By Dirisu Yakubu
President Muhammadu Buhari won himself a legion of admirers a few years into his first tenure when he doled out billions of naira from the Paris Debt Refund to state governments across the land.
This happened at a time the states were literary on life support given the economic recession that gripped the land and its people for long.
For states with low Internally Generated Revenue and poor Gross Domestic Product, GDP, it would be stating the obvious here to say that the bailout windfall helped stabilize the ship of governance as some of them deployed their allocations to the payment of salaries and sundry recurrent expenditures.
In July this year, an elated Governor Yahaya Bello while performing the ground breaking ceremony for the construction of a chapel at the Government House, Lokoja, announced the receipt of N30.8 billion bailout from the federal government.
And as expected, the main opposition party in the state expressed fear that the huge sums could be used to prosecute the November 16 governorship election in Kogi state and called on strict monitoring in the usage of the funds.
At the national secretariat of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in Abuja, governorship aspirants in their numbers alleged plans by the incumbent government in the state to compromise the electoral process in favour of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, which candidate and sitting governor, is seeking a mandate renewal.
As it were, the Governor kept his peace and went on to clinch the ticket of his party for the big test. However, a fresh anxiety has again gripped the opposition following the transmission of a letter to the Senate by President Muhammadu Buhari seeking additional refund of N10 billion to the North Central state for projects it implemented on behalf of the federal government.
With barely four weeks to the poll, not a few argue that the governor would be having a good laugh today, should the Senate oblige the request of Mr. President by releasing the huge sums of money to the state government.
“Accordingly, the Senate is hereby requested to kindly approve the issuance of promissory note to the sum of N10, 069,692,410.15 as refund to Kogi State government as payments for projects executed on behalf of the federal government while looking forward to the timely issuance of the resolutions of the National Assembly for the refund to Kogi State government,” part of the letter read.
Findings by Saturday Vanguard reveal that while there is nothing wrong in the President’s gesture; there’s a however a compelling need on the part of the Senate to ensure the funds are judiciously use for the enhancement of the lives of the people.
According to Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, President, Centre for Change, the lawmakers must as a matter of patriotism, verify the projects claimed to have been executed for which an approval of refund is now being sought.
She said: “I am sure the President must have attached the purpose the money is meant for and it behoves on the Senate to do due diligence and ensure the funds are approved subject to its verification of the projects. And except it’s about life and death, the approval can be delayed till after the elections to allay fears of the money being used to influence the electoral process.”
Taking a different position entirely is Suraju Olanrewaju, chairman of the Human and Environmental Development Agenda, HEDA Resource Centre, who says regardless of the motive; the legislators should stay until the November 16 governorship polls hold to allay fears of partisanship.
Speaking with our correspondent on the issue, the HEDA boss challenged the lawmakers to protect the independence of the legislature by standing with the people on the sensitive issue.
“I will implore the National Assembly, if truly independent, to reject that payment. Even if it’s for other purposes, the timing is wrong and unacceptable. Intention is not enough in this circumstance and politics. The Senate should convince the general public of its independence, as expected of the constitution and act like a respected arm of government, in this particular case.”
Bailout good but…Abdullahi
Justifying the need for the Senate to heed the request of the President, a member of the APC 2019 Presidential Campaign Organization, Haruna Abdullahi advised those reading ulterior motives to the N10 billion refunds to insist on accountability in the use of the huge sum rather than kicking against the request because of the proximity to elections.
According to him, “election or no election, a state must exist. Whatever is accrued to any state and has all constitutional provisions should be given. The caveat, therefore, is that all critical stakeholders must ensure the money is judiciously spent for the purposes it’s meant for. Election should not hinder public expenditure.”
Buhari, not concerned about Kogi people- PDP
For the PDP, the mere thought of approaching federal lawmakers to give a nod of approval of more funds to the Kogi state government is an indication that President Buhari is indifferent to the plight of the people of the state. This is the submission of the party’s national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan who incidentally hails from the state.
In a brief chat with our correspondent on the issue, the publicity scribe said, “This approval has shown that Mr President is not concerned about the fate that has befallen the people of Kogi state in the last four years. It also presupposes that President Buhari supports the profligate lifestyle of Governor Yahaya Bello. Mr. President cannot say he is not aware of the fact that in spite of the huge approvals and collection of funds by Bello, he has built nothing in Kogi State.”
With a few weeks to balloting, Nigerians are anxious to know who among the incumbent governor and the PDP candidate, Engr. Musa Wada, get the nod of the electorate to occupy Lugard House for the next four years. Bello has promised a glorious new dawn should the people retain faith in him once more while Wada urged the people to return the PDP to Government House, pledging to clear the backlog of salaries and pensions in the event of a victory at the election. Where would the pendulum swing? November 16 is just a few weeks away.