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Governors reply Buhari: We don’t steal LG funds, FG failed to set agenda

Prominent lawyers on Friday joined governors across the country who have reacted to statements credited to President Muhammadu Buhari and his Minister of State for Budget and National Planning accusing them of stealing allocations meant for local governments in their domains and entrenching poverty in their various states.

President Buhari, who spoke after delivering his speech at an event hosted for members of the Senior Executive Course 44 (2022) of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, flayed governors who collected money on behalf of council areas in their states only to remit half of such funds to council chairmen.

The president who stated that he spoke from personal experience involving a governor declined to give name but however connected the vice to the issue of lack of integrity in many people holding positions of authority in the country. Governors who spoke through their aides with Saturday Telegraph on the issues raised by the President on Friday stoutly rejected Buhari’s assertions, maintaining that funds due to the third tier of government usually get to them as and when due. Those who spoke to our correspondents include governors Nyesom Wike (Rivers), Chukwuma Soludo (Anambra), Ifeanyi Okowa (Delta), Rotimi Akeredolu (Ondo), Dapo Abiodun (Ogun), , Udom Emmanuel (Akwa Ibom) and Benedict Ayade (Cross Rivers). Prominent lawyers who also spoke with our correspondents include a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Professor Paul Ananaba and a Lagos based legal practitioner, Mr. Monday Ubani. This is coming just as competent sources within the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) also described Buhari’s minister’s assertion as unfair and unsubstantiated in view of the near zero allocation coming from the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) for some time which prompted state governors to improvise on their various financial obligations in their states.

Name govs involved in theft of council money–Wike

Wike on Friday dissociated himself from President Buhari’s allegation, urging him to name the perpetrators. Wike stated that since 2015 when he came on board as the chief executive of the state, he has never tampered with local government funds. “You said the governors are taking local government funds. I want to say in the name of Almighty God, I have never touched local government funds one day. “I have never and I have no reason to do that. So, Mr. President, tell us who those people are. You know them, tell us. It is not good to make class defamation of saying governors. Please, I am not one of those governors. “So, Mr. President, please, spare me, tell Nigerians that the Integrity Governors are not part of them. We have integrity. And do us a favour to announce all those states that they are taking local government money because you have the records.” Wike noted that ordinarily, most of the road projects his administration had constructed should have been done by local government councils, but he has never asked any council for partnership to fund any project. Reacting, Okowa took exception to the claim by President Buhari and the Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Prince Clem Agba, saying his name should appear in the book of life for keeping pace with the affairs of the local government areas in his state. Speaking through his Chief Press Secretary, Mr Olise Ifeajika, Okowa demanded an unreserved apology from the Federal Government to him and other governors who have been lumped into the category of persons that pilfer local government monies. “Count Governor Ifeanyi Okowa out of the accusation, our governor does not fall in that category at all. This is a Governor that augments local government area allocations with over N600million on a monthly basis. Just two weeks ago, he approved N2.5billion grants to the 25 council areas of the state to offset their pension arrears. Is that a Governor that steals local government money? He is among the Governors whose names will be written in gold in Nigeria’.

FG can’t abdicate responsibility– Emmanuel

Speaking through his Commissioner of Information and Strategy, Mr. Ini Ememobong, Udom said that it is wrong for the Federal Government whose duty is to set economic policies in the country to turn around to blame state governors for rising poverty in the country. He accused the Federal Government of abdicating its responsibility to Nigerians and blaming state governors, saying such was a sign of a sinking government. “What determines poverty and unemployment in a country is economic policies. Economic policies are set nationally.

So, the Federal Government cannot abdicate its responsibility. It is only a sign of a sinking ship for Federal Government to begin to blame state governors that are yet to see true federalism of being responsible for poverty. How can Economics policies in a state drive dollars which determine almost all areas of our national existence? “The very acrimonious relationship between the Naira and the Dollar is the sole determinant factor for more than 80% of our existence. How will a state governor determines policies that will affect crude” Commenting on the issue, Abiodun who also spoke through his Chief Press Secretary (CPS), Mr. Kunle Somorin, maintained that the President’s allegation does not apply to the State as his principal is not among those involved in diverting the money of LGs. Akeredolu on his part absolved his government of such allegations through his Commissioner for Information, Mrs. Bamidele Ademola-Olateju, saying the recently released National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and World Bank reports had noted that his government is not entrenching poverty in the state. Akeredolu maintained that Ondo remains the leader in fiscal transparency, accountability and poverty reduction in the South West geo-political zone. “National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) released a new report based on data from the World Bank, that highlighted the economic impact of the REDEEMED agenda of the Governor of Ondo State, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu, in reducing poverty. “Among the thirty six states of the federation, Ondo State has the lowest multidimensional poverty index, as at 2022. The Multidimensional Poverty Index is often used by the World Bank to capture a more complete picture of poverty. “This means our state has the lowest percentage of households deprived along three dimensions of well-being; that is, education, monetary poverty, and basic infrastructure services. “The low poverty incidence in Ondo State, is a testament that Governor Akeredolu’s targeted plans, matched to the sustainable development goals, is improving the economy of Ondo State and reducing poverty in the state. “Our belief in free markets and the ingenuity of our people led us to create Ondo State Entrepreneurship Agency (ONDEA). ONDEA is dedicated towards fostering an in-clusive and stimulated economic development agenda, with areas of impact including, funding, digitalization, skills acquisition, education, value exchange and human capital development. “ONDEA has prioritized the empowerment of micro and macro entrepreneurs in the state and we are reaping the results. ‘In his efforts to transition the state to an industrial state, Governor Akeredolu’s initiatives like the Oil Palm, Red Gold initiative which has created over five thousand (5,000) jobs, Ondo-Linyi Industrial Park in Ọrẹ, has created over two thousand (2,000) jobs, the afforestation revitalization scheme has generated over one thousand (1, 000) jobs, as well as other private sector concerns in the state. “We did not get our enviable position by accident. Our painstaking investment in teacher recruitment and massive recruitment into the Amotekun corps, contributed to this good rating. “For us in Ondo State, it was double honors, as this good rating did not come to us in isolation. The World Bank gave an award of excellence to Ondo State for “Very Good” performance on the Fiscal Transparency and Accountability in their States Fiscal Transparency, Accountability, and Sustainability (SIFTAS) programme. We were awarded for our dogged focus on strengthening the fiscal sustainability, transparency and accountability of our state’s finances. ‘The administration of Governor Akeredolu is committed to lifting people out of poverty, securing the lives and property of Ondo State residents and ensuring that we build a better economy for everyone in the state. We are aiming higher. We will not relent. God bless Ondo State.” Speaking through his Senior Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr.Christian Ita, Ayade noted that those allegations do not apply to the state as his focus has been on industrializing the state, which is a means of creating mass employment opportunities for the people. According to Ita, the state government has established over 30 industries across the state to employ citizens of the state. “Do not also forget His Excellency’s food on the table policy that has led to the appointments of over 30 thousand young people into government just to ensure food on the table for families. He also lifted the over 20-year-old embargo on employment into the civil service with the employment of thousands of Cross Riverians into the civil service.

Not time to trade blame– Ananaba, Ubani

In his reaction, Ananaba said the President Buhari-led government should concern itself with problem solving instead of shifting blame. Although he agreed that the governors, like other Nigerians, have their share of blame, he nonetheless said that was not why Nigerians entrusted governance to the present administration.

“This is not the time for blame games. Although the governors, like other Nigerian, have their share of the blame, that was not why they elected the President and his lieutenants to superintend the affairs of the country. The President was elected to help solve problems and not to start apportioning blame. “If as a President he had noticed a problem or corrupt practices, all he needed to do is to try to nip it in the bud instead of shifting the blame. Nigerians don’t need that now; they need someone who is capable of solving problems and not someone apportioning blame. Blame game does not lead anywhere.”

Like Ananaba, Ubani said the Federal Government is only passing the buck by saying that the state governments are the only ones impoverishing Nigerians. He said both the federal and state governments are creating poverty in the land, adding the Federal Government was only behaving like the proverbial kettle calling the pot black. “Both the federal and state governments are guilty of impoverishing Nigerians. All of them are stealing our money. Both the federal and state governments are creating poverty in the land. President Muhammadu Buhari is just passing the buck; they are all contributing to poverty.

“We should try and vote them out in 2023, if we make the same mistake that we made in the past, then our eyes will be opened to reality,” he said. According to the NGF source who stated that a comprehensive response of the Forum would soon be released, he accused the President of being insincere in his comments considering the fact that the states have not been receiving allocations from the common pool in recent times.

“I don’t think that the president is sincere in his comments because we all know that the state governors have not been getting enough allocations from the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission for some time to be able to run their states effectively,” the source added. The source further carpeted Buhari and Agba for making what he termed ‘unsubstantiated claims’ against its members.

The source who is well embedded with the Forum also accused the president of indicting his ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) which has no fewer than 22 governors elected on its platform. “How would the President come out and make a blanket statement against all the state governors siphoning the resources meant for local governments? The ruling party has 22 governors elected on its party’s platform.

Does that mean that his party has failed? If that is the verdict that the President is passing then, his ruling APC has failed the country,” the source who pleaded not to be mentioned said. The source who blamed the president for relying on what he termed rumour called on President Buhari not to tar all the governors with the same brush but single out any of the governors doing such for punishment.

“I think it is unfair for the governor to say that all the governors are stealing local government funds and not working for their people, I know a lot of governors that are working very hard for the development of their states, even though I know that some of them are below par in their performance. “The president should go ahead and name any of the governors that are culpable for punishment instead of saying all the governors are stealing the allocations for local government,” he said.

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