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This account is irregular

Josef Omorotionmwan
WE have come a long way in all things, including the attempt to checkmate that big monster called corruption. The joke is  told of how a machine that catches thieves was invented outside these coasts. That machine was dispatched to us to help catch those big  thieves around.

But as soon as the machine landed in Nigeria, it was stolen! Does this sound any different from what is happening to the Direct Data Capture (DDC) machines, which were imported into this country to facilitate the process of registering us to vote?

As soon as the machines arrived Nigeria, they developed wings and began to escape in every direction. We hear that some of the stolen machines have been recovered but what happened to the rest? The theft of even one unit of such sensitive machines should, ordinarily, be treated as  high treason, except that in Nigeria, we  have  since learnt to treat everything with levity.

Apart from the financial gains accruing to the thieves who stole the machines, we are pained by the bigger dent involved in a botched 2011 election, even before  take off. While genuine Nigerians will be struggling in the field, under the sun and in the rain, trying to get registered, some will be doing dubious parallel registrations, the Adedibu style, in their private homes. And we still think we are conducting a credible election?

How many things do we really do well in this country? This is a country where we can’t even count ourselves. Every ten years, we go into the expensive war of the census at the end of which we come out with some bogus population figures in some areas; while the figures in some other areas remain politically suppressed. See what is happening to Lagos with its burgeoning population?

Everyone sees and feels it but the book-keepers tell us otherwise. Such hated areas  must go to court to be able to get a pinch of justice on every issue, ranging from the allocation to the local governments to other minor issues. We hear that the Federal Government still went ahead to withhold the legitimate entitlements of the local governments of Edo, Ekiti and Ondo States.

Our Federal Government has not learnt any lessons from the illegal withholding of the allocations to the local governments of Lagos State during the Obasanjo years. It is unfortunate that in its dealings with other federating units, the Federal Government is less than transparent and it cuts corners at every bend.

Even on such a simple issue as the definition of our Financial Year, the Federal Government is unsure of itself. Not too long ago, the Financial Year in Government circles used to be from 1st April of one year to the 31st of March of the following year.

This was changed to 1st January – 31st December of every year. The change here, notwithstanding, we see our Federal Government gradually adopting a new Financial Year from the 1st of January of one year to the 31st of March of the following year.

This practice started with the implementation of the 2009 appropriation Act. We were all busy watching over the health of our late President that we did not know when “one flew over the coo coo’s nest”. Before we were fairly aware of what was happening, 2009 had passed and we had hardly started implementing the year’s budget. It was therefore convenient to announce that the 2009 appropriations would be implemented up to 31st March, 2010. Evidently, one bad turn deserves another.

The Federal Government has just announced that the 2010 appropriations will be implemented into March 2011. Perhaps unwittingly, we have been pushed into a 15-month Financial Year.

That’s what indolence and tardiness can do. Because a lazy executive branch of government has failed to submit the budget proposals to a lazy legislative branch at the appropriate time; the lazy legislature cannot pass the budget on time; and the end result is that spending on that budget cannot begin in earnest until much later in the Financial Year.

What a chain reaction! As we approach the Election Year, it is clear that the entire machinery of government will soon migrate into the campaign fields and governance will be put in abeyance.

We continue to wonder if ours is still a federation. A situation in which the Federal Government has so much to eat, to waste, to steal and to throw around while the other federating units that really need the money for true development are being starved is most undesirable, to say the least.

Yet, the Revenue Allocation formula that we now have in place is as outdated as the National Minimum Wage Act. The last time that both measures were given any meaningful touch was during the Shagari Administration, in the Second Republic. This is one fertile area where an accountable National Assembly would have been busy, trying to remedy things.

The bubble will soon burst. Right now, the Nigerian workers are making us an offer that we cannot refuse. They are awaiting the national minimum wage of N18,000 per month and our legislators will not have the moral justification to turn it down.

But against the backdrop that many States have not been able to implement the N7,500 per month requirement, we wonder what magic they will apply to the N18,000 measures. This is the time to revisit the Revenue Allocation formula, which for the States, could be the last key in the bunch to open the door.

The Federal Government is still swimming in the illegal excess crude account, which the Supreme Court has since outlawed, asking that the balance of the account be transferred to the Federation Account for better coordination. Even at that, we have been insisting that the operation of the Federation Account itself leaves much to be desired.

What we have today as the Accountant-General of the Federation is a misnomer. He is, indeed, the Accountant-General of the Federal Government. For now, the Federation Account remains what the Federal Government says it is. The only way to avoid this is to establish a General Accounting Office (GAO) for the federation in which case, a truly separate Accountant-General of the Federation is simply imperative.


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