By Peter Haruna
AT the recently concluded National Economic Committee retreat that took place in Abuja, some state governors in attendance commended the initiatives of the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, which were aimed at assisting the states address some of the economic challenges facing their people.
The minister, in her paper titled Revenue Generation & Fiscal Stability, identified some areas of governance through which governors can manage their resources in a manner that will reach all categories of people in their states.
According to media reports, the paper dealt with issues like the need to plug all the loopholes in financial management, need to embark on data management and recommendations on how to make Universal Basic Education fund trickle down to the people.
Apart from the emphasis on the resolve of the Federal Government to stimulate the economy with the planned injection of N350 billion and the prospect of job creation, which the payment of government contractors is bound to engender, the financial blueprint unveiled by Mrs. Adeosun indeed calmed the governors who had complained loudly over their poor financial positions.
As an observer, I believe one of the take-aways from the minister’s speech was the need for the states to plug all the loopholes in government finances in the face of dwindling revenue from the centre. And to my mind, the first signal that states are heeding the advice is the speed at which some of them are using the Bank Verification Number programme to fish out ghost workers from their payrolls.
As at today, a number of states have put mechanisms in place to sanitize their payrolls and the list include that of Bauchi, which is probing payment of salaries to 10,000 ghost workers in its system. The state governor, Alhaji Mohammed Abubakar even went a step further, saying culprits will not escape prosecution.
In Enugu State, government in its resolve to checkmate ghost worker-syndrome in its public service, has directed the immediate biometric capture of its workforce and pensioners using Bank Verification Number (BVN).
Similar exercises are taking place in Ogun, Kogi, Lagos, Osun and other states of the federation as state governments move to stop wastages and fraud.
Another important message from the minister’s speech was the need for states to invest in data management. The exercise, based on media reports, will not only give states a fair idea of age distribution in their states, but it will also help in planning.
The new proposition
So, one can understand why governors are pleased with the minister especially when Mrs. Adeosun came up with a more convenient arrangement for the disbursement of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) fund with the aim of making the proceeds trickle down to every Nigerian irrespective of his/her social status.
She had suggested a downward review of UBEC counterpart funding by states so that they can access about N58 billion.
She had sought the support of the governors to get legislative approval to reduce state’s counterpart funding from 50 per cent to 10 per cent. And according to the minister, “with that money, we could possibly address around 1,000 of the worst classrooms in each of the 36 states and rehabilitate them and of course, this would also create jobs and economic activity.”
Many state governors had expressed their frustration in accessing the UBEC fund as the poor state of finances of many states made it difficult for them to make available their 50 per cent cut of the counterpart funding.
This was recently put in a better perspective by the Executive Secretary of the commission, Dr. Ahmed Modibbo Mohammed when he recently lamented the failure of state governments to access the funding provided by the scheme.
Apparently, his worries came on the heels of the concerns being raised that 29 states of the federation, and the Federal Capital Territory have failed to make use of N80.9 billion available to them as Universal Basic Education grant.
The money, from N177.6 billion total grants available to all 36 states and the FCT, has remained with the UBE commission for years.
According to UBEC, each state is entitled to N4.8 billion, and only a few have collected their allocations in full.
With the minister’s proposition, therefore, some state governors have promised to look into the opportunities in UBEC since the fund is designed to trickle down to different categories of people like artisans, civil servants, among others in terms of access to education.
For those of us who have been noticing the way state governors have started implementing some of her suggestions, especially after the retreat, we weren’t surprised that the Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha had led other governors and their aides to give the Finance Minister a standing ovation not only for her oratory and impeccable rendition, but of course for what has been described as a clear understanding of the dire financial situation in the states and the resolve of the Federal Government to make some concessions.
“This is a good presentation. This minister has done well.
“We are going back to our respective states to implement these programmes and I believe things will be better especially in a period of low federal allocations. I’m very impressed with the programmes she just highlighted and I can say she has my support totally,” the governor declared amidst a thunderous ovation.
The relief on the faces of some of the governors in attendance was underscored by the fact that some of the commentaries that followed Mrs. Adeosun’s presentation were showers of praises and little clarifications on a number of subjects including the funding of the Universal Basic Education programme.
I therefore have no doubt that the minister is delivering at all levels and she is also touching the states. I strongly believe that if the states and the federal government totally key into her programmes and suggestions, the Nigerian nation will be better for it.
- Haruna is an Abuja-based policy analyst.