Breaking News

ECONOMY: Acquiescence to constitutional violations

By Les Leba

In democratic countries where utmost respect for the rule of law prevails, constitutional violations not only receive condemnations, but are also visited with serious sanctions.  Indeed, even when social evolution overtime makes earlier constitutional and legal provisions redundant, the judiciary will still mete out existing sanctions provided in the constitution for such infractions.  We note, for example, the inability of the terminally ill Mr. Tony Nicklinson to willfully put an end to his suffering, without the jeopardy of a life sentence for anyone who facilitates his suicide, according to English law.

However, in recognition of the outdated law on suicide, a British High Court, advised politicians to quickly amend the law in line with current social consciousness, but nonetheless, refused to grant Nicklinson’s request for euthanasia!

The above contrasts very sharply with the Nigerian predicament, where constitutional violations by no other than government itself are openly condoned and sustained without any voice of dissent, talk less of sanction.

Regrettably, the federal executive remains the prime villain in this matter; we recall that about six years ago, former President Obasanjo privately concluded arrangements with our London and Paris Club creditors to pay $18bn, so that about $12bn could be written off our debts before seeking the approval of the legislature.

The same Obasanjo similarly paid out over $12bn for the enhancement of our power infrastructure and later also paid billions of dollars more to a Chinese conglomerate for the improvement of our rail transport system. These payments were all made without prior legislative approval; consequently,  these payments were executive violations of constitutional provisions, which carry impeachable sanctions; but OBJ got away unscathed!

In similar vein, the late President Yar ‘Adua’s initial attempt to abolish fuel subsidy met with such serious civil resistance that made Yar’Adua to back down.

Ultimately, even though there were modest provisions in appropriation bills during the Yar’Adua years, the NNPC obviously got a presidential nod to absorb humongous subsidy values, in excess of budget provisions;  even though this was a constitutional violation, Late President Yar’Adua also got away with it without so much as a legislative whimper of protest.

Incidentally, President Jonathan inherited the silent understanding for NNPC’s underwriting of extra budgetary  subsidy values until the bubble burst in January this year, when it became clear that the subsidy process had become a huge scam, in which, possibly over N2 trillion had been paid out in place of less than N300bn provided in the 2011 budget!!

Of course, all the above infractions are serious enough to attract impeachment, but inexplicably, our legislative assembly has remained unperturbed, some would say settled, while the citizenry’s pursuit of daily survival left no time to assess the intricacies of governance.

Similarly, the concept of an Excess Crude Account (ECA) was also the brainchild of former President Obasanjo, and Okonjo-Iweala as Finance Minister.

Every rational Nigerian would endorse the wisdom in putting away surplus funds for future application.  Indeed, it will be difficult to argue against thrift as a virtue.  However, one must wonder about the wisdom in putting away money while one lives in ghetto shacks with leaking roofs compounded with his family’s severe health and educational deprivations.  Worse still, the excess crude savings attract minimal interest while our government goes cap-in-hand, to borrow at rates above 15%, sometimes for funds that will just be kept idle.

Incidentally, there is no provision for an ‘excess crude account’ in our constitution, Section 162 of which states very clearly that all monies must be domiciled in a consolidated revenue fund, and disbursed in accordance with extant constitutional provisions; impeachment is the collateral sanction for any violation.

Even if our social circumstances were different such that our incomes grossly exceeded critical expenditure for social infrastructural enhancement, an excess crude account would still remain unconstitutional until the relevant provisions have been amended to formally accommodate the maintenance of such an account, just as in the case of suicide facilitation for the terminally ill Tony Nicklinson.

The concept of the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) is similar in many respects with the maintenance of ECA!  The only difference, of course, is that the SWF is targeted for disbursement in the medium term to distant future.  In any event, there is also no provision for a sovereign wealth fund in the constitution.

Furthermore, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s announcement of a sinking fund into which N25bn will be paid monthly for the purpose of debt service and redemption is also similarly patently unconstitutional; so far, the federal executive appears to have failed to carry along the other two tiers of government in the sustenance of any of the above unilateral executive deductions from the consolidated revenue fund without legislative approval.  Inexplicably, no one is complaining!



Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.