THE demand of the 36 state governors for the urgent release of the outstanding Paris Club refunds is legitimate. It, however, raises the equally legitimate question of how most of the governors utilised the previous refunds totaling N760.17 billion released to them by the Federal Government in two tranches between 2016 and this year.
The governors, who met with President Muhammadu Buhari under the aegis of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) last week, issued a two-week deadline for the release of the 50 percent balance of the refunds, reportedly estimated at N760bn.
The NGF, which was led by its Chairman and Zamfara State governor, Abdulaziz Yari, was however silent on its next line of action should the Federal Government fail to release the outstanding amount. The group may, however, not enjoy public support for its campaign as many of the governors have not come clean on their utilisation of the refunds earlier disbursed to them. They have failed to show that the payments were used to pay the outstanding salaries and pensions of their beleaguered workers and retirees.
The president, at the parley, expressed worries about the continuing agitations of workers and retirees for their entitlements, even after the payments to the states. We urge the governors of the affected states to explain why this is so. It appears that personal interests, rather than the public interest, weighed more in the management of the funds already released to some states.
While the plight of workers and pensioners justifies the release of the outstanding amount, the Federal Government should not lose sight of earlier agreements between it and the states, even though the payments are in partial settlement of longstanding claims of state governments relating to over-deductions from the Federal Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) for the servicing of their external debts between 1995 and 2002.
It will be recalled that the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, had said soon after the disbursement of the second tranche of the refunds some months ago, that further releases of the outstanding sum would depend on “current and projected cash flow of the federation as well as the outcome of the independent monitoring of the compliance with terms and conditions attached to the earlier disbursements.”
But, NGF insists that at no time did the governors agree on any specific terms or conditions with the Federal Government, adding that since the money belongs to the states, they should be allowed to use it as they deem fit.
So many controversies have dogged this refund and it is about time this matter is resolved once and for all. It must, however, be said that the NGF has not demonstrated accountability and transparency in the management of the tranches earlier released. For instance, there is still controversy over allegations that N19bn from the fund was diverted to a personal account of one of the governors, while a commission of N1.2bn reportedly “fraudulently” paid to a consultant has been ordered to be forfeited to the Federal Government. This judgment by a Federal High Court followed a suit filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
We urge a peaceful resolution of all contentious issues on the refunds before the outstanding sum is released. Issuing of threats to the Federal Government is not the way to go. We appeal to state governors to be prudent in the management of public funds. They should give priority to things that can improve the welfare of their people. The way some governors use their state funds is reckless.
Unfortunately, most of the state legislatures have been mere rubber stamps of the governors, instead of performing their statutory oversight function over the executive arm of government. When a state House of Assembly abdicates this constitutional responsibility, it encourages recklessness of governors.
Let the federal and state governments work closely to ameliorate the plight of workers across the country. The people are the reason democracy exists and the system of government can only be sustained if their concerns are adequately addressed. Transparency and prudence in the management of public funds will promote good governance in the country.