of the National Assembly budget was contained in the national budget.”

He explained that the Clerk to the National Assembly, Mohammed Sani-Omolori, had already been directed to start publishing the budget from 2017, and so, “to continue to repeat the same call made three days earlier smacks of propaganda and cheap blackmail. The Kaduna State governor chose to give headings of its budget on security related matters.

“Maybe, he will give further details of actual security expenditures at the appropriate time. It is most uncharitable to ignore the fact that the National Assembly is an arm of government, not a department in the executive branch. The budget of so many agencies in the executive is higher than that of the National Assembly, an arm of government.

“Such agencies are Nigerian Communications Commission, N102 billion; Central Bank of Nigeria, N421 billion and the Nigerian Ports Authority, N250 billion; Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, N100billion; Federal Inland Revenue Service, N146 billion; Nigerian Customs Services, N81 billion and Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation whose budget runs into trillions. Indeed, the National Assembly budget is about two per cent of the national budget,” he said.

From the breakdown made available by El-Rufai and Dogara, these are what they posted. Basic salary: the pay slip released by El-Rufai shows that the governor’s basic salary is 185,308.75 while that of Dogara is 206,425.83. On their net pay, the speaker’s net pay for February was 206,577.87 while that of the Kaduna state governor was 470,521. Talk about allowances, Dogara did not reveal how much he gets as allowance, although a majority of Nigerians would be interested in that, the only information he gave about allowance was the constituency allowance which is N175,461.96. But El-Rufai claimed he receives N370,617.50 as hardship allowance.

Lastly is their tax reflection. Dogara’s pay slip shows a monthly deduction of N55,952 for his Pay As You Earn (PAYE) tax, while El-rufai pays N85,404.51 as tax.

Clearly, they have opened up a major debate that is not going to end with both of them but extend  also to other functionaries of government at different levels. Lack of accountability has  been the bane of governance in the country with leaders finding different headers for convenient stealing like security votes. But the El-Rufai and Dogara debate should not just end there; it should be taken further with leaders showing more responsibility for accountability.