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Should State Governments be Compelled to Account for Paris Club Refund?

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Should State Governments be Compelled to Account for Paris Club Refund?

Why not? It is public money and I think the burden rests on journalists to do investigative journalism. The problem, however, is that states have not domesticated the Freedom of Information Act. So, it means journalists have to do extra work like whistle-blowing so that they can give us details because a lot of rotten and despicable activities are taking place with regard to this fund.

The fund has not been spent for the primary purpose which was for payment of salaries. There has been diversion of the fund. Even before the money got to the states, the Nigerian Governors Forum, from what I gathered, diverted part of it which is now being disbursed and spent in a manner that is totally unrelated to the purpose of the release of the fund.

It amounts to irresponsibility and is not too far from fraudulent conduct. Should the state governments refuse to release information on the fund, I think newspapers should write editorials and criticise and expose them. Maybe under such pressure, some will publish the details of their spending while those who refuse to release details should be put to shame.

Auwual Rafsanjani (Executive Director, Civil Societies Legislative and Advocacy Centre)
Yes, they should be compelled to make details of this expenditure public. The truth is that some of these governors don’t seem to understand that democracy is all about accountability and doing things that will benefit the people. Whatever comes to state coffers is a trust; it does not make sense that billions of naira is doled out to states in the name of bailout yet, teachers, civil servants and pensioners are still being owed.

This bailout is a public fund which must be accounted for. This is where the Public Accounts Committees of the various Houses of Assembly should come in because no governor is, by law, allowed to spend money without appropriation by the House of Assembly. This is the time for our people in the states to wake up and demand accountability. It is not only when it affects the executive at the national level and the National Assembly that we should become conscious of our rights as citizens to know.
We need to know how our taxes are spent; we need to ask the rights questions about services being rendered. Are they commensurate with the billions we hear the states are receiving from one source or another? When transparency disappears from a system, corruption thrives, if we must end corruption, we must fight for openness and accountability in governance at all levels. The Houses of Assembly must take up this challenge in the interest of their people. This is what democracy is about.

Malachy Ugwummadu (President, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights)
Even from the religious faiths, when we commit financial resources to individuals, the persons are supposed to give an account of how the money is spent. The confidence will be upheld in anyone or government who is able to justify the application of the (Paris Club) fund. If you take a random appraisal of states which benefitted from this refund, particularly Kogi State, you will find that many of these states still have protests after protests by workers. The workers have not received their salaries adequately and pensioners have not been paid regardless of the bailout given to the governors.

From this premise, no government that preaches transparency and accountability will ignore the necessity of finding out what happened to the first tranche of the refund. I appreciate the true concept of federalism, which talks about the co-equal status of component states. This refund was given out to governors with the fear that some of them might not use it adequately and they did not. From all these accounts and given our history of reckless financial impropriety, there is no way we can run away from asking the governors to tell us how they spent the money. Otherwise, all of these efforts by the Federal Government will not materialise.

Chris Nehikhare (Edo State Publicity Secretary, Peoples Democratic Party)
Any money that the state government receives on behalf of the people should be used appropriately. They (state governments) should come out and tell us exactly how it was spent. The Houses of Assembly should live up to their responsibilities. They are the ones that are supposed to know how the funds of the states are expended. It is not the business of the Federal Government. The Federal Government cannot determine for the states how their funds should be spent. The Houses of Assembly are supposed to be the ones to make sure that the state governments are accountable. As an opposition party, all we can do is to speak.

There is no law backing us to compel the states. But the Houses of Assembly have the law backing them to compel the state governments to make whatever appropriation they make public. Quite frankly, there is a lot of expenditure that the governments have to take care of. In Edo State, we have consistently had the issue of non-payment of pensioners. In 2014, a pension bureau was formed by the government. So, we expect that three years is enough for the state government to have proper details of the pensioners and how much they are being owed and whenever a windfall like this (fund) comes, they should be the first to benefit.

Dr Ali Ahmad (Speaker, Kwara State House of Assembly)
Of course, they (the state governments) should be compelled to account for it. Paris Club loan refund is public money. So, they must account for it as they account for any other fund that is public fund. It is not only Paris Club fund that is public fund. But there is no special thing that is attached to the Paris Club refund that is not attached to any other. Perhaps in Kwara State, we envisaged it and put it in the budget. So, it is like money in the pool because we believed it would come.

But for other states that did not capture it, it just came as an additional fund that applies to them. It needs to be accounted for. For any money in the budget of a state, the House of Assembly is responsible for ensuring that the spending is verified. It may not be uniform because Nigeria is a federation and we have this unitary mindset that anything that happens to one, must happen to others. We should ensure that those states that did not capture it in their budget should be compelled to account for it. At the state level, the House of Assembly is in the best position to ensure accountability of public funds by state governments.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission cannot go round the country and be there 24 hours every day. But the House of Assembly is constitutionally empowered and responsible to check the executives and ensure financial accountability. This is what the National Assembly does nationally because it is independent. What we see now at the NASS is so because it is independent. Some of the state assemblies just look like another department or appendage to the executive or ministry. That is why if you want to focus on transparency and accountability at the state level, give the power and independence to the state assemblies.

The EFCC cannot be everywhere. So long as the Houses of Assembly are shadows of themselves, you cannot make any progress. If we can see half of what is going on at NASS at the state level, then things will progress more. Unfortunately everybody is not checking the executive in their states and we just leave these governors to do as they want. You cannot imagine things that are happening in some states. What we need to do is to be really effective.

Look at Kano State, they have an anti-corruption agency, but what has happened? The citizens should demand accountability from the governors and other public office holders. They should participate in government and demand more accountability and transparency.

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