Explanation by a former Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, on how the N78m he approved for the upgrade of his personal website is considered unsatisfactory, FISAYO FALODI writes
Admirers of a former Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, if given the opportunity, will like to roll out the drums and celebrate their hero for the successful completion of two terms in office. They will like to use various yardsticks to assess his two tenures in office and come to the conclusion that the 13th governor of Lagos State had fulfilled his electioneering promises to the people.
They will, no doubt, hail the former governor for serving the people meritoriously while in office. The admirers will like to point to the several accolades he won for the various programmes executed by his administration. They will also like to mention the fact that some of his policies were testimonies of his excellent performance.
Other Fashola’s achievements, according to them, are renewal of infrastructure culminating in the construction of many roads, building pedestrian bridges, execution of over 110 projects in rural communities and prioritising of security with emphasis on turning hideouts that previously served as bases for impostors and armed robbers into beautiful environment. They also listed the establishment of the Lagos State Security Trust Fund to effectively finance the security needs of the state as a major feat achieved by the ex-governor.
Based on the widely proclaimed catalogue of achievements by Fashola, some analysts are already speculating that President Muhammadu Buhari may appoint the former governor as one of his ministers.
But as plausible as the conjecture sounds, critics believe that Fashola has to answer some questions bordering on integrity and how he managed public resources while he was in office as the governor. The critics alleged that the former governor’s hands were not clean in terms of management of public funds and asked Buhari not to consider him for appointment in his yet-to-be-formed cabinet.
Like Fashola’s admirers who catalogued his achievements for likely appointment as a minister, a civil society group, Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, also felt that the former governor deserved no higher responsibility because his administration was engulfed in many controversies that could not be overlooked.
CACOL Executive Chairman, Mr. Debo Adeniran, listed what he considered as Fashola’s “sin” to include failure by the former governor to fix the dilapidated public schools in the state and his refusal to disclose how his administration spent the $200m World Bank education fund even when the Socio-Economic Right Accountability Project invoked the Freedom of Information Act to know how the money was expended.
He said instead, Fashola ran the state’s affairs in secrecy by claiming that the FOI Act did not apply to state governments.
While insisting that Fashola should be made to account for the alleged moral and financial misconducts that characterised his administration, Adeniran said independent investigations by CACOL revealed that the 1.36km Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge reportedly built for N25bn actually cost only N6bn.
He, however, wondered why the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission ignored the series of petitions he said he had written to the anti-graft body to probe the various projects Fashola claimed to have executed in the face of the over N500bn debt left behind by his administration.
Based on its finding, CACOL wrote a letter to the President, asking him not to consider Fashola for ministerial appointment while constituting his cabinet.
The group’s letter to Buhari had read, “Mr. President, we are constrained at this point in time to bring to your attention our critical reaction to the unbridled speculation making the rounds for some time now, from the members of the public as well as the media, as to the fact that the immediate past governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, is being considered by the Presidency for higher national responsibility. Feelers have it that his name is prominent on the list of the president’s nominees for key offices in your administration.
“It is gratifying that you have promised at various fora that your appointments would be purely based on merit and that tested technocrats, with impeccable records, would be given their rightful places in your administration, as a way of ensuring good governance to the people of Nigeria.
“It is against this background that our organisation is appealing to you to please take the pains to dig deep into Mr. Babatunde Fashola’s record of performance as well as that of financial impropriety on the part of his government while in office.”
Besides allegation by CACOL, the Lagos State Public Procurement Agency claimed that the former governor approved the sum of N78m for the upgrade of his personal website www.tundefashola.com in 2014.
What made the revelation an attention-grabbing one, according to observers, was that it was published by the state’s agency. The observers therefore doubted that the revelation was meant to malign the former governor’s reputation, contrary to a claim by Fashola’s aides that it was a campaign of calumny against the former governor’s chances in Buhari’s cabinet.
The contract for the upgrade of the website was awarded to Info Access Plus Limited by the Office of the Chief of Staff of the Governor.
The expenditure published on the state public procurement office’s website was first exposed by foremost budget analytic firm, BudgiT.
Other questionable expenditure, among others, said to have been incurred by Fashola’s administration included N1.2bn vaguely spent on the construction of pedestrian bridges along Eti-Osa Lekki-Epe Expressway. The spending was tagged “vaguely” because it did not specify the number of bridges constructed with the money.
Following these revelations, BudgiT called for probe into Fashola’s finances and expenditures while in office.
The Lagos State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party described the N78m spent on the website upgrade as reckless, adding that it was part of the “needless” expenditure that jerked up the Lagos State debt profile under Fashola to N500bn.
The state PDP Publicity Secretary, Mr. Taofik Gani, while stressing that Fashola spent the tax payers’ money on a website that exclusively served him, also asked Buhari to initiate moves to probe the former governor, instead of considering him for appointment.
Gani said, “The website was more than 70 times the actual cost. Little wonder it is on record that he is the former governor that incurred the highest debt in the history of Lagos State.”
But Fashola defended the N78.3m approved for the upgrade of his website, confirming that the money was actually spent.
He, however, accused his critics of refusing to break down the details of the transaction to cause confusion in the state.
He had said, “As far as the website contract is concerned, yes there was a contract. It went through procurement and was approved by the government agency authorised to do so. One of the services was an upgrade quoted for N12.5m but awarded for N12m.
“There were other services that were new like a hand over countdown clock, mobile Apps for Google, for IOS and Ipad, for Microsoft and for Research in Motion (Blackberry), which the existing website did not have, as well as the annual maintenance cost for managing the website.”
The former governor equally told CACOL to stop worrying itself with the belief that he was interested in ministerial appointment.
Fashola said, “I cannot conclude without responding to the crusade of CACOL and their ilk seeking my prosecution on allegations that have no proof and writing pre-emptive letters to the Presidency.
“In case they are unaware, I am not looking for a job. I expect them to know that allegations of wrongdoing are not resolved without evidence, neither are they resolved in press conferences.”
A social scientist, Mr. Ajiboye Akinniyi, who described himself as one of Fashola’s fans, said though he would continue to praise the former governor for surpassing his predecessor in terms of performance, the former governor should see the agitation by the people to seek explanation on how their money was spent as one of the responsibilities of the office.
Allegations bordering on financial impropriety levelled against anyone, especially those who held public offices in one time or the other deserve explanation,” he said.
Akinniyi, however, asked those entrusted with positions of responsibility to bear in mind that people are watching them.
He said though Fashola had explained how the N78m was spent, that did not mean that the former governor would not be asked questions bordering on the financial management of the state in the future, if the need arises.
Akinniyi said, “Fashola ought to have known before now that the people might want to ask him questions concerning how he spent their money for eight years; he ought to have known that holding public office equally demands accountability, especially as speculation is rife that Buhari may appoint him to head one of the key ministries.”
A financial analyst, Mrs. Atinuke Owotutu, said Fashola might have satisfied the curiosity of those seeking explanation on how the N78m was spent, but the former governor should get prepared to satisfy others who might want detailed explanation on how other expenses were made under his watch.
Owotutu said she had never believed that Fashola worked enough in Lagos State, considering the huge amount of allocation and Internally Generated Revenue that were available to him while in office.
She said, “I have always asked people not to be deceived. One thing is when you have a large number of people toeing the same path, you have got to stop and think, ‘Is this the right direction?’ Nobody needed to tell me that Fashola didn’t do enough regarding the level of performance expected from his administration.
“He must come out and account for other allegations that have been levelled against him. It is not enough for him to say he doesn’t want to join issues with anyone. He should; this is accountability we are talking about.”
Source: The PUNCH.