Date Published: 12/06/09
"Bankole's fabled billionaire travel" By Kolawole Ayoade
When last week Thursday, a newspaper, carried a banner headline, “Bankole Spends N52 billion on Foreign and Local Trips” for two years, I decided to ignore the story as the newspaper in question has been known to be pursuing the agenda of its owner against Rt. Hon. Dimeji Bankole, the Speaker of House of Representatives through false publications.
But when the mass electronic media of AIT and Raypower 100.5 began running the story as gospel truth, I decided to do my own research as a constituent of Abeokuta South Federal Constituency that elected the Speaker and a believer in his anti-corruption and good governance crusade. My research was borne out of a conviction that the Bankole that we elected will never be involved in financial malpractices or anything tending toward bad governance.
My initial finding immediately convinced me that, the story is just another machination to besmear the image of the Speaker and possible detract him from continuing his activist legislative agenda that had unsettled quite a few corrupt officials.
From the budget of 2008, one discovered that only the sum of N20,506,300,000.00 (N20.5Billion) was in the budget for local and international travels of the House of Representatives and not the person of or even office of the Speaker.
My findings further shows that the issue of the controversial figure that the electronic media has been feasting on against the person and office of Rt. Hon. Bankole was raised during a media interaction by a reporter who wanted to know if the House of Representatives (NOT THE PERSON OF BANKOLE) expended its N41 billion budgetary allocations for two years for local and international travels and transport.
The Speaker has disputed the figure as can be seen from the video recording which I understand is in possession of the electronic media that covered the event. He reeled out some of the gains of the travels which were reported in most newspapers. More on this later. But before that, the public reserve the right to know the true position of this induced scandalous allegation of Speaker Bankole spending N20.5 billion on travels per year.
As aforesaid one made recourse to the Budget of 2008 and 2009 to ascertain if indeed it is possible that Bankole spent the said amount. Of course, ordinarily one did not see any heading for Bankole or Office of the Speaker. The headings for the Federal legislature are for National Assembly Office, Senate and House of Representatives.
In the 2008 Budget, under “Local Travels and Transport” and “International Travel and Transport” for the House of Representatives, a total sum of N20, 506,300,000.00 (N20.5Billion) was budgeted for 360 members, and their over 2000 aides and civil servants. If one assumed that all the money is spent to the last kobo for all members alone excluding aides and civil servants, an unlikely event, the figure per member is N56.9 million. The beneficiaries for any member will include at least 3 aides and 5 civil servants. It is also noted that most of these benefits are guided by financial rules and regulations. For obvious reason of office and official engagements, the figure for Bankole can only be slightly different from that of members. Coincidentally, the figure for the year 2009 is the same as that of 2008 Budget.
One was also informed that this amount of money for local and international travels takes care of the numerous oversight trips of members as well as aides of members and this include Daily Travel Allowances (DTA) for local travels, air tickets, local and foreign, hotel accommodation and Estacode for foreign travels.
So having established that it is incomprehensible for anybody to parrots or believe that Bankole spent N52 billion on travels, it only remains to show what effects these expenditure has been for the nation in addition to the fact that wheels of government must continue to move.
One of the major benefits of local and foreign trips pursuant of an aggressive oversight that is the landmark of Bankole’s Speakership comes out boldly in terms of re-engineering our budget process. At least every knowledgeable Nigerian is aware of the issue of unspent fund now which in 2008 Budget ballooned from N25 billion to N450 billion following Bankole’s led House raising questions through oversight. In 2009 Budget, it was N350 billion. Usually this fund is stolen through end of year contract bazaars that are not executed.
Also in the area of financing the budget, aggressive oversights by House of Representatives that involved numerous travels, yielded the discovery that almost N700 billion yearly is lost through unremitted Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) by MDAs. This is now being captured following the House insistence on constitutional stipulation that these funds must first be paid into Federation Account for appropriation.
Aggressive oversight has also resulted in budget tracking that is now making budget implementation a major issue in the public domain. Without aggressive oversight travels there is no way anyone can know the extent of budget non-implementation which at some point this year shows that about N500 billion appropriated by the legislature and released by the executive was lying fallow at CBN!
And of course, all the various investigations of the House of Representatives that have led to policy changes as well as revealed corruption fault lines in our body polity would not have taken off without both local and international travels.
As pointed out by the Speaker during the media interaction that generated the furore, one of the benefits of the foreign trips is the attraction of $1 billion (N150Billion) investment to Nigeria from Turkey through the Turkish donor agency TIKO, the equivalent of USAID in USA and DFID in UK. The fund was to go to Gambia before Bankole personally justified the need for Nigeria to have it during his visit to the Grand National Assembly of Turkey and the President of Turkey.
Similarly, I am told that foreign trips were made by members to participate in international parliamentary bodies engagements like Commonwealth Parliamentary Union, Pan African Parliament, Afro-Arab Parliamentary Union and ECOWAS Parliamentary Union among others. Nigeria’s legislature participation on these fora has yielded strategic positions for it in the various bodies. Today, a Nigerian member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Bethel Amadi is the first Vice President of Pan African Parliament while the Speaker is the President of Afro -Arab Parliament. These positions don’t come by just sitting in Abuja without high level intellectual interaction and lobbying that entails foreign travel. And they have nothing to do with the work of Foreign Affairs ministry or minister as they are purely legislative functions.
Also for the first time, the House of Representatives, through the Speaker participated in bilateral talks alongside the executives with France which yielded bilateral agreement in the area of power and environment.
Again most of the foreign trips by Bankole and other members were for capacity building in USA, UK, France and elsewhere and certainly cannot be regarded as frivolous in term of the nascent nature of our democracy and knowledge gained particularly for aggressive oversight which is at the heart of the legislature checking the executive. And Bankole have been at various international fora to deliver lectures explaining the developmental challenges and opportunities in Nigeria. All these cannot in any sense be regarded as jamboree or extravagant journeys.
As it is ones curiosity led one to make a summary of the same figure for the executive branch of government that the legislature is supposed to check and discovered that its figure approximates over five times that of the legislature at N250 billion in 2008 budget compare to House of Representatives’ N20.5 billion and Senate’s N6.7billion. Or put in another way, the budgetary allocation in2008 for the office of the Head of Service for travels, local and international, is N185 million while that of Secretary to Government of Federation is N140 million. We already know the figure for a member or the speaker of the House of Representatives.
As it is the costs of all these travel are certainly within stipulations of the Revenue Mobilization and Fiscal Commission Act and within the budget. So nobody has broken any law or committed any crime in these expenditures. If anybody is after financial malpractices in government, they should look elsewhere. We are aware of the several allegations against Bankole in time past but till date they are still allegations without any proof. We from the constituency are however reassured of the rule of law and the maxim that one is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Bankole is innocent of all allegations and this one bordering on profligacy and extravagance is uncalled for as all he has done is within the law and in the interest of Nigeria.
Chief Kolawole Ayoade
23 Onikolobo Road. Abeokuta.