Akeredolu, Mimiko Spar over Debt

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James Sowole revisits the ongoing dispute between the Ondo State governor, Mr Oluwarotimi Akeredolu and his predecessor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko ‎over the state’s indebtedness

When the announcement came that the Governor of Ondo State, Mr Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, SAN had scheduled the much awaited inauguration of his newly appointed commissioners and special advisers to Wednesday, August 30, many people had thought that the event would be the usual political jamboree characterised by praise singing and intermittent chanting of party slogans when the event is ongoing.

Those who attended the event also expected the governor to assign portfolios to his commissioners and special advisers as everybody as friends and relatives anxiously waited with bated breath to know which ministry would be given to their own relation and friends. But they were all disappointed.

However, apart from the failure to assign portfolios to the commissioners and advisers, the governor also used the opportunity to paint a grim picture of the state’s finances.

The revelation made by the governor on the state of the state’s elicited another round of controversies that will linger for long.

The crowd that witnessed the inauguration at the main hall of the International Event Centre, The Dome, which was filled beyond capacity, was stunned when midway into his speech, the governor started rolling out the state’s finances since February 2017, when he was inaugurated.

While some people expressed disbelief on the figures read out by the governor, others particularly those suspected to have served in one capacity or the other under the immediate past administration of Mimiko, wondered why it took Akeredolu six months before coming out to tell the people the position of the state’s finances he inherited.

Painting a gloomy picture of the finances of the state, Akeredolu claimed that the immediate past administration of Mimiko left behind a whooping debt of N220 billion.

The governor said his administration inherited an internal debt of N53,719billion and an external debt of N17,485 billion. He further disclosed that unpaid salaries and allowances left by his predecessor from August to December, 2016 amounted to N17, 279 billion, adding that the unpaid salaries and allowances from January to February 2017 was N6, 911billion.

“Ondo State Pension Liabilities: N4,800,965,850.00, Ondo State Gratuity: N15,043,537, 042.74, Unpaid Local Government Salaries and Allowances Aug to Dec: 2016 N9,320,568,782.41. Unpaid Local Government Salaries and Allowances (Jan. to Feb., 2017): N5,192,437,503.30, Local Government Pension Liabilities: N25,237,348,457.26, Local Government Gratuities Liability: N20,965,598,590.61, Contractors’ Liabilities: N39,740,423,934.76, Outstanding payment requests in the Office of the Accountant-General without cash backing: N5,451,352,494.25,” he said.

Akeredolu, who debunked the claim of the last administration that it left a sum of N20 billion, said his government only met a sum of N9,956billion in the coffers of the state, lamenting that things would be difficult for the new government with a debt of over N220 billion.

“With a total inherited debt of over N220 billion, it should not be difficult for anyone to know that the government’s capacity for seeming elastic adjustment to cater for the people has been stretched to its limit”, he said.

Akeredolu said with what he met on ground, there is no gain asserting the obvious; that the administration is not in any position for frivolities.

“All of us must gird our loins for the great task ahead. The picture is not good. Therefore, all acts with the potential of pushing us deeper into economic crisis must be jettisoned”, he added.

However, Akeredolu said the disclosure of the state’s debt profile should not be misconstrued as politics pleading that media practitioners should subject the information to the crucible of serious scrutiny and analysis.

“The knowledge of true financial status of the state Government will guide and moderate the craving desires of all and sundry. Expectations of performance from the government must be anchored on reality.

“Government officials must bear this fact in mind, always. It will be easy for the people to show understanding when they know the truth. The economic condition of this State is precarious” he said.

Akeredolu advised friends and relations of the newly sworn in commissioners and special advisers not to over-burden them with too much requests as there would be no money to run the government as usual.

“I admonish members of families and friends of political appointees to desist from mounting undue pressure on them. They have been called upon to work for the collective glory of the state. This, to me, is a sacred social contract between them and posterity. They must be assisted to fulfil their destinies”, he said.

But in a swift reaction to Akeredolu’s claims, Mimiko declared that his government did not leave behind a debt of N220 billion. He also contradicted the governor’s claimed that he left N9,956 billion in the state’s coffer even as he insisted that he left N20 billion.

Speaking on behalf of his former boss the commissioner of information, under Mimiko, Mr Kayode Akinmade urged the people of the state to discountenance the claims by Akeredolu.

He said: “We urge the government and interested citizens of our state to avail themselves of the true state of our indebtedness from the Debt Management Office (DMO) and the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI). The reports are clear and unambiguous about the fact that Ondo State remained the least borrowed of the six south western states and of the nine oil producing states as aour administrations exit in February, 2017.”

Akinmade insisted that the former administration left N20 billion in the coffers of the state and that Akeredolu was not saying the truth about the finances of the sunshine state.

Giving the breakdown of the money left behind the Mimiko’s administration, Akinmade explained that the amount included N7.37.billion in the state’s current account; N7.53 billion as fixed deposit; N1.2billion in the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) Account; $346,000 and 443,000Euro in the domiciliary account, including the N825million Sure-P fund at the Local Government Account.

Akinmade said all the monies came late during the tenure of Mimiko and were to be used to offset a chunk of the salaries owed workers before the then Accountant General made a curious disappearance.

The former commissioner stated that the Mimiko government did not incur any foreign debt in all its eight years.

“Also, the external debt stock as at February 2017 was US49,958,268.49, which (if translated at 1 US $ = N305) is N15.23billion. All of these external debt stocks were inherited from previous administrations. Again, we did not contract any external loan for all of our eight years. Well aware of the fact that government is a continuum, we continued to service the debts, some of which spanned over twenty years.

“Internal debt profile, we aver, stood at N53.159 billion comprising mainly of salary bail-out loan of N13.76billion, Excess Crude Account loan N9.79 billion, Canada Restructuring FGN Bond N4.13billion, CBN budget support N7.5billion and Ondo State 7-Year bond of N17.6billion. Of all the above listed indebtedness, only the Ondo State 7-Year Bond was directly incurred by our government to build major infrastructure across the state,” Akinmade explained.

While members of the ruling APC considered Akeredolu’s speech as a revelation of problems created by Mimiko for the incumbent administration, others, particularly Mimiko’s supporters concluded that the governor was only preparing the ground upon which he will lay the blame for his failures in the future should he fail to perform.

The people of Ondo State believe that the last has yet to be heard on the claims and counter claims. Nevertheless, they expect Akeredolu to hit the ground running after taken six months to appoint commissioners.

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While members of the ruling APC considered Akeredolu’s speech as a revelation of problems created by Mimiko for the incumbent administration, others, particularly Mimiko’s supporters concluded that the governor was only preparing the ground upon which he will lay the blame for his failures in the future should he fail to perform.