The Katsina State Government and one of its leading industrialists are now embroiled in a faceoff over how the state allegedly mismanaged a whooping N52.6 billion as security votes in five years despite the prevalence of security challenges in the state.
The industrialist, Alhaji Muhammad Mahdi Shehu, who runs Dialogue Group Limited, accuses the government of squandering the huge public funds with nothing to show for it but the state has dismissed his claim as frivolous and baseless.
Alhaji Shehu, who has already fired a strong petition to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, to investigate how the cash was drawn and spent in the spirit of accountability and transparency, has also challenged the state to come clean on the matter.
But the administration has described most of the claims contained in the petition as an attempt by the petitioner to blackmail it and tarnish the good work being done by the government.
This happened as details of how the Katsina State Government wasted N52.6 billion under questionable deals captured as ‘security vote’ in five years have now emerged, putting the government at odds with the people who are in dire need of basic amenities even as insecurity bites harder with many lives lost on a daily basis.
Katsina State Escrow Accounts
Documents at the disposal of Arewa Voice indicate that the huge public fund was wasted between June 2015 and April 2020 on routine items of expenditure, which have remained unchanged over the years. A cursory review of the payments, which were made directly from the Katsina State Escrow Accounts in some banks, reveals discrepancies in both dates and purposes of payments.
For instance, while the coronavirus pandemic did not start in Nigeria before February 2020, the Katsina State Government made payment of N780 million for paramilitary operation ‘during COVID-19 lockdown’ on August 13, 2018.
Other questionable payments from the two escrow accounts made by the state government are N870 million for purchase of ‘essential security equipment’, N870 million for security allowance of operatives at Government House, Katsina and N400 million monthly allowance for security operatives at Government House, N693 million welfare for security agencies in Katsina and 462 million for intensifying security surveillance at old seven LGAs as well as N498 million for annual transport/clothing for Chief Imams in Katsina.
The state government reported in the accounts that it made payments of N56 million when former President Goodluck Jonathan visited the state on January 19, 2015, and it spent another N24 million when the same president visited the state in March 2015. It did not, however, say what the money was actually used during the presidential visit.
At the same time, the government reports that it spent N170 million for what it calls ‘successful conduct of the 2015 electioneering process’, N250 million on ‘logistics’ for smooth security exercise in 34 LGAs and another N406 million on security vehicles.
A breakdown of the amount it claimed to have spent on security over the five-year period indicates that N809 million on security between June and December 2015, expended N3.6 billion in 2016, raised the amount to N7.8 billion in 2017 and spent N24 billion in 2018. The state used N12.7 billion as security in 2019 and has so far disbursed N3.4 billion before April this year, according to its own records.
Miffed by this humongous depletion of public funds at a time when Katsina State is overwhelmed by security challenges, which have forced the governor to beg bandits for a ceasefire for amnesty, an indigene of the state, Alhaji Muhammad Mahdi Shehu, wants a thorough investigation of how the funds were expended.
Shehu, who is the Chief Executive Officer of Dialogue Group Limited, one of the biggest employers of labor in Nigeria, said it would be in the interest of accountability and transparency as well as good governance for the EFCC to probe and make the findings public. Shehu promised to make himself available to defend the petition any time the commission deems it necessary for him to appear.
But the Katsina State Government has dismissed the claim, describing the N52.6 billion security expenditure as nothing but mere falsehood orchestrated by the petitioner. The Secretary to the Katsina State Government, Dr. Mustapha Inuwa, claimed that the escrow account has not received more than N6.4 billion since the inception of the present administration in 2015.
Inuwa, who also made available to journalists the different documents pertaining to the fund and its disbursement to the appropriate security personnel and agencies for verification, explained that the escrow account was initiated by the late former Governor Umaru Musa Yar’Adua administration and sustained by its successor.
He said it was slashed by the current government to quarterly contributions of N150 m and N170m from the state and local governments in view of the meager funds at their disposal.
Inuwa averred that the state government had no transaction until June this year when a new account in the bank was opened with only N4 million. He dismissed as mischievous the amount that was reportedly squandered by the current administration, adding that most of the claims Shehu submitted to the EFCC were fictitious.
The secretary to the government further noted that in the catalog of the state government’s alleged spending, the said expenditures of the secure escrow account from January 2015 to April 2015, we’re certainly before Governor Aminu Bello Masari assumed power.
Inuwa also tendered documents to attest that the current administration slashed the amount expended as allowances of the 10 security operatives guarding Lumbar Rimi windmill project since the government came into office in 2015 and stopped payment of the allowances completely in August 2017 contrary to the claim the government’s resources were misappropriated until June this year under the guise of allowances to the security operatives.
Inuwa said: “Shehu’s petition is riddled with repetitions of entries that have certainly made the total amount said to have been squandered by the current administration quite mischievous.”
He, however, expressed concern that the petition alleged that the administration paid N780m to para-military operation during COVID-19 lockdown on August13, 2018, when COVID-19 was unheard of about a year ago.