DURING Governor AbdulFatai Ahmed’s first term in office, between 2011 and 2015, an Audit Query was issued on the huge sums of money that Kwara state had hemorrhaged, through the incredible spending on such “bottomless pit” institutions like Bukola Saraki’s Zimbabwe Farms (‘domesticated’ as Shonga Farms); Advanced Diagnostic Center and the International Aviation College.
The query had asked why billions of naira went down those drain pipes, while there was no profit or returns made to the state. The Auditor got a stern rebuke for his audacity; and the Query was forwarded to the supine State House of Assembly, where it was left to gather dust and the systematic fleecing of Kwara state could continue, instituted as the reigning philosophy of governance since 2003.
It was therefore a pleasant surprise to read a few days ago that Ali Ahmad, the Speaker of the Assembly recently expressed concern about the operations of the omnibus institution in Kwara state, known as Harmony Holdings. The Speaker was reported to have complained that “the operations and activities of the Holdings were shrouded in secrecy”, adding that it “should not be so”.
In truth, Harmony Holdings is one of the most controversial institutions in Kwara and despite the best efforts of the operatives of the government, has remained a body that people whisper amongst themselves, as an example of opacity, in its operations as well as ownership. Harmony Holdings was incorporated: “to ensure efficient running of all State owned ventures to improve Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of the State Government”.
Ali Ahmad also remarked that: “the state government had invested greatly in the Harmony Holdings”, but “the Holdings was not generating IGR to justify the government’s colossal investment in the liability company”. The Speaker similarly directed that the MD of the Holdings “produce credible information on release of funds to it from 2013 to date by the State Government”.
That was the same issue raised in the Audit query that I mentioned earlier and that has been a lingering concern about the omnibus body. What most people know is that its Managing Director, a certain Tope Daramola, is not from Kwara state, but had been one of Bukola Saraki’s sidekicks from the defunct Intercontinental Bank.
He had stealthily entered Kwara state, and was appointed DG Lands. People were surprised that an indigene of Ondo state was given such a sensitive position, only because of his services to Bukola Saraki personally, at the Intercontinental Bank.
The anger about his appointment worried those who appointed him sufficiently to eventually lead to his removal from the sensitive lands position. He was subsequently named Managing Director of Harmony Holdings. The company also allegedly sold shares Kwara state held in companies quoted on the Nigerian Stock Exchange, without any declaration about where the proceeds of the sales went!
It was instructive that Tope Daramola told the House of Assembly that Harmony Holdings has not taken “full control” of the International Aviation College and Advanced Diagnostic Center, “thereby hampering its revenue generation to the coffers of the state government”. And in an effort to allay lingering suspicions about ownership of Harmony Holdings, Daramola stated that “the State Government owns all shares of the Company 100% and no individual has any proprietary interest in it”.
Well, maybe, or maybe not! But as the Speaker, Ali Ahmad noted, its operations remain shrouded in secrecy and if it actually belongs to Kwara state “100%”, Kwarans have a right to information about it. It is no surprise that Harmony Holdings remains a drain pipe today, in a state that faces serious challenge about its finances: workers salaries cannot be paid; pensioners are owed money; several groups of working people have been on strike for months; there is demoralisation within the civil service and services that a state is expected to provide to people are substantially unavailable in Kwara state! There are a few over-hyped projects, but even those in power know they have run out of lies and excuses used to justify their systematic underdevelopment of Kwara state since 2003.
Today the main excuse is the drastic drop in Federal Allocations to the state. Monthly Federal Allocations, according to them, dropped from N3.5Billion to N1. 4Billion.
Indeed, Federal allocations to all states dropped. But that truth is relative, especially if our memory is not pegged to only the past two years. The group in power in Kwara state came on board in 2003 and in the past twelve years plus, they took over N640Billion from the Federation Account.
They have not given any reasonable or satisfactory account of their stewardship of these huge sums as well as the loans that they also took in these twelve years! SUNDAY VANGUARD of February 14, 2016, carried a report of the plan by AbdulFatai Ahmed’s government to plug the “inefficiency and leakages” that “showed we were losing N5Billion annually”. Governor Ahmed was speaking while commissioning the new building of the Kwara State Internal Revenue Service. He gave the body a “take off mandate to generate the N5Billion said to have been stolen annually, now monthly, back into the purse of the government”. Even though the streets around Ilorin now carry banners exhorting people to pay taxes, Abdulfatai Ahmed assured that the new body was “not established to impose fresh taxes”.
Nevertheless, the government wants to rise from its current position “to achieve the second highest IGR per capita in Nigeria by 2019”. The governor was not through in his indulgent flight of fancy: “Kwara state, I am convinced, has the population, commerce, resources and opportunities necessary for achieving that target of N60Billion annually…
The subsequent growth in our revenues will not only enhance the lives of our people through better infrastructure, we also expect to see an increase in opportunities for collective prosperity”.
Unfortunately, in over twelve years of the Bukola Saraki/Abdul Fatai Ahmed administrations, there has been “collective prosperity” for Bukola Saraki and his inner circle of followers, hangers-on and sidekicks and “collective misery” for the majority of Kwarans. This is the truth that is not captured in the grandiose declarations about enhanced revenue generation and taxation in Kwara state.
Let the government take the first critical step of making FULL DISCLOSURE of how over N640Billion was spent since 2003. The various loans must also be FULLY accounted for, especially in terms of IMPACT on the lives of the people, in poverty alleviation; education; healthcare delivery; provision of infrastructure; the empowerment of the people; environmental protection; scholarships for students; pensions; etc.
It is only a FULL DISCLOSURE that can offer the administration the LEGITIMACY to impose new taxes on an already over-burdened state. The logic of taxation is premised on an accountable, transparent, responsible and responsive government. That is not the case today in Kwara. The government should not mistake the comforts of Bukola Saraki, his sidekicks and hanger-on as the yardstick of measurement of progress. In truth, the people are in dire straits as a result of the monumental mismanagement since 2003; they are very angry with the government in power today in Kwara state.