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Friday, July 22, 2016

The mess gets messier

These days, events are unfolding at such a dizzying pace; there is hardly sufficient time and space to x-ray them. In the last two weeks, I had thought of countless things to write about which I never got to doing before some other pressing issues reared their heads. A few weeks ago, there was talk of ‘government within government’, an unfortunate reference to how a powerful clique/cabal holds governments hostage, calls the shots and determines who gets what, and sometimes undermines their principal in the process.  I wanted to title it “Captives in Government House” in reference to the elected official held captives by their own appointees. This scenario exists at both the centre of governance and in the states.

 At the presidency, there is said to be heightened tension and mutual suspicion among the men (and women) around President Muhammadu Buhari, leading to questions about the constitutionality of their positions vis a vis the influence they exert on the decisions and policies of the presidency. Such influential men around the president include Alhaji Mamman Daura, Abba Kyari, the president’s Chief of staff, his wife, Aisha Buhari, the National Security Adviser, Babagana Munguno, some influential personal staff and ministers. This paper once reported on the powers chiefs of staff wield in states and their influence on the chief executives, despite not having constitutionally designated roles like the deputy governor and the secretary to the state government.

At the National Assembly, came another mess that created ripples in the polity. At a time Nigerians are hungry and angry, a time when the leadership of the Senate is under public scrutiny over forgery trial and budget padding, all they could think about was to initiate a bill to give them immunity against prosecution. Already, pressure is mounting to amend the constitutional immunity governors currently enjoy.  If only the lawmakers know that public opinion is against them and #OccupyNass is still trending, they would not dare to provoke Nigerians with the proposal of another irritating law. 

Then came the Senator Dino Melaye saga: I didn’t want to dignify Melaye and his rabble-rousing antics with any form of comments. His altercation with Senator Remi Tinubu is just an extension of the Senate President Bukola Saraki and APC national leader, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu’s feud over the manner the former emerged. So, how does this benefit or put food on the table of those who voted them into power?

It is disturbing that instead of engaging in people-centered policies, productive discourses and making progressive laws, all that the APC government and its elected officials have engaged in since assumption of power is supremacy battle, mutual suspicion and proxy wars. They have forgotten so soon, how Nigerians derided and rejected the PDP for taking the people for granted. They should be reminded that 2019 is not too far off and card readers are still in use, and Nigerians are much wiser.

Another issue threatening the anti-corruption stance of this government is the alleged shielding of President Buhari’s right hand men in the army procurement probe.  Chief of Army Stafff, Lt Gen Tukur Buratai, who previously served as Director of Procurement at the Defence Headquarters, curiously, was neither indicted nor recommended for prosecution. Not forgetting Abdulrahman Dambazzau whose era as Chief of Army Staff was cleverly left out of the probe in what is now referred to as a doctored and selective probe report; thereby creating ripple effects and casting a dark cloud over government’s sincerity.

Dambazzau served as Chief of Army staff between 2008 and 2010, so how could he have been left out of the probe hook? This is contrary to Lai muhammed’s claim that the interim report only worked on procurement and contracts awards between 2007 and 2016. Meanwhile, Gen Kenneth Minimah and Lt Azubike Ihejirika who served after Dambazzau, were indicted, and their prosecution has been okayed by the president. This amounts to changing the rules in the middle of a game. By okaying the prosecution of some people and leaving out his allies, the president did not prove there would be justice for all in his anti-graft war.

In 2006/2007, the Ribadu-led, and Obasanjo propelled EFCC went into frenzied political vendetta and issued guidelines on who was corrupt, and who was qualified or not qualified to run for office. All the ‘friends of government’ then eventually got ruffled one way or the other? A good example is Olabode George who was jailed by the Yar’Adua government after he was left off the hook by the Obasanjo government. So for everyone who had their hands in the till, or appropriated our collective patrimony or used their office to obstruct the course of justice, a day of reckoning will come their way, some day.

In the face of the myriad of problems the country is faced with, it is disheartening that the authorities at the executive and legislative levels only engage in trivial supremacy battle, personality clash and ego tripping, while serious issues of national concern are trivialized and relegated to the background.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Another bailout for governors to squander?

Even when the controversies engendered by the last bailout are still simmering, the Federal Government has begun the disbursement of N90B conditional loan facility, as it is called to 35 states that indicated interest to that effect.
The Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, Kemi Adeosun announced the new elixir last month to the chagrin of Nigerians who questioned the propriety of the first bailout owing to reported cases of mismanagement and misapplication by many state governors.
Last year, the FG doled out the sum of N713.7B to the 36 states, for the purpose of solving the problem of backlog of indebtedness to civil servants across the country. However, despite that ‘magnanimity’, the chilling tales of woes coming from the states, owing to non-payment of salaries, are still worrisome. This has further elicited many questions: for how long will states continue to come cap in hand to Abuja for more money? Is it sustainable for states to be solely dependent on the FG? Is the so-called bailout facility really being channeled to the people/civil servants on whose behalf the money is made available? Is it not time for us as a nation to discuss our revenue sharing formula? For how long will the FG continue to play a benefactor role while the states remain its appendages.? With all the reported cases of mismanagement and misapplication of the previous bailout, why were there no investigation and prosecution?

 The FG said the loan facility was secured from the private sector, but a loan is a loan and can at best make the borrower poorer. Although states that applied for the first bailout supposedly did so to settle workers’ salaries and emoluments, most state governors were alleged to have diverted the funds to other purposes and left the civil servants high and dry without the much needed succour. The report of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission, ICPC in conjunction with the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC’s, further revealed the excesses of the governors and how they pinched or outrightly misappropriated the bailout money.

Again, some states were said to have either exaggerated their indebtedness or had no use for the loan, yet they applied and got, only for them to divert same to what fancied their interests. The governor of Zamfara state, Abdulaziz Yari used his to pay contractors.  Rochas Okorocha was alleged to have transferred Imo’s into two commercial banks for use other than payment of workers, including diversion to Government House, payment to project account and micro finance bank. Jubrila Bindow of Adamawa state was said to have disbursed only N2.3B out of N9B. Bauchi state got over N8.6, yet it did not owe workers salaries. Gov. Samuel Ortom of Benue state governor was accused of buying cars for legislators with the states. Ditto with Nasiru El-Rufa of Kaduna state. Yahaya Bello of Kogi state got N20B but the civil servants are still groaning, because the man is holding the money. Katsina, Gombe, Nassarawa and Niger all disbursed less that what they got. The Oyo example is the most bizarre. Gov Ajimobi told Oyo workers to apologise to him for refusing to heed his call not to down tools. In a nutshell, almost all the governors came up with tactics and strategies that made it impossible for the money to trickle down. This has left agony, poverty and misery in their trail.

  When the idea of a bailout for states was first muted, Nigerians embraced it. In fact they took it hook, line and sinker until the governors bastadised the concept, tinkered with the money and squandered the goodwill behind it. Although the new bailout is coming with stringent conditions, it is doubtful if the same governors who saw the first as a form of war booty or largesse and presided over its sharing can this time, judiciously disburse it.

It is rather disappointing that a government that makes war on corruption its swansong would sweep all these allegations under the carpet without any form of investigation, while the culprits (the governors) are rather curiously being rewarded with another bailout loan that might not serve the interest of the people, but will further pauperise their states. It is a misplacement of priority and a huge fraud. Doling out money without accountability can lead to profligacy and mismanagement. If the bail out is truly meant to cushion the effect of the economic meltdown and its effect on the people, the FG should device another means of reflating the economy, and not through the governors. What is currently happening to civil servants is a throw back to those days when civil servants had to depend on odd and menial jobs to survive. In some states, civil servants have resorted to selling off their property to be able to feed their families and pay children’s school fees.

Bailout is not sustainable, and definitely not the best way to say ‘thank you’ to the electorate who trooped out to vote to effect the change mantra that ushered in this government. The solution to states’ debt overhang is not hand out in form of bailout. The governors should instead look inward and get their priorities right. They have a retinue of jobless aides, they go into projects that have no direct impact on the people, all because, they have Abuja to look unto. They should be realistic and proactive; they should know that the days of excess crude oil account money are over. They should look inwards for sources other than Abuja to augment their monthly allocations which by the way have been dwindling since last year due to crash of oil price in the international market and our own domestic problems such as renewed insurgency in the Niger Delta, corruption and wastages.