Making states accountable for public funds – THE CITIZEN

Recent figures released by Dr.Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, minister of finance and the coordinating minister of the economy show that top 10 revenue allocations to states amounted to about N1.6 trillion in 2013. In the first five months of this year, total allocations to states from the federation account have exceeded N1.7 trillion.

In spite of some slacken performance in oil earnings in April, overall revenue performance has been quite good this year, maintaining a stable growth since January. Except for the short lived oil price fall in 2008, a long running oil bull market since 1999 has given Nigeria enough wealth to achieve meaningful development.

Many states are getting revenue allocations that are well in excess of annual budgets of many countries, according to the finance minister. How far this benign revenue performance has helped in reducing poverty and unemployment in the country is the big question that should not only be asked but should be satisfactorily answered. Given the availability of huge allocations, funding should not be an obstacle to development in any state of the federation.

Since the finance minister has challenged state governors to show their citizens what they have done with the huge allocations they have been receiving, all we have received from them is silence. If all that we can get from state governors to whom so much public funds have been trusted is silence, then we are compelled to interpret such uneasy silence as a general admission of non-performance. State and local governments are closer to the people and were designed to affect the people’s lives far more than what the federal government could do from the centre.

Yet the direct responsibility of these tiers of government often appears to be over looked and all attention is always focused on the federal government for responsibilities that are within the mandates of these lower arms of government. This seems to obscure the statutory roles of state governments, keeping them away from public view and thus creating a chance for mismanagement of state and local government finances.

Only the few governors who, are self motivated to serve their people without being induced, have been able to accomplish anything worthwhile in their states. Even then, there is no way to relate the work that has been done with the level of resources at their disposal.

The undue attention on the federal government in improving the lives of the people is the aftermath of many years of military dictatorship when states had to receive administrative details from the head of state. Civil rule has changed this level of centralization of power but the attitude of our people is yet to be conditioned to reflect this change. This is the only explanation why Nigerians seem to ignore their states and local governments to which so much resources are allocated and keep calling on the federal government for what the lower arms of governments have failed to accomplish.

Beyond the urban areas that attract attention, most state and local governments cannot show reasonable projects completed or being undertaken in their rural communities. This is in utter neglect of the grassroots closeness for which they were created. While they are physically close to the people, they are far from helping them.

According to Okonjo-Iweala, it is high time Nigerians held their governors accountable over the money meant to accelerate development of their states. This is well said but how many people know exactly what to do to that effect. Was there any proper orientation to guide our actions and responses in matters of enforcing accountability before the present system of government was adopted? Again, information on specific monthly allocations to the various units of government is not made available to the public.

We believe that neither the people nor the state governments are to blame for the present situation. The problem is that the people do not understand the working of the administrative system. Where the presidential system of government is borrowed from, there is a culture of accountability. In our society where it has been imposed, that culture is completely missing.

We do not have the essential democratic culture of holding public officers to task on how they are running the affairs of government. Because that culture is missing, state governors and other public officers generally have no pressure on them whatsoever to use public funds in the best interest of the public. If the system does not demand responsibility on public officers to perform, can we reasonably expect them to govern well? If we place resources in the hands of people whom the system cannot hold accountable, it amounts to misplacement of the resources in the first place.

Ours is a society where people will have to be pushed, even threatened with serious sanctions from the top for them to do what is right. For this reason, we need to modify the democratic system to suit our culture. We need an independent centrally monitored fund utilization process at least in the interim to get better performance from states and local governments.

At the same time, we need to practically show our people what they should do in making state governors and other public office holders accountable and how to go about it. Specific monthly revenue allocations to the various states and local governments should be made widely available to Nigerians.

We need to start by planting the democratic culture in our society, nurture it for a while to grow and mature before we can rightly expect the public to be an effective check on the performance of public officers. Otherwise, to expect state governments to be accountable to people who are not demanding accountability is to expect the unexpected.

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