Need For Circumspection On Bail-Out Funds

Need For Circumspection On Bail-Out Funds

President Muhammadu Buhari has again approved a fresh N656.11bn for another round of bailout to states recently, even when the last disbursement has not been accounted for by most, if not all the state governors, bringing to the fore the need to reflect on a recent untoward event relating to the funds.

It has become somewhat a controversy which dust would take a long time to settle as Kogi State in which the government of Yahaya Bello has been alleged to have diverted a salary bail-out fund to a Sterling Bank Fixed Deposit Account until it was discovered through an Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, investigation. This speaks volume of the likely abuse that similar funds may have been subjected to over time by the governors.

Given that the EFCC investigation had suggested that something fundamental must have gone amiss with the N20bn believed to be money received from the coffers of the Federal Government, FG, as bail-out fund to pay workers’ salaries.

In spite the acknowledgement by the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, that it has received N19.3 billion ‘recovered’ by EFCC from the Kogi State Salary Bail-out account domiciled in Sterling Bank Plc, the state government had continued to justify its own position as devoid of anything dubious.

The EFCC, however, confirmed in a statement issued by its spokesperson, Wilson Uwujaren, on Friday, that the return of the money followed a court order; directing the unfreezing of the Kogi State Salary Bail-out account to enable Sterling Bank remit the balance in the account to the CBN.

 Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke, of the Federal High Court in Lagos had in October vacated the order of forfeiture he earlier placed on the N20 billion bailout funds.

EFCC had accused the Kogi State Government of keeping the said amount in an interest-yielding account rather than the account opened to cater for workers’ salaries.

The anti-corruption agency had filed a 13-paragraph affidavit in support of an ex parte application before Justice Tijjani Ringim of the Federal High Court in Lagos to freeze the state’s account to stop further depletion of the funds in the fixed account.

After listening to the EFCC application, Mr Ringim on August 31 ordered the freezing of the account and directed the publication of the order in a national newspaper by the EFCC.

However, citing a letter by the CBN dated November 9, the EFCC said the apex bank informed the Executive Chairman, EFCC, Abdulrasheed Bawa, of an acknowledgement receipt of the money received.

The commission said the receipt of the money by the CBN had effectively put to rest a “Smear campaign of misinformation and unconscionable denials by the Kogi State Government that no fund was recovered from its bailout account”.

“The transfer has put paid to any further controversy regarding source and ownership of the funds and most importantly, aborted the fund’s dissipation”, the commission stated.

Central bank’s letter with reference, DFD/DIR/CON/EXT/01/099 and dated November 9, 2021 was addressed to the Executive Chairman, EFCC, Mr Bawa, reads, “We refer to your letter dated November 5, 2021 with Ref. No: CR:3000/EFCC/LS/CMU/REC-STE/VOL.4/047 on the above subject and wish to confirm the details of the receipt of the amount as stated below: Bank: Sterling Bank Plc, Amount: N19, 333, 333,333.36; Date of receipt: 04 November.

Since the news of the returned bail-out funds became public, it has been one accusation against the other and this drama has been playing out between the EFCC and the Kogi State Government which has been tirelessly trying to explain its innocence in the whole saga. The government is putting up a frantic effort to absolve itself of any malfeasance against the contradictory position of the EFCC which is sticking to its guns on the matter.

 While we may not be in position to justify Kogi Government’s plea of innocence, it has become evident that a sum of nearly N20 billion believed to be part of the bail-out funds has been returned to the coffers of the CBN, notwithstanding the intention of the depositor.

We urge the FG to be more circumspect in its disbursement of the funds which has now become more or less a windfall on which governors’ feast freely.

We are wary that only a few of the state governors are up to date with their salary liabilities as some are believed to owe workers upward of ten months’ salary arrears. It is irrational to dole out funds for a cause for which an earlier has not been reasonably administered.

We call for a score sheet by the governors, itemizing how such funds have been disbursed in order to qualify them for fresh disbursement.  There is need for a mechanism to check the application of the funds so as to curtail this rabid pillaging of the public funds.