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Bailout Probe: Senate To Visit States

The last may not have been heard of the bailout funds given to cash-strapped states by the Federal Government to settle worker’s outstanding salaries and retirement benefits.
Two years after they got the first bailout from the Federal Government, the governments are to explain how they disbursed what accrued to them.
The Senate Committee on States and Local Government Administration yesterday said it would extend its Bailout Funds probe to states that accessed the funds provided through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in 2015.
The committee plans to submit a comprehensive report of its findings for further action by the Senate.
No fewer than 19 states accessed the N338 billion offered by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to assist states.
The states are: Abia (N14.152 billion); Adamawa (N2.378 billion); Bauchi (N8.60 billion); Bayelsa (N12.85 billion); Benue (N28.013 billion); Borno (N7.680 billion); Cross River (N7.856 billion); Delta (N10.036 billion); Ebonyi (N4.063 billion); Edo (N3.167 billion); Ekiti (N9.604 billion); Enugu (N4.207 billion); Gombe (N16.459 billion); Imo (N26.806 billion) and Kastina (N3.304 billion).
Others are: Kebbi (N0.690 billion); Kogi (N50.842 billion); Kwara (N4.320 billion); Nasarawa (N8.317 billion); Niger (N4.306 billion); Ogun (N20.00 billion); Ondo (N14.686 billion); Osun (N34.988 billion); Oyo( N26.606 billion); Plateau (N5.357 billion); Sokoto (N10.093 billion) and Zamfara (N10.02 billion).
According to the Chairman of the Committee, Senator Abdullahi Gumel, the planned investigation has become imperative following allegations that some governors diverted them to other use, leaving a backlog of salary arrears yet unpaid.
On whether the National Assembly has oversight powers over states, the Gumel said the committee was specifically investigating the disbursement of the bailout funds, which it had powers over.
He said though state assemblies had oversight powers over the states, the assignment of the committee was based on funds given to states by the Federal Government.
According to him, the Senate has the powers to investigate the bailout because the money belongs to the Federal Government.
He said: “We will visit Osun and the other states if allowed access. There were lots of misunderstanding as to whether or not the Senate has powers to oversight states over the bailout. The Senate does have the powers.
“We are not investigating states; we are carrying out a specific assignment. Those states that accessed the bailout from the Federal Government to pay salaries are the states we are over-sighting.
“For other money, it is the responsibility of state assemblies to oversight those ones. This bailout is the Federal Government’s money.
“In fact, it is money got from the bank, with the Federal Government’s guarantee and in the case of default from any of the states. The government has to pay from the Consolidated Revenue Account. So, the National Assembly has the responsibility to oversight how it is spent.’’
On the states that denied access to the committee, Gumel said a comprehensive report would be submitted and names of states involved would be included for further action by the Senate.
However, he said some of the states that hitherto rejected the committee’s letter of notice had invited it to proceed with its investigation.
The lawmaker added that states that rejected the committee’s notice of visit misunderstood its assignment, pointing out that its investigation was limited to the bailout funds.
He said: “This committee did not take up this task on its own. We consulted the leadership of the senate and we were told to go ahead. The executive is even aware that we are embarking on this assignment.’’
Gumel denied insinuations that the probe was called off after the committee visited a few states, adding that it would visit all states concerned as mandated by the Red Chamber.
According to him, the committee launched investigation into the matter some months ago, but put it on hold to enable committee members concentrate on consideration and passage of the 2017 Budget.
Gumel explained: “We had to call it off temporarily due to the budget, because most of the committee members are members of the Appropriation Committee, including the Chairman of Appropriation Committee.
“So, we decided to put it on hold to finish with the Appropriation Bill and once it is passed, we will resume our oversight.
“After our Easter break, we will pass the budget. So, possibly second week in May we should have resumed our oversight.’’
On concerns that the committee was not carrying out thorough investigation into the matter, Gumel said the committee was detailed on the assignment.
He said: “The bailout is specific on salaries and pension and in most of the states visited, we noticed some defaults and that will come in our report.
“In the states we visited, we met with stakeholders like the Head of Service, Secretary to the State Government, Accountant-General, commissioners for Finance and Local Government.
“We also met with banks where the funds were domiciled and disbursed from and the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) chapter in the states; so, it was thorough.”
Gumel, also a member of Senate’s Appropriation Committee, said that the committee had concluded work on Budget 2017and would present the report on resumption from the Easter break.
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