Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State is currently on a borrowing spree, picking up loans from every willing financial institution as his administration’s seeming bizarre bid to take over local government funds failed to sail through.
Disturbingly, the state House of Assembly is complicit in the unrestrained borrowing of the Ayade administration. Already, the governor has approached the House, seeking approval to obtain N5.00 billion loan facility from First Bank of Nigeria at 18 per cent interest rate payable within 24 months.
The seeming desperate loan bid is coming as the 18 Heads of Local Government Administration (HOLGA) in the state declined to give Governor Ayade the green light to have unfettered access to the monthly local government allocations released by Abuja beginning with last June’s.
At a meeting on Tuesday in Calabar, the state capital, to seal the veiled funds hijack, the council chiefs resisted Governor Ayade’s intense pressure and refused to sign documents that would seen paying 30 percent interest rate for the funds which the state government wanted to take over under a novel loan deal.
Despite the council chiefs’ insistence that the governor’s move was against the directive of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), the government wanted the directive subverted.
The NFIU had directed that with effect from June 1, 2019, governors should desist from tampering with local government funds. Consequently, the June allocation for local governments in the state was not paid into the usual Joint Allocation Accounts (JAAC) which has been operated by the state government for over a decade.
To enable Governor Ayade have his way, HOLGA, which is currently playing the roles of council chairmen since the state government has not conducted Local Government elections in four years, requested the governor to get the Directors of Financial Services at the local government level involved in his subversive bid.
Governor Ayade was pushing HOLGA to initiate memos requesting the state government to continue paying the consolidated salaries for the State Universal Education Board SUBEB and the state Primary Health Care Development Agency CRSPHDA as loan, then the councils will repay the loans at 30 per cent interest rate from their monthly allocations which are now being paid directly to their accounts.
To cement the cash deal, the Tuesday meeting was to also have the financial chiefs of the 18 local government areas in attendance to ratify their decision of raising memos requesting the governor to continue paying salaries for the local governments on loan.
The governor who needs a steady flow of funds to drive his ambitious industrialisation programme, earlier last June had called a meeting of HOLGA, pleading with them to allow the state pay previous local government staff who were deployed to SUBEB and CRSPHCDA and the local government councils will pay back the loan at 30 percent interest rate.
The Ayade administration, insiders say, came up with an attempt to update the nominal rolls of local governments despite a staff verification exercise done by the Board and the Agency in 2017.
The Ayade loan deal with the council chiefs however, collapsed when the state Chairman of the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), Godwin Ayendi, stormed the meeting venue and warned the council chiefs against signing any document that will subvert the NFIU directives and create disaffection and industrial disharmony at the third-tier of governance.
In the mean time, the Speaker of the House, Eteng Jones, has read Ayade’s letter to them dated July 5, 2019 on the N5.00 billion loan facility to offset unpaid pensions and to fix ‘’other unforeseen obligations of government’’.
Leader of the House, Peter Odey of Ogoja State Constituency, is already appealing to his colleagues to grant the governor’s request, and also appealed to the governor to ensure proper usage of the loan.
Elvert Ekom of Ikom II State Constituency has craved the indulgence of the House to search for proper knowledge of what the governor meant by ‘’unforeseen obligations of government’’. According to him, the governor would have done the House more good if he had properly explained what else he intends to use the loan facility for instead of simple classifying whatever it may be as ‘’unforeseen obligations of government’’, as that only helped in putting the House in the dark.
For Friday Okpechi of Obubra I State Constituency, ‘’the governor is known for prompt payment of salaries. The delay in the payment of June salaries could be what the governor captured as unforeseen obligations of government.’’
The House has given the governor the go-ahead to obtain the N5.00 billion loan facility.