On Thursday 17th November, during speechmaking for the commissioning of a flyover in Port Harcourt, governor of Rivers state Nyesom Wike made a revelation which stunned his audience and astonished the entire populations of the Niger Delta states.
Wike revealed to Peter Obi and the witnessing audience, that vast sums of money, accumulations of the 13% derivation fund, unpaid by previous federal administrations since 1999, had been paid in lump sum by the Muhammadu Buhari administration to the state governments of the Niger Delta region.
These payments were not previously announced by either the Federal Government or the states, not even by Nyesom Wike himself, until the off-the-cuff anouncement during the commissioning of a flyover bridge in Port Harcourt.
Public information of government finances are crucial obligations owed to citizens of a democratic nation and a debt owed to voters. As a corollary, public knowledge of government financial practices is crucial for earning public trust. Openness is a critical requirement in a democracy.
It is thus a gross betrayal of public trust for the government of Delta state not to make public to state constituents the receipt of such enormous sums from the Federal government. What would be the purpose of government withholding information to the people about money received? Whose interest was that secrecy meant to serve?
It has to be agreed that such behaviour is more than valid ground for the impeachment of the Chief executive of the state. No democratic government must be permitted to spend public funds without the knowledge and prior approval of the people who own the funds. Many democratically elected governments across the world have been toppled for far less than what the Delta state government has done.
The questions that should arise from such conspiratorial and malicious practices are many. How were these monies appropriated by the legislature of Delta state and the sums disbursed without the knowledge of the public who own the money? Through which MDA’s were these monies appropriated and spent? Who approved and signed for the expenditure of the money?
It amounts to running a secret cabalistic government for this administration to pull this obvious heist on the citizens of Delta state. It is anathema to decency and democratic practices anywhere in the world for a government to keep and hide information about financial accruals from citizens who own the money.
The financial management of Delta State should be considered pathetic and deeply suspicious if the information is correct that the state received about N145 billion from the payouts by the federal government and in spite of these, have gone ahead since 2019 to borrow an additional N300 billion from banks.
To think that these sums were spent without public debate in parliament and legal appropriation as some persons have posited should be a breach of the constitutions so gross as to attract the worst possible punishment by the law. If, as is being bandied, that these sums are claimed to have been expended by government on projects not known or seen by the public, it would amount to the grand theft of public funds by the sitting government of Delta state.
It will need explanation how a self respecting government, conscious of the constitutional requirement for parliamentary appropriation and approval before executive expenditure, can receive and spend public money without the knowledge of the citizens, the owners of the funds. It sounds so improbable that it will be impossible to accept. Can it possibly be that we are cursed with a government run by ignorant brigands and outlaws?
Why has it been necessary in Delta state, other than for reasons of intrigue and theft, to keep the matter of public accounts away from the public view? Why is public account information not part of the fiduciary practices of government? For government to indulge in secrecy and concealment of public accounts information is outright criminality and is a gross impeachable offense for the governor of the state.
Since 1999, the various PDP state governments in Delta state, particularly the government of Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa has elevated secrecy in financial practices to state policy, with no one but a select group knowing what is earned by the state in the various revenue streams. No one knows for instance what is earned in internally generated revenue (IGR) and how what is earned is appropriated and spent. Again, No one knows the accruals to DESOPADEC and how its funds are allocated and spent.
The secrecy surrounding the financial dealings of the Delta state government is so pervasive and complete that it has created a class of citizens with a sense of self-entitlement, elitism, financial rascality and impunity. There has been a chairman of the state internal revenue board who boasts casually that he does not hold or spend naira, the Nigeria currency. Nobody should be allowed to get away with such attitude which is sheer impunity arising from the theft of public funds.
The deep secrecy and conspiracy involved in government opaque transactions typifies the disrespect government shows to the people of the state. This disrespect is also reflective of the general distrust for PDP government in Delta state today.
There is the general belief in the state and elsewhere that the finances of the state is being used to fund the presidential campaign of a non-state actor. The perception of this horror is out there in the Nigeria public domain. And no one is asking questions or doing something about it. flagrant impunity in PDP government has created a gang of leaches who feel entitled to the wealth of the state and flaunt such unearned riches.
It is for this reason that we must initiate a strong advocacy for the public audit of the finances of the state and demand for public awareness and support for a judicial inquiry.
The suspicion that Okowa’s trenchant support and backing for Sherriff Oborevwori to succeed him as governor is because Okowa wants to use Sherriff to cover a putrescent financial record in government since 2015 is the dominant opinion driving politics in the state in this election cycle. Sherriff Oborevwori as speaker of the House of Assembly it is said, has already been providing cover for all the indefensible borrowings and illegal financial transactions that have characterized Okowa’s administration.
The people of Delta state, for all our education and wide professional experiences have never taken any bold steps to hold our state governments to account for financial rascality and we have also failed to demand openness and financial rectitude.
What Okowa’s government has done is to exploit the political divisions in the state to implement a self benefitting financial coup against the treasury of the state. The state must therefore get together as one to reject this and demand a proper fiduciary and accounting report from an independent audit firm and a robust judicial panel. If this is not allowed in a given time frame, processes must be started by the people for the removal of the government for financial misdemeanor. We must not allow one man to take our money for himself and spit on our faces.
Ifeanyi Okowa should be impeached for financial misedemeanor and a judicial inquiry set up to probe the finances of the state since 2015. Nothing less will do.