by Seun Onigbinde
I tracked FAAC Allocations, and can say that in March, N945m was deducted for the repayment of the bond, but of course, governor Aregbesola has neglected to mention this crucial detail. Why did the Osun State government create University of Osun (UNIOSUN), a tertiary institution with an expensive outlay of six far-flung campuses?
Regarding Osun State, without facts, it is understandable when citizens belch out emotional words, after feeding on the buffet of pitiful narratives which Nigeria’s governors routinely cook up to rationalise the dire financial realities resulting from their wilful actions and inactions.
If I had my way, any state which owes its civil servants more than three months’ wages would have its entire democratic structure suspended, as the governor and lawmakers would have failed to deliver the basic responsibility of governance – ensuring the welfare and security of the people. Osun State owes salaries for seven months, yet its governor publicly classifies this calamity as one of several “economic disasters caused by factors above human powers” and in the same breath declares that his administration has “performed creditably well.”
This inability of states to pay their workers calls for the declaration of a state of emergency in these areas, because politicians will always prefer to slap on a piece of plaster to fix what only extensive surgery can correct. In arguing for a bailout for these debt-submerged states, trusting politicians whose actions are influenced by (and limited to) an election cycle poses a great risk to the national treasury. Give a bailout fund of the needed N30bn to Osun State and, yes, all arrears will be paid within the next six months. But we will be back to square one thereafter, with Aregbesola rehashing his hand-wringing motions and regurgitating the same cliches to the same audience of suffering masses.
Since 2013, BudgIT has consistently tried very hard to get Osun State’s budget and that of other states across Nigeria. This task has proved impossible, despite the physical energy and material resources we have invested. At staggering costs for a lean organisation like BudgIT, our consultants have had to travel around Nigeria, seeking public data since states refuse to provide budgets or relevant financial data online, in spite of the ease provided by technology in achieving this. The state government budgets we had access to in 2013 (except Lagos, Ekiti, Edo, and Rivers), were gotten through unofficial channels. Whenever civil servants are approached for budget information, the organisation or individual making the request is often viewed – and treated – as a spy from opposition parties. My colleagues in Bayelsa and Delta states experienced this firsthand. In the final analysis, these documents are merely budget estimates, and nothing more. Across the federation, there is a total blackout on access to the actual expenditure, revenue, audited statements, annual debt stock and budget implementation reports of all states (except Lagos). Our states have overwhelmingly refused to domesticate the Fiscal Responsibility Act (except Ekiti), which ensures a legal commitment to crucial principles of transparency.
State governors do not open their books, yet once caught in the beam of their own wanton high-handedness, the excuses start rolling in fast, although their lifestyles remain lavish. We need to understand that the underlying factor which can extensively mitigate these problems remains TRANSPARENCY. Until governor Aregbesola started telling us stories, did Nigerians know he was spending N3.5bn monthly on salaries? How sure are we that this is the actual amount spent, when we have nothing, in terms of prior documentation, to compare it with? On the Osun State website, there is no official publication relating to the state of its finances. The site is merely a PR platform, like most state government websites, where the closest you come to getting a whiff of the budget would be a speech ultimately revealing nothing, but with the current photograph of the governor.
What opinions did Nigeria’s state governors share about crude oil theft, the arbitrary deductions of subsidy funds and the operational excesses of the NNPC, which collectively limit government revenue and by extension the disbursements that should accrue to the states and ultimately benefit the people? The governors instead chose to play politics with the Governors’ Forum, which should have advocated for better revenue management. In how many states have analysts been able to compare debt servicing costs with revenue, as done with the Federal Government? One would have loved to provide a credible table chronicling this for Nigerians, but it is impossible to piece together credible data when the states’ own online and offline platforms reveal nothing.
Only when Governors open their books as a matter of routine, can they prove a willingness to allow for factual discussions that will facilitate effective solutions and sustainable aid. Selectively telling stories to their own advantage without providing the full gamut of transparency – audited records, budget implementation records and financial exposures – is treachery and they know it, just as we know it.
We must now return to His Excellency, the broom-wielding, Opon Imo tablet-providing governor. Can Osun State provide a breakdown of all its Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) in the last four years? How much did we know of Osun State’s finances until these hasty confessions now, except the scanty information within the Federal Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) sheets provided by the Accountant-General, which in turn have not been updated online since last year?
From the previous governor, Olagunsoye Oyinlola to Aregbesola, both individuals made the poor choices that have escalated into this unforgivable betrayal of the public’s trust. Governor Oyinlola took an N18bn loan from the United Bank for Africa (UBA) in 2012 and converted it into six uncompleted stadia and other long-forgotten social projects, while governor Aregbesola took another N11.4bn bond (at a 14.75 percent interest rate). Yet none of these men felt a need to inform the people in whose name they borrowed of how much was deducted at source for bonds, or about any local banks’ charges.
I tracked FAAC Allocations, and can say that in March, N945m was deducted for the repayment of the bond, but of course, governor Aregbesola has neglected to mention this crucial detail. Why did the Osun State government create University of Osun (UNIOSUN), a tertiary institution with an expensive outlay of six far-flung campuses? Why set up unsustainable social welfare schemes, only to compound the odds further by funding these schemes with unreliable oil prices? Why not via taxes, as such fiscal tools are truly meant for the redistribution of wealth? And if taxes are not sufficient, surely this is the best reason to boost a State-wide IGR drive?
There is nothing shameful in transparency. Rather, it is this mindless opacity, bolstered by the ‘yes men’ around governors that brings crises of this magnitude, where basic salaries aren’t paid when due for months. When governors and their accomplices in State Houses of Assembly prefer to run our States like their personal fiefdoms, without intense scrutiny from the informed public, we expect fatal results such as these to recur in the foreseeable future.
Oluseun Onigbinde is the Lead Partner of BudgIT, a civic organisation pushing transparency and accountability in Nigeria.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.