By Obi Nwakanma
I had in mind this week, to reflect on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the arrest of the Chairman of Innoson Motors, Mr. Innocent Chukwuma, by the Enugu station of that commission.
The uproar which Mr. Chukwuma’s arrest caused was not because the Chairman of Innoson is above the law, or that he is so innocent, he could not violate standard finance laws, especially going by the complex labyrinths of business financing, and the outlay of his investments as an industrialist of note.
The outrage was in what Nigerians quickly saw as a sustained pattern of impunity, now associated with the EFCC, which has become something of an attack dog, now for hire by private organizations like banks, who wish to intimidate their opponents or customers.
Did EFFC go after Mr. Chukwuma on inducement by the Guarantee Trust Bank? Is the EFCC now for hire? What exactly went down here? I shall leave this issue for the moment, but I promise to return to it at some point as the drama unfolds, and as newspapers continue to investigate the EFCC and the alleged misuse of the extraordinary powers granted it under the constitution.
Perhaps in due course, Nigerians may compel the National Assembly to review those powers, reposition the EFCC, and subject it to the disciplinary oversight of a more visible authority, say the authority of a Magistracy or the Judiciary, as happens with the French legal system, or the Directorate of Public Prosecution in the Attorney-General’s office, as it happens in other places.
Perhaps also, to strengthen the overall legislative oversight of this institution, it might be worthwhile to re-examine its protocols of governance, including in fact exploring the possibility placing its functions back under the control of the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) of a massively reformed National Police Service, with better selected, better trained, and better equipped and oriented personnel.
Because frankly, it does seem, that as it is currently established, and as I predicted in this column during the debates leading to the establishment of the EFCC, the laws that grant it is powers, and the kind of loose controls inserted into that legislation is defective. It is defective because it could only make the EFCC a hunt-dog for the president or whosoever controls its leash.
I did predict that the EFCC we were establishing under those grounds would create its own kind of impunity in a purported fight against another kind of impunity. In any case, I shall return to this question, as I have said, at some point in the future, for a more exhaustive treatment.
I just could not ignore the urgency of the questions – legal and moral – raised by another kind of impunity and executive lawless: the purported withdrawal of $1 billion from the national coffers by the president under the purported agreements with the state governors, to fight Boko Haram. Perhaps this president and the governors of the states bank on the rather tragic fact that most Nigerian citizens are ignorant of the laws and the constitution, and are therefore what Nigerians themselves would call “mugus.”
The “mugu” is a sad arsed ignoramus who does not understand jack about anything, and therefore cannot appreciate the extent of, and the implications of the financial crimes committed against them. It is just simple lawlessness to convene a meeting or council of the executive heads of the republic, and simply vote or agree to withdraw $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account.
Two very fundamental questions arise from this: did the president obtain the authority of the National Assembly before withdrawing $1 billion from Nigeria’s national accounts? Did the president present before the National Assembly Intelligence and Defence Committee a report on the conduct of the war on Boko Haram, seeking re-authorization of the emergency or war powers given to him by the National Assembly to conduct this war, because this action against Boko Haram is not, and should not be an endless mandate. There has to be a point of conclusion.
This president and his party ran on the promise to dismantle Boko Haram within weeks of their arrival in government. And even if it requires funding, the president cannot, without legislative authorization, withdraw money, or commit same, to an unfunded mandate. The governors have no powers to authorize the withdrawal of funds from any national account.
It is not within their mandate or power. Agreement between the executive governments of the land does not amount to authority or mandate. That mandate and the power to authorize the withdrawal and expenditure of funds from any account of the federation lies with the National Assembly.
As a matter of fact, the constitution outlines the process by which all national expenditure can be conducted under the First, Second and Third Schedules of the Finance (Controls and Management) Act of the Federal Constitution of Nigeria currently in use.
I do not know if the president receives adequate counsel about this, but not to adhere to the financial act is a profound act against the constitution. It not only undermines the legitimacy of the Act of the Powers – that is the schedules that outline the distribution of functions of the three realms of authority under the rule of law in a democracy – it exposes the functions of government to caprice.
It is normally an impeachable, and prosecutable offence. Simply meeting with the governors and agreeing to take $1 billion allegedly to fund the war on Boko Haram, without the authority of a supplementary act by the National Assembly, in legal terms amounts to a conspiracy to steal from the Nigerian purse.
The keepers of the purse must act accordingly to prevent this. I mean, the unwillingness of the leadership of the National Assembly to hold this president accountable, and apply the cardinal constitutional mandates and guarantees is equally irresponsible, and amounts to a crime against the Nigerian people whose sacred authority they keep in trust. First, once more, it is important to understand the context.
I did read Mr. Reno Omokri, spokesman for former President Goodluck Jonathan on this matter, in his reactions to the following statement by Governor Yari of Zamfara state, Chair of the Governors Forum, who said in reaction to the controversy swirling around this: “This thing (ECA withdrawal) has been done in 2014 where $2bn was withdrawn in agreement with the governors at that meeting. Governor Akpabio was the one that moved the motion.
This is not the first time a decision like this is being taken. It happened during Jonathan’s era when they took $2bn.
We all agreed at that time collectively in the same chamber to withdraw $2bn to procure equipment for the military and also for logistics for the military.
That was what generated discussions at the same chamber and there was no controversy and no opposition to the decision at that time.” Governor Yari’s argument seems to suggest that it was not a problem to withdraw $2 billion from the Excess Crude Account during Jonathan’s administration, when then Governor, now Senator Akpabio was chair of the Governors Forum, with all the governors agreeing, and therefore it should not be a problem now. Mr. Omokri seems to suggest that Yari’s statement puts a lie to the criticism leveled against Jonathan by people like Oshiomole, Tinubu and Rotimi Amechi who had long claimed principally that the governors were unaware, and therefore not in agreement with the withdrawal under Jonathan. Both Yari and Omokri miss the point: the point is that it does not fall within the rights and duties of the Governors forum to authorize withdrawal of funds from a Federal account.
The meetings of the council of the states does not carry legislative weight, and cannot confer extraordinary powers, simply by agreement on the president. Only the National Assembly can.
And the Excess Crude Account is not a blind account, it should be regarded as part of Nigeria’s consolidated funds. That’s the point: that monies cannot be vired from the general chest outside of parliamentary authority and control.
It is illegal to do so. Finally, the fight against Boko Haram should be fully, conclusively, accounted for. It should not be a dead-end mission with a bottomless pit, and an open check. It has got to end.