Sahara Reporters on Monday, November 20, 2023 startled the people of Ondo State with the news of unbudgeted spending of a whooping sum of ₦7.3billion by the ailing Governor Rotimi Akeredolu. This revelation was substantiated by the online media platform with a document of Ondo State Budget Performance Report.
The fund in question was spent under the guise of continency between the months of July and September 2023, when the ailing governor was on medical leave in Germany. This was a period when the governor should not have anything to do with governance having transferred power to his deputy.
As expected, there has been strong defence in support of Governor Akeredolu. It had also been emphasized by those rallying support for the governor that there has not been any case of financial impropriety. The Chief Press Secretary to Governor Akeredolu, Richard Olatunde practically struggled to issue a very weak, contradictory and indicting statement on Tuesday, November 21, 2023.
Olatunde wrote in the statement that the ₦7.3billion was spent because there was no luxury of time to send a supplementary budget to the State House of Assembly. He equally added in the release that the fund was received from the federal government and it was labeled as “Infrastructure Support Fund,” which was specifically meant for palliatives to cushion the effects of fuel subsidy removal.
Sincerely, it would have better if Akeredolu’s CPS had not issued the statement, because it had only raised more questions and dust. The statement had also further immersed Governor Akeredolu and his financial officials in the seeming pool of impropriety. There is no doubt that Olatunde sure knew that he was unable to convince with his ‘press release’ because a bad case can only remain bad irrespective of the embellishments.
Meanwhile, the bottom line of this issue is that unbudgeted fund had purportedly been approved and spent by Governor Akeredolu at a time that he was not in the position to give such approval. Apparently, Aketi had transferred power to his deputy, Lucky Aiyedatiwa to act in his stead for three months and was on medical leave in Germany at the time of the approval. As things stand now, the issues of unbudgeted spending as well as the purported approval of unbudgeted fund by a Governor Akeredolu when he had already transferred power to his deputy need to be investigated.
It! Is good though that a group has submitted petition on the approved ₦7.3billion to the Ondo State House of Assembly. One can only hope that the House would summon the courage and do the needful to ensure fast, thorough and integrity laden investigation of this matter.
While the investigation of Ondo Assembly is being awaited, it however curious that no official of Ondo State ever deemed it necessary to mention that the sum of ₦7billion was received from the federal government, until Sahara Reporters broke the news. Rather, it has been songs of lamentation and regret from the Chairman of the of the Palliative Committee. However, assuming without conceding that the ₦7.3billion in question was spent on palliative to cushion the effects of fuel subsidy removal; it can be safely concluded that all that everything thus far procured or done would remain a far cry from this humongous amount.
It is also curious that Richard Olatunde promised on Tuesday, November 21, 2023 that members of the Palliative Committee would furnish the state with details of their expenditure; but no such detail has been given till now. To provide details of expenditure should ordinarily have been done within few hours, if not for the stark reality that the figures are simply not adding up.
Ordinarily, this seeming case of financial impropriety may not have happened if Governor Akeredolu had been fit and strong to govern. Situation of this sort should have been expected in a state where no leader has been in charge of governance for several months. Above all, the situation must have been encouraged by the constitutional abberation being witnessed in Ondo State in the last seven months In a situation whereby non-elected and unknown individuals have hijacked governance in Ondo State in the last seven month; worse looting of the state resources may have been perpetrated.
The way forward in Ondo State is to respect the provisions of section 190, subsections 1 and 2 of 1999 constitution as ammemded. Sections 2 of the provision empowers the State House of Assembly to make resoluttion by simple majority votes by mandating the Deputy Governor to perform the functions of the office of Governor in Acting capacity until the Governor will transmits a letter to the Speaker that he is available to resume his functions as Governor. This is the way to go and members of Ondo Assembly should immediately toe the path of honour by doing the needful.
Similarly, no.serious and proper investigation can be done so long as the same financial officers still remain in office. It only reasnable for state officials that have played key roles in the spending of this unappropriated fund to step down from their offices. There is no way these individuas can remain in office and still expectfree, fair and unhindered investigation of this unbudgeted fund. This is an integrity issue and what is least expected of the affected persons is to yield room proper investigation.