The Borno government could not provide documentation and receipts to back the expenditure
In 2019 the government of Borno State spent N150 million to purchase rams for the celebration of Sallah (Eid Al Adha), the state’s auditor general’s report of 2020 has revealed.
An investigation by PREMIUM TIMES revealed that not only did the Boko Haram-ravaged state spend such an amount on the purchase of rams in violation of due process and the state’s procurement law, but it could not also provide the list of beneficiaries of the rams. Many of the state’s poor residents this newspaper spoke to said they did not benefit and were not aware that such public funds were spent to buy rams
The auditor-general flagged the spending for lacking necessary documentation and receipts.
It revealed that the contract to procure the rams was awarded by the state’s Ministry of Religious Affairs and Special Education and was executed by a committee.
There was no evidence of competitive bidding for the ram contract, and neither did the state publicly announce the contract, the bidding procedure and the eventual contractors. Also, Section 18 (21) of the Borno State Procurement Act, as amended in 2021, said: “every procurement entity shall maintain both file and electronic records of all procurement proceedings made within each financial year and the procurement records shall be maintained for a period of ten years from the date of this award.”
But the curious purchase of the Sallah rams is not the first time the ministry will run afoul of the state’s procurement regulation. In fact, the auditor general’s report flagged the ministry as a recalcitrant violator.
The query about the purchase of the rams was among those flagged on various spendings undertaken by the ministry within the period under review.
“During the audit of the payment vouchers for both Capital and Overhead Cost expenditures for the year 2019, fifteen (15) payment vouchers were observed not to have been attached to the relevant supporting documents, thus resulting in querying these payment vouchers, which involve the total sum of three hundred and fifty million nine hundred and seventy-two thousand seven hundred and three naira and twenty-nine kobo (N350,972,703.29) only. At the time of writing the 2019 Annual Report, the processes for these queries were not concluded and so not included in the 2019 Annual Report.
“The attention of the accounting officer was drawn to these queries where he was requested to comment thereon, but his reply has not been received up to the time of writing this report,” Shettima Bukar, the auditor-general of the state, said in the report.
Findings by PREMIUM TIMES also revealed that the N150 million purchase of rams was not captured in the state’s 2019 budget.
Projects approved under the ministry in 2019 were: purchase of office furniture and fittings at a cost of N11 million, construction/provision of public schools at N25 million; construction/provision of cemeteries at N50 million and construction/provision of community amenities (places of worship) N1 billion.
Other budgetary provisions for the ministry are pilgrims’ welfare logistical support at the cost of N750 million and ceremonial social welfare/provision of foodstuffs at N50 million.
Poor residents did not get rams
The slaughtering of rams is part of the annual celebration of the Islamic festival, Eid Al Adha. The celebration is also marked by the sharing of gifts by the wealthy, especially rams, to indigent people. On the face, it seemed the state government shared the rams to poor residents of the predominantly Muslim state.
However, many residents told this newspaper that they did not get rams or pieces of meat from the government.
“The meat I got for the feast was what I was given for helping people kill and butcher their rams,” said Ahmadu Musa, a father of six.
Mr Musa, a resident of the Shuwari area of Maiduguri, the state capital, was among many residents who spoke to the newspaper about how they coped during the celebration of Eid Al Adha in August 2019.
“We don’t normally buy ram during the celebration because we cannot afford it. Even to get ordinary rice sometimes to cook for children is difficult,” said Falmata Ali, a mother of seven and resident of the Kaleri area of the state capital.
The Borno government and its religious ministry could not provide the list of the beneficiaries of the rams bought with public funds. The 2019 Eid Al Adha was held in August, over two months after Governor Babagana Zulum assumed office.
When contacted, the governor’s spokesperson said the governor has directed the ministry and others indicted by the auditor general to provide evidence of their transactions.Zulum promotes accountability and transparency – Spokesperson
Isa Gusau, the media aide to Governor Zulum, said the government has directed officials of the state to provide supporting documents of their spending to the auditor general.
He said his principal was committed to accountability and transparency in how public funds are spent.
“First of all, the auditor general acknowledged in his introductory note on page 4, that the audit was encouraged by Governor Zulum’s “positive disposition towards the Office (of the State Auditor- General)”. He clearly implied that Zulum gave him the freedom to operate and encouraged him to monitor financial activities in Borno’s MDAs.
“It was because of Zulum’s support for transparency that in January 2020, he created the Borno State Public Procurement Board, which works hard to ensure transparency in all government expenditures by officials in ministries and agencies.
“But as you know, the Borno State Government is large and has numerous government establishments so much that no matter how Governor Zulum tries to ensure proper accounting, there could be some circumventing by some.
“No official in Borno State can have the audacity to try diverting funds under Zulum as Governor. Everyone knows the Governor’s stand and his way of strict monitoring, which was what made it possible for close to 700 capital projects and humanitarian aid worth billions of naira to have been visibly carried out.
“In Zulum’s usual style, he has said it a number of times, that he only approves what is provided for in the budget and he has proved so over time. Any time Zulum approves funds for any project or programme, he often supervises himself to ensure such projects or programmes are delivered and on time.
“I am sure whatever the fund was meant for, must have been done, except the issue of documentation, which some officials sometimes take for granted.”
When confronted that the N150 million ram purchases were not included in the religious ministry’s budget, Mr Gusau claimed that it was in another copy of the budget that contained a more detailed breakdown. However, he could not provide that copy.
“As for budgeting, I can assure you that Zulum as a matter of policy, does not approve anything that is not budgeted for. Let me enlighten here that oftentimes, budget presentations of governors are mostly key highlights, not budget specifics. Governors normally highlight key priorities during their annual presentations but afterwards, ministries of budget and relevant officials prepare budget specifics, which in Borno’s case, are published annually and Zulum keeps copies on his desk and refers to every relevant specific before he gives approval to memos,” Mr Gusau explained.
The auditor general’s report for 2020 and 2021 is yet to be published and state officials would not say if similar amounts were spent on rams in those years. PREMIUM TIMES will continue its investigations on the matter as part of its mandate of holding governments at all levels accountable.
Auditor General speaks
This reporter also spoke to the Borno auditor-general through a phone call.
“I have finished my job and now the remaining is the work of the Public Accounts Committee of the State House of Assembly to do their work,” he said when asked whether the ministry has answered its queries.
However, in the report, he recommended: “Effective supervision and continuous training of concerned officers by both the Accounting Officers and the Office of the Accountant General. The Accountant General must empower the Inspectorate Unit of the Department of Inspectorate and Internal Audit to conduct a constant visitation of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) with a view to inspect and effect correction of observed errors immediately as they occur.
“The Accountant General should also reinvigorate the sense of responsibility and powers of Internal Auditors in the discharge of their duties. If they can rise to the occasion, there would be a great improvement in payment voucher documentation. Accounting officers, Directors of Finance and Accounts and staff should embrace the Internal Audit functions as paramount without which the accountability process is incomplete.”