by Stanley Azuakola
Is President Goodluck Jonathan building a financial war chest to prosecute his 2015 re-election ambition?
The president’s ambition is an open secret now, hence, it follows that he would try to raise the money to pursue it. Politics and political campaigns all over the world are never cheap.
However, the questions begging for answers are many: Is the president playing a fast one on Nigerians? Is he using the nation’s commonwealth to further his personal objectives? Are the SURE-P funds, the product of the people’s Occupy Nigeria protest, now being used to oil Jonathan’s 2015 machinery?
When Nigerians genuinely took to the streets to protest the FG’s decision to remove subsidies on fuel in 2012, the president quickly – and some say, hastily – rolled out a series of measures which he said would help mitigate the harsh effects of the fuel price increase. One of those measures was the launch of SURE-P.
Nigerians were generally sceptical about SURE-P, which stands for Subsidy Re-investment Program. And even though the appointment of the venerable Christopher Kolade, made a few to positively re-consider their pessimism, it was still a case of wait-and-see.
Now, over a year since its launch, Nigerians have waited sufficiently, but what have they seen?
They’ve seen these names: Alhaji Bode Oyedele (Lagos); Mr. Joseph Ishekpa (Nasarawa); Alhaji Garba A. Kurfi (Katsina): Alhaji Aliyu Mamman (Niger); Alhaji Adamu Yaro Gombe (Gombe); Hon Femi Akinyemi (Ekiti); Jarigbe Agbom Jarigbe (Cross River); Chief Abdullahi Ohioma (Kogi); Dare Adeleke (Oyo); Alhaji Al-Kasim Madoka (Kano) and Alhaji Kolo Bukar (Borno).
Whereas Nigerians were generally satisfied with the announcement of Kolade as the national SURE-P co-ordinator, he couldn’t possibly be everywhere, hence the introduction of state co-ordinators. Those 11 names above are the names of the SURE-P co-ordinators in the states listed alongside their names. Co-ordinating the disbursement of the subsidy re-investment funds in those states, is however not the only thing these men share in common.
Rewind to 2011, in the thick of the campaigns that year. Those names, are the same ones who co-ordinated the Goodluck Jonathan/Namadi Sambo presidential campaigns in their various states.
But is there anything inherently wrong with the president placing his loyalists and party men in charge of disbursing non-party funds? Technically, not. The men are Nigerians too, and as long as they have the competence, then they are eligible. Besides, the idea of an elected leader appointing people who worked for his victory into various offices did not begin with Jonathan, nor indeed is it wrong. Simply put, President Jonathan is not obliged to appoint opposition members or even neutrals into any position, except explicitly stated in the law books.
The Katsina co-ordinator of SURE-P who was the former co-ordinator of the Goodluck campaign in the state, said this: “though I served as President Jonathan’s Campaign Coordinator in 2011 in Katsina State and now appointed coordinator of SURE-P in the state that does not mean the programme is political. When the time of politics comes, everybody will decide whom he/she would vote for. After all, the 2015’s campaign has not commenced.”
Speaking further, he said, “The money set aside for the programme is our money. Therefore, there is nothing wrong for us to participate in the programme. The programme is a national cake and all Nigerians should have their own shares. We should put politics aside and participate in the national programme, such as SURE-P.”
Where there is a problem is when these party men come into public positions and then pursue a party or personal agenda. Unfortunately, in state after state, opposition members have raised complaints about the politicisation of the funds, protesting that the “national cake” has been converted into a “PDP cake” If true, then that is a grave charge.
The ACN national publicity secretary, Lai Mohammed, insisted that the offence is an impeachable one.
In a statement, Mohammed said ”This is a very serious violation of the constitution, because the State Implementation Committee (SIC), a body not recognised by law, has been set up to distribute the SURE-P largesse to PDP members in all the states. Recall that money being spent on fuel subsidies was in the past taken out of the Federation Account, hence its is money that would have been divided among the three tiers of government in accordance with the revenue allocation formula.
”But by virtue of the SURE-P arrangement, part of the funds are now available for the FG to share freely by approving contracts, programmes and activities in accordance with its whims and caprices. The PDP-controlled FG has now seen the accruing huge funds as money which may well be spent with special favour for its cronies and party affiliates, without regard to the constitution. For President Jonathan, this is an impeachable offence.”
It might have been easy to dismiss Lai Mohammed’s statement as mere opposition tattle, but for the crisis which the SURE-P money has fomented within the Lagos chapter of the PDP. In Lagos, Alhaji Bode Oyewole, another former GEJ campaign coordinator and an ally of Bode George, is the SURE-P coordinator.
A faction within the Lagos PDP released a statement blasting Oyewole and made pointed accusations at him.
”Bode Oyedele cannot coordinate Sure-P in Lagos State. We reject him. He has packed all Bode George’s agents as Sure-P beneficiaries. Is this the objective of Sure-P? Some local governments like Eti-Osa, Ajeromi, Lagos Islands etc. Please find out how they got the beneficiaries.
”In Eti-Osa there are names of criminals as beneficiaries, especially Ward HI. This is a waste of Subsidy money and defeating the objective of the programme. There are responsible eminent citizens who should be contacted to verify and screen the submission of names for beneficiaries but Bode George’s loyalists are putting names of touts and miscreants for his own personal agenda. We won’t allow this to happen. We intend to go to court to obtain an order to dissolve the state Exco if the Caretaker Committee won’t do it,” the statement claimed.
The opposition is insisting that not only are the funds being distributed strictly to members of the PDP alone, but it is being “wilfully converted from SURE-P to campaign funds.”
The ACN, for instance, claims that it is not a coincidence that the 2011 Jonathan for president campaign coordinators are the current state coordinators of the funds but “a well-orchestrated attempt to give the Jonathan campaign an unfair head-start ahead of 2015 – with public funds.”
Of course these allegations have been strongly denied by the PDP as well as by the state coordinators. The Lagos coordinator, Bode Oyewole, said last month that “We have succeeded in identifying 3,000 people who are in urgent need of the SURE-P programme across the 20 LGAs in the state. They include vulnerable youths and women who have lost their husbands (widow). The stage we are now is that we are capturing their data, taking their photographs, finger prints and other necessary information needed for computation.”
However, allegations as serious as these cannot simply be brushed aside, especially when the administration knows that the major opposition against the government’s plan to remove the subsidy in 2012, was a deep mistrust of government. At this stage, every misstep can be magnified. The government needs to do all that it can to assure Nigerians of its fairness and transparency in disbursing what is our collective wealth.
The ACN has proposed an “independent investigation into how the money accruing to SURE-P has been disbursed since the inception of the programme, with a view to establishing to what extent the funds have been abused, and in order to prescribe the appropriate sanctions for those found culpable.”
Although it is the position of an opposition party, it seems like a most logical direction for President Jonathan to take, else the next time he raises the issue of deregulation or tries to tout the SURE-P as a tangible success of his government, these accusations would stand as a clog in his wheels.