Legislators in Nasarawa State see their election as a money making opportunity
On Wednesday, August 14, the Nasarawa State House of Assembly summoned some key officials of the state government to appear before it, ostensibly, to give an account of how they run their agencies.
The three officials invited were the commissioner for works and transport, Wada Yahaya, an engineer, chairman of the Nasarawa State Universal Basic Education Board, NUBEB, Abdulkareem Abubakar and the special adviser of the state governor on interparty affairs, Hajia Hajo Dan Yaro.
To an outsider, this routine legislative request would seem commendable as the law makers appear to be diligently performing their constitutional function of being a check on the executive.
However, there was nothing patriotic or altruistic in the invitation of the three officials. The action of the legislators was sparked by an earlier accusation by Yaro in the media that from January till date, law makers by putting pressure on the state governor, Tanko Al Makura, had collected about N300 million.
The special adviser to the governor complained that for a poor state like Nasarawa, the demands for monetary gratification by the law makers was becoming too much for the state’s finances.
The angry legislators thus invited Yaro to prove and justify her assertions. To further flex its muscle, the house also decided to invite the heads of the two most critical agencies of government in charge of works, transport and education.
But investigations by icirnigeri.org revealed that Yaro was not making any wild allegations and that it had been a big battle to rein in the greedy legislators who adopt all manner of methods to demand money from officials of the state government.
What must worry Yaro and others in the government in Nasarawa State is the seemingly insatiable and endless demands for money by the legislators who must rank as some of the best paid in the country.
Before now, under the last governor, Aliyu Akwe Doma, the salaries of the 24 legislators in the house was about N30 million, with each legislator earning just over N1 million.
However, our investigation show that the amount was illegally jerked up to N100 million by the law makers who blackmailed the former governor. So, now, each legislator earns more than N4 million per month. The story of how their salaries were jerked up exemplifies the absolute lack of feeling for the poor masses of the state.
According to a member of the House, who does not want to be mentioned, the salaries of members was jerked up to N100 million over four years ago when the law makers blackmailed ex -governor Doma.
At that time, our source said, the legislators demanded that the contract for the construction of the State House of Assembly Complex be awarded to them. After negotiations it was agreed that the money for the payment of the contractor handling the job be routed through the legislators’ salary who would take their agreed share and pay the balance to the contractor.
Through that means, the House officially jerked up the salaries of members to about N100 million monthly but as soon as the appropriation became official, the law makers refused to pay the contractor the sum agreed.
Thus the state government has faced the double expenditure of paying the new monthly largess appropriated for the legislators as well as the N2.869 billion contract sum.
Records obtained by our reporters show that of the initial contract sum, the Doma administration paid the contractor, Katta Construction Company Ltd, a total of N1,129,408,722.00, while the present government has paid half a billion naira, making the paid sum a total of N1,629,408,722.09. The state still has an outstanding amount of N1,240,456,320.09 to pay to the contractor.
With the legislators collecting N70 million monthly that should have gone into the construction of the assembly complex, it means that they have collected N840 million every year for about six years. That would amount to over N5 billion nearly double the cost of building the edifice.
The legislators are, however, not satisfied with the bloated salary appropriated for themselves as they constantly seek means of milking the state. For example, our investigations show that each of them collects N10 million every quarter for constituency projects in their communities.
This system, it was gathered started six years ago. Borrowing a leaf from their federal colleagues who also corner most of the funds meant for constituency projects, law makers in Nasarawa State during the Doma led administration insisted that the appropriation for executing infrastructural projects in their constituencies be given directly to them.
Our source in the House who is a second term member recalled that when the demand was made former governor Doma was initially reluctant and insisted that the law makers identify projects that need to be done but leave the execution to the government.
However, the law makers would have none of that and eventually succeeded in blackmailing the former governor into agreeing to the arrangement whereby N10 million is given to each legislator every quarter to build needed projects in their constituencies.
But the legislators short change the people they represent as they hardly spend a dime in building such constituency projects. Records show that there has never been any tender for contracts, no verification and no retirement of the money collected.
Thus, without the knowledge of their people, each law maker in Nasarawa state collects N40 million every year to execute projects which are nowhere to be seen. A legislator who was in the last assembly would have gotten N160 million. That amount is enough to build and equip at least four clinics in four communities.
As for a member who would be finishing two terms by 2015, if the largesse continues to flow, he would have collected a whooping N320 million, most of it pocketed.
Another strategy that the legislators have adopted to lay hands on state funds is by using their oversight function, statutorily guaranteed by law to shake down government officials and demand for monetary and other benefits.
The House has a well organised system by which it deploys its oversight assignments to get money. In fact, our source in the House disclosed that there is an informal committee of the assembly known as the “Nima Abinchi Committee (Hausa word for food) whose sole mandate is to look for the most lucrative agencies of government that can be blackmailed to release funds to the members.
Chaired by Abdul Wamba, this committee noses around government ministries and agencies in search for opportunities through which the House can exploit its oversight functions to extort money.
One of the key committees used in extorting money from government officials is the Public Accounts Committee headed by Francis Orogu, who is said to be the “noisiest and most difficult” when it comes to performing oversight function.
He is said to regularly query the accounts of government agencies but it is alleged that it is all in an attempt to lean on officials to part with money. There is hardly any commissioner or head of government agency who has not received a letter from this committee to account for public expenditure.
However, to prove that the aim is selfish, such sessions, it is alleged, usually ends with demands for inducement.
One of the most notorious committee chairmen in the House is Raphael Saaka who heads the education committee.
The activities of the Saaka – led committee are said to be so disruptive that they have had a great negative impact on education in the state.
For example, Saaka and other members of his committee and the House are alleged to draw up lists of students applying for admission into the state university which they send to the registrar. The registrar is pressured into giving the legislators’ applicants first consideration for admission even when they are not qualified.
This, many people worry is lowering admission standards and breeding corruption in the admission process in the institution.
It is also alleged that Saaka behaves like an official of the university, forcing the institution to deploy its resources, including cash, for his private family events.
This corrupt system of doing things is apparently officially endorsed by the entire House as exhibited in the recent demand of the law makers that alleged corrupt primal officers of the Nasarawa State College of Education be “pardoned” for corruption.
Our investigations revealed that in mid-June last year, the acting Provost and Registrar of the college were suspended by the Visitor to the institution, the state governor for alleged misappropriation of funds.
It was gathered that the substantive Provost had sourced a loan of N25 million from a bank. Although she got approval to take the loan, the former Provost left office to take up an appointment as commissioner before the loan fell through. But before she left the college, she cancelled the application for the loan.
Upon her appointment, the acting Provost with the connivance of the Registrar reapplied and took the N25 million without approval from the education ministry and allegedly diverted it to personal use. As part of efforts to tackle the crisis in the education sector in the state, the governor had appointed a Visitation Panel to the College. Among other things, the Visitation Panel Report indicted the acting Rector and Registrar who were sacked.
However, the House kicked against the sacking of the indicted officials of the college. On June 27, 2012, the House passed a resolution asking the governor to pardon the erring duo.
Although the assembly noted that “whereas both the immediate past and present administrations of the College have erred by expending public funds on projects in which the money was not meant for;” it went ahead and resolved that “the present administration of the College of Education who are on suspension be pardoned and allowed to resume work fully.”
Investigations by www.icirnigeria.org revealed that the acting Rector and Registrar took away two vehicles each belonging to the college and have been asked by the institution’s authorities to return them but they have refused having been instructed by the assembly men not to do so.
Yet another means by which the legislators enrich themselves is by cornering most of the contracts in the state, particularly the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, and Nasarawa State Universal Basic Education Board, NSUBEB, contracts.
However, the problem is not only that their getting the contracts make accountability and transparency difficult as they never go through tenders or bids, but that the law makers hardly ever execute the jobs for which they receive money. And when attempts are made to make them do the job, they resort to blackmail.
For example, a member of the House and vice chairman of the education committee, Mohammed Muluku was given a contract by NSUBEB to supply furniture to primary schools in the state. He allegedly supplied substandard furniture which were collapsing within a few days and when the board refused to pay him for the job, he blackmailed it until he got paid.
The Nasarawa House of Assembly wields enormous powers in the political configuration of the state. This is because the House comprises of an overwhelming majority of 19 Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, members whereas the governor was elected on the platform of the Congress for Progressive Change. This leaves the governor virtually at the mercy of the House.
The relationship between the legislature and executive has been understandably largely frosty, particularly as the House members are said to be making too many demands. To smoothen the relationship, the governor has to continue to dole out cash as alleged by Yaro or close his eyes to the pillaging of state resources through over bloated statutory salary appropriations and constituency allowances.
When confronted with the allegation that he splashes state resources on the legislators to maintain a cordial relationship with them, Governor Al Makura was cautious in his response. He defended himself by saying that all payments made to the law makers were statutory allocations that were legislated before he came into office. (Read full text of interview with the Governor Al Makura here).
“As to the salary of legislators, first, everything that I am implementing is what I inherited. Whatever package they receive is what I inherited so the question should be thrown to them. I am a person who obeys the rule of law and every commitment that I have inherited. What members of the state House of Assembly earn now is what they have always earned and I cannot come and simply because I am CPC change things,” Al Makura stated.
The governor also parried questions regarding the direct payments of N10 million to legislators as constituency project allowance.
“I do not want to talk about details. I do not think it is me that should provide details. Like I said, I came and found conventions on ground. Some are statutory, some are as a result of the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission allocation, some by resolution of the House which had been in operation before I came all of which I inherited. It is not for me to question any of them. You will do me well… the members are there you can go and ask them,” he said.
As to monetary demands being placed on government officials by members of the House in the name of oversight functions, Governor Al Makura’s response was obviously an attempt at being politically correct as he said that the legislators were performing their constitutional roles.
Attempts to speak to the Speaker of the House, Musa Ahmed Mohammed, were not successful. His chief press secretary, Ibrahim Tanko was unable to get our reporters an interview appointment with the Speaker. He explained that first, the House was in recess when our reporters visited the state and that as it was in the period of fasting, the Speaker was always busy with lectures and other religious exercises.
The press secretary however, did not agree to pass on a questionnaire to the Speaker through an e mail.
However, our reporter succeeded in speaking with some members of the house who defended themselves against several allegations.
When our reporter confronted Muluku with the allegation that he supplied substandard furniture to schools in the state, he declined comments. “I am not going to answer that question. If you have facts and documents to prove it, go ahead and publish it,” he said.
He went further: “But, if you know you don’t have facts don’t write it because I am learned, I have money and I have the mace to order anybody to come and answer question. Even the president of this country and the journalist that write false reports”.
Muluku then advised the governor to “just allow sleeping dogs to lie,” threatening to expose a can of worms otherwise. “I am the deputy chairman on education and I have my files on NSUBEB and all the money they ate,” he threatened.
Muluku also declined answering questions regarding collection of N10 million every quarter for constituency projects, directing our reporter to speak with the chairman of the House committee on information, Mohammed Baba Ibaku.
In a telephone chat with our reporter, Baba Ibaku, in his response to the issue of legislators directly collecting N10 million for constituency projects which are hardly ever executed, showed the understanding of the law makers as to how such funds should be spent. (Read Honourable Baba Ibaku’s full chat here).
The legislator said that as far as he was concerned he could use constituency project funds in any manner he so wished and that only the people he represents could determine if he had used the funds judiciously.
“What is this money for? If your wife is sick and i carry her to the hospital, how do I quantify that? If I take people to hajj, how do I quantify that? For the past 6 years, how many people have I sponsored to Jerusalem? Will I use my father’s money to do that? If maybe i decide to buy a vehicle for somebody, is it bad? I am into construction of class rooms in my constituency. Go and ask them I am a teacher, I am an educationist. I built class rooms and exam hall in many places,” he stated.
Baba Ibaku, like Muluku, also threatened to expose corruption on the part of the executive arm, particularly the governor. For example, he queried the governor on how N400 million which he said was given to Nasarawa State has been expended.
“Ask the governor of Nasarawa State, what he has done with the N400, 000,000 given to him for flood mitigation. Where is the money? Let them answer this question. What is the money doing in account now that rain is falling? Which account? Let them give you the account because I am in a better position to go to the account and inquire,” Baba Ibaku said.
The House is doing everything to resist any attempt to hold it accountable to the people or restrain its demands on the resources of the state. That is the light in which many people in the state view the invitation of officials of the government last week.
While Yaro was summoned to defend her allegation that the governor had been unduly pressured and harassed to dash the legislators N300 million, Yahaya and Mohammed were asked to explain questions on the purchase of Keke NAPEP and the building of model schools in the state.
However, the legislator’s session with Yaro ended in a deadlock as they took her up on whether she was the governor’s spokesperson on parliamentary affairs to warrant her speaking about the legislature, a question that Yaro refused to answer. For her intransigence, the House resolved to ask her to be sacked.
The works and transport commissioner and NSUBEB boss were queried on why the name Ta’al was inscribed on Keke NAPEP distributed to youths in the state and on model school buildings in the state.
Members were concerned that Ta’al was too similar to the governor’s popular acronym – from Tanko Almakura – and close to his registered company name Ta’al Nigeria Limited which means that he could lay claims to the public property in future.
The House therefore resolved that the name of all model schools named Ta’al be changed and the blue colour in which the school buildings were painted be changed because it symbolised that of the APC.