The recent report released by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, on the use of bailout funds by states sparked reactions from some states. In this piece, our man, PETER AHEMBA, takes a look at the credibility of the report and other controversies surrounding the matter.
Since President Muhammadu Buhari-led All Progressives Congress (APC) administration assumed office on May 29th2015, the federal government did not leave anyone in doubt as to its commitment in providing purposeful leadership anchored on governance and the quest to speedily address both social and development challenges confronting the country and her citizenry.
This, according to the president, informed his government’s decision to take bold steps towards addressing some immediate economic challenges confronting the nation, hence, the release of billions of naira as bailout through the Central Bank of Nigeria to state governors that were indebted to their workers to enable them offset backlog of salary arrears.
Perhaps, it is in line with the administration’s zero tolerance posture on corruption and to ensure judicious utilization of the funds by the benefitting states that the federal government, through its anti-corruption agencies including the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) kept its eagle eye on how the funds are being used by the benefitting states.
Recently, the ICPC published its report on the use of the funds by states tagged: “How States Spent Their Bailout Funds”. In the report, the anti-graft agency raised serious allegations ranging from diversion to misappropriation of the funds against some states, including Nasarawa, Benue, Imo, Enugu, among others. The development sparked up reactions from the indicted states and other concerned stakeholders. Most of the indicted states including Nasarawa have since brought out ‘facts’ to prove the report wrong.
Stakeholders in some of the indicted states like Nasarawa also joined the fray in dismissing the report, arguing that it lacks credibility on the ground that the anti-graft agency failed to properly conduct its findings by contacting the affected states for possible clarifications on some grey areas which they opined would have brought out facts surrounding the matter before drawing conclusion on the it.
For instance, the State Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Alhaji Ahmed Tijani Aliyu, at a recent press conference expressed surprise that “ICPC being a highly respected Government Agency will make a publication that has not been subjected to real factual findings to make its report authoritative”. He insisted that the report purportedly issued was replete with wrong and misleading information.
In the report, the anti-graft agency alleged that the Nasarawa State government failed to pay the salaries of local government workers despite accessing the fund when it averred that the state government received N8,956,047,519.60 in two tranches of N3,956,047,519.60 and N4,361,119,848.27 as bailout fund and disbursed N3,956,047,519.60 with a balance of N4,361,119,848.27. It further stated that the state government claimed to have not paid the affected workers due to an on-going verification exercise.
But the Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs commissioner has further cleared the air on the matter, when he said that the state Governor, Umaru Tanko Al-Makura had, on receipt of the fund, presented a cheque of N4,361,119,848.27 in a glamorous ceremony at the Government House, Lafia to the then chairman of the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON), Suleiman Wambai in the presence of the state NLC and NULGE chairmen in the state on 23rd October, 2015.
Ahmed revealed that the sum of N2.2billion was required monthly to fully pay 100 percent of local government staff emolument and that before the release of the bailout funds, the local governments in the state had arrears of two and a half months salaries amounting to N5.6billion for the months of July-September, 2015.
“Already, the allocation for August, 2015 was received and cannot in anyway pay 100% salaries but 50%. Therefore, the amount received as bailout was added to the August statutory allocation in the sum of N1.2billion to give a total sum of N5.6billion which has taken care of 250% of the staff salaries, that is, two and a half months”.
He maintained that at present, all staff of local governments in the state had been paid their outstanding July-September salaries with the use of the bailout funds to cover for the period of the short fall and stressed that up till date, there was no complaint from the Unions who are the watchdog of those they represent during the disbursement exercise.
Nigerian Pilot recalled that even before the bailout funds were released to the state, the then local government chairmen in the state had embarked on staff screening exercise with a view to fishing out ghost workers who were believed to have compounded the financial challenge facing the system. The objective according to the then ALGON boss, Suleiman Wambai was to also ascertain cases of percentage payment of salaries arising from low allocations from the federation account.
Financial experts have joined in condemning the report of the ICPC on Nasarawa State government, describing it as unreliable and lacking credibility in view of the fact that the agency failed to contact the state to offer explanations on how the funds were utilized before coming up with it findings.
Also reacting to the report in an interview with newsmen recently, a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress in the state, Mr. Jacob Achagh averred that even though he was an advocate of the fight against corruption and supports in total, the Buhari’s efforts to sanitise the system, the anti-graft agencies saddled with the responsibility of investigating such cases must exhibit high sense of commitment in their job so as to avoid causing unnecessary embarrassment to the federal government and other individuals before the international community.
“I’m hundred percent in support of the current fight against corruption by the federal government but what I am saying here is that the agencies responsible for investigating corrupt issues must put sentiments apart and do their job with all sense of sincerity by deploying their technical expertise so as to save the country’s image.
“The fact that the anti-graft agency did not contact the states it indicted before coming up with the controversial report puts the whole exercise question”.
Our correspondent learnt that while the controversy rates on, a forum of stakeholders in the state have rather passed a vote of confidence on the administration of Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura. The forum, at a meeting convened by the governor at the Ta’al Conference Hotel, Lafia recently with membership cutting across political, religious and party lines, acknowledged that the state was being faced with numerous challenges that required collective efforts to enable government address them.
At the meeting which had in attendance, both former and serving political representatives including traditional rulers and civil society organisations, the stakeholders urged the state government to commence negotiations with the organized labour.
Addressing the meeting, Governor Al-Makura told the stakeholders there was no penny missing from the bailout received by the state from the federal government as alleged by ICPC, just as he made a graphic presentation through the state Commissioner for Finance, Dr. Dominic Bako on the current financial status of the state, a development that drew support for the Al-Makura administration.
The state government and some analysts therefore dared the ICPC to demonstrate more convincingly its fact findings on how the bailout fund was mismanaged and embezzled by the benefiting states so as to avoid being seen as misleading the general public with wrong information.