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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.

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