…Stakeholders urge FG to withhold release of funds till after inauguration of in-coming govs
…Say outgoing govs may spend funds on frivolities or divert same to private coffers
There is palpable tension in Imo and some other states across the country over the disclosure by the Federal Government that it is set to release the last tranche of the Paris Club refunds to the affected states.
Apart from Imo, other states where the tension is brewing include Gombe, Lagos, Bauchi, Adamawa, Ogun, Kwara and Zamfara.
The supervising Finance minister, Zainab Ahmed, had on Thursday in Abuja, stated that states yet to collect their balance of the Paris Club debts refunds would soon be paid.
She said about N649.434 billion has been released for that purpose.
“For the final phase of the Paris Club debts refunds, the total sum of N649.434 billion was verified by the Ministry as the outstanding balance to be paid to the state governments,” the Minister said.
The amount to be paid is lower than about N691.560 billion the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) paid as at March 2019 partly as a result of the exchange rate differential at the point of payment.
She assured that states with outstanding balances of the refund would be paid in due course.
But The Daily Times has found out that many concerned citizens, civil servants, non-governmental organisations and political stakeholders are raising concerns that the out-going governors from the affected states may misuse the funds if released to them before they leave office in matter of days from now.
On their parts, some of the affected in-coming state governors have approached banks and other financial institutions where state funds are domiciled to demand that new financial transactions by out-going governors should not be honoured.
According to a statement sent to The Daily Times on Sunday, Imo Charter Forum (ICF), an umbrella body of different associations and stakeholders on governance and welfare of Imo State, has urged the state’s in-coming governor, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, to ensure that the balance of Paris Club refund due for the state is not released to Governor Rochas Okorocha whose tenure comes to an end in less than two weeks..
In the statement signed by its national secretary, Hon. Zebulon Nwariri, ICF said it welcomes the announcement of the refunds with open arms, noting that if the fund is released to the outgoing governors, they would find excuses to spend it on frivolities or even divert it to private coffers, The ICF added that previous releases of such funds have not been duly accounted for by some of the governors.
The Forum noted that the case of Governor Rochas Okorocha was peculiar, as the state under his rule presently owes workers and pensioners, several month salaries and pensions, the same with local contractors who executed jobs but have not been paid despite many of such Paris Club refunds and huge internally generated revenue.
The Forum therefore urged the Federal Government to wait for the in-coming governors to be inaugurated so that the money would serve as their take-off grant, in view of the fact that many of them would be inheriting empty treasuries from the out-going ones.
“We welcome the news by the Federal Government that the last tranche of Paris Club refund has been released. For us, this would serve as take-off grant for some of the in-coming governors, most of who would be inheriting empty treasuries from the out-going governors.
“The case of Imo State is peculiar because Governor Rochas Okorocha has no respect for accountability and due process with finances and has always seen the money belonging to Imo State as his personal resource.
“The Federal Government may need to be reminded that Rochas Okorocha is owing workers over six months of unpaid salaries, the same with pensioners and contractors.
This is in spite of the fact the state rakes in much revenue from internal revenue streams, in addition to the huge releases in the past from the same Paris Club refunds.
“We therefore urge the in-coming governor, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, to do whatever is legally possible to safeguard Imo State’s share of the latest refunds by making sure that the money is not released to Rochas Okorocha before he leaves office in a few days from now.
He must ensure that the money does not go into the hands of out-going Governor Rochas Okorocha as they say that prevention is better than cure,” the Forum concluded.
Among the associations that are members of ICF are Imo Prosperity Network (IPN), Imo Sons and Daughters (ISD), Imo Peoples’ Congress for Development (IPCD), Imo Watchdogs for Transparency and Good Governance (IWTGG) and Women of Imo for Community Development (WICD).
In the same vein, President Muhammadu Buhari has been asked not to pay immediately to the states the final refund from the Paris Club debt to the states of the Federation until after the swearing in of new administrations in those states on May 29th 2019.
Prominent Human rghts Organisation, Human Right Writers Association (HURIWA) said any payment made now would be siphoned by the outgoing governors.
Besides, HURIWA has asked the Federal Government to directly disburse the fund to civil servants and pensioners owed accumulated wages in those states like Imo, Kogi amongst others whereby the state governors reportedly misused the previous refund made to them and refused to appropriately deploy those cash for the settlement of wages of their workforce.
HURIWA recalled that the federal Government recently announced that it will soon release the sum of N649.43bn as the final refund for the Paris Club debt to state governments.
The Minister of Finance, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, gave the figure on Thursday in Abuja during a media briefing on the activities of her ministry.
However, HURIWA through the National coordinator, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko and the media Affairs Director, Miss Zainab Yusuf, told President Buhari that he runs the risk of exposing the commonwealth of these states to be stolen and looted as last minutes’ bonanza at this moments of transition from one state administration to another in some of those states
just as the Rights group reminded the President that he should remember that the benchmark he made for releasing previous payments from the Paris Club refund was that benefiting states must utilise the cash to pay off accumulated wage bills in their .
HURIWA stated that many of these states through their governors misused and misapplied these fund and never paid off their workers. The Rights group maintained that going ahead with the repayment to these same governors amounts to economic sabotage.
HURIWA said:”We hope that Mr. President has not reached an understanding with some of these governors to release this humongous amount of cash to some of them as parting gifts. Mr. President must know that if this is the case then posterity and history will be very unkind to him as he will enter the history of the country as someone who failed these states by aiding and abetting the thefts of their resources by these thieving governors”.