I MADE a tremendous effort last Friday, to get out of bed as early as possible in the morning. I arrived in Ilorin last Sunday, and had read that the state House of Assembly was to hold a public hearing on a N20 billion bond that the Kwara state government was proposing to access from the capital market. Loans and bonds have almost become synonymous with Kwara State, since Bukola Saraki became governor in 2003; and the jury is out on the usages of those loans. I was determined to watch the legislators interrogate the proposed bond, especially because there were reports that the legislature had previously refused to endorse the plan twice, and had insisted on knowing how previous loans and bonds were expended. It didn’t appear typical of the Kwara House of Assembly! The information I read had stated that the public hearing was to commence by 8am. I arrived at the House of Assembly by seven thirty, but there was no indication that a public hearing was about to take place there.
The legislators were not on the premises and my suspicion had been aroused when security men at the gate allowed us entry, unhindered. I made calls to several people and was informed that the public hearing had been postponed!
There was rumour that the public hearing had been abandoned because of the heightened public interest and the fact that the opposition had decided to make a presentation. The following day, Saturday, a sanitized group of “stakeholders” (as if other Kwarans were not stakeholders in the affairs of the state) was bussed into a government banquet hall, with the governor Abdulfatah Ahmed (bond taker himself), addressing these “stakeholders”, about the plan for the N20 billion bond. It was instructive that the governor assured his audience that the bond would not be “diverted”. That was a suggestive pointer to what has been happening since the group in power happened upon us since 2003. The government describes itself ALL THE TIME as a “continuity administration”, so drawing a direct line from Bukola Saraki’s administration from 2003. It is therefore legitimate to take them together, to understand Kwara’s plight over the past twelve years.
Bukola’s N17b loan
In August 2009, Bukola Saraki’s administration, with Abdulfatah Ahmed as Finance Commissioner, took N17billion bond from the capital market. The initial plan was to take N30billion, but they were warned that such a huge sum would lead Kwara State to a meltdown. The loan had a 5-year tenure and expected to be liquidated by August 14, 2014. But five years down the line, they had managed to pay only N10 billion of that N17 billion. So a new plan was devised to take another N23 billion, with a proposal to use part of that to clear the old loan. In other words, they would use debt to pay debt! The original N17 billion bond was expected to finance the following items: Asa Dam Mixed Development; International Truck Plaza; new state secretariat complex; cement factory; Commercial Agriculture Phase II; aviation college; Kwara State University; water project; international hotel and conference centre; amusement park; various road projects; diagnostic centre; land acquisition compensation and loan underwriting commissionand and a cargo shed at the Ilorin airport. Each had a specific value attached to it. But in the end, the money went into a metro plaza, described as “a mere event centre”, by Chief Iyiola Oyedepo, Kwara’s main opposition intellectual. In March 2012, Governor AbdulFatah Ahmed also took a N10 billion loan from GT Bank!
Loans in years of abundance
It is important to remember that the loans were contracted when monthly allocations to Kwara State from the Federation Account were very healthy. As a matter of fact, from 2003 when Bukola Saraki became Kwara governor, to December, 2014, over N517billion, accrued to Kwara; while from May 2003 to December, 2014, the sixteen local governments of Kwara state, got over N130 billion. That totals over N647 billion revenue in a twelve-year period. The governments of continuity from Bukola Saraki to Abdulfatah Ahmed were responsible for spending these monies, and yet, there is no development on ground in Kwara state today, that matches those huge sums. The educational system is broken; there is no water to drink; the people are desperately poor; youth are unemployed and have no hope; there is no systematic regime of people’s empowerment and most projects they expended monies on, were either irrelevant prestige or white elephant projects, that did not create value nor add to the well-being of Kwara’s people. Bukola Saraki’s years in power, saw an astronomical increase in monies allocated in yearly budgets, to the Government House. For instance, between 2004 and 2009, Bukola Saraki’s Government House received an allocation of over N21.5 billion; in the same period, Agriculture received over N11.475 billion; education was allocated over N14.99 billion; and healthcare only slightly over N6.467 billion. And by the end of his administration in 2011, Bukola Saraki had worked for himself an immoral pension, which is one of the MAIN items of expenditure in today’s Kwara state, even with the dwindling finances of government today, and which necessitated their desperate need for the new N20 billion bond.
It is clear that the Kwara state governments of continuity, from Bukola Saraki to AbdulFatah Ahmed, owe us FULL DISCLOSURE about their management of the financial resources of Kwara. When Bukola Saraki became governor in May 2003, he sacked the caretaker administration in the 16 LGAs, that had been installed by his predecessor, the late Governor Muhammed Lawal; and for almost a year, there was no administration at the local level in Kwara. Bukola Saraki was the SOLE accounting officer for the monthly allocations that those local governments took from the federation account. No one knows till today, what happened to those funds!
Last week, Chief Iyiola Oyedepo, the opposition intellectual and leader in Kwara, issued a memorandum on the proposed N20billion bond. He made many succinct observations that should concentrate the minds of Kwarans. Oyedepo noted that the N20 billion bond as proposed, was for infrastructural development, between 2016 and 2023. Not less than fifteen projects are listed as proposed 2016-2023, N20 billion bond utilisation programme. They are in education, health, water, roads infrastructure, etc. Yet, except for the renovation of some hospitals, no monetary value was placed on the proposed projects. The consequence is that Kwarans will not be able to track the veracity of values of these projects to aid the tracking of their implementation.
Bond plan and tenure
An equally worrisome aspect of the bond plan is the tenure; the life of the administration in power ends in 2019, but debt overhang will extend to 2023, with the likelihood that no development can be expected in Kwara State until after 2023! When Bukola Saraki took his own N17billion bond in 2009, Kwara did not see any meaningful development that addressed the felt needs of its people. The consequence has been that since coming to power, Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed has only really been able to renovate old hospitals in the state, for all intents and purposes! It is equally frightening to ask how the state would pay back these loans. Kwara’s monthly allocation, as it currently stands, cannot pay workers’ monthly wages therefore internally generated revenues would have to be added to meet the salary payments.
So how does the government expect to service the bonds along with other debts that the state has been saddled with in the years since 2003? These include pension arrears; salaries owed workers; money owed various banks; commitments to contractors and the foreign components of Kwara’s indebtedness, which the Debt Management Office (DMO), puts at $45, 871, 785. 31 as at December 31, 2013! Though unverified, Iyiola Oyedepo, estimates that Kwara State might owe over N250billion, and a very significant chunk of that incurred during continuity administration years of Bukola Saraki and Abdulfatah Ahmed.
It is clear that Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed’s administration desperately needs to access that N20 billion bond. It is a desperate race to be seen to have made some infrastructural statement, after a forgettable first four years, when the administration just existed to carry the burden of Bukola Saraki’s previous eight years of wasteful husbandry of the resources of Kwara and the albatross of loans he left hanging on the state’s neck. But in truth, Kwara state does not need the N20 billion bond, from the perspective of its impoverished people, in whose name they collected over N647 billion in a twelve-year period, from 2003 to 2015. If they could not impact positively on the lives of Kwara’s people with so much money in 12 years, why do they think we would believe them about what they supposedly want to do with N20 billion? Bukola Saraki and Abdulfatah Ahmed need to educate us on what they have done with the huge sums that accrued to our state under their watch. They must let us know why those huge sums that came in the days of high income did not impact positively upon the lives of our people in town and village alike.
We also deserve an explanation for why they still took loans despite those huge sums; and why they did not save some monies for the rainy day that inevitably appeared on the horizon. If these FULL DISCLOSURES are not made, they do not deserve to further impoverish us and leave future generations with dire consequences, long after they would have gone to enjoy the huge sums they made from Kwara State. These include the pensions they will earn perpetually, for as long as they live. I made an honest effort to attend an interrogation of the N20 billion bond on the floor of the Kwara state House of Assembly last Friday. It did not hold; and could not have held, because the administration of continuity was terrified of a genuine interrogation of its plans. They preferred a sanitised “stakeholders meeting”, within the precincts of a government banquet hall. That effort to offer a genuine interrogation of the N20billion bond was very much like chasing a black goat in the night!
When Abdulfatah Ahmed allayed the fear of Kwarans over the proposed N20 billion bond, asserting that it will not be diverted”, according to THE HERALD newspaper of Monday, December, 21, 2015, he merely underscored the worst fears of Kwara’s people about what has been happening to monies in the state since 2003! But what is clear is that change will sweep away the ruling hegemony in Kwara State one day, and we will discover the truth about what has happened to our finances and other assets in the period since 2003. President Muhammadu Buhari has shown that it is possible to expose crimes people think are hidden. It is only a matter of time!