By: Israel Umoh
The crowning of 24 states in the country for attaining the nine-point indices set by the World Bank shocked many. In fact, some non-benefitting states started to scratch their heads that if not that the indices were many, they would have made the list of beneficiaries. And others have become embittered that the humongous amounts would have cushioned the biting effects of the COVID-19 on their depressing economy.
Under the World Bank-Assisted States Fiscal Transparency, Accountability and Sustainability (SFTAS) Programme-for-Results, the states were rewarded for achieving the online publication of the approved annual budget and audited financial statement for the previous year; improved financial reporting and budget reliability; increased openness and citizens’ engagement in the budget process; strengthened public debt management and fiscal responsibility framework, and improved clearance/reduction of the stock of domestic expenditure arrears.
Other indices were improved cash management and reduced revenue leakages through the implementation of state Treasury Single Account (TSA); strengthened Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) collection; biometric registration and Bank Verification Number (BVN) used to reduce payroll fraud, improved procurement practices for increased transparency and value for money and improved debt sustainability.
The 24 beneficiary states were: Abia, Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Delta, Edo, Ekiti, Enugu, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Niger, Ondo, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Sokoto, Taraba, and Yobe states.
The non-beneficiaries are Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa, Borno, Cross River, Ebonyi, Rivers, Imo, Lagos, Nasarawa, Plateau, and Zamfara.
In the reward tray, Kaduna State picked the highest number of results (nine) and got the highest share of N3. 960 billion, while Katsina and Benue got the lowest amount of N540 million each as Federal Government disbursed the sum of N43,416,000,000 ($120.6 million) to the 24 states.
The fund is through a performance-based grant under SFTAS Programme-for-Results and is wholly-financed with a loan of $750 million from the International Development Association (IDA), a member of the World Bank Group.
Unexpectedly, Akwa Ibom State was conspicuously absent in the list of beneficiaries. Apart from the state having a nexus with God, the state is governed by a Deacon. His apostles, subordinates, and political associates fondly call him ‘Mr. Integrity.’
The fanciful tag was accentuated by the Integrity and National Service Award 2017 conferred on him on February 18, 2018, at the Banquet Hall of Aso Presidential Villa by the Presidency, Abuja, based on the ethos of good governance, outstanding service delivery, and principles of peer-review mechanism.
The award bagged under the Health Care Delivery and Gender Empowerment assessment scorecard of the NTA Integrity and Service Programme and based on Merit, was in pursuit for public accountability, excellence, patriotism, and national integration as well as providing a veritable avenue for a healthy competition and excellence in service delivery by MDAs of States and Federal Government.
Undoubtedly, the award was a replication of Emmanuel’s inaugural speech after being sworn into office as a governor on May 29, 2015 to run a transparent and responsible government devoid of corruption but founded on peace, unity and justice.
“I will ensure accountability and transparency in government by fighting corruption in all facets of our administration.”
The state appears to play ostrich on issues of good Governance such that some government spokespersons, whether at official or unofficial position, will sprinkle every dish of communication with politics and sycophancy.
Hear Charles Udoh, Commissioner for Information and Strategy, in June 2018, “Our award of contract follows due diligence, due process and international best practices. That is why we have a Special Adviser on Due Process and that tells you how serious this government takes the issue of transparency. We also have a Special Adviser on Direct Foreign Investment and we publish our annual report detailing how much we spend on a given project and that is a pointer to the fact that this government is transparent and accountable.
Dismissing allegations that the state government contract award was shrouded in secrecy and not through competitive bidding, Udoh noted, “There is no one way in awarding contracts. The most important thing in awarding contract is that you follow international best practices.’’
On why the state government does not publicize the contract sum, the Commissioner said: “There are no standard costs because construction of roads varies from size to size. The road you construct in Mbo cannot be the same amount with the one you construct in Uyo because of their peculiar terrain.
“The annual report is a clear indicator of how we spend Akwa Ibom money. There is no hidden agenda. And how many states in Nigeria publicise theirs? So, Akwa Ibom is very transparent and this is why we publish our annual report with audited financial statements for every year.’’
Udoh maintained that the roads constructed by the government were built to international standard and specification even as he allegedly accused the federal government of not building a single road in the state despite the fact that the state produces the highest oil quantum to the national coffers, affirming that the state government takes into consideration the economic value when building roads.
The issue of counting eggshells after the chickens are hatched is a major albatross of the administration. The governor had on April 28 named a 20-member post-COVID-19 economic reconstruction committee with Professor Akpan Ekpo, former Director-General of the West African Institute for Financial and Economic Management (WAIFEM) as chairman and Emmanuel Onwioduokit, a professor of Economics, as secretary.
Other members include Udom Inoyo, the retiring vice chairman of ExxonMobil; Mary Uduk, Acting Director-General of Securities and Exchange Commission; Leo Stan Ekeh, Chairman, Zinox Technologies; Nseyen Ebong, chairman of Uyo Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture and Vincent Anigbogu, Institute of National Transformation.
The committee also has Akan Okon, commissioner for economic development and Ibom deep seaport, Ephraim Inyang-Eyen, commissioner for works, and Ukpong Akpabio, commissioner for investment as members, among others.
Yet, other states had set up such committees shortly after the outbreak of the deadly virus. The committee expected to oversee the donations accrued to the COVID-19 fight, raise funds to finance it and proffer solutions on economic recovery. The Akwa Ibom committee is birthed after the first (?) phase of palliatives had been shared.
How can a committee of this magnitude be set up, yet the state did not include one or two technocrats from the Civil Service of not below the rank of a Director in the key economic and development ministries to help convey actual situation reports rather than political heads of such ministries to interpret and apply government policies in line with the various reports of the professionals?
Why did the state government send the 2020 Budget to the State House of Assembly to slash from N597.73 billion to N366 billion before the reconstruction committee was to be inaugurated? In an ideal situation, the committee would have been party to the executive budget review process before it was forwarded for legislative endorsement. In the light of what has now happened, is there any hope that the outcome of the post-COVID -19 Committee would see the light of the day? Are we envisaging an amendment or virement to accommodate their recommendation in the newly passed 366 billion naira budget?
The other time, some media aides to the governor drummed the 99 per cent score by Nigeria Centre for Disease Control on the state for COVID-19 contact tracing. Was the celebration necessary in the face of ravaging coronavirus pandemic which is still stalking the land and decimating many silently? While other states in collaboration with the NCDC have published figures related to contact tracing, we are yet to see any from Akwa Ibom certified/verified by NCDC.
Despite the World Bank reward for 24 states, Akwa Ibom, unlike its 24 counterparts, got nothing- money or accolade. It is denting on the much-touted transparency image of the state government and the governor as ‘Mr. Integrity.’ As the award subsists in 2020 and next year, the state government must return to the workstation by being aggressive in executing development programmes, be dogged, sincere, passionate to the plights of the masses, and resist discouragement. It must be focused, resilient and work harder instead of trumpeting on the airwaves and pages of newspapers its slightest achievements or proclamations that are basically unrelated to human existence and development in the state and in the country.
Let us be reminded that an Awa man, the late Dr. Clement Nyong Isong midwifed the country through the Nigerian Civil War without unnecessary debt to the country. In fact, soon after the war, the then ruler was quoted as saying, “Nigeria’s problem was how and where to spend the money.” Let this World Bank alert be a wake-up call for all men of interest to rise up and work together to put Akwa Ibom as a good destination for investment and ease of doing business. Lay aside voodoo economic policy (abracadabra) and programmes and embrace transparency, accountability, justice, equity and fairness.