Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed of Kwara State is the sixth democratically elected governor of the state. The banker turned politician served in the immediate past administration of Governor Bukola Saraki. In this interview he responds to questions on developments in the state and the impact of his six year administration on Kwara. Excerpts:
What is the current economic status of Kwara State and what are you doing to increase its viability?
The economy of Kwara State cannot be insulated from the Nigerian economy. We are all aware that the problems we are faced with have been with us over a long time. We have over a long time depended on the crude oil driven economy. So any change in the price of crude oil will naturally affect the economy.In Kwara, things have been very tough as they’ve been across the country but we’ve brought certain levels of intervention through the medium and small scale enterprise funding windows where entrepreneurs, small traders access funds either under associations, groups or co-operatives. Most importantly, we sought to change the ways in which we access revenues especially Internally Generated Revenue.
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We’ve since restructured our collection process and this has led to a major boost in available funds for our programmes. That has helped in supporting the much desired funding for infrastructure because you see one of the challenges that any economy like ours is faced with is an infrastructure gap. That is why we put efforts in place to raise revenue to support infrastructure. We had quite a lot on ground in terms of infrastructure when we came in 2011 and quite a lot has been done. God willing we still have a few we need to complete before the end of our tenure. So, by and large we have succeeded in refloating the economy through selective funding of our infrastructural programme and of course, making funds available for small entrepreneurs.
Why is there a craving for local government autonomy when the local governments cannot even pay salaries?
You see, I think we should try to understand when people use certain words for certain things in Nigeria, just like the much talked about restructuring. When you ask 10 people about restructuring they will give you 10 different answers. You see the word to me is too amorphous. When you talk of autonomy at the local government level, in Kwara I don’t know how much more they want to be autonomous because they are completely financially autonomous and I think that is the kind of autonomy they are talking about. The relationship between the state and local government is purely as guided by the constitution and the laws of Kwara State.
Cuts-in: Your Excellency Sir, but you run joint account.
No! The State runs its own account, the local government run its own account. Local government in Kwara are financially autonomous. Their allocation comes into what we call the joint allocation account of local governments. The joint is not between state and local. It is amongst the 16 local governments. I think a lot of people have been misconstruing the concept of joint account. They think that joint account is between the state and local government. No! It is amongst the 16 local governments. They have one account where their money that is coming from Abuja or any federally allocated funds enter. And that is why they call it the Joint Account of all the 16 Local Governments not with the state government. It is from that account that monies are shared to the 16 local governments and that is how they are able to pay salaries to their workers and carry on their other recurrent expenditure. So, local governments in Kwara State are already autonomous. I am sure where autonomy is relevant is in states where monies that come in enter into the state coffers first before they now begin to enter to the various local governments but we don’t have that practice in Kwara State. We have never had it. Monies that come go into their Joint account as captured in the Nigerian Constitution. It is not a choice of Kwara State. In fact, when they are talking about abrogation of the joint account, it is not at the state level, it is a constitutional level. It is the National Assembly issue. So, when you say you don’t want Joint Account, it is at the National Assembly issue, it is not at the state government level. So we should understand when we talk of Joint Accounts, it is among the 16 local governments, that is the account where their monies are shared from. The only thing they enjoy from the state government is the 10% internally generated revenue which is religiously made available to local governments on monthly basis. So, ordinarily, they are supposed to augment that with their own Internally Generated Revenue. There are so many lines that local governments can generate revenue from i.e. from garages, parks, environmental services, markets etc. There are so many services they can render and these are revenue lines guided by bye-laws of the local government. So, the local governments are supposed to make bye-laws to ensure that they are able to complement their effort at the state and local government levels to drive revenue to get the necessary support to pay salaries and wages. Sir what does the Paris Club refund mean and how is it being used in the state? Some of these loans were in the 70s, 80s and 90s and were used to build things like the NTA, hospitals, and water projects and the funds were duly repaid by the state government through regular deductions at that time. Unfortunately, when they were been paid by the states, the FG did not externalize it. So, by the time the FG wanted to pay, it now took from another source to pay on behalf of the states. So, the states now came and said look it is like you are doing a double payment for one loan on my behalf. So, we request for a refund. So that portion of the refund is what has been captioned in the Paris club refund and they are based on what the states had paid in the past. The local government is also expected to benefit from it. We don’t have a problem with local government benefiting from that but it must be recognized that these are funds for the state government. The monies that are made available for local government would go through the local government allocation account. Local government money does not enter state government account, just the way state money would not enter local government account. However, when the monies came in, state governments have different problems. The first reason why the money was made available was states that were under pressure of salaries of which Kwara State was not one of them. The pressure we had was at the local government. The only thing that can support unpaid salaries is Internally Generated Strategies. Whatever comes from outside is only going to help you temporarily. So, the Paris club thing, when it came, it was out of sympathy that the state supported the local government to off-set part of their arrears. So it is not the local governments money, it is the state money and out of sympathy, we stepped down some of our capital projects and we used the money to support the local governments so that local governments can also reduce the burden they have. But between you and me, that is not the solution to local government problems. The permanent solution to local government problems must be, those local governments that are owing must do what those who are not owing are doing i.e Kaiama local government is not owing. What is it doing that is making it to pay its own salaries? Some local governments are owing just 2 months, what are they doing that is making them owe just 2 months? Why are others owing 9 months? So, it is not a flat rate. So we must look at it from case to case basis if we want them to get out of it. But if you lump them together, you will be looking at a solution from outside when the solution should come from inside. But if you want solution to the lingering local government problems, it is imperative that we look at local government on case by case basis. So, until we look at it on case by case basis and look at what they are not doing that is making them unable to pay salaries that is when we can get solution to that problem. The solution lies on internally generated funds.