Government of Ekiti State, Nigeria.

FG Should Account For Joint Assets, Illegal Deductions – Gov Fayemi

March 9, 2014

Dr Kayode Fayemi

In this interview, the governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, spoke on Nigeria’s economy, governance, the importance of the national conference, and other sundry issues affecting the country.

You raised the issue of oil revenue and deduction from monthly allocations to your state. Also, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), have been passing the buck on oil revenues allegedly unaccounted for. As a prominent member of the opposition party, what are you doing to address this issue?

It is a very important issue, and it goes to the very root of our country’s accountability posture. There are two dimensions to it – the structural issue, which is not just about the NNPC and the management of the NNPC itself. As far as I am concerned, the structural issue should be on how to reduce the influence of the centre.
I have tried to study federations around the world and discovered that the extent to which a country allows devolution and decentralisation of authority to thrive is also responsible for the level of accountability and transparency in government. This is because, the closer the government is to the people, the more they are likely to ask questions. But when government is not close to the people, there is disjuncture between the led and the leaders. It is particularly so in our own situation because we have had a long run of military dictatorship. This has contributed to the over-centralisation and the distorted federalism we are operating. That is why we all focus on oil and behave as if we would not survive without it. It is not true.  If oil dries up today, Nigerians will creative an alternative to it. One of the ways to deal with that is to also devolve power to such a level that our dependence on oil is not total. The issue of structure can be addressed at the national conference.

There is also a fundamental management issue. As a student of political economy, I have looked into how countries that are in our situation have run their oil companies. If you look at Petrol Bras, Petrol Nass, Aramco, you would see that respective governments do not have that kind of grip on them. Aramco is the most lucrative business in the world, yet it is a monarchy.

Part of our problems in this country is that anybody who becomes president believes it is his time to make whatever he can make out of the opportunity. President Jonathan did not start this. President Obasanjo made himself minister of petroleum for eight years; it is the same racket. It is not just an insult to those who represent the various components of the federation; it is an insult to the generality of Nigerians. That is why there can be no solution to the lack of transparency in the NNPC unless we throw it out to the market.

Talking about structural and fundamental problems, especially as they relate to the devolution of power, don’t you think we have the same problems at the state and local government levels, in terms of revenue accountability? On how the NNPC is being run, is it proper to say that the political class has not done enough to push the Petroleum Industry Bill?

You can devolve corruption, but it is easier for people to hold Fayemi’s feet to fire in Ekiti State than for Ekiti people to hold Dr. Jonathan to fire in Abuja. The truth of the matter is that 99 per cent of my people don’t even know where Abuja is.

But some local government chairmen do not account to anybody. They do whatever they like.

If your local government chairman does not account to anybody, it is a failure on the part of the people in that local government. I cannot but account in Ekiti. You can say Ekiti is peculiar because of the level of education and enlightenment. Every Monday I am on the television and radio to do a regular programme on what government has done. It is a phone-in programme where we ask questions about teachers’ salaries, their leave bonuses; all manner of questions you can imagine. In addition to that, I am also in village and town square meetings every month in different parts of the state. We also put our information on the web. We do all these to make people see what the state government is doing.
I say to people that the whole point of domesticating the Freedom of Information law is that we cannot hide. I did not spend my time as an activist campaigning for the FOI only to block it from operating. People ask why I put all my assets on the internet and did my declaration publicly even though the law does not require me to do that. But as a public office holder I need to subject myself to scrutiny. Anyone holding a public office must be prepared for scrutiny.

There can be corruption at the local level, but if you decentralise, you can also empower the people to be active in the governance arrangement. I think it is a simultaneous process. Devolution will not necessarily address all problems; it should be accompanied by derivation so that you eat what you make. You are not just sitting somewhere and expecting manner from heaven. That is why some of us are disgusted by this business of going to Abuja every month for meeting. If it is sharing of money that we go to do, why do we need to send commissioners there? We are in a totally different world now. You can share the money and pay to states through bank accounts. Why must we go on a hollow ritual of sitting down every month to share money? It is a feeding-bottle federalism, which has not helped this country to grow. I think we have to reach a point where all of us are sincere with ourselves. Maybe God should even take this oil away. I am not saying that oil has not brought certain developments to our country, but somehow it seems to me that we have lost our creativity and innovation as a nation because there is oil. People feel that whether they work or not, at the end of every month something must come in.

On the PIB, I am one of the people who don’t think it will go far, considering the way it is currently drafted. But it will help. All they have simply done is to give whoever is the minister of petroleum some massive power to do and undo. The community fund is also something that is going to generate a lot of challenge. But since it is a bill, it can also be radically looked at. I would rather go for the passage of PIB than the continued refusal to do that which is making us lose a lot of money. That is why the IOC is leaving the country in droves. Shell probably does not have anything onshore again in this country, they’ve sold it to all the later day strategic partners as they call them in the NNPC. And we know who these strategic partners are.

You have been in government for over three and a half years, are you just discovering this defect in our federal system?
I am talking about what has happened between January 2013 and now. The process you saw on Tuesday was not accidental. You would notice that governors did this across the states – Rivers, Lagos, Ogun and Oyo. We deliberately went to our assemblies to render an account of the impact that this distortion is having on our own local economy. Our people may not know, but they know that Sanusi said certain money was missing.

At the best of times, Ekiti State gets N 3.2 billion or N3.3 billion from the federation account monthly. But when you remove an average of N481million from that, it is bound to have a significant impact on our economy as a state. It is 40 per cent of our normal earnings from the federation account; that is a huge drop. And this drop has not arisen out of miscalculation of the benchmark oil price. Oil price has not gone down even though it is about $76 per barrel. At no time did oil sell at less than $105 throughout 2013.
The issue for us as governors who are co-managers of Nigeria’s economy has been how we are losing whatever figure you choose to believe if we have not witnessed a reduction, if we are still pumping 2.4 billion and we are selling 2.2 billion in the international market. There is no justification for the losses being claimed we have suffered.

All Sanusi did was to raise the questions that we have been raising. But people make it appear that he was the first person to raise the issue. Governors have been raising the issue for three years. We have cases in the Supreme Court for the last two years over excess crude account which has just disappeared like that, over illegal deductions and over the sales of joint assets which belong to us and for which returns have never been made to states. If you sell 10 power plants, they do not belong to the federal government of Nigeria, they belong to the federation called Nigeria. So the federal government should account for the sale of joint assets and illegal deductions. That is why I advocated a separation of the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation, same for the Office of the Auditor-General of Federal Republic of Nigeria.
We cannot continue to run this country as some people’s personal business centre. When some of us speak at the National Economic Council meeting they think we are troublemakers. But I don’t think it is anybody’s fault; it is the fault of Nigerians.
How would you assess your government so far?
It has been a wonderful opportunity; it is a rare privilege. It has also been a hot seat. I have been fortunate in the sense that some of my challenges have turned out as blessing.  I have appreciated the office more than I would have. If I had just been sworn in the day I won the election and everything had gone smoothly, I may not have appreciated it.
As you would remember, when I was in the wilderness, every year the government in office published the budget, I also published an alternative budget of what we were going to do. And I did that for three years. It prepared me and my team. People were surprised when I came and I was able to renovate all schools (183 secondary schools, 856 primary schools) at once. They wondered how I got the money to fix all the schools, including furniture, did hospitals, roads, and distributed computers. A lot of people were shocked. But we were prepared; we had a definite plan. We knew that the federal allocation would not get us anywhere, so it was quite inevitable for us to approach the capital market. We were the fastest state that raised money in the capital market.
When I was campaigning, nobody believed that I would fulfill the promise to pay the elderly people N5, 000 per a month and distribute laptop computers to all secondary school students. Some of these things were just pure fantasies to people who had been shortchanged by government before I came.
I have a lot to thank God for in the way and manner we have been able to accomplish our agenda. Provost of the College of Education at Ikere Ekiti told me that the school had received full accreditation for all her programmes. This is the same College of Education that had only two of her programmes accredited. The Ekiti State University also had full accreditation last year; and they have the best result in the Law School. You know what I went through when I was merging the three universities. I wanted the best for our students. I did not want their degrees to be worthless.
We have managed to move Ekiti from its years of locust to stability. But is that enough? No. Now that we have stability in the economy and polity, we need to work towards growth that drives employment. The Progressive Governors Forum should begin to focus on unemployment. It is a problem that needs to be solved.

What are you doing to tackle instability in the school calendar and other academic issues?
It is a national issue that we must tackle nationally. It needs restructuring.  I do not see any reason, for example, why the Ekiti State University should join the strike called by federal universities. It is a distortion of federalism. The National Universities Commission (NUC) can be a regulatory authority, but it should not be a macro manager of university education. That is what is responsible for what we are talking about.  If indeed we have a genuine system that is founded on equity, if Ekiti State decides to have a university, as long as it can fulfill the requirements of the regulatory authority, whatever happens should not be the business of the regulatory authority unless it violates those requirements. I think this business of pulling everything together has done more harm than good. In most countries where education is treated as a serious issue, that approach is wrong.
Furthermore, it is state money that is masquerading as Universal Basic Education (UBEC) fund and Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund). It is two per cent of the federation account that they are pulling out to do this. So they should not present my money as if they were doing me a favour.  UBEC is not a favour to states, it is our money that is being returned to us and dressed up as federal bonds. So you can see why I say we have to restructure.

We learnt that one of the issues the Yoruba are taking to the national conference is that they want to merge with their kindred in Kogi, was there a consensus on this?
I don’t know what the Yoruba agenda is. Unfortunately, I was not present at the meeting in Ibadan, but I read the Kogi and Kwara dimension to it. I don’t know whether there was any consensus. What I can tell you is that I have received several delegations of very senior Kogi and Kwara people, saying we should accept them. But I don’t know whether they have also consulted Yoruba leaders. Again, the fundamental question to ask is: Of what benefit is it?

You and Michael Bamidele were friends, but today you have differences. Is there anything beyond politics that is causing this rift between you? 
I don’t underestimate any challenge. Those who have the mandate will decide. However, there is no rift between us. It is his legitimate right to run for a public office. As governor and a democrat I cannot be opposed to that. I also have very close friends running in the PDP. They would expect me to pray for them to succeed at their party level. Nothing stops anyone from having an ambition. It is a matter of Ekiti people.

Do you believe in the forthcoming national conference?
As long as I can remember, I have been an advocate of a national conference. In fact, some of us refused to participate in the Gen. Abdulsalami transition programme because we insisted that the order should be an interim government, a national conference, and then election. That was our campaign. So I was actually a national conference advocate. Indeed, we held what was an alternative national conference when I was the convener for the Citizens Forum for the Constitutional Reform. Dr. Jinrikisha Ibrahim Jibo succeeded me when I decided to join politics. We even produced a model constitution. I was active in PRONACO.

I believe that Nigerians must talk, and you cannot really define a perfect time to talk. There is no perfect time to talk. I think one must commend the president for deciding to let Nigerians talk. However, I am not convinced that the intention behind the one that has been called is to deepen this democracy. There’s a large dose of distraction in it.
But whether it is genuinely called or not, there are times that you may do things for a different reason and it turns out completely different from what you have originally anticipated. It could develop logic on its own; and you are not able to stop that. We recall that Obasanjo hid his own agenda when he did the National Political Reform Conference. But at the end of the day, that agenda got truncated and the whole business of the conference was thrown out of the window. When I made my statement about the conference, some people thought we were against our party’s position. I am not just a governor for APC members in Ekiti State, I am the governor of all Ekiti people, and

Ekiti people are very passionate about contributing to this national conference.
Without prejudice to the outcome, I think I would be doing a great disservice to my people if I don’t allow them to go and join others. If they go and contribute and nothing comes out of it, they would be enriched even by the people they meet. Nigerians need to talk in order to continue in this nation building project. It is never a finished product.

By Kayode Ekundayo, John Awe, Doyin Adebusuyi

This article was first published in Sunday Trust on Sunday, 9th March 2014.

Last modified: March 9, 2014

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