The big story now is that many states of the federation are queuing up for bailout. That derives from the meeting of the National Economic Council (NEC), which held in June, with President Muhammadu Buhari presiding. Before then, a number of states were known to be in financial straits. The situation was so bad that many of the new governors who took over on May 29 could not function. They had to tell the story as it was. The gist in all of that was that many of the governors that just left office mismanaged the resources of their states.
But before the crucial NEC meeting, which let the cat out of the bag, a note of discomfort was already being sounded in Sokoto State. A concerned citizen had felt that his state, the seat of the caliphate, was about to indulge in the unusual. The citizen found this repugnant and decided to speak truth to power. That was before the bubble burst.
Aminu Tambuwal had then just taken over from Aliyu Wamakko as the governor of the State. But there was a missing link. Unlike what obtains and is supposed to obtain in states where an outgoing governor is handing over to an incoming one, Sokoto toed a different path. There was no declaration, official or otherwise, as to what Wamakko handed over to Tambuwal. Wamakko did not disclose to the people of Sokoto State the financial state or status of the state as he was leaving office. In the same vein, Tambuwal, who just took over, did not disclose what he inherited or did not inherit from Wamakko.
The state of affairs was unusual. It was not in line with the tradition of accountability and transparency instituted and practised by Attahiru Bafarawa, who was governor of the state from 1999 to 2007. For the eight years that Bafarawa was in the saddle, the state’s financial status was published periodically after proper auditing. By the time he was leaving office in 2007, about N12 billion was left in the state’s coffers. He duly handed over this amount to Wamakko.
Even though Wamakko, soon after he took over, tried to discredit Bafarawa’s handover note, he could not go far enough because the people of the state were already accustomed to the culture of transparency that Bafarawa’s regime was known for. Wamakko may not have borrowed a leaf from Bafarawa in this regard. But it was expected that he would, at the end of his tenure, make certain disclosures about the state of finances of the state. But he did not. Tambuwal, on his part, did not help matters. He was also silent on the financial state of the state.
Significantly, the anomaly did not go unnoticed. A certain Alhaji Isma’ila Abdulmalik, a citizen of Sokoto State, could not hide his disgust for this unusual development. In an open letter addressed to Governor Tambuwal published in The Sun of June 25, 2015, Abdulmalik drew Tambuwal’s attention to the fact that “it is only Sokoto State out of 29 states or so that had new administrations on 29th May, 2015, that is yet to reveal to the electorate the quantum of debts and money (if any) it has inherited from the immediate past administration. You may wish to know, Your Excellency, that people are anxious to know how much debts, liabilities and cash in various accounts your administration has inherited from the Aliyu Magatakarda Wamakko administration….You may wish to reveal the details of finances or debts you have inherited now so that your silence on it will not be used against you in the not too distant future. People need to know how you started so that they can appreciate what you will be able to do with their resources and possibly thank you for it.”
That was the wise counsel from Alhaji Abdulmalik. He did not stop there. He equally advised Tambuwal to borrow a leaf from the style of administration of Bafarawa whose Commissioner for Finance used to address the press every quarter to explain to the state how much the administration received within the period under review, what was spent out of it, and what was saved for the rainy day. In the end, the Ministry of Finance issued annual audited accounts of the state government in collaboration with the office of the State Auditor General.
Alhaji Abdulmalik’s prescriptions for Tambuwal are very much in order. Public disclosure is the practice in every democratic setting. It makes even a greater sense in Sokoto State, where Bafarawa’s periodic account to the people of the state yielded practical and verifiable results to the knowledge of those who took some interest in the affairs of the state. When, therefore, Bafarawa announced a surplus of N12 billion as the amount he handed over to Wamakko, there was no argument about that. Bafarawa had his facts and figures. However, owing to political considerations, Wamakko, at some point, came to claim that he saw no money in the account handed over to him by Bafarawa . But the claims and counter claims belong to the chequered story of Wamakko’s frosty relationship with his predecessor.
What is of immediate relevance now is that Abdulmalik ‘s prediction is coming alive too soon. Tambuwal is among the 27 governors that applied to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for special intervention fund to bail their states from their parlous financial situation. Under the scheme, Sokoto State is to receive N10 billion repayable at an interest rate of nine per cent over a 20-year period. What this means is that all is not well with Sokoto State, just like the 26 others that are begging for the CBN intervention fund.
Sokoto cannot, by any means, be blamed alone. Searchlight is also being beamed on the other states whose finances have been mismanaged by their past and present governors.
However, the burden Tambuwal carries is that of non-disclosure. He carried on as if all was well. The people of the state asked for details, he gave them none. They asked him to jettison the secrecy that ruled and reigned under Wamakko, but he chose to ignore them. They also asked him to adopt Bafarawa ‘s open and transparent financial accounting system, but he did not act on the wise counsel. Now, a Daniel, nay a Tambuwal, has come to judgment. The governor now needs to explain to the people what went wrong. How did Sokoto get into this financial mess? Tambuwal, as the servant of the people, owes them explanation in this matter. The people need to know why they have to be saddled with such financial burden for 20 years. They need to know what to tell even the unborn child whose future has been mortgaged by the debt overhang. Silence will no longer do. Indeed, further silence on this issue will mean that Tambuwal is shielding Wamakko at the expense of the people who voted him into office. The choice is Tambuwal’s to make.