Posted by News Express | 26 November 2022 | 467 times
• Presidency Keeps Mum
Following the disclosure by River State Governor, Nyesom Wike, last week in Port Harcourt, that the projects he had executed were made possible by the over N9 trillion derivation funds released by the Federal Government to the oil-producing Niger Delta states, many indigenes of the six states affected have expressed divergent views, especially regarding the motive and transparency of the governors in not informing the people about the windfall and judicious use of the funds at a time most states in the country are facing financial challenges.
Speaking during the inauguration of the Dr. Nabo Graham Douglas Campus of the Nigerian Law School, Port Harcourt, last weekend, Wike had revealed that one of the reasons his administration has been able to embark on several projects was because President Muhammadu Buhari had graciously approved the payment and release of unpaid 13 per cent derivation deductions since 1999 to all states in the Niger Delta.
While some residents of the areas applauded Wike for the disclosure and hit at their governors over seeming secrecy about the funds, others are of the opinion that the Rivers State governor was only trying to put his colleagues in the zone on the spot, especially as none of them supported his failed presidential ambition and even his current face-off with his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, for not picking him as running mate.
Coordinator of Ijaw Monitoring Group (IMG) and a former Publicity Secretary of the Ijaw National Congress (INC), Comrade Joseph Evah, who commended Wike for making the revelation, charged other governors in the region to come clean with how they have expended the money.
Evah said the governors must personally address the media on the matter and conduct a projects tour with journalists to prove their transparency.
He said: “Wike came out personally to tell the whole world that his administration received the money and invested it in projects across the state. But some other governors are using their political aides to give their own account of the money. We say no; they should come out personally and give us statistics and also show us what they have done.
“So, I want to tell these our governors who are now quarrelling with Wike that there is no need for quarrel. You have your Commissioner for Finance, Accountant General and Auditor General; let them furnish you with the records. Call a press conference inside your bedroom or wherever and explain everything to the world. Carry the media and let them see the projects you have been doing. That is very simple.”
On his part, another Niger Delta activist and an elder statesman, Chief Anabs Sara-Igbe, told The Guardian that governors of the region were the problems of their people and the reason for underdevelopment in the area.
“The governors take the 13 per cent derivation and spend it as their personal money, just like our sons and daughters in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) are the problems of the Niger Delta also. The governors use the 13 per cent anyhow they like.
“Here in Rivers State, the governor builds a flyover without extending it to where the oil is coming from. As we speak, most of the oil communities are still living in squalor, with no water, no electricity, no medical facility, no transportation, no road, no jetty, nothing.
“Go to Ofoima and Belema in Akuku-Toru local council and see what all these places that are major oil-producing communities look like.”
Sara-Igbe, a former spokesman of the Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), added: “The governors collect the monies on behalf of the communities and spend it anyhow. I have insisted that until the governors account for what they have done with the 13 per cent, nothing should be given to them again.
“That’s why we have continued to have agitations in the region because those that are supposed to benefit from the derivation are not getting the benefits. The environment is polluted, traditional occupations like fishing have been destroyed, farms destroyed and the people are seeing nothing.
“Here in Rivers, the people are languishing in poverty, yet the governor was busy dashing people in other states’ money. We have not benefited from that and sadly, we also have a docile House of Assembly that cannot ask the governor to account for the monies. And the PIA we so much talked about, we do not see the impact.
“Poverty and hunger are everywhere and it’s quite unfortunate. The people are helpless when the House of Assembly cannot do anything. The best thing the people can do at this point is to vote out the government. The people are hungry and angry and I pray this doesn’t lead to major chaos.”
In Delta, the government defended itself, saying it remained committed to transparency and accountability in all its financial dealings on behalf of the people.
Commissioner for Finance, Chief Fidelis Tilije, said contrary to the ‘revelation,’ Delta had only received N14.7 billion in three quarterly instalments of N4.9 billion each out of the total amount of N240 billion the Federal Government agreed to pay in quarterly instalments for a period of five years.
His words: “With the agreed amounts settled, some states, like Rivers, approached commercial banks and discounted theirs in full and collected, but Okowa said he would not want to leave the next administration with a huge debt burden and resorted to discounting only N150 billion out of the N240 billion expected receivables, but later pruned it down to N100 billion.
“So far, we have got N14.7 billion in three quarterly instalments and we have also accessed N30 billion out of the N100 billion we applied for as bridging finance.”
Tilije said contrary to the impression that previous administrations in the country refused to pay the money to the oil-producing states, the discovery of the outstanding funds was made by current Commissioners for Finance in the Niger Delta states, who looked into the books of the NNPC and discovered that 13 per cent derivation was not deducted from subsidy payments and investments in priority projects by it.
“We took the matter before the FAAC and National Economic Council and got them to approve the payment in arrears to the affected oil-producing states. It is important to state that this was only discovered under the Buhari administration, which he subsequently approved; it is not that previous PDP administrations refused to pay. It was never discovered then, neither was it brought to their notice,” he said.
But the state Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief Omeni Sobotie, expressed disappointment over the way and manner Governor Ifeanyi Okowa has handled the issue of the 13 per cent derivation refunds to the state, saying it was so funny that the governor did not tell his people when and what he has done with the money until a fellow governor blew the whistle.
“Okowa has justified our fear; we knew he was going to behave like this, but we did know he was going to do it in this manner. I’m saying this now because all the resources he got were not appropriated by the appropriate authority in the state, even the state House of Assembly was not involved in the financial dealing of the state.
“In a democratic setting, the people are always carried along in the scheme of things, but Okowa failed woefully by keeping the release of the money to his chest. To me, that is bad government, and it is unacceptable to Deltans,” Sobotie said.
The Executive Director of Eziodu Initiative for Sustainable Environmental Development (EISED), a non-governmental organisation, Deacon Okezi Odugala, however, said the governor was fair enough, after all, adding that Okowa had judiciously spent the state’s money for education, health and other areas that require development.
“I’m not trying to praise the governor, but I score him 70 per cent for the judicious use of the funds,” said Odugala, adding that the governor has renovated and resuscitated some dead technical schools and established new ones in all the 25 local councils of the state, in addition to three state universities that were running even when other universities were on strike for months.
In Edo State, verbal war rages over the funds, even as the Commissioner for Budget and Finance, Mr. Joseph Eboigbe, explained that the government has so far received the sum of N2.1billion only from the N28 billion that accrued to the state as derivation funds for oil-producing states.
Eboigbe, speaking to journalists after the Executive Council meeting chaired by Governor Godwin Obaseki, stated that N1 trillion was established for oil-producing states and a distribution methodology was adopted by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), adding that N28 billion accrued to the state and would be paid in 20 tranches over a five-year period.
“The net amount will come to each state for over five years in 20 tranches. Each year, you will have quarterly remittances, which are four releases each year for over five years. Due to some court cases from some states, the releases started this October (last month).
“The Edo State government got three tranches of N700 million per quarter, which amounts to N2.1 billion out of the N28 billion. It is verifiable. We are expecting 20 quarterly tranches over five years, but so far, we have gotten just three out of the 20 and it’s verifiable. We have the records on how the money is being spent,” Eboigbe said.
While noting that the government disbursed between N2 billion and N3 billion monthly for capital expenditure in the state, Eboigbe added: “It’s only in Obaseki’s administration that you will find capital expenditure always bigger than recurrent expenditure. Development occurs when capital expenditure is greater than recurrent expenditure. Last year, the state almost closed out at 90 per cent actualisation of capital expenditure of the budget.”
He insisted that the Obaseki-led administration has been transparent and accountable, recalling: “The World Bank studied all the states in Nigeria in the last four years and found the governor worthy of honour for his fiscal transparency, accountability and sustainability programmes. It was only Edo State that also got an award from the World Bank on expenditure efficiency.”
His Orientation and Communication counterpart, Mr Chris Nehikare, said the Obaseki administration has more than any government in the state embraced accountability.
“This state is not rich but has judiciously utilised the resources available, as we are rich in human capital. We have the right people helping us to manage our resources in such a way that we get the major benefits,” he said.
Special Adviser to the Governor on Media Project, Mr. Crusoe Osagie, said comments on the 13 per cent oil derivation were targeted at creating unnecessary tension in the country amid the electioneering campaigns, adding: “Our budget on an annual basis is about N250 billion to N300 billion. What percentage of N250 billion is N2.1 billion? It’s even less than one per cent. It’s not a fantastic amount that has come into the state, as some politicians are trying to play politics with it. The Edo State Government is transparent with its resources.”
However, the APC does not seem to be satisfied with the government’s explanations as it insisted that Obaseki’s administration must disclose how much the state received from the arrears paid by the Buhari administration.
The party also accused the government of not regularly disclosing the financial position of the state and hoarding the derivation funds to “buy votes’ during the 2023 election, particularly the election into the House of Assembly.”
Its Chairman, Col. David Inus (rtd), claimed that Obaseki was getting away with many things because there is no properly-constituted state Assembly, saying: “Obaseki should explain why he has deliberately refused to specify amounts received as 13 per cent derivation funds in his 2023 budgets estimates.
“Obaseki has been busy maligning the Federal Government, accusing it of printing paper money to fund statutory allocations and mismanaging the national economy, whereas as a deliberate policy, he has been pocketing Edo State monies by mismanaging the derivation funds.
“Since Edo State does not have a functional House of Assembly to checkmate Obaseki, Edo people should demand the governor publicly indicate the whereabouts of the said funds.”
When contacted to shed more light on the issue, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, simply said, “there is nothing to add.” (The Guardian)
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