NATIONAL GALLERY OF GRAFT?

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Oji onoko writes that there is no missing fund in National Gallery of Art

The International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) prides itself as “promoting good governance, and entrench (sic) democratic values by reporting, exposing and combating corruption.” These are high standards and perhaps the reason, it attracts funding from the highly regarded MacArthur Foundation. The Centre further “seeks to promote transparency and accountability through ROBUST and OBJECTIVE INVESTIGATIVE reporting” (Emphasis mine).

Much was therefore expected from Ajibola Amzat, listed on the Centre’s website as the editor in his eleven-page write-up which broke a fortnight ago on https/www.icirnigeria.org and republished in two pages in the Daily Trust Sunday edition of February 7, 2021. It was a story so sensational, so salacious. Sadly, the trophy, National Gallery of Art which we rechristen, National Gallery of Accountability was a wrong target. He got everything wrong, very wrong. First, the disingenuous headline, “National Gallery of Graft,” designed to grab attention of readers but laced with distorted facts which will shame even the most thrilling scum writer! Basic fact: National Gallery of Art did not move to Abuja in 1993. It operated in Lagos for seven years and moved to Abuja in year 2000. Again, we are at present in 25 states of the federation not the six geo-political zones. Basic research would have corrected this. From this distortion, everything went haywire for the “investigative reporter.”

He was in so much hurry to crucify the National Gallery of Art and rub its hardworking past Director-General, the immediate past Acting Director-General and directors in the mud that he failed the simple test of investigative reporting- snooping for facts and figures, asking questions from authorities in financial auditing and forensic examiners for clarifications to make informed judgment and going to places mentioned for the on-spot assessment. Quoting copiously from the unsigned petition, he bandied figures which had no roots in facts. On the galleries in Nupe, Niger State, Kulili-lau in Taraba, Akpu and Ufesiodo in Anambra and Mbutu, in Imo State, for instance, all he needed do was a trip to these places to see things for himself, interview the contractors and consultants on ground for factual reporting. He could have applied to McArthur Foundation for funding to undertake the trips. That is investigative journalism at work. But no, he did nothing like that. His report coming more than six months after visiting the National Gallery of Art’s head office in Abuja showed photographs he was given at that time. How would he have known the current state of the galleries? Fact: The Niger State project, Ancient Nupe Gallery of Art was completed and commissioned in 2014. Anambra State had two projects: Ufesoido Community Art Centre and Cultural Gallery, Akpu and the Ancient Gallery of Art, Ukpor, Nnewi South. The Ufesoido Cultural Gallery, Akpu has been completed, commissioned and opened for business while the Ancient Gallery of Art, Ukpor in Nnewi South is almost completed. The Oriental Heritage Gallery, Mbutu, Imo State has been completed and will be commissioned on Thursday, February 11, next week. It would have been commissioned last year but postponed due to the COVID 19 pandemic. Work at the Kulili Gallery of Art, Kulili-lau, Taraba State has reached advanced stage.

In-spite of these verifiable facts, the “investigative journalist” from ICIR claims in his story that none of the galleries is near completion let alone open for business.

For the records, none of the amount mentioned in the “Investigative reporter’s” story is close to what was appropriated not to talk of actual release of funds for the galleries. We must commend rather than vilify the lawmakers for choosing to take visual arts to the grassroots and their constituents which will empower the youth in an enduring manner rather than distributing tricycles and wheelbarrows to them! The adverts for the construction of the galleries in the four states were in the September 2012 edition of the Federal Tenders’ Journal and Daily Trust newspaper of the same month. All the procedures for awarding contracts were adhered to by the National Gallery of Art which as a government institution executes its projects and programmes through third parties (Contractors and Consultants) according to the quantum of fund release for each year. Like many other Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), the National Gallery of Art never had its capital appropriation released as appropriated between the years 2010 and 2019. It has always been some percentage release. In 2015, no kobo was released from the capital appropriation for any project. We only got N35millon released through AIE (Authority to incur Expenditure) in that year as capital for only one programme.

In 2012, we had in our appropriation some constituency projects for construction/development of galleries in Taraba, Niger, Anambra and Imo States. The contracts were awarded following due process but only mobilization was paid to the contractors for the year because further releases were not made to pay for the contracts.

It is preposterous to claim that inside sources allege that directors in the gallery have misappropriated over N200m released for the construction of galleries in the four states, all within a period of 10 years. Where is the paper trail? Does the writer believe that monies can just be withdrawn and “shared” without a trail? Government does not work that way. There must be designated programme, approval and disbursement all properly documented. Did the reporter try to investigate what has been released and paid to these contractors and what their contract sums are? Or whether the contracts were advertised, bidded and awarded following due process? Do they understand the meaning of misappropriation? Or maybe all these are some gaging up to attack and tarnish the image of some personalities?

It is very unfortunate that when you do not understand a thing, you refuse to ask questions or seek further explanation to enable you understand it. If NGA records are not correct what would give our Director of Finance and Accounts, the boldness to confront the office of the Accountant General of the Federation with our figures for clarification? The response from the office of the Accountant General of the Federation (OAGF) never accused NGA of giving incorrect account so why would the reporter be the judge in NGA’s accounting for releases and expenditure?

What he refers to as three years of balanced record only shows the years we did not receive Service Wide Vote for the years 2015, 2016 and 2019.. For the benefit of doubt, Appropriations and Service Wide Votes are accounted for separately because Service Wide Votes are not part of an agency’s budgetary allocations.

There is nothing like missing fund in the National Gallery of Art. If there is, our financial statement would have revealed it. Our External Auditors or the Federal Auditors would equally have indicted us.

Sadly, the “investigative reporter” could not go the whole hog before passing judgement. The so-called discrepancy between the figures from the office of the Accountant General and National Gallery of Art is a matter of accounting reconciliation not fraud. This is the job of our External Auditors and Federal Auditors which the office of the Accountant General of the Federation referred to. These are the offices to indict or clear any agency of perceived malfeasance. Luckily, the National Gallery of Art has a clean bill of health from both.

The rookie journalist has come full circle. He needs to clean up his act and tackle journalism the way it should- “Facts are sacred; when not sure, ask. If still not sure, leave out.” As a journalist, you write or edit keeping these in mind. Any medium that ignores this does it at its own peril.

Onoko the Head, Public Relations, National Gallery of Art, wrote from Abuja