Demanding accountability in public office – Punch

Making public officials accountable in public funds management is a civic responsibility still alien to Nigerians. The effect of this is deleterious: government at all levels has failed in delivering basic services to the people. Because of lack of pipe-borne water, almost every individual digs a borehole to get water; provides his/her own electricity with a generator and engages private security guards as the present policing system has abysmally failed to guarantee security; while private schools have proliferated — no thanks to the collapse of the public school system.

This laxity in deepening the roots of democracy — through citizens’ active engagement — was one of the cannons of a convocation lecture by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Coordinating Minister of the Economy/Minister of Finance, last week, at Babcock University, Ilishan-Remo, entitled, “Transforming Nigeria’s economy: Opportunities and challenges.” She charged Nigerians to ask governors to account for their states’ monthly revenue allocations. “A lot of attention is turned on the Federal Government. So, we also need to ask what our states and local governments do with the resources they get,” she said. We agree with the minister.

But more searchlights are on Abuja, and rightly too, because, as the arm of government that controls over 52 per cent of our resources, that is where treasury looting has become so brazen. And more bizarre is the fact that institutions of the state such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission and the Code of Conduct Bureau, established to halt the bazaar, watch helplessly as thieving cabals go on the rampage from one ministry and agency to the other.

In 2013, according to the minister, Akwa Ibom State received a total of N260 billion to top the states’ allocation chart. Perhaps, its governor, Godswill Akpabio, was enamoured of this annual huge cash inflow to corral its supine House of Assembly to enact a pension law that provided N100 million annual medical bill for himself after leaving office. Public outrage, however, has forced him to rethink on the matter.

Besides Akwa Ibom State, other top gainers were, Rivers (N220 billion); Delta (209 billion); Bayelsa (N173 billion); Lagos (N168 billion); Kano (N140 billion); Katsina (N103 billion); Oyo (N100 billion); Kaduna (N97 billion); and Borno (N94 billion). While some of the 36 state governors have put in place accountability mechanisms such as holding town hall meetings to explain monthly inflows and outflows as well as projects embarked on, others account to neither man nor God.

A published revenue allocation to the three tiers of government for March 2014 showed that N121.5 billion was handed over to the 774 local councils, N160.4 billion to states, N58.2 billion as derivation to oil-producing states and N258.2 billion to the Federal Government. Kano State, with its 44 councils, collected the highest figure of N4.4 billion, while Akwa Ibom’s 31 councils got N4.078 billion. Through the instrumentality of State/Local Governments Joint Accounts, funds for local councils are at governors’ control. But councils that get their own allocations hardly justify the spending with the lamentable state of rural roads, markets and other responsibilities within their constitutional purview.

It is time Nigerians asked themselves why government exists. Obvious gaps in our socio-economic and political landscapes point to one fact: citizens have been robbed by those they elected to serve them. A report by Global Financial Integrity, a United States-based group, relying on data from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, says a total of $182 billion was stolen from Nigeria, and laundered offshore, between 2000 and 2009; a period under our so-called 15 years of sustained democracy.

Every global performance index is a thumbs-down for the country. A 2013 UNICEF report on child mortality showed that Nigeria has 267,000 deaths of new born babies to rank top in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2011, Osita Chidoka, the Corps Marshal, Federal Road Safety Corps, raised the alarm that Nigeria was ranked 191 out of 192 in unsafe roads. The situation, without doubt, has worsened three years after. With the propensity of public official to steal public funds increasing, it is disturbing that President Goodluck Jonathan is unfazed by the tide. From the pension funds looting, to the N2.5 trillion petroleum subsidy scam of 2011, whereas N971 billion annually has been spent on subsidy since then, the message Nigerians get from all this is that accountability is not part of public office. Since 2007, corruption cases of over 10 ex-governors are still pending in court, without any appreciable success.

The ongoing #Bring Back Our Girls campaign, which has taken a global turn, is a testament to lack of effective governance. The critical question it has provoked is whether security votes provided for the President and governors annually have been judiciously used. Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso of Kano State, who distanced himself from the money, described it as a conduit for stealing public funds. “Security vote anywhere is stealing,” he once said. However, were such funds being put to good use, armed robbers and kidnappers would not be running riot across the landscape.

The fuel subsidy protest in 2012, which forced the Federal Government to probe and conclude that funds were looted, is people’s power at its best. It is a potent vehicle that should be in our DNA, as it checkmates the debauched elite in public office who control our common treasury.

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