…Say Assembly has become loan approving institution
…Accuse Speaker of becoming the governor’s ‘errand boy’
….Most ministries, MDAs operating without overhead, running cost
By Chuwang Dungs, Jalingo
It is no longer news that in the last few weeks some top government officials, bank personnel and some contractors in Taraba State have been constant guests of the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), over series of alleged financial fraud that has bedevilled the state.
The development is however giving the public the impression that the state Assembly has failed in it’s oversight responsibility of checkmating the financial spendings of the state institutions which resulted to the present mess. The state Assembly is being criticized from all sides for it’s inability to curb the ongoing corruption in the system, making it culpable and toothless.
In a functioning democracy all institutions and agencies of the State and government at every level are answerable to the Parliament. As the people’s representatives, legislators are responsible for law-making, representation and oversight. And are expected to respond to the aspiration and concerns of their constituents when making submissions, laws and approvals to checkmate the powers of the executive arms as enshrined in sections 128 and 129 of the 1999 constitution, as amended.
The law gives the legislators the power over the treasury, that is the reason the constitution empowers them to receive audit reports from the executive arms through the Public Accounts Committee to ensure transparency in the management of resources, but in Taraba the case seems to be different.
The ninth Taraba Assembly under the leadership of Rt. Hon. Joseph Kunini is being accused of neglecting there primary responsibility of making laws and checkmating the finances of the state by monitoring the activities of government ministries and agencies, as a result the system is polluted with corruption.
Recent happenings in the state have revealed the intensity of the corruption going on in the system and the failure of the legislature’s in providing sustainable and meaningful representation through oversight function.
The undeniable fact in Taraba is that the state legislature has become an addendum of the governor, resulting to their inability to exercise their constitutional role in the process of democratic governance.
The EYEWITNESS reliably gathered that must of the shady deals and transaction being investigated by the anti graft commission are allegely linked to the executive governor and some properties acquired by the governor across the state and in Abuja have been seized and subjected to investigation by the anti-graft agency.
The governor is also being accused of abusing his office as he unfairly award inflated contracts to his family and cronies, in flagrant disregard for the constitutional provision that guides the award of contract.
According to those familiar with the issue the governor in most cases refused to advertise bids as required by the Procurement Act.
Top on the list of the Governor’s shady deals and near financial offenses that is generating reactions, is the activities of the governor through his younger sister Gladys Kande Mamman, a member of the Taraba State Primary Board, who he uses pseudo companies linked to her BVN to defraud the state.
A top government official who spoke to The EYEWITNESS in confidence lamented how Gov Darius has rendered government agencies useless in contract award by subverting there functions thus throwing due process to the wind.
He said there are a lot of evidence showing lack of transparency in contract awards characterised by blunt refusal to advertise bids, as required by the Procurement Act.
According to him Taraba State is run like a personal family estate without any meaningful physical achievement other than sponsored media propaganda and purchasing awards.
The EYEWITNESS reliably gathered that most MDAs in the state in the last two years have been operating on zero percent allocation with no overhead and running cost, a situation that has rendered them ineffective.
He noted that Darius think he is fooling the public by feigning prudence while using several fronts to swindle public coffer of several billions of Naira since his ascension to power.
“It is hypocritical to claim you are on a rescue mission and end up only rescuing your pockets” He lamented.
The EYEWITNESS reliably gathered that early last year the state executive council approved a contract for the supply of 100 Toyota Prado vehicles 2020 model for his use and other government officials.
Just like the award of the contract, delivery by the contractor remains controversial as the contractor is yet to make a single delivery.
Apart from awarding contracts indirectly to himself and family members, he is also being accused of ordering State contractors to adhere to buying materials, especially cement and blocks from recommended suppliers who are mostly his fronts.
There are also widespread allegation that Darius forced local governments to pay funds centrally to the state from the fund apportioned to the councils from the federation account.
Our source disclosed that local governments were being asked to contribute to the running of some projects in the state which ordinarily were the responsibilities of the state government as a result no local government in the state has been able to undertake a single project worth 5 million from 2015 to 2020, because the funds for all the councils are centrally siphoned each month.
Regrettably, amidst all this alleged fraud, members of the state Assembly are mute, there is also total absence of other important bodies like civil society and opposition parties to serve as alternative bodies that would hold the executive accountable and also keep it on it’s toes.
While I am not an advocate of constant legislative-executive friction, it is not all disagreements between the legislature and executive arms of government that amount to unnecessary frictions or can be regarded as frictions.
The issue raised by most people residing in the state is that since the assumption of Darius Ishaku as governor in 2015, the house has only been reduced to an instrument of approving loans, a situation that is raising serious concern by people living across the state.
Particularly, one issue that is generating a lot of concern to most Tarabans is the insensitivity of the Assembly in approving the borrowing and spending plans of the Executive arm of government in a manner many consider to be very reckless and anti-people.
They are crying foul at the speed at which these public liabilities are being incurred and instead of being sensitive to such public outcry, there are allegations that the governor is proposing securing additional loans before his tenure terminates in 2023 in order to finance the series of some uncompleted projects going on across the state.
The big question the public is asking is that: do the Assembly understand the implications and consequences of securing huge loans, especially when people are claiming that they are not feeling the impact and the funds are allegely being looted? They have continued to approve the loan requests from the governor without caring about the consequences, especiallyfor the future of the state.
Majority of those that spoke with The EYEWITNESS expressed their grievances against those representing them at the State Assembly who, they sai,d have failed to protect their interests at all levels, adding that their non-quality representation is causing the state immense suffering. They further claimed that Governor Darius is running the state like his personal estate without regards and respect for the 24-member Assembly.
Responding to the question on the performance of the state Assembly amidst the corruption scandals going on in the state, Comrade Jibrin Jen, a political analyst, commended the EFCC for beaming it’s searchlight on the state, stressing that the legislators are also culpable.
His words: “Let me commend the Nigerian anti-graft agency for commencing an investigation into alleged financial misappropriation by the government of Taraba State. So far, key officials from the SSG’s office, Bureau for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs and office of the Accountant General were invited for questioning.”
He stressed that, “the government of Taraba State has a capacity for abusing public trust. Both the executive arm and legislatures are culpable. How can a governor consistently request loan approvals from the Taraba State House Assembly and the speaker will rush to convene a sitting without raising any question.”
Jen who further disclosed that the state debt profile has risen approximately to the tune of N126 billion without tangible results, disclosed that the sum of N76 billion is being owed to commercial banks in loan facilities by the Taraba state government; the sum of N17.5 billion being owed as budget support facilities from the Federal Government; the sum of N10.64billion as restructured commercial loan from FG bonds; the sum of N9.025 billion from excess Crude Accounts; the sum of N8.44 billion as salary bailout funds; the sum of N4.2 billion as Taraba Agricultural Credit Scheme; pensions and gratuity of N28.5 billion among others.
Jen also disclosed that in 2016, Taraba state executive council approved two key projects; the greenhouse house project at the sum of N2.6 billion while Kurmi-Baissa road at the sum of N6.7 billion. Unfortunately Ishaku’s first ever completed greenhouse project has collapsed due to financial mismanagement while Kurmi-Baissa road has remained a shadow of failure.
“I must tell you that the most terrifying part of Ishaku’s administration has never been Ishaku himself. But the lavish support and loan approval that comes from the Taraba State House of Assembly. For the money, there is nothing so grotesque that Gov. Darius can do that the Taraba lawmakers would not fall behind him.”
“Ask anyone in Taraba, you will discover that Gov. Darius at a point in time made the guarantor for Taraba lawmakers to access a loan facility of between N50 million to N70 million each.”
“As a state, we are blessed with an unhesitating loan taker as a governor. The more brazen his intentions for numerous bank loans become, the more our lawmakers benefit from them. If the state assembly members have done a great job, Gov. Darius Ishaku would have completed many of his abandoned projects in the state.”
While describing the speaker as an “errand boy” to the governor, Jen said the leadership of the state Assembly should also be invited by the EFCC for interrogation.
“How can a governor transform the speaker of the state house assembly into an errand boy? The leadership of Taraba state house assembly must also be invited and investigated by the EFCC for collaborating with the executive arm to milk the state dry.”
Speaking on Darius legacies in six years, the fearless young man said: “There are actually two things Gov. Ishaku has achieved; deception and propaganda. The man has not been able to rival the achievements of his predecessors in providing basic key priority projects. Since 2015, Taraba state government has failed to access SDGs and our schools are now left in shambles.”
On security he noted that: “Talking about security is much more annoying. Kidnapping is a rampant crime in the state. Criminals come into our communities at will, pick a target and abduct them for ransom. You can imagine that the rescue captain is sitting on a monthly N300 million security vote. The executive governor of Taraba has failed to use the security vote to provide vehicles, equipments and logistics to security agencies in complementing security operations. The police, DSS and other security agencies in the state are left stretched by the failure of Gov. Darius Ishaku to properly utilize the security vote.”
Also speaking, Elder Paul Francis said: “It is quite obvious that the members of the state House of Assembly are not living up to expectations. I cannot actually point out to any bill the House passed that I can tell you that impacted positively in the lives of the people. Instead, I can tell you that it would be remembered more with the signing of loans for the governor”
“Are they aware that the incoming government even beyond 2023 would definitely be stifled by their current actions ? How can a new government thrive when it is confronted with a huge debt to service.” He asked.
He said under an ideal situation the Assembly is expected to questioned the necessity of the loans requests before making the approvals to weight the necessity and consequences of securing the loan.
According to him, the state is not feeling the impact of the loans obtained in the past and ordinarilythe legislators are expected to invite all those in charge of disbursing the funds, including the governor to give account.
“To what extent have previous loans in the last six years impacted on the economy of the state? Of course, most of the lawmakers won’t ask this critical question. They are rubber-stamping legislators.”
Other respondents who do not want their names in print were very much unhappy with the House as it never played any oversight function concerning some of Darius excesses resulting to the present mess the state is facing.
They said all the lawmakers in the House seem not to have the mind of their own. They observed that the level of docility and connivance in the Assembly, unlike what is obtained in the past, makes most people in the state feel that there is no legislature in Taraba.
They lamented that despite the huge loans, revenue from the federation account and other funds that are coming to the state treasury in different guises, not much is being done to better the lives of the people.
Observers said with the ongoing development and challenges in the state, the legislatures had to awaken from their slumber and start beaming its searchlight on the activities of government agencies, especially those saddled with the responsibility of controlling funds.
Some of them claimed to have established facts that many public office holders, including directors, accountants, cashier’s, and permanent secretaries in some MDAs become overnight millionaires by corruptly enriching themselves.
It is time Taraba Parliament shows its teeth if it still wants to restore its credibility and be seen as an important institution. But do they have the teeth in the first place? that is the big question waiting for answer.