One of the first official duties performed by President Muhammadu Buhari soon after his inauguration was to approve a bailout fund for state governments who claimed that they would go into bankruptcy if a financial lifeline was not extended to them.
When the issue came up, most Nigerians were of the view that the president ought to have tried to find out how the states got into that mess in the first place. Fears were raised at that time that the bailout fund might be diverted like the regular federal allocations. That fear has been confirmed with what has just happened in Imo State where it was reported that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arrested aides of the Governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, for allegedly, illegally diverting a whopping N2 billion of that same bailout fund.
One of the reasons given for the approval and release of the fund was that it was urgently needed to offset workers’ salaries which were months in arrears in most of the states at that time. It soon became obvious that the state governments were economic with the truth on why they wanted that fund as many of them refused to use the money for that purpose. Some even threatened to down size their work force.
Governor Okorocha took that threat a step further by actually sacking thousands of the state’s civil servants on the excuse that there was no money to pay their salaries. He also shut down some state agencies he considered moribund. Organised Labour forced him to rethink his decision and recall the sacked staff.
Now, we are beginning to know why the state cannot pay salaries. Principal Officers of that administration had diverted the bailout fund meant for staff salaries probably for other non-official uses. These officers, according to the EFCC, are the Principal Secretary to the Governor, the Director of Finance and a Treasurer. These officers are members of the governor’s kitchen cabinet. What this presupposes, in our view, is that there may be a link between the Governor’s office and this missing money.
Governor Okorocha, on one hand, in his pronouncements, gives the impression that the state is broke or even insolvent and has been busy concessioning most state facilities like hospitals, presumably on this score. While on the other, his aides, on his watch, are stealing the state blind and ridding it of the little available resources it desperately needs to attend to some of the socio-economic development demands of the people.
We are compelled to point out that Imo state has been unfortunate with the quality of leaders it has been saddled with post- Sam Mbakwe. In one sad instance, a governor went to the Stock Market to take a N10 billion facility to dredge a small stream in the state capital that has no economic significance of whatever description and which flows to nowhere. Now this.
It is a good move, in our opinion, that the anti-graft agency is on this case. We also hope that it will have the free hand, without political interference, to get to the bottom of the matter, recover that money and return it to the state treasury.
For a state like Imo, with very low Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) potentials, and which relies heavily on federal sources for funds to perform its statutory duties, stealing or diverting N2 billion from its treasury is a crime against humanity. (Leadership)