Paris Club Refund: Your Governor is a Fraudster If…, By Fola Ojo

Paris Club Refund: Your Governor is a Fraudster If…, By Fola Ojo
  • PublishedMarch 24, 2017

They toil day in and night out to grow the nation’s economy. Their hard work keeps the labour sector ever buoyant. But the fruits of their lips are heart-wrenching tales of travail that are still swelling and swirling around. They are the Nigerian workers.

In oversight of the arduous work they do are archons and superintendents who frequently strip them of their wages. The accused are state governors. The action or inaction from their mansions have been defined as deliberate wickedness, heartless governorship highhandedness; and dare-devil debauchery. And those caricaturing our excellencies in this fashion are mentally stable. They know what they are talking about.

The Muhammadu Buhari administration’s alleviation drive for deprived workers was first initiated July 2015. The sum of $2.1bn in fresh allocation was shared between the states and the Federal Government. The money was sourced from LNG proceeds. The relief, however, felt like a drop in a bucket. Then, last December, the first out of nine tranches from the Paris Club windfall totalling N300bn was released to states specifically. Disbursement was subject to an agreement by state governments that 50 per cent of any amount received would be earmarked for the payment of salaries and pensions. In a typical Nigerian fashion, we heard stories of diverted funds by some governors. The NGF, the umbrella group for governors, has vehemently denied the allegation. Now, Buhari has issued another directive to his Finance Minister, Kemi Adeosun, to set loose the second tranche any moment. It will total about N500bn.

Workers did not benefit much from the first bailout initiative. The second one, that is the first tranche of the Paris Club refund, went in the winds to “Mars”. The next proposed release is making sceptics fear that it may fly in some private jets to banks in lands far away from Nigeria; and into projects that will never benefit workers it is intended for at home. It is regrettable that as this President strives hard to bring relief to the people within his own intellectual whim, these governors are strategising about self and the next election they think is a must-win. What else can any President do?

Many states are in trouble today because some of these governors are personally irresponsible and ethically disabled. Some have stopped governing; they are gulping. The people’s money in their hands is like ice-cream in the mouth of a child. It melts fast and furious. They are profligate by political indoctrination, insensitive by nature, unlearned and never-learning. Many of them are serving with no clues about financial management.

Some states are on a financial chokehold today because the state budget-aircraft has overshot its runways. Unnecessary and irrelevant projects that directly impact lives and welfare of the people were floated. Now, they are gasping for breath. Government treasury, to some of these governors, is deemed personal savings account. With billions collected monthly from all manner of sources, their states are still comatose. The same dilapidated buildings and raggedy roads they inherited when they came aboard continue to be the testimony of abhorrence. They audaciously live like cat-walking King-Kongs amassing wealth and wives. On the flip-side, and in all fairness, among them are a few workhorses who are changing the faces of their territories. Kudos to them; and you know who they are.

We may not have hard figures because state governments shield the information; it is believed that 23 states are owing between three and 24 months’ salaries. In this rubric are oil-rich states that receive heavy chunks of cash from Abuja monthly. Workers and pensioners have died waiting for generous gestures from their governors who refuse to budge. They have been afflicted with strange illnesses because of burrowing and gnawing poverty. A visit to the doctor or filling a prescription at the pharmacy is a mission impossible. Nigeria is the giant of Africa, indeed!

Must we upbraid only Mr. Governor regarding this mess? Must we be in fear exclusively of the politician? No! If Nigeria’s economy must get healthy again, we must beg our civil servants to become truly civil. Nigerians are more afraid of some of them than they are of politicians. While the governor serves for four or eight years, the civil servant holds a desk for 35 or longer. Corruption has become a ventilator and life-sustaining medicine to a big block of Nigerian Civil Service; and disconnecting from these seems improbable. Many of our civil servants are quiet, sneaky, sleazy, crafty, cruel, and callous pathfinders who wriggle through the matrix of purloining of public funds without trace. Masters of methodical manipulation of facts and figures some of them are. They operate in the corruption corn-field like lizards that you sunder their tails and that grow longer ones.

If your fears are only lodged in the veranda of governors, you are mistaking. Nigerian civil servants make corruption happen too. They induct politicians into the hall of shame immediately they are sworn in. When the politicians design their pilferage strategies, civil servants inspect and approve of the architecture. The pension guy who stole about N32bn was a civil servant. The guys who directly deal and hurt ordinary Nigerians daily extorting bribes at the passport office, airport, seaport, checkpoints, NNPC, NIMASA, are public servants. Governors and civil servants are in creepy cahoots. There is no governor or president who can steal one kobo without the consenting or non-consenting knowledge of the civil servant. No contract is executed, for example, in the works and housing ministry without the knowledge of civil servants. They may appear unassuming and keep some low profiles, but they are devouring, killer-sharks in the murky waters of corruption. Nigeria is a profligate and wastrel of a nation brimming up with leadership chaperons so prodigal, so squandering, and so renegade. Corruption will stop in Nigeria when civil servants agree to it in spirit and in truth. We will revisit this narrative in the future.

Bailouts all over the world come with attached conditionalities. As a result of General Motors’ 2009 bankruptcy, the US government spent about $50bn to bail out the Detroit-based automaker. As conditions for government aid, the companies closed several dozen plants, paid billions of debts, adopted lower wages for new workers and slashed the number of dealerships. The companies returned to profitability in 2010 and recouped some of their lost market share. The bailout saved 1.2 million jobs and preserved $34.9bn in tax revenue. When Greek leaders agreed to a €130bn ($172bn) bailout deal for Greece 2012, it was given five conditions. Any bailout offer to states without any conditionality is an error of enormous magnitude.

The Paris Club refund will be uncorked soon. Buhari has insisted that the next tranche should be pushed towards workers’ salaries. The Ministry of Finance has also announced some conditions. But it is not just churning out conditions; it is enforcing them. This is what Nigeria lacks today. But I got an assurance from Femi Adesina, Special Adviser to Mr. President on Media and Publicity, on Thursday on the phone: “The funds have not been released. This President will ensure that states comply. The finance ministry is working out the details as we speak.”

After the release of these funds, any governor whose workers and pensioners are still starved of their remuneration rights is nothing but a fraudster who must be investigated and prosecuted appropriately.

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