Empty treasury, wardrobe allowances and redoubts of corruption

7 mins read

“Nigeria should be ready to face a lot of challenges. The biggest problem in my view is corruption; it is everywhere. There is no department, no ministry that can be said to be free of corruption. There is nowhere that fraud does not take place on a daily basis. It has become embedded in the minds of people because the rulebooks have been thrown away and everybody is doing what they like. Nobody follows the rules anymore”
– Alhaji Ahmed Joda, Chairman of President Muhammadu Buhari’s Transition Committee.

PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari (PMB), finally moved into the Aso Villa this week, signaling the real commencement of work, as leader for the change that Nigerians voted for last March. But the portents are frightening; as if we don’t already have a foggy idea of the seriousness of the situation! Buhari made it clear during his maiden meeting with the State House media corps, that he inherited from former President Goodluck Jonathan, a country with virtually empty treasury, running into millions of dollars; and indicative of the sorry pass, even the Federal Government cannot pay salaries of its workers. treasury-Buahri

A miffed PMB said it was disgraceful that all Federal and State governments were unable to pay salaries. The problem is serious, from state to state. At the beginning of last week,Kwara State Governor, AbdulFatai Ahmed, met with labour leaders in Ilorin and he put before them, two very difficult options: receive half pay or get paid fully in alternate months. Naturally, the working people rejected the two options outright; nevertheless, the unpaid months are counting. The situation is not much different in other states, but maybe, even worse!

What is most frightening is the fact that there were far too many conflicting figures about the state of indebtedness that the previous government was leaving the country and the new administration, to grapple with. It was difficult to establish, largely because of the deliberate ambiguity that was embedded in the transition process, soon after Goodluck Jonathan lost the election. With hindsight, we can now see that the outgoing administration was petrified about discovery of what had transpired under its watch.

As Alhaji Ahmed Joda pointed out in his most illuminating interview in DAILY TRUST ON SUNDAY, of Sunday, 21st June, 2015, the Transition Committee that he headed was in theory, expected to interface with that of the outgoing government, but nothing like that happened: “we were mainly to receive the handover notes from ministries, departments and agencies of government. But we could not receive them for five or nearly six weeks after our appointment and, to that extent, our work was delayed…we were to receive the handing over notes, study them and wherever necessary to seek clarifications from wherever, whether ministers, civil servants or chairmen of boards or chief executives of parastatals.

But, like I told you, we did not receive those notes on time…” The deliberate opacity in that transition process was actually employed to clothe the ugly nakedness of the maiden of state! There was too much that was wrong, as Alhaji Joda added further: “We were told at the beginning of the exercise that the government was in deficit of at least N1.3 trillionand by the end people were talking about N7trillion; everything is in a state of collapse”. This is the true situation in our country today and this is what explained PMB’s statement that he has inherited a country with virtually empty treasury!

Nigeria is literally on life support, at least and especially, economically. This is a moment that will demand the most patriotic exertion from all sections of the Nigerian people. This is the moment that the slogan of change must begin to move into the realm of practical implementation. The old order should begin to give way to the new, in the true spirit of commitment that PMB exemplifies.

But unfortunately, that need for patriotic sacrifice doesn’t seem to have reached some sections of officialdom, but most especially, the National Assembly. First, report emerged that our legislators were poised to receive wardrobe allowance totaling N8.64billion while their budget for the year was actually N150billion, which they had “graciously” reduced to N120billion.

The emergence of the report of the Wardrobe Allowance especially, led to incredible levels of disgust in the country, with new videos making the rounds online, asking Nigerians to #OCCUPY NATIONAL ASSEMBLY! The insensitivity of sections of the Nigerian ruling elite to the plight of the country they are leading to perdition and the angry people at the receiving end of their depredation, makes the Nigerian ruling class, arguably, the most irresponsible in the world, certainly in Africa!

That was why the challenge thrown by the Nigerian labour movement at the beginning of this week has come at the appropriate time. Issa Aremu, Deputy President of one of the NLC factions pointed out that “nations prosper when their leaders are willing to sacrifice; while nations fail when leaders engage in selfish self-help agenda”. He then asked equally pertinently: “should 109 senators and 360 members of the House of Representatives gulp as much as N120billion in a year, which is twice the 2015 budget of Ekiti state…with a population of 2, 384, 212 people?”

The labour leader further reminded our over-pampered legislators, that: “No country can prosper with this widening gap in resource allocation between the governed and some elected government officials. And to underline the seriousness of the gathering clouds of anger in the land, Issa Aremu advised them: “The National Assembly members should take advantage of the current goodwill of Nigerians in making an amend failing which they provoke mass revolt of the people…

The eighth Assembly must complement President Muhammadu Buhari in his effort to cut cost of governance fuelled by corruption, the worse form of which is outrageous pay for public office holders”.

It remains to be seen if these eminent legislators will heed and complement the genuine intentions of PMB. The antecedents of many, especially given what they have done (and still doing to states they governed), do not give room for too much hope! That is the sense in which I keep saying that I do not envy President Muhammadu Buhari. He is taking the battle to some of the most vicious in Nigeria!

Unpaid salaries in states and pertinent questions for Buhari

AGAINST the backdrop of the “disgraceful” accumulation of unpaid salaries in Nigerian states, this week Tuesday, President Muhammadu Buhari, PMB, met with governors in Abuja. He warned that the days of impunity, lack of accountability and fiscal recklessness were over in Nigeria. Buhari told the governors that: “There are financial and administrative instructions in every government parastatal and agency. But these were thrown to the dogs in the past.

Honestly, our problems are great, but we will do our best to surmount them. The next three months may be hard, but billions of dollars can be recovered, and we will do our best”. In truth, most Nigerians can attest to PMB’s commitment to the best interests of Nigeria and his personal sense of decency and incorruptibility. That was mainly why he was elected, and for me personally, that is why I have supported him since 2003!

PMB’s sleepless nights

But in pursuit of the new direction of sanitising Nigeria, there are issues that must give PMB sleepless nights. Looking from inside his own ruling APC, how does he hope to carry along many of the well-known party barons who are the poster boys of corruption in Nigeria? Would they be expected to back PMB’s commitment to take Nigeria in a more decent direction? How does he pass his anti-corruption agenda through the legislature, given the antecedents of leading individuals who are the Rolls Royce and Ferrari of corruption, and who, as governors for eight years, looted states that are now unable to pay workers salaries?

Will President Muhammadu Buhari seek FULL DISCLOSURE about the state of finances of the Nigerian states, to know how come many of them cannot now pay salaries? Yes allocations have dropped, up to maybe 40%; but what happened to the monies collected in the past twelve years especially? Is PMB aware of the millions that former governors have awarded to themselves as pensions? And those who have been elected to the National Assembly continue to take those criminal pensions as well as get paid as legislators!

And is he also aware that in some of those states, the pensions of these ex-governors are the MOST IMPORTANT items of expenditure? And there are states, where these ex-governors have installed pitiable sidekicks as ‘governors’ to superintend on their behalf; they go monthly and just take away the money, leaving behind incredible levels of misery, while their own families enjoy illicit luxury abroad?

Can some of these individuals account for what they have done to their local government allocations? These are some of the questions that would agitate PMB’s mind as we move forward.

Corrupt purchase justice

The judiciary can also become another potential roadblock for the process of change because it has become far too easy for the corrupt to purchase justice or to frustrate or pervert the process. There have been incredible cases where corrupt individuals have won perpetual injunctions while some get court judgments that say they must not even be invited for questioning or even be mentioned in the media! These are individuals who governed and looted states!

Change will not come easily to Nigeria, because there are too many vested interests profiting from the system of grand corruption that has been the hallmark of Nigerian life, especially since the 1999 transition to civil rule. The bandits that took us to where we are today are extremely rich and influential and they occupy very strategic places in politics and the economy. They will fight dirty to protect their turf. And there is also the realisation that PMB can only do so much in a four-year term. They can either fight dirty or simply choose to gather their strength as they have started doing with the struggle over the leadership of the National Assembly. That way, they would work by stealth, against the process of change in the next four years, with hope that they can outlast President Muhammadu Buhari!

Or even exploit their sinecure within the system to launch a massive onslaught against the process of change! President Muhammadu Buhari needs the support of the Nigerian people to win the war against impunity, lack of accountability and fiscal recklessness! The system as it, is not sustainable because it is not working for the majority of the Nigerian people. We cannot continue a process which allows the criminal enrichment of a few individuals whose source of wealth is directly related to their stay in power!.

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