At first it was a rumour, then it became humour, then a subject of denial until the video clip of the confessional statement of the “snake swallowed #36 Million” by a junior staff in the Benue office of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) Nigeria was released online by Nigeria’s Sun newspaper, and the whole story became a tragicomedy.
While the JAMB’s head office under its present Registrar mandated the auditing of the accounts of all its states and zonal offices nationwide, as a result of an anomaly that was discovered when the institution was able to remit #5 Billion into the federation’s account with an additional promise to remit an additional #3 Billion within a single fiscal year in 2017 into the federation’s account had prompted an inquiry into the financial operations of the institution on the request of the Finance Minister. In a statement declaring the #8 Billion JAMB remitted to the federation’s account in 2017, the Finance Minister – Kemi Adeosun – said that in about 40 years of the existence of JAMB as an institution, the organisation had only been able to remit at most #3 Million into the federation’s account in any financial year prior to its 2016/17 financial year. That is, the difference on what was remitted between 2016 and 2017 is a sharp difference of about 27,000% and that happened while JAMB had not increased the cost of purchasing any of its forms by prospective candidates.
As ludicrous as the story of the money swallowing snake has been, other financial irregularities has been discovered in other JAMB offices across the country since then while the auditing process is still ongoing. However, what is more incredulous and ludicrous at the same time is the fact that there hasn’t been any outcry either by the general public, the media or anyone from either the executive or legislative arms of the federal government – that under the UBEC project, the Managing Director of MacMillan Publishers Nigeria Ltd, has been accused of inability to account for #20 Billion that was meant for supplying educational books and equipment to the federal government’s 104 unity schools between 2012 and 2014. Mathematically, the #20 Billion in question is equivalent to 250% of the #8B that JAMB remitted that led to the nationwide auditing of its accounts, and it’s about 56,000% of the “snake swallowed money” that has caused so much euphoria in the media and on social media amongst Nigerians. But there are questions that are bagging to be asked amd two of such questions are:
• Why the graveyard silence from all sectors of the society on the missing #20 Billion UBEC money, but so much noise on a “snake swallowed #36 Million”?
• Why has there not been any call for further enquiries on the need to audit UBEC’s accounts across the country; especially as UBEC consumes a significant portion of the nation’s education budget?
In as much as the accountability system within the Nigerian public sector remains the way it is at present, there would continue to be more unanswered “Why’s” in the financial expenditures of public institutions in the country, particularly within the education sector at both state and federal levels. However, there are some basic issues that the event of the “money swallowing snake” has brought up that need the attention of the federal government, particularly that of the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, and those issues are the:
• auditing process of the ministry and its departments and agencies
• role of the account department of JAMB in the financial accounting process of the organisation
• duties and responsibilities of JAMB’s Director of Finance during the affected period
• role of the then JAMB registrar in allowing an unaudited unit to operate under his leadership without recourse to any legal or administrative procedure
• role of the office of the Auditor General of the federation in making sure that all MDAs provide annually audited financial statements
• rights of the ordinary citizens to access basic information, like the financial statements of MDAs in the country under the Freedom of Information Act
• public declaration of annual financial statements of MDAs
• need to criminalize an act of economic sabotage due to gross negligence of duty by public officers
• the need to harmonise the different financial activities of all the departments and agencies under the Federal Ministry of Education.
Although, the list of issues to address are limitless, however, for the sake of pragmatism, it suffices to say – let’s start from these basic issues. Also, the government should make it legally mandatory that accounts of all the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) in the country are audited annually with publically published financial statements.
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