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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 there from: 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, nobody listened. Thus, the APC government, it appears has abandoned the majority of people who voted them to power only to serve VIPs, friends and cronies.

While still in this state of despondency, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) came to the rescue. It has demanded details of expenditures pertaining to the Paris club refund from state governors. SERAP is also demanding the return of over N40 billion collected by ex-governors who are now serving as senators and ministers and are still collecting their entitlements from their states as approved by them and for 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 nearly 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 excess revenue generated from Petroleum Profit Tax,  before the latest tranche of the Paris Fund Refund. These were in spite of the infrastructure fund from which some states got more than N10 billion and 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 diverted same to pay contractors and for other purposes. Imo state got 26.8, paid into two commercial banks and transferred same to uses other than 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 scrutinize our governors’ spending spree. Obviously, the idea behind the bailout out 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, Gov 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 create 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.

It will also be an illusion to think that the battle ahead is less herculean. No, far from it, but thankfully the first step to salvaging our democracy has begun. How can it be when these senators while serving as governors ensured self-serving legislators were in place to guarantee their evil agenda and secure their future while that of most Nigerians in their states remains bleak? As long as laws are made for man and enacted by man, it is not sacrosanct; it can as well be challenged by any organ serving public interest.

This also takes us to the relevance of the states’ Houses of Assembly or legislatures. Whose interest are they serving? Their governors’ or the electorate? The answer is obvious. In a country where every structure of government is seeking for autonomy, only state legislatures have deliberately refused to be extricated from the governors’ vice-grip. During the last attempt at constitutional amendment, these rubber-stamp houses of assembly had the liberty to choose to either remain under the apron-string of the governors or autonomous and be on first-line charge which would engender their allocation coming straight to them and not through the states’ purse controlled by the governors. All they needed to make the proposal a reality was two-third of the states’ legislatures voting in favour of the proposal, but the committee didn’t get the required number of states, having been dictated to by governors on how they should vote. On their own, the state legislators sealed their fate and ceded their powers to their governors. This is the genesis of the governors’ absolute and enormous powers which they have utilised well to their own advantage including the determination of what should be due to them in and out of office.

This is also responsible for the bogus life pension and mouth-watering entitlements approved by the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly under Godswill Akpabio and the Kwara State House of Assembly under Bukola Saraki (both are now senators) for themselves even out of office.  Akwa Ibom’s is the most bizarre. Akpabio pressured his legislature to give him life entitlements of over N200 million per annum.  Other perks include a new car and utility vehicle once in four years, one personal aide and provision of security for life, at least N5, million or equivalent of $50,000 monthly for his cook, chauffeurs and security guards, a mansion in Abuja or Akwa Ibom, 300% vehicle and fuelling and 300% gratuity of annual salary respectively and free medical services at a sum not more than N100,000 million for him and his wife etc. This is insensitive and irresponsible.

Why should this man continue to make money as a senator, yet I have not heard him say he’s donating his salaries to the less-privileged. How can he think of justice when he perverts it? How can a man who is taking so much from his state, who does not know what it means to go to bed hungry make pro-people, pro-poor law? The NASS should rather amend the laws to make coming to the Senate unattractive for ex-governors who are already collecting some entitlements from their states, and this should be gratis. It is the only panacea for the shameful greed.

Nigerians are disappointed that more than two years after the APC came to power, there is still no meaningful change in their lives, and the government itself has failed to change the old structure. If this government is desirous of good governance and real change here is one place to start—galvanise the citizenry to change our bad ways and encourage CSOs like SERAP to do what they are doing to deepen democracy. How justified is it for one man to take so much from the system. Even if it is legal as some of them would argue, is it morally right? SERAP’s is a positive development in our nation’s recent democratic history.

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