He is Dr Alagbonsi Abdullateef, the founder and Kwara coordinator of Elite Network for Sustainable Development (ENetSuD), a Kwara based Civil Society Organization. In this interview with HEAD POLITICS, MUMINI ABDULKAREEM, he sheds more light on the controversy surrounding activities of the organisation, what prompted its formation and issue regarding their engagements with the last and present administrations in Kwara State. Excerpts;
What prompted formation ENetSuD in the first place?
It is the need to demand transparency and accountability from the people we elect to all positions of authority in the state and federal levels and to ask questions from those involved. The legislators make laws and checked the executive arm of government on funds used. While the citizens check these lawmakers, the judiciary must be check by being subjected to the court of public opinion because they are also liable to giving judgment based on emotion and sentiment. So the idea of forming a Kwara based Civil Society Organisation (CSO) that will be engaging government on good governance is to ensure our contribution to the growth of the state without prejudice to those elected. They must know there are people they are accountable to and ENetSuD is pro-people group that is interested in asking questions on behalf of the citizens including the pepper and locust bean seller and ensure the fund controlled by our elected representatives are judiciously utilised with the initiative we started called Follow Kwara Money to monitor how public money is spent be it Federal Government capital or constituency projects, state government and Local Government projects.
How far have you gone on this?
In the past, nobody tracks Federal Government capital project in Kwara, ENetSuD is the first to do that and as I speak, we are tracking all the capital projects of the 2018 budget for Kwara worth about N50bn. As a CSO, we stand to query the government to be accountable to the people and ensure that Kwara money works for Kwarans.
What is the methodology and approach to carrying out tracking, do you have the necessary knowledge?
We make use of Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2011 that empowers citizens to ask questions from government as a right by writing any government agency that is supposed to execute a project. When budget is passed and signed by the president, we get a copy of the budget and do verification analysis. We then extract projects in the budget that belong to Kwara and group it under different agencies concerned and write the minister, director, executive secretary or whoever is heading such ministry or agency to demand how the money involved has been spent. They are obliged under the law to tell us how much has been received for the project, amount paid contractors, name, money being owed contractors, project status, bill of quantity and even the payment certificate to the contractors. The FOI is the secret of ENetSuD which has given us the edge to achieve a lot.
What are the results so far?
In 2017, we tracked 171 constituency projects in Kwara worth about N3.5bn. We started tracking capital projects in 2018 whose budget implementation is ongoing. Presently we have four petitions in EFCC and ICPC against MDAs that had been found wanting, two against Federal Ministry of Environment on the Abata Sunkere and Barakah Community Secondary School drainage projects, one against the Nigeria Building and Road Research Institute (NIBRRI) on a road in Asa and another one against SMEDAN over its list of beneficiaries. The agencies are dragged to anti-graft bodies after our investigation. Agencies that also refused to reply to the FOI are dragged to court and we are presently in court against the Federal Ministry of Agriculture in Abuja, but we have withdrawn our case against the Lower Niger River Basin here in Ilorin after they pleaded for out of court settlement. It is against this background that we have been telling the Kwara State Government that we also need FOI law in Kwara State.
How has been your experience in view of the fact that Kwara is yet to domesticate FOI?
We wrote former Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed to demand for details of the water reticulation project, the beneficiaries of the 2015 N2bn MSMA fund and expenditure of the federal releases of government on the Kishi-Kaiama road, but was told it can’t be provided because the FOI has not been domesticated in Kwara. It will be impossible for us to track or know how Kwara State and Local Government funds are being spent without the FOI including FAAC and IGR. That is why we sponsored the bill during the 8th Kwara Assembly under Ali Ahmad.
Where are we now in Kwara as regards the bill?
The bill was sponsored hundred percent by ENetSuD after we wrote the last House of Assembly and with a lot of lobbying, we succeeded in getting them to pass it through the normal process. It was then transmitted to Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq on June 20th, 2019 awaiting his assent. The law provides that any bill transmitted as such should be signed or declined within 30 days. Counting from that date, the Governor only has up to Friday to sign or decline the bill. Our prayer however is for him to sign it because during his inauguration speech, he stated clearly that his administration will be transparent and accountable to Kwarans and we want to test how true that statement is by his action on FOI bill. We are appealing to him to sign it for us to continue to follow state and Local Government fund in the state the way we have done for Federal Government fund.
During the last administration, you were accused of being an opposition member but now the narrative is that you are being sponsored by them against this government. What is the noise about?
It’s unfortunate that the average Nigerian is politically bias and we have not been able to differentiate between politics and governance. During the tenure of former Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed, the PDP members tagged ENetSuD as O to ge campaigners because we followed Kwara money under their control. Now the supporters of the incumbent APC government have labelled us PDP supporters because they feel we are asking too much questions. ENetSuD did not campaign for the APC during the last election but they benefited from our activities. Many elected APC members used it to campaign against the last administration but we are now being labelled as opposition. But it gives me joy as PDP is calling us O to ge and APC said we are PDP. It simply means we are neutral and truly non partisan. The same way our activities affected the last administration, it will also affect the present APC government.
Supporters of APC have alleged that the FOI bill passed by the 8th Assembly under Ali Ahmad was a political trap for the new government?
The 8th Assembly were representatives of Kwarans not the PDP and there is no law that barred them to stop making laws for the state after the election in February to the end of their tenure in June, a period they were paid salaries. There is no legal basis for those querying the integrity of the 8th Assembly for passing the FOI bill. We wrote them 6th of May, 2019 requesting for domestication of the bill in Kwara after they lost the election. It’s the time we approached the House and not their fault which is within our constitutional right. Those criticising the 8th House are misinformed. There is nothing unconstitutional or illegal about this. President Buhari has assented over fifteen bills that the 8th NASS under Dr Bukola Saraki passed, same thing in Lagos state where Governor Sanwo-Olu signed budget that former Governor Ambode couldn’t sign but was already passed by the last legislature. Our problem in Kwara is not leadership but followership and ideological problem. The 8th Assembly should even be commended for passing the bill in three weeks and the public hearing was well attended by NGOs, CSOs, media, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Information and other government apparatus. Those shouting today were there at the public hearing but never opposed it and no single stakeholder dissented during its passage. Why should we kill the bill because it was passed by an Assembly we don’t like? We are earnestly waiting for the decision of the Governor Abdulrazaq on this bill and pray he signs.
Would non-assent of the FOI bill by Governor Abdulrazaq cause great setback for ENetSuD?
Signing or declining assent is the constitutional right of the Governor and he will tell the Assembly why if he chose the latter formally in writing. If there is a part he wants them to amend, he can point it out. The bill is not a PDP or APC bill but that of Kwarans and declining assent is not a death warrant for ENetSuD, heaven will not fall if he does not sign. But if not today, he will sign it tomorrow because FOI has come to stay. If he declines it, I believe it will be the first bill that will be passed by the present House of Assembly with the same dispatch adopted by the last legislature. Hope they will also not be accused of hastily passing it. Ninety nine percent of those shouting now have not read the bill but just making political noise based on party affiliation. I will advise them to get a copy and look at the content.
ENetSuD approach to the issue has been condemned by critics. How do you react to this?
We are a CSO in Kwara and not pro PDP or APC. A serious group like ENetSuD will not be liked by the government. We are not strange to blackmail and pressure is part of the tools used by civil societies to get what they want. Mounting pressure on the government to sign is not alien to our democratic practice and it is part of lobby. We have been lobbying this government before the governor was inaugurated personally and through the Transition Committee giving them four point agenda including the FOI, the UBEC grant government is trying to access today, the Ilorin water reticulation which steps have been taken to ensure water flows and the Health insurance. So we are part of the policy formulation and adviser for the government. Also ENetSuD in collaboration with about twenty seven NGOs, CSOs, and media platforms wrote the governor which was acknowledged by his office, but we are yet to get feedback. We have written a follow up letter last week reminding him of the FOI timeline and also engage him on his whatsApp number but no reply. Efforts to discuss with the CoS, Alhaji Logun, have also not been successful as he nether picked calls nor reply our messages. It’s only with the Chief Press Secretary (CPS), Rafiu Ajakaye that we have been able to discuss with and his engagement has been fantastic. Doing countdown for the governor is a reminder and not mischievous.
How has ENetSuD been able to address funding challenge, are you being financed by politicians?
We are self funded with monthly contributions from the pocket of our members who include civil servants, business people and students depending on how much one can donate. That is why we can make noise on any government because nobody is funding us. We are only calling on citizens who believe and appreciate what we do and feel that Kwara needs us to continue in this regard to continue to support us with the little they have. Our account number is pinned on our face book and twitter pages, (Elite Network for Sustainable Development), no amount is too small. For now, we don’t receive any grant from anywhere. In 2017, we spent about N1million to fund our activities and we need about N4.6m to track about N50bn budget we planned to track and there is no support from anywhere. Only a philanthropist who was inspired with our work gave us N250,000 and just two weeks ago, two people gave N100,000 and N50,000 respectively for our annual report to support logistic. The rest has been out of our pocket.
Have you been threatened so far?
Yes, but God has been faithful and protective.
Kwarans should see us as their voice and one which they can trust irrespective of who is in government. We have done that with the last administration and shall do it with this government. Also, Kwarans should see the FOI bill as their bill and not that of ENetSuD because it will benefit and empower all of us.