With few days to the end of their tenure, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), and some governors continue the ‘culture’ of last-minute award of contracts, appointments and huge expenditures, DANIEL AYANTOYE examines the justification as well as the problem such could create for an incoming government
It is true that the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provides for a president and governors to serve for a minimum of four years, within which they are expected to carry out their constitutional responsibilities.
Meanwhile, towards the end of their tenure, it is generally expected that they gradually wind down their activities and leave certain critical decisions for the incoming government. This is important to avoid neglect of projects the new government may deem unimportant, policy reversal, especially considering the impact of such on certain stakeholders, and to avoid creating an atmosphere of uncertainty in the investment and business environments.
While this seems like the ideal, it is fast becoming a culture for outgoing executives to take critical decisions and make major appointments in the twilight of their tenures. Some of these decisions are not only belated, they sometimes create problems for incoming governments.
Barely 19 days to the exit of President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), from office, many Nigerians were taken aback on May 10, 2023, when reports emerged that the President was seeking Senate approval for $800m loan from the World Bank to finance the National Social Safety Network Programme, to cushion the effect of the fuel subsidy removal.
Buhari made the request in a letter to the Senate, which was read to lawmakers on the floor of the House by the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan.
Aside from the fact that the loan will increase the country’s debt burden, the request coming a few days before the expiration of his regime raised concerns among many.
Surprised about the development, the Chairman, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, Apapa Branch, Frank Onyebu, described the loan request as shocking.
“One would expect that what the government should be doing right now is preparing for handover,” he said.
Also, an economist and the Chief Executive Officer, Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise, Dr Muda Yusuf, while speaking during a breakfast television show on Arise Television raised concern over the debt burden as well as the timing of the loan.
He said, “Generally, we reckon with the fact that government is a continuum. It is like a relay race. But for something as fundamental as this, I don’t think there is any justification that just a few days to the end of the administration, the administration is making a request for this. My submission is that if this $800m request is either for subsidy or social investments, I think we should hold on. We should allow the incoming administration to deal with all of these issues.”
Apprehensive of the country’s situation, the Director-General of the Budget Office, Mr Ben Akabueze, while speaking at the induction of members-elect of the National Assembly, organised by the National Assembly and the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies on Tuesday, May 17, said the huge debt was becoming unsustainable.
He stated, “Once a country’s debt-service ratio exceeds 30 per cent, that country is in trouble and we are already pushing toward 100 per cent. That tells you how much trouble we are in.”
Aside from the loan request, there are also concerns over other activities of the outgoing government.
On Thursday, the Federal Government at the Federal Executive Council meeting presided over by President Buhari approved the sum of N68bn for projects, barely a week to its valedictory session.
Also, FEC in a previous meeting presided over by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo on April 19 approved a number of contracts running into over N100bn.
Saturday PUNCH reported that Buhari and his ministers awarded contracts worth over N3.7tn in the dying embers of his regime, spanning March 20, 2023 to May 14, 2023. This was after the general elections.
Similarly, Buhari has continued to appoint people into various departments and agencies.
In May, the President reconstituted the board of the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency. He appointed James Akintola as the new board chairman.
He also appointed a retiring Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Garba Baba Umar, as a Senior Security Adviser on International Police Cooperation and Counter-terrorism, in the Office of the Minister of Police Affairs.
The most recent was the appointment of Toyin Madein as the substantive Accountant General of the Federation, which was announced by the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, on Friday.
The appointment came about one year after the former AGF, Ahmed Idris, was suspended following allegations of N109bn fraud.
Similarly on Friday, the President approved the immediate resumption of the new Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of the North East Development Commission, Umar Hashidu, and other members of the Board.
Earlier in May, Buhari requested the confirmation of the Senate for the appointment of 12 nominees as members of the Governing Board of the North East Development Commission.
Defending the appointments, the Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, in an interview with Arise TV recently said Buhari would keep working until the last day of his regime, May 29, 2023, noting that the President had a lot of memos to attend to.
He had said, “The President has been working and he keeps working. You need to see the Federal Executive Council meeting. It took almost six to eight hours. Another one has been scheduled for Monday, and another one on Wednesday so that we can treat all the outstanding memos before the time of the administration expires. So you can already see that this is one of the administrations that will work till the last day.”
Perhaps, taking a cue from the President, some state governors, especially those who are to vacate office on May 29, are also awarding contracts and making appointments.
For instance, the outgoing Governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom, announced the employment of over 2,000 teachers. Some residents of the state expressed concern, saying it was ironic, especially for an administration that had been accused of non-payment of workers’ salaries for several months.
In Sokoto State, Governor Aminu Tambuwal approved N7bn as variation claims for some ongoing projects in the state.
In Kaduna State, few days to the end of his tenure, Governor Nasir El-Rufai’s administration has marked for demolition 10 buildings belonging to a former governor of the state, Ahmed Makarfi. He also revoked the Certificate of Occupancy on the properties. While the former governor has rushed to the court to stop the demolition, the governor seems determined to conclude the exercise before he leaves office.
In Abia State, some of the last-minute activities of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu have also generated diverse reactions.
After his defeat in the senatorial election of February 25, the governor reconstituted the Governing Council of the Abia State College of Health Science and Management Technology, Aba, and appointed the immediate past secretary to the state government, Eme Okoro as the chairman.
In the same vein, he reconstituted the Abia State Civil Service Commission and appointed Dr Mrs Elizabeth Esochaghi as chairman. The governor also confirmed the appointment of Dr Haglar Okorie, an associate professor, as the substantive rector of Abia State Polytechnic, Aba.
In Plateau State, Governor Simon Lalong swore in five new judges of the state High Court and a judge of the state Customary Court of Appeal. According to the governor, the decision became necessary as part of his desire to leave behind a robust and vibrant judiciary capable of meeting the needs of the people.
Also, Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State appointed four new commissioners into his cabinet barely 20 days before the expiration of his exit from office.
Explaining the rationale behind the latest appointment, Umahi in an interview monitored on Arise TV on Wednesday said it was to reward the four appointees before the expiration of his tenure.
He said, “I needed to increase their status because they worked very well for me. Don’t forget that the state was so backward and it was created a few years back. One of the things God asked me to do is to boost the confidence of our people, and so these four people have worked with me as Senior Special Assistants.
“They didn’t come from outside, so I needed to elevate them so that when they come up here to talk to you and they need to introduce themselves, they introduce themselves as former commissioners. It is a reward system and I insist on the reward system.
“My governor-elect is taking over from me; he has been with me for the past 16 years. So, you don’t overlook such people, since he is capable. These people are capable and I needed to elevate them.”
In Kano State, project implementation has become an issue between the incumbent government of Abdullahi Ganduje and the incoming administration.
The governor-elect, Abba Kabir Yusuf, issued advisory statements on different occasions asking all property developers in the state to halt whatever development they might be doing on public properties, like schools, places of worship, markets, and traditional heritage. He also told lenders not to give the state government any new loan unless such was cleared by him.
Infuriated by Yusuf’s stance, the state government asked the governor-elect to wait until he was sworn in on May 29.
In Taraba State, following reports that he awarded N2bn worth of vehicles for himself, his deputy and their wives, Governor Darius Ishaku has denied the report. His Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Bala Dan Abu, denied the report in a statement.
Reacting, the Secretary, Joint Action Front, Abiodun Bamgboye, called on the President and other outgoing governors not to create problems for the incoming governments. He stated that such steps by incumbents would continue to undermine development if not stopped.
He stated, “More loans will compound the country’s debt burden as well as increase the burden of the incoming government and this is not right. If I were the President-elect, Bola Tinubu, I would prevail on the incumbent government to ensure that additional loans are not taken because it will create difficulties.”
Supporting Bamgboye’s position, the Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress in Oyo State, Mr Kayode Martins, called on the President not to create problems for the incoming government.
He stated, “Awarding a contract at this late hour is not good enough and I won’t subscribe to that. President Buhari should not create problems for the incoming government and the incoming government should be prepared to salvage the situation. I think the President-elect is going to take some drastic decisions.”
He however commended Buhari for some bills that he recently assented to, saying such would salvage the situation of the country. He said the President might be carrying out last-minute tasks due to delays by the National Assembly or interference from political cabals.
“Like the signing of some bills recently, it is a decision that is going to salvage the situation we have found ourselves in because Nigeria needs drastic steps. He is doing some things he ought to have done before. Maybe he was handicapped by the National Assembly or surrounded by political cabals but he signed some bills that I think will help Nigeria.”
A political analyst and professor of International Law at the University of Jos, Nnamdi Aduba, said it was politically and morally wrong for the government to adopt the tactics of awarding contracts and engaging in certain expenditures at the end of its tenure.
He also queried the inability of the National and State Assemblies to adequately scrutinise and reject such requests by the executives. He stressed that the role of legislators was beyond lawmaking but to provide proper checks and balances on the programmes and policies of the executives which may be detrimental to public interest.
“The role of the legislators in the Assemblies is not only about making laws. There are matters of urgent national interest and the interest of the masses that require efficient checks and balances, like this issue of last-minute borrowing.
“You should ask, what is the importance of borrowing such a huge amount of money at this time when you are already leaving office? If you say it is for supporting Nigerians such as giving palliatives, ask them how many people were able to access the last palliative that they gave out.”
Speaking further, Aduba queried the huge contracts being awarded, saying, “Are you winding down or commencing another administration? You can imagine the level of impunity. A President that is preparing to hand over in a few weeks just returned to the country and the person to take over from him has also followed the same step. Our rulers are really cruel. It is so unfortunate the quality of leaders we have.”
Also lending his voice to the matter, human rights Lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, proposed an amendment to the public procurement act to place a restriction on the capacity of the government to appoint and make expenditures towards the end of their tenure.
He said, “What we see over time is that when a particular administration is winding down, there is usually that scramble to siphon resources. Public officers go with vehicles, suspicious contracts are awarded and money moves from state coffers. These things have been happening both at the federal and state levels, and one can only hope that this questionable culture that we have seen in recent days is stopped.
“I also hope that the law enforcement agencies are following these contracts to ensure that the Nigerian people are not taking them for granted yet again. I find quite suspicious some of the contracts that the Buhari regime is awarding and I do hope that it is in the interest of the country. I believe the Public Procurement Act should be amended to limit the power of the government to award contracts or make payment within a particular time to the end of an administration.”
He urged the incoming administration to review last-minute contracts awarded to ensure that they were in conformity with the law and that due process was not violated.
Speaking further, Effiong stated, “The loans are also not acceptable. For example, the $800m that Buhari is asking for is abominable. It is completely reckless and irresponsible for an outgoing administration to be seeking a loan, especially an outrageous one for that matter. What are you going to achieve with the loan within a few days? Why don’t you allow the new administration to consider whether the loan is necessary or not?
“When the resources of the state are involved, one must be conscious of it, including the dubious passage of emolument and entitlement bills in some state’s House of Assembly. Again, what this demonstrates is that political office is seen as a medium of wealth accumulation, it is not seen as an opportunity to serve the people.”