By Ibrahim Akawu

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Governor Abubakar Sani Bello of Niger state came under heavy criticism last week Thursday, from members of the state House of Assembly over the way and manner the government is handling the recovery of looted funds by the past administration.

Members took turns to express worries that eight months into the administration and despite repeated assurances, they were yet to see any evidence that money has been recovered and corruption fought, describing the efforts put so far by the executive as slow, weak and ineffectual.

This was the mood of members as the House opened debate on the 2016 budget speech of Governor Abubakar Sani Bello during Thursday plenary. The House were unanimous that corruption must be tackled head-on and stolen funds recovered to enable the state forge ahead to implement the 2016 budget.

Taking the lead in the debate after Isah Ibrahim Dandodo, the majority leader moved a motion that the House commenced debate on the governor’s 2016 budget speech, Hon. Haruna Alh. Mohammed (Bida11), said corruption was the bane in managing the state economy over the past years, adding that the governor in his speech promised to fight corruption and recover stolen funds, but according to him” we are yet to see any money”.

The governor, he said must redouble his efforts to bring back money taken away from the people illegally, adding “these monies are flying around flamboyantly, the perpetrators are well known. He must work to bring our money back”.

He said for the government to have enough money to implement the budget, it must look at where money stolen by the previous administration were kept, recover them, prosecute the offenders to serve as a lesson and improve on the internally generated revenue.

The deputy speaker of the House, Hon Husseini Ibrahim said the fight in recovering looted money have been badly taken, lamenting that while other states like Benue and Plateau were making gains in recovering stolen money and offenders brought to book, here in Niger state the commitment was weak and yielding no results.

The deputy speaker said improving revenue seemed to be only proved theoretically as months ago they were gathered about the same issue and up till now, nothing positive has happened.

He said even the much talked about Treasury Single Account (TSA), has been bedeviled by its own inadequacies as according to him “we have not seen any circular or any particular evidence that TSA is been implemented”.

He said the executive must match words with action as the issue of fighting corruption and recovering stolen funds has become a mere rhetoric, urging the executive to muster the courage to come with facts about the looted funds and go after the perpetrators to serve as correction to others.

“It is sad that we are reading stolen funds being recovered in Benue, Plateau and Kaduna and other states and also the amount recovered from those who stole the money. But in our own case here in Niger, the commitment is weak and not yielding any result”, he lamented.

Hon Malik Madaki Bosso, member representing Bosso constituency expressed doubt that not any money could not be recovered from looters with the way the executive was handling the matter.

He said before and after the inauguration of the present government, the governor promised Nigerlites that corrupt people would be dealt with and stolen money recovered, adding “I don’t see any measures on the ground now, that’s eight months after, that stolen money can be recovered. If we don’t expose and punish people who stole government money to serve as deterrent, we will not send any signal at all”, he warned.

Hon. Bosso said the House must help the executive in fighting corruption, as according to him, the governor needed serious help.

He said the inability of the present government to tackle corruption and recover money back will definitely affect its ability to fully realise its budget.

Governor Abubakar Sani Bello, while presenting his 2016 budget said his government will recover all stolen funds and that proven cases of corruption would be dealt with accordingly. 

He told the legislators that he met an almost empty treasury and thus has to start from the scratch and embark on fiscal discipline to overcome the challenges. Before the budget presentation and on assumption of office, the governor sets up committees, prominent of which were the financial management commitee and infrastructure committee to dig into financial waste, mismanagement and or outright stealing.

While the committees were at work and apparently not satisfied with the committee’s work, the state House of Assembly passed a motion calling on the government to set up public judicial panel of inquiry to investigate the immediate past PDP administration which it accused of wanton mismanagement of state funds.

 However, the governor disagreed, arguing that it will amount to wasting public funds and time. He said previous exercises did not yield any positive results.

It was in the midst of this that the Peoples Democratic Party PDP, whose government were in the center of corruption allegation said they were not afraid and called the call for their probe a bluff.

Its state secretary, Aminu Yusuf while granting interview to Journalists said the party will honour any invitation for probe. It said it was not afraid as long as the exercise will be carried out in a transparent manner.

After the PDPs boast, the governor, during his 100 days in office broadcast, spilled the beans, revealing some of the despicable findings the financial management commitee and the infrastructure committee made. He accused the PDP administration of wanton abuse of financial rules and regulations, mismanagement and misapplication of funds and in many cases, outright stealing.

 Also during the flagging off the APC campaign for the last local government election, at the Kontagora Township Field, the governor accused the PDP of stealing over   N100billion.

“Under the PDP administration, over N100billion was looted with pension fund also looted while civil servants got little or nothing after serving for 35 years. But we are taking necessary steps to deal with them”, he said.

He said the impunity and untold hardship being experienced by the people was as a result of mismanagement and looting of public fund.

However, since the governor’s broadcast and after the winding up of the commitees work, the usual expected legal actions and announcements of funds recovered have not been heard. This seemed to prompt members, majority of whom are from the same party with the governor, to rise to occasion the second time.

Some of the members who spoke during the plenary also expressed doubt over the reality of the budget, citing poor revenue inflow, weak fiscal discipline and uncertain speculations.

The member representing Kontagora 1, Hon Nurudeen Umar Mohammed said the budget of restoration may not after all restore any hope. Explaining that with fallen oil prices and the benchmark that defined the budget and other indices, the slogan the budget carried with may not be realistic. “I don’t see us getting N35.5 billion from the federation account. There is drastic drop in federal allocations. Even the N9billion from the IGR is not realistic. We should tell ourselves the truth”, he explained further. Hon Nurudeen said except big yielding revenue initiatives like the Babanna transborder concepts are fully developed and others alike, the state will find it difficult to realize its budget and pay workers salaries.

Also the member representing Agwara constituency, Hon Bello Ahmed Agwara called for tax auditing to ensure satisfactory returns. He said corruption was undermining tax administration in the state, pointing out that a system of percentages be introduced where revenue officers would only be paid salaries from what they generated.

Hon. Binta Mamman in her contribution lamented that women and children were not adequately captured in the budget, while Kasim Bako Alfa ( Bida 1) commended the budget for given education and youth development top most priority.

Member representing Mokwa constituency, Hon Mohammed Baiwa Mohammed cautioned the executive not to make waste it change slogan, urging the House to liaise with the financial management commitee set up by the executive to submit its report to the House.

After debate on the governor’s 2016 budget speech, the Speaker Hon. Ahmed Marafa put the motions moved by Bello Ahmad Agwara and Husseini Ibrahim that report on the Treasury Single Account and the five committees set up by the state government to investigate the previous administration, be submitted to the House and the House passed the motion.

TAURARUWA