On Tuesday, President Muhammadu Buhari sent a letter to the National Assembly seeking the approval of the refund of N148 billion to Ondo, Bayelsa, Cross River, Osun and Rivers states for federal road projects executed by the five states.
Mr Buhari requested this in a letter addressed to the House of Representatives speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila.
Ondo State, where a governorship election will come up on October 10, is expected to get N7 billion.
Similar payments went to Osun and Kogi States just before their governorship elections. Off-season elections happen in Ekiti, Ondo, Osun, Edo Anambra, Bayelsa and Kogi.
Political analysts have questioned the timing of the payments, seeing them as suspicious funds from an APC-led federal government to APC-led states that could be used to influence the outcome of the polls.
In this report, PREMIUM TIMES looks at the trend of how funds were disbursed to these states during the electioneering period.
In 2018, President Buhari released N16.67 billion, the government said was the last tranche of Paris Club refund payment, to the Osun State government some weeks before the governorship election.
The refund was a partial settlement of longstanding claims by state governments relating to over-deductions from their Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) payments for external debt service between 1995 and 2002.
The fund was used to settle three months’ salary arrears to workers in the run-up to the governorship election won by Gboyega Oyetola, the candidate of the ruling APC, after a controversial supplementary poll.
The approval was criticised by the opposition parties and many commentators that such funds were not be judiciously dispensed.
There was controversy preceding the Kogi State election in 2019 following President Buhari’s letter to the Senate, seeking approval of N10.069 billion ‘promissory note’ to the Kogi State government. This was supposedly for projects done on behalf of the federal government.
Three days to the governorship election in Kogi State, the Senate approved the immediate release of the money.
Despite calls by opposition lawmakers that the money be delayed till after the election, the majority of the senators outvoted them and the fund was released.
This was also criticised by the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) saying that there was “no level playing field for all the contestants because of the heavy financial largesse packaged dubiously as Federal Government’s refund to Kogi State.”
While no fund was released to the Ondo State government in 2016 when the state was being governed by the opposition, Mr Buhari has now approved the same type of questionable payment ahead of the 2020 polls.
PREMIUM TIMES reported that the president on Tuesday wrote the National Assembly to approve the refund of N148 billion to Ondo, Bayelsa, Cross River, Osun and Rivers States for federal road projects the five states executed.
His letter was addressed to the speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila.
Ondo is expected to receive N7 billion.
Unlike Osun, Ayodele Fayose, the former governor of Ekiti State, accused Mr Buhari of denying the state the release of the Paris Club refund to his state with the intention of upsetting the state ahead of the July 14, 2018 governorship election.
The poll was later won by Kayode Fayemi – the current chairman of Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF). Despite Mr Fayose’s outcry, the fund was not released until after the poll.
While there was no record of fund disbursement to the Edo government in 2016, the federal government, in the recently concluded election, disbursed funds to 2,000 women and youth across the state, under the Micro Enterprise Enhancement Scheme.
It happened barely four days before the election. This was also criticised by the opposition, who accused the president of inducing voters, considering the timing of the initiative.
Bayelsa and Anambra, governed by the opposition, did not receive federal funds in 2019 and Anambra in 2017 during their election periods.
Timing of the release of funds, Suspicious – Analysts
Following Tuesday’s letter seeking approval for the release of funds to Ondo State, political analysts told PREMIUM TIMES that Mr Buhari uses the release of funds days to election to shape the outcome of the poll.
An analyst, Kunle Ajayi, said the “disbursement of funds days to the election is simply an act of federal power to throw weight behind their supporters. No money is needed for running of the states’ activities during the electioneering period because the governors, who are seeking re-election, concentrate more on their ambition than any project.
“For me, I see no reason why such funds cannot be delayed until after the election in order to be put into good use. The pattern in which President Muhammadu Buhari-led government released these funds is suspicious and should not be tolerated, if truly democracy is to play.”
Another political commentator, Lekan Olayiwola, told our correspondent that “it will make more sense if the federal government, in particular the president, speaks on why funds are usually released days to election.
“It is more suspicious because other states where off-season elections were held do not benefit from this. Bayelsa was never given at a period when Kogi was funded, and Edo was not funded too in the recent election. Isn’t that suspicious? If not for the purpose of election, the release of funds can always wait so that the money could be used adequately for the benefit of the masses.”
President Buhari’s spokesperson, Femi Adesina, did not respond to calls and text messages sent to him by our correspondent on Tuesday for this report.