Paris Club Refund, Senate And The Futility Of Probe

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Relentlessly, the State Governors, as soon as they got wind of the so called Paris Club refund money, the over-deductions on Paris Club, London Club and Multilateral debts on the accounts of states and Local governments (1995-2002), they piled up pressure on President Muhammadu Buhari for what they perceived as their own share of the windfall.

One of the reasons they gave to justify the demand was that the money would enable them to meet pressing issues of governance. Some of these included clearing outstanding workers’ salaries and allowances, pension and gratuities to pensioners among others.

Months after President Buhari acceded to that demand and when it was thought that the governors would have done the needful to address those issues they raised themselves, the workers and pensioners are still languishing in penury as a result of non-payment of those entitlements.

As if this was not disappointing enough, the President has just released the second tranche of the refunds which comes to a total of N243.8 billion. The President, the workers, labour and even the Senate is genuinely disturbed that this money may go the inappropriate way. Buhari himself appealed to the conscience of the governors to use the resource to attend to and alleviate the plight of the workers and pensioners.

As matters stand now, the Senate is putting machinery in place to probe the governors regarding what they interpret as a mismanagement of the bulk of the money that they have so far received. The legislators are querying the legality of how and why the funds were released to the governors which, according to the lawmakers, could be the reason for the alleged misappropriation.

The truth of it all is that the governors saw it as an easy money, an extension of their security vote that they do not have to account for. But they are wrong.

It is not unlikely that it was from that money that the Imo State Governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, for instance, financed the ignoble visit of South African President, Jacob Zuma, to the state as well as the erection of the N520 million statue of that corrupt politician in Owerri, the state capital. The Paris Club refund money was seen as an extra-budgetary receipt that came in bulk. The governors, being the politicians they are, may have decided to warehouse it in readiness for politicking that is kicking off in earnest early next year. The welfare of the workers and pensioners comes as a distant second in order of ranking to their political interests.

However, whatever may be the justification for the governors’ decision to misapply the money is not likely to be unravelled satisfactorily by the Senate for the simple reason that it is, in our opinion, a wild goose chase. For one reason, the lawmakers lack the moral high ground on which to stand to carry out such an ordinarily important investigation.

 

If they should consider the saying that he who goes to the court of equity must do so with clean hands, they will certainly understand that they are flawed on point of rectitude. Consistently, they have refused to let the nation know how they manage their own allocations. This, in spite of persistent demands by the electorate who voted them into office.  So where will they start asking the governors questions relating to their uprightness or lack of it?

They may see the approach as part of their oversight functions with all its pejorative connotations. But the rest of the populace see it as an attempt by them to get a piece of the pie. They are certainly not out to serve the interest of the nation. Not this Senate we know.

Let us even assume for the sake of this discussion that they intend to be altruistic this time round, will their findings be binding on the governors beyond the media shindig associated with such expositions? Will it stop the governors from receiving their monthly and other statutory allocations?

The sad fact about the attitude of the present crop of politicians is that they have since discarded the compunction that could have restrained them in their excesses a situation that is worsened by an electorate that is so pliant. Notwithstanding, we will encourage the Senate to go on with the probe. At least it will add to the bulk of malfeasance standing against them so that on the day of reckoning, their sins will find them out. Otherwise, the futility of the probe is so glaring.