Governors struggled last night to extricate themselves from President Muhammadu Buhari’ accusation that they loot local government funds.
It will be recalled that the President had said at different fora that local government administration in the country had been emasculated by governors, who he often accused of diverting allocations to them from the federation account.
The President re-echoed the accusation yesterday at an event hosted for members of the Senior Executive Course 44 (2022) of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, NIPSS, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
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But governors who reacted to the President’s point-blank accusation yesterday, said they were not among those diverting local government funds.
Those who reacted include Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom; David Umahi of Ebonyi State; AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq of Kwara State; Solomon Lalong of Plateau State; Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State and Nyesom Wike of Rivers State
Efforts to get other governor to react at press time last night, however, did not yield results.
Speaking at the event, President Buhari cited a personal experience involving an unnamed governor, to explain the corrupt practices perpetrated by some governors in dispensing resources meant for local councils’ administration.
‘It beats one’s imagination’
He said it beats anyone’s imagination how some governors collected money on behalf of council areas in their states, only to remit just half of such allocation to the council chairmen, who would further deplete the remittance by pilfering it.
President Buhari related the development to the question of lack of integrity in the character of many of those holding offices as governors and local government chairmen, adding that such actions are despicable and spoke of the height of corruption in the country.
He said: “If the monies from the Federal Government to state governments is N100 million, N50 million will be sent to the chairman, with a letter that he will sign that he received N100 million.
“The governor will pocket the balance and share it with whoever he wanted to and then the chairman of the local government will see how much he must pay in salaries. To hell goes development. Monies for the salaries will be given and the balance he will put in his pocket. This is what is happening.
“This is Nigeria, it’s a terrible thing, You cannot say the person, who was doing these was educated. He was a qualified lawyer, he was experienced, yet he participated in this type of corruption.
‘A matter of conscience’
“So it’s a matter of conscience, whichever level we find ourselves. As a leader, you sit here, with all the sacrifices the country is making by putting you through institutions and getting you ready to lead. The fundamental thing is personal integrity. May God help us.”
He pledged that the recommendations contained in the presentation of SEC 44 would be painstakingly studied by the government, with a view to implementing them.
Declaring that his administration had done so much in building trust between the government and the people, the President noted that the report would largely assist in the provision of good governance to the people at the grassroots levels and by extension, win back their trust in government.
“It is obvious that government cannot afford to pay lip-service to the recommendations contained in this report.
“I assure you that the report will be treated with the seriousness and urgency it deserves. Government will study the report, with a view to implementing the carefully detailed recommendations,” he said.
Commending the quality of the report, the commitment and dedication that went into it, President Buhari said the National Institute could always be trusted to deliver on very critical and sensitive assignments of national importance.
He expressed delight that the institute had been exceptional in handling several assignments, stressing that the current submission was a commendable improvement on the existing standards.
He said: ‘‘The quality of the presentation, and the confidence with which they were made, strongly attests to the quality of training the participants received during the course. I congratulate you for justifying the confidence and trust reposed in each and every one of you by your respective nominations.
‘‘I am also happy with the level of knowledge and discipline you have all openly demonstrated. I have been briefed of the rigorous training process you all underwent at Kuru. Your graduation, therefore, is well deserved.”
Buhari said he was convinced that they were all now well equipped for the strategic tasks, increased responsibilities, and positions of authority of trust.
‘‘I challenge you to go back to your various establishments, units, posts, beats, departments, directorates, Ministries, Parastatals, commissions, commands, agencies to revitalize, reinvigorate, reform and rejig your various platforms and spheres of influence, responsibility and leadership,’’ he said.
Responding to the demands by the leadership of NIPSS, President Buhari promised to look into some of the challenges facing the institute, adding that no government establishment existed without challenges.
He assured them that his administration was poised to complete the review and passage of the NIPSS Establishment Act and condition of service before handover in May 2023.
To this end, the President directed the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, and Office of the Head of Service of the Federation to take all necessary steps ensure its actualization.
In his remarks, the Director-General of NIPSS, Prof Ayo Omotayo, said the Course participants undertook study tours of 14 states of the federation, six African countries and six countries outside Africa.
‘‘This enabled them to have both local and international perspectives on local governance, how to overcome challenges in achieving it, identify the available opportunities to strengthen it and develop workable options to be considered by government in strengthening local governance,’’ he said.
Meanwhile, a directing staff of the NIPSS, Professor Tunji Olaopa, in a chat with journalists, said restructuring of the federation would go a long way in solving most of the issues bedeviling the country, including insecurity.
He alluded to the report of the Class, presented at the event to President Buhari, which suggested that for Nigeria to manage most of the challenges currently facing her, governance at the grassroots must be set straight.
He said: “The truth of the matter, as it came out in the report, was succinctly captured by the SGF. If the local community and the grassroot is not governed, you have no excuse complaining that bandits have taken over our communities because local governance, the community, the grassroots, is the foundation of a democratic process, that’s where the people belong and because governance is not effective, people have devised self-help, survival-coping mechanism.
“While the government will take it on, NIPSS should also take up the advocacy dimension because really, from the conversation, you will see that the governors are the elephants in the room and of course, we also recognize that the governors are complaining because of over-centralization of power in the exclusive functions.
“So, really restructuring of the Federation will help the governors of the states to rethink and give ample room to local government, then a whole lot of our recommendations will be able to ride on that.”
Reacting yesterday, Benue State Government distanced itself from the allegation by the president, saying Governor Samuel Ortom was the first to embrace LG financial autonomy and couldn’t have been involved in stealing LG funds.
Special Adviser to the Governor on Media and Publicity, Mr. Terver Akase, said: “If other states are stealing local government funds, it is not in Benue.
“Governor Samuel Ortom does not steal local government funds because he is a transparent governor. Recall that when the Federal Government started sending money directly to local governments, he was the first who embraced it.
“When the judiciary was to be given autonomy, he was the first to accept it. He is someone, who has no skeletons in his cupboard.
“If that allegation is true in other states, it is not the same in Benue State because our governor is transparent and he believes in the rule of law. He allows government agencies to operate as provided by law.
”That is why he has conducted more elections for the local governments than any other time in the history of the state. He has allowed democracy to be entrenched at the local government level.
”As we speak, we have elected local government chairmen and councillors in place. He does not interfere in the running of the local governments. So, that allegation does not obtain in Benue State.
“I am not saying the President is wrong but what I am saying is that it does not happen in Benue State. Our governor does not pilfer, embezzle or steal local government funds.”
On his part, Rafiu Ajakaye, Chief Press Secretary to Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq of Kwara State, said the state doesn’t come under the radar of the President’s comment.
He said: “Mr. President’s comments on the subject matter; to my understanding, have some measures of specificity. It was not a blanket statement. To that extent, we decline comment as Kwara doesn’t come under the tag. Thank you, sir. “
Reacting in a similar manner, Special Assistant to Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State on Media and Strategy, Mr. Chooks Oko, said the allegation by President Muhammadu Buhari doesn’t apply to Ebonyi State, considering the quantum of projects executed under the present administration in the state.
He said: “The quantum of development going on in Ebonyi will leave no one in doubt that such accusation does not apply to my governor.
“We have won several awards from the World Bank on fiscal prudence, accountability and transparency and they clearly stand Umahi out as one who uses allocations for what they are meant for.”
Plateau treats LGs fairly, gives them free hand to operate – GOVT
Also reacting, Plateau State government denied treating local government unfairly, saying Governor Simon Lalong always gave the local government a free hand to operate.
State Commissioner for Information and Communication, Dan Manjang, said: “The local governments on the Plateau are the first in the country to enjoy autonomy.”
Buhari’s accusation does not apply to Rivers
Similarly, Chris Finebone, Rivers State Commissioner for Information and Communication, said: “I can’t say to what extent the President could defend the allegation. What I’m hundred per cent sure of is that his accusation does not apply to Rivers State.
“I hear some governors dip hands into LG funds, but in Rivers, the governor, rather augments LG finances to keep them solvent, so that they can regularly pay teachers salaries and benefits to their staff as at when due. That has been the tradition under Governor Nyesom Wike,” he said.
We don’t tamper with LG funds-OGUN GOVT
Contacted yesterday, the Ogun State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Waheed Odusile said: “This is not applicable to us in Ogun State, we don’t tamper with local government funds.”
General for West Africa and the Sahel, Dr. Mohamed Ibn Chambas, stated that elections do not merely present citizens the opportunity to select the next baton-holders in the marathon of leadership, but also were often opportunity to address some of the underlying conflict dynamics in the society.
The trio made their position known in Abuja at the presentation of a book by Henry Dunant Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, HD, titled “Post-Election Assessment of Conflict Management Mechanisms in Nigeria, 2019 and beyond”.
The book, which is the report of a study conducted by Professor Freedom Onuoha and Dr. Gbemisola Animasaun in partnership with the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, Governments of Canada and Norway, sought to ascertain whether or not, the prevailing conflicts in parts of the country had any bearing on the elections and their outcomes, among other objectives.
The research study covered eight states of the federation which include; Adamawa, Benue, Imo, Kano, Kaduna, Plateau, Rivers and Lagos.
Yakubu, who was represented by INEC’s Deputy Director, Voter Education and Publicity, Chukwuemeka Ugboaja, said Nigeria has formidable security outfits that can get the job of protecting INEC facilities and the fidelity of election materials done efficiently.
He said: “As far as security is concerned, Nigeria has formidable security agencies, the police are there, the military is there, the other intelligence agencies are there too. So, if they are there, why should INEC hire private security agencies?
“We very much believe in their efficacy and what they can do. And I trust that they will be able to police the nation very well for the election to hold. Remember that in Ekiti and Osun Governorship elections, the police behaved maturely and they did a very good job. We believe that is how it’s going to be throughout the nation.
Yakubu further assured Nigerians that the attacks on the commission’s facilities won’t hinder it from conducting credible elections.
He also assured that the commission’s server, especially its result viewing portal would be well protected from hackers, adding that he won’t reveal to Nigerians how that would be carried out.
On his part. Jega insisted that INEC is a critical state institution and as such, the federal government must secure all INEC facilities and personnel to enable the Commission to discharge its responsibility appropriately.
The Professor of Political Science maintained that the country needs a secure environment to conduct free, fair and credible elections, claiming that most of the attacks on INEC facilities were sponsored by reckless politicians, who are hell bent on undermining the 2023 polls.
“Unfortunately, what we are seeing is a criminal activity but most likely promoted or sponsored by some of our reckless politicians, people who have recognised that a lot of reform measures have been introduced, which will prevent them from interfering with the electoral process as they had done before and are therefore looking for ways and means of ensuring that in particular, they weaken the possibility of either using technology or using voter’s cards to conduct credible elections”, Jega stated.
On INEC hiring private security agencies, Jega observed that the current situation is something the security agencies should be able to contain.
He added: “Recently, I heard the chairman of the INEC speak about how they are trying to get the government to provide adequate additional security to all their facilities, as well as to their personnel who would be putting their lives at risk. In the conduct and preparations of the election, I truly hope that our security agencies will really provide the desired support to INEC so that we stop these unwholesome incidents and ensure that elections are free, fair and credible.
Speaking on reports released by some organisations that the 2023 elections might lead to violence and deaths in certain areas, Jega recalled that some international groups had predicted that Nigeria would cease to exist after the 2015 elections but their projection failed.
He said a lot had been done by the current commission in the last four years to ensure that the “credibility of our elections has improved remarkably much, much more than what has happened in 2019.
The former vice-chancellor of Bayero University, Kano (BUK), also said: “I think all hands need to be on deck by all stakeholders to ensure that we have peaceful and credible elections. Don’t forget that before the 2015 general elections, some international so called partners were predicting that that would be the end of Nigeria, and it came to pass that we were able to prove to the world that we could do better. So, this thing about 3000 people dying, I don’t know the basis of that projection. And I truly hope to God that it doesn’t happen.
He expressed confidence that the book would add value to addressing the challenge of violence in elections and to help in proper management of conflicts during elections.
Meanwhile, Ibn Chambas condemned social media attacks on political opponents by politicians and their supporters. Chambas argued that disagreements on the social media do often escalate into violent conflicts on the ground.
He said: “So, what is it about the conduct of elections that makes it attractive and amenable as a vehicle for violence? I propose three theories for consideration.
“The first is impunity. We know that in contexts such as ours, perpetrators of various crimes often go unpunished, but perhaps the most unpunished crimes are electoral offences. Secondly, the vast opportunities public office offers politicians means that they will seek to win office by all means.
“Finally, the enormous cost of prosecuting an election in Africa today means that even the politician most inclined to fair-play is not prepared to lose an election. Such a loss could easily turn a millionaire into a pauper, and this is an outcome politicians are unwilling to accept.
Chambas, who observed that addressing these challenges would go a long way in promoting electoral conflict management, however, said there is no one-size-fits-all in conflict management.