NBAIS vs Senate Committee on Finance: A Great Learning Moment Missed By A Self-seeking Committee
By Shedrack Iheoma
For every observer who has been following national assembly committees’ sittings vis-a-vis probes, oversight functions and public hearings, it is easier to observe that, in most cases, the substance is left to pursue shadow.
The same could be said to have played out when the senate committee on finance led by Senator Olamilekan Solomon Adeola in its usual grandstanding of putting the cart before the horse and apportioning blames ‘harsh-hosted’ the management of the National Board for Arabic and Islamic Studies (NBAIS) on the 19th of September, 2022.
I followed with utmost unease, the intimidation strategy and conscious manipulations of facts adopted by the committee members.
NBAIS registrar, Prof. Mohammad Shafi’u Abdullahi on the orders of Senator Adeola was asked to switch off his microphone midway when he tried to clear issues of revenues and remittances of the agency.
How could one be expected to explain, and clear issues when no attempt was made to avail the person an opportunity to do so?
How could facts and figures be proven when a head of a government agency was ordered to switch off his mic? It was a simple psychological warfare strategy aimed at taking your target off-balance and thus having an edge over your target.
The committee brandished figures without detailed knowledge of revenue that accrued, how funds were utilized and possibly how much of the expected revenue hit the purse of the NBAIS.
It was deducible that the committee attended the session with a ready mindset on what to do and what to say, striving fruitlessly to demonize ASUU strike by making unsubstantiated claims.
This is not to deny the fact that there are many government chief executive officers whose stewardships to the Nigerian people are still questionable. But in the case of the senate committee on finance and NBAIS, the committee denied itself and Nigerians the opportunity to be availed that stewardship report by the management of NBAIS.
In my opinion, the committee allowed itself to be swayed by emotions and thus created room for any discerning mind to puncture its allegations with facts and figures.
Invariably, one could still believe that the intimidation strategy adopted by the committee was a deliberate action aimed at being heard, hailed, seen and held as a pro-people committee.
What played out in the said date to a large extent has validated the widely held belief that when diligence and fair-hearing are thrown to the winds, what is got is a self-seeking exercise targeted at stirring emotional impressions, sensations and sentiments.
Following the incident, I delved to ascertain if the claims by the senate committee chairman and his team during the agency’s budget performance hearing were anything to write home about.
Unfortunately, as it turned out, the session was laden with more fuss than a fact-finding exercise.
The registrar of NBAIS, Prof. Safiu Abdullahi was one of the chief executives invited by the committee to make a presentation on the agency’s annual budget performance. During the hearing, the committee had made several allegations suggesting injudiciousness in the management of funds that accrue to the agency.
Senator Adeola alluded that ASUU strike was a result of reckless spending and a lack of accountability by university authorities.
He went as far as suggesting that the federal government should withdraw from funding the salaries of lecturers since according to him, the universities’ authorities have not been accountable for the revenues that accrue to them.
Everyone who watched what played out in the said sitting could easily deduce that the NBAIS registrar was handed a hostile atmosphere where he was demobbed from explaining the facts behind the figures.
Instead of explanation around the figures brandished by the committee, he was confronted with questions that did not seek to unravel the issues on hand, but were laden with sensational questions such as “Is it the Federal Government that funds your agency 100%”?
A question that suggests that the committee did not fully understand the workings of the agency vis-a-vis revenue generation, utilization and remittance.
Even though the registrar accepted that the agency was fully funded by the government, the question was as irrelevant as the confrontation. Another question that tended towards sensationalism rather than fact-finding is the question of whether N410million were recorded as collected by the agency for the year 2022.
Also, connecting ASUU strike and the unwillingness of the lecturers to go back to classes to the issue at hand at that material point in time seemed to be aimed at stirring emotions on issues that should be fact-based.
Indeed the committee missed a glaring opportunity to understand how and where the agency funds come from.
Perhaps, the Distinguished Senator should have been schooled on the fact that most examination councils and agencies in Nigeria are heavily owed by some state governments.
One would have expected the committee to study the documents presented to it by NBAIS leadership and hinge their questions and points from there. Instead, the chairman and his committee members hastily made conclusions and immediately opted to set up an ad-hoc investigation committee.
The right thing to do if truly the committee was out to know about the application of funds that accrued to the agency was to seek an explanation from NBAIS management on the actual amount that hit their coffers and how the fund was utilized.
If the committee was diligent and willing to get facts rather than arouse sentiments, they would have ascertained how the ‘controversial’ sum of N410million was collected from the state governments and private individual schools across the country.
They would have understood firsthand that owing to the non-payment of the students’ examination fees by some state governments from 2018 – 2021, the agency was plunged into huge debt burdens with their contractors, and suppliers of examination materials.
I, as an individual, was been able to unravel that as a concerned citizen. Why didn’t the committee unravel that and possibly aid the agency in its efforts at debt recovery from the state governments running into hundreds of millions of Naira?
Furthermore, the information I was able to obtain further revealed that within the said years under review, examiners were not paid their allowances, thereby putting the management of the agency in a fix where they were only able to pay around 40% of their debt obligation.
A fraction of those arrears of debts owed by some state governments only came in 2022 from information available.
NBAIS, was able to settle some arrears of debts, conduct its June-July 2022 examination which gulped about N85million and still remitted about N35million to the federal coffers.
The committee failed to understand that the bulk of the money that should have accrued as revenue is currently debts owed to the agency by some state governments and this ugly situation plunged the agency into owing its contractors, examination material suppliers and the examiners themselves.
It is only expedient that the committee should see itself as a partner in progress by liaising with NBAIS and other examination councils and bodies to prevail on the owing states to pay the huge debts owed to the Federal Government through these agencies.
It is common knowledge that some states heavily owe most of the examination bodies in Nigeria, a trend that has consistently eroded the revenue generation and remittances of these examination boards and councils.
It was further unveiled, upon investigation that the management of NBAIS did not fold its hands over those debts owed to them.
The information available showed that the supervisory ministry – ministry of education has been duly informed of this predicament the agency has been having with some state governments and that efforts have been made by the ministry to reach out to the executive governors of those states to pay up the monies their governments owe the agency.
In conclusion, despite the check and balances that brace the tenets of democracy, it is pertinent to mention that synergy is needed between the national assembly and government agencies, especially the examination bodies and councils to boost and recover debts owed to them by state governments.
*Shedrack Iheoma writes from Abuja. He wrote via: email@example.com