Governor of Gombe State, Dr. Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo, is also erstwhile Accountant General of the Federation (AGF). In this interview with The Guardian, he tells LEO SOBECHI that the Treasury Single Account model was his brainchild, stressing that the clamour for restructuring in the country would also help to improve public finance.
Do you think calls for restructuring have anything to do with the defeat of PDP in 2015 as some members of the ruling party insinuate?
When there are calls for restructuring for any kind of community anywhere in the world, that you have agitation, the leadership needs to look at themselves. When there are agitations, it means people are not happy, people are not satisfied. So, this is a good time for leaders to look at the mirror, see themselves, look at the country and see why there are agitations. And from there, whatever they feel is the cause of agitation should be corrected. If restructuring is the solution, restructuring doesn’t mean A go, B go and C go, no, may be to restructure is some other ways of being a better federating country, I mean units in the country, meaning a better way of balancing things, meaning re-negotiating certain terms of living together, meaning creating more confidence and being more comfortable with the units that are together.
As erstwhile number one Accountant in the country, do you see any mirror of opportunity in the calls for restructuring in the accounting processes and economic management, especially in terms of what happens in CBN?
Well, I don’t know what is happening in CBN, but as part of the restructuring, I know there have been agitations to separate office of Accountant General of the Federation, as distinct from the Accountant General of the Federal Republic. When you have this kind of issue, like you said, then the issue of refund of whether Paris Club or first line charge will never occur again, because the Federal Government will also be looking for its share from the Accountant General of the Federation, as distinct from the Accountant General of the Federal Government. So, they cannot hold my money and dictate to me how I will spend it. So part of restructuring of public finance has already started, with what the National Assembly is doing now, they have also done that by separating the local government. I don’t know what they intend to do to the joint account going forward, but what we use to have before, was an account where you have jointly, all the local governments together, and ten percent share of the IGR (Internally Generated Revenue) of the state, that is why it is joint. All the Local Governments joined together, because people do mistake, they thought joint account is an account where the state money and local government money are kept, no, it is all the state and local government like in Gombe State all the 11 local governments joined together and Gombe State will pay ten percent share of it, and from Abuja, what is due to each of the local government is stated, I don’t state it. And it became joint account, because it is easier to monitor, at levels because of sensitivity of money. Instead of paying local government per local government, from Abuja and you will start crediting seven hundred and seventy four local government, it is better you credit it in one account, then from that account it goes to other accounts. If some other people have abused it, people should not have capitalized on the abuse alone; they should also have to look at the disadvantages or the advantages of not having that. And also, there are some other things that are jointly owned or funded, all those issues and subsequent issues, but once decisions are taken, as politicians, we all follow that decision, whether it will be good, am not sure, whether it will be bad, only time will tell.
On the issue of Paris Club refund, as an accountant do you justify the Federal Government’s decision to release the funds without asking governors to bring along their expenditure plans as pre-condition?
The refund of Paris club, co-incidentally for somebody like me, I was the Accountant General of the Federation, I was the person that worked with other people, to ensure that we exited the Paris and London Clubs and other multi-lateral loans, and we know exactly what happened. We had done a lot of reconciliation and a lot of work, but what we have done today, what the states are receiving today are deductions as a result of first line charge, which was done before the exit of the Paris club, and these deductions were refunded back to states. Expectedly, as a federation, Federal Government is supposed to refund or to pay each of our obligations, what is due to any tier government. What is very important is that, as stated in the constitution, all revenues received or all revenues that are going out by virtue of the provisions of the constitution must be into the consolidated revenue fund. The consolidated revenue fund is a mixed grill account.
And I must quickly add, that to the extent that I have been elected as governor, to the extent that my people agreed that I can derive some other benefits or other monetary things that they receive as a state for me to drive, I think asking me, by a minister, special assistant, by supervisor, or by somebody in the ministry, to say that, that particular officer is more responsible than me, I think it is a look down on legitimate elected officials of government. And I must say going forward, it will be by moral suasion, it will not be mandatory thing. You will have to go by your way and ask your House of Assembly to legislate in that order. So, going forward, while I thank the Federal Government for what they have done, there should be more dialogue and interaction in the way they think the resources can be channeled.
At the inception of this administration in 2015, the country’s economy was slowed down for six months, leaving the people in suspense; as an accountant, is there no way of auditing to make government more effective?
The economy slowed down like any other economy, when they are changes like this, people would not be sure which kind of direction the government is going and which kind of investment or policies that the government will support, so people were skeptical, some tended to do seat down and look from the beginning, which is temporary. But when government becomes in-effective, people now go to the next stage of being scared, when they become scared, they now refuse to do anything. And that refusing to do anything may lead to shut down, to downturn and may lead to anything.
That was the direction that the country was going at a time, and what was needed to do was for the government to rekindle in the minds of the people, through formulating good policies. Policies that will ginger the economy, policies that will stimulate consumption, policies that will bring back confidence into the system and limit risk, because like we always say, money is a coward. Money doesn’t go to where there is risk, money likes to play safe. So, the moment all those are removed, money will go there and the economy will grow, sectors will be stimulated, life will be going on very well, citizens will be happy, more multiplier effect of so many things will be going on and growth and development will happen in that country.
When you came on board in 2011, were you overwhelmed?
When we came to government, we came in as a team with focus, because we prepared, we didn’t come to government by accident or by Tsunami or by act of God, We planned to be in government and we prepared. So we came with a deliberate plan to develop our people, and in doing that, we carried all the people, because for me to be very useful to you, like Taozu said, I must know you and you must know me, if I know you, and you know me, we will work together. But if I know you and you do not know me, the chances that I can do something for you are fifty percent. If I don’t know you and you do not know me, we will not succeed. So, we know our people and for us to carry it forward, we brought everybody together, sat down, got the best of our people, irrespective of our political affiliations, irrespective of our religions, irrespective of our tribe, irrespective of anything, the binding thing then was Gombe State. We planned; we got into eleven, twelve sectors, formulated policies of those sectors, education, health, environment, youths. All those stuffs formulated policies, policies that are meant to be for continuity, attached some financial values to some of them, do programme of implementation, strategized and we commenced work, and this is what is happening today in Gombe.
Development partners always raise the issue of asset depreciation in Nigeria; how did you ward off asset depreciation by meeting project timelines and specifications?
It has been a bit difficult really, I must say. It has been difficult, because from 2013 to 2014, the earnings in terms of federation account allocation came low. And I must tell you, nobody should deceive himself, if earnings fall from oil, any other revenue in Nigeria, from whichever state would go down. All the revenues are linked around oil revenue, VAT, royalty, taxes, custom duties, all revolves around oil revenue. So there was a challenge, but what we do is that we operate a fund accounting system, fund that when we want to do project, A, we set aside money for project A and for funding of project A. And the most important thing also is that we are disciplined. We try as much as possible to follow to the letter and we do these projections with timelines and plans, and disbursement plans and CV, in terms of value from the contractor that we will get the plan. So, with that we recorded little depreciation, and we agree, because of all those little fluctuations and little losses in the value of the contract that we have awarded or the one that we are paying.
In resolving issues of funding, did you rely on direct labor or contracting?
We don’t do direct labor as policy in Gombe State, we go through due process, get competent persons to do it, and the person wins the contract, and all our jobs are done through contract award. But the most important thing in contract awards is supervision, and we supervise very well.
Like I said, when we came, we had sectoral committees, and one of the sector committees was on Works. They were professional engineers, professional builders, Architects, structural engineers and surveyors. They were the people who designed those roads like that. My own as driver, was just to ensure that what was designed was done effectively as they were designed. So, I am just the class monitor that was ensuring things were done in a way that they should be done.
One knotty issue most governors grapple with in their second term is their succession plan, what are you looking at in 2019?
At a very good person that God will give us in 2019. On my own part, I pray that we will get somebody that will drive the development to grow. I must say at this point, from the creation of Gombe State in 1997, I must commend all the governors of Gombe State, from Governor Joe Orji, he did his best, he has his different kinds of challenges when he came, his challenges when he was still here, he made Gombe local government a state. He did his best. Inua Bawa, may his soul rest in peace, came after Orji, he did his best under the situation he found himself.
Governor Abubakar Hashidu came in 1999; he did his best in the circumstances that he found himself, and the challenges that were there between 1999 and 2003. Then, Danjuma Goje came in 2003, he did his best, based on the circumstances that he found on ground, and based on the challenges that he found; and in 2011 we came as a team, we are doing our best, and what we pray is that, that train of doing good things should not be cut off soon. Somebody else too will come and continue the good thing that everybody has done with members of his team, to ensure that our dream will not end up. In Gombe we have a dream, that in the next ten to twenty-five years, we will become one of the best states in Nigeria.
This fad of governors going to senate, do they add value to the senate or for prestige?
Ordinarily, they should add value to senate, because when you go through the process of being a governor, you would have learned multi-sectorally; education, health, environment both sanitation and so on, so that in debates about things that bring improvement, you will be able to add value. But if there are some other reasons why governors go there, I don’t know, because no governor has come to consult me before he filled the form to aspire for senate.
Are you saying you will not be tempted to go to the senate?
I am not sure I will be tempted, but leadership and destination or destiny of human being is from God. If God destined, one day I will be member of Gombe State House of Assembly, when I finish this one, I will go and contest to be a member. If by destiny, I will be a commissioner, one day I will become a commissioner, if destiny says I will be anything, I don’t have choice on the destiny that God set for me.