…Insists governors must pay salaries
From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja and Chiwendu Obienyi
President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, and the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, to immediately release the second tranche of the London-Paris Club refunds to states in order to ease their financial hardships.
This was even as he urged state governors to use the money for the settlement of unpaid salaries and pension liabilities of their workers.
Twenty-five per cent of the sum of N552.74 billion (N138.185 billion) being owed the states was released last December to all 33 states entitled to the refund.
The refunds arose from claims by states that they had been overcharged in deductions for external debt service between 1995 and 2002. The states were given bail out loans twice to enable those who were behind in payments to their workers, pay up. The first batch of the bail out fund amounting to about N300 billion released in 2015.
The Buhari administration also got the Debt Management Office (DMO) to restructure the states’ commercial loans of over N660 billion and extended the life span of the loans. When that did not succeed in pulling many of the states out of distress, the Federal Government again gave out another N90 billion to 22 states as bailout under very stringent conditions.
President Buhari had made it mandatory for all the states to account for the first tranche of the loan refunds in line with the agreement reached with the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF). States implicated in the mismanagement of the first tranche may not get the fresh funds.
At the moment, some of the 36 governors are being investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for allegedly diverting the first tranche of the refund.
A statement by the Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said the President gave the directive after he addressed the meeting of the National Economic Council (NEC) comprising state governors and chaired by the Vice President at the presidential villa.
Buhari told the governors: “I will not rest until I address those issues that affect our people. One of these basic things is the issue of salaries. It is most important that workers are able to feed their families, pay rent and school fees, then other things can follow.”
The President, who went round the Council Chambers to greet the governors one after another, expressed happiness with the unity in the NGF, despite party affiliations. He thanked them profusely for their display of “love and respect” to him.
He said he was overwhelmed by his recent experience in which states, irrespective of political differences, charged their citizens to pray in mosques and churches for his well-being and apologised to governors for barring them from visits to him while he rested in London.
“I didn’t want government to move to London. I wanted it to remain here and I am glad it did,” he said.
Buhari who narrated what he went through while on vacation, noted the suggestions by the governors that he needs more rest, but insisted that he would remain relentless in the pursuit of the interest of the Nigerian people at all times.
This, according to him, was the only way to show his gratitude to the people who, he said, “had given so much to me. I was overwhelmed by the celebration of my return all across the country.”
The Chairman of the NGF, Abdul-Aziz Yari of Zamfara State assured the President, on behalf of his colleagues, that they will continue to support his policies and actions, which they had adjudged as being in the nation’s best interest.
The governors of Imo, Akwa-Ibom, Osun and Abia states thanked President Buhari for saving the day for states through the first tranche of the London-Paris Club refunds while calling for the immediate release of the second one.
They also commended the trust the President reposed in the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, whom they said did not disappoint when he acted as President.