President Muhammadu Buhari is keenly interested in the ongoing investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) into how state governors spent the N552.74 billion Paris Club loan refund shared to the states by the Federal Government last December. A highly-placed official in the Presidency disclosed this to our correspondent yesterday.
The official, who pleaded not to be named, revealed that President Muhammadu Buhari particularly got interested in the matter following "mind-boggling allegations" in the way the governors expended the funds. According to the official, the position of President Buhari's administration is that the governors concerned should go and face the probe.
The source emphasised that Buhari wanted the investigation to be "logically concluded" and would not shield any governors indicted. He stated: "If the president would shield any of the governors, would he have asked for the investigation in the first place? Nobody is above the law. The governors should realise that they are not above the law.
"Everybody in this country knows this administration is committed to the fight against corruption. All that the administration wants is that regarding the ongoing investigation into the Paris Club loan refund, the EFCC should be fair to everybody concerned.
"It was because of some allegations that the investigation was called for. The allegations include diversion of the monies into private pockets. Another allegation is that of the hiring of phony consultants to pocket the money. Who are these consultants? What was their role? Who hired them? Where are the monies?"
The Paris Club loan refunds arose sequel to the claims submitted by the states that they had been overcharged in deductions for external debt servicing between 1995 and 2002.
President Muhammadu Buhari had on December 22, 2016 approved the sum of N552.74bn to be paid in batches to the 33 states owed.
Findings showed that as of last month, out of the N552.74 billion approved by the president, N388 billion had been released to the states, with Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Lagos and Kaduna reportedly getting N14.5 billion each.
While Jigawa, Imo, Borno and Niger States were said to have received N13 billion each, Benue and Bauchi States had received N12 billion each.
Other beneficiaries were Enugu, N9.9 billion; Ekiti, N8.8 billion; Nasarawa, N8.4 billion; Gombe, N8.3 billion; Oyo, N7.2 billion; Ondo, N6.5 billion; Kwara, N5.4 billion; Adamawa, N4.8 billion; Taraba, N4.2 billion and Ebonyi, N3.3 billion.
Investigators of the EFCC are said to have summoned the three signatories to the account of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF).
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, had in a statement last year, disclosed that Buhari requested governors to pay at least 25 percent of the refunds made to them from excess deductions for external debt service to be used to settle outstanding workers' entitlements.
"President Muhammadu Buhari has requested governors to pay at least 25 percent of the refunds made to them from excess deductions for external debt service, to be used to settle outstanding workers' entitlements.
"The President approved the sum of N552.74 billion to be paid in batches to all the states that are owed, but they are expected to receive 25% of their approved sums in the first instance before this week runs out. There are about 33 states in this bracket.
"The refunds arose following the claims by them that they had been overcharged in deductions for external debt service between 1995 and 2002.
"In a directive through the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, President Buhari said that the issue of workers' benefits, particularly salary and pensions mustn't be allowed to continue as a national problem and should be tackled with all the urgency that can be summoned.
"When he assumed office last year, the President declared an emergency over unpaid salaries, following the discovery that 27 out of the country's 36 states had fallen behind in the payments to their workers, in some cases for up to a year. Following this, a bailout loan was issued to the states twice with a first batch of about N300 billion given to them in 2015 in the form of soft loans.
"The administration also got the Debt Management Office, DMO to restructure their commercial loans of over N660 billion and extended the life span of the loans. Because this did not succeed in pulling many of the states out of distress, the Federal government this year gave out a further N90 billion to 22 states as yet another bailout loans under very stringent conditions.
"President Buhari has expressed the opinion all the time that the payment of salaries and pensions must be given priority to save both serving and retired workers and their families from distress," Shehu had stated.
The EFCC had within the week stated that it had so far not indicted any state governor, noting that the investigation was still at a preliminary stage.
The Nigeria Governors' Forum (NGF) had on Wednesday held an emergency closed-door meeting over the matter. Rising from the meeting held at the Old Banquet Hall of the Aso Rock Presidential Villa in Abuja, the chairman of the forum and Zamfara State governor, Abdulaziz Yari, told State House correspondents that the governors were ready for the probe.
The NGF leader also stressed that the forum was in support of President Buhari's administration's war against corruption. "We discussed the issue of Paris Club and London Club. We observed that the EFCC said it is doing investigations. Yes, we support the Federal Government for fighting corruption. We are waiting for the EFCC to come up with what they say is the investigation and come up with the result," Yari said.