By Zainab Suleiman Okino
Last week, the federal government bailed out the states again with the release of another tranche of N243.8 billion, despite the outcry that trailed the lack of accountability and transparency in the management of the previous bailouts. Notwithstanding the FG’s Father Christmas posture, many civil servants and pensioners across the states have continued to wallow in poverty and penury. The point is clear therefrom: that the monies were mismanaged by the governors who superintend over the states and whose primary responsibility should be the welfare and security of lives and property which they have since abdicated. Citizens cried foul, but nobody listened. Thus, it appears that the APC government has abandoned the majority of people who voted it into power, only to be serving VIPs, friends and cronies.
While still in this state of despondency, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has come to the rescue. It is demanding the details of expenditures pertaining to the Paris club refund from state governors. SERAP is also requesting the return of over N40 billion that has been collected by ex-governors who are now serving as senators and ministers and are still collecting entitlements from their states, as approved by them while in office. These two cases are going to be daunting and challenging for SERAP, considering the fact that this class of people have deep pockets and heavy war chests. But the cases, however they go, will open a new vista of either hope in our democracy or continued distrust of the political class. Those who appropriated our collective patrimony or are still doing so should have their day with the law, hopefully.
The Buhari administration first came to the rescue of the states with N338 billion, when about 26 states were practically bankrupt. This was followed by another N575 billion; $2.1 billion from NLNG; N7.85 billion to assist with revenue shortfalls; N3.6 billion from solid minerals savings; N117.3 billion taken from the excess revenue generated from Petroleum Profit Tax, before the latest tranche of the Paris Fund Refunds. These were in spite of the infrastructure fund from which some states got more than N10 billion and the reimbursement for federal projects executed by states. Investigation by the ICPC revealed that most states simply squandered/diverted these bailout funds.
A state like Zamfara was said to have mismanaged the bailout fund and still owes salaries, despite receiving N10 billion, and diverting this to pay contractors and for other purposes. Imo State got N26.8 billion, paid it into two commercial banks and deployed it to uses other than the payment of salaries and pension arrears. In April this year, BudgiT’s research showed that the Buhari regime has given N1.75 trillion extra-statutory allocations to states.
From the plethora of cases of mismanagement of monies released to states, it appears that the federal government does not have the will to enforce the conditions it set out before giving out the bailouts. The Federal High court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos on June 27, 2017 granted SERAP’s permission to “apply for judicial relief and to seek an order of mandamus directing and/or compelling the government to publish details of spending of N388.304 billion London Paris Club Loan refunds allegedly diverted and mismanaged by 35 states”, among other requests granted by the court.
With this judgment, SERAP can now go ahead to advance its case against the FG and state governments. Although, this is just the beginning of what may likely be a long drawn battle, it is important that, for the first time, the judiciary has granted a CSO the leeway to scrutinise our governors’ spending spree. Obviously, the idea behind the bailout has been defeated and the FG does not have the courage to call the governors to order.
If the first bailout was judiciously applied, why are there still so many unpaid pensioners and workers in all the states? This interrogation became necessary because it was alleged that the governors under the Nigeria Governors’ Forum employed the services of consultants to help (mis)manage the money. One of the consultants is being investigated by the EFCC for diverting N2 billion. In fact, the chairman of the Forum, Govenor Abdul Aziz Yari of Zamfara State is alleged to have spent his share of the bailout to acquire a hotel in Lagos after depositing same at a mortgage bank. What are the roles of consultants in sharing monies meant for the states?
SERAP has also taken its battle of public scrutiny of financial imprudence to members of the National Assembly, the ex-governors who now occupy the NASS and have almost turned it into a leisure rendezvous. After milking their states dry, they now seat in the NASS to selfishly stop their prosecution if ever there is any. On July 15, 2017, SERAP again put the AG on notice to institute a legal action for the recovery of over N40 billion dubiously earned in double payment by those who had served as governors and are now serving as senators or ministers of the federation. There are 17 senators and four ministers involved in this double pay palaver.
SERAP has asked Malami to use his “good office as a defender of public interest” to institute legal action to challenge the legality of state laws permitting governors to enjoy these emoluments, even now that they serve as senators or ministers. Adetokunbo Mumuni, its executive director said “Public interest is not well-served when government officials such as former governors and deputies supplement their emolument in their current positions with life pensions and emoluments drawn from their states’ meagre resources, thereby prioritising their private or personal interest over and above the greatest happiness of the greatest majority of the people.
SERAP considers double emoluments for serving public officials unlawful, as the granting of those benefits takes governance from the arena of public interest, and creates the impression that former governors acted contrary to the best interest of the general public.”
There is no doubt that SERAP is up against powerful people with lots of money to counter or even defeat it in court. However let it be known that this war is ours (all of us) to win for the sake of the country, the generations unborn and survival of democracy and the nation.