By Adewale Kupoluyi
CONTROVERSY has continued to trail the recent disclosure by the Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Abdulaziz Yari that state governors in the country had asked the Federal Government to withdraw $1bn from the Excess Crude Account, ECA, to fight insurgency in the North-east. The decision was recently taken at the Federal Executive Council meeting, presided over by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Justifying the decision, Osinbajo, said that the $1bn was not meant for the fight against insurgency alone. He said the sum was meant for all security challenges being experienced in states of the federation. The Vice-President explained that state governors had agreed to approve the money for the nation’s security challenges such as armed robbery, kidnapping, small arms trafficking, Boko Haram terrorists’ activities, clashes between herdsmen and farmers as well as cattle rustling, among others.
No doubt, a just, fair and equitable mobilisation and allocation of economic resources is fundamental to national stability, hence, if a tier/arm of government state is given a direct constitutional responsibility, it should ordinarily receive commensurate means and resources to perform. Unfortunately, the current system of funding seems to be unsustainable for development such that the central government unwieldy assumes an all-powerful position by appropriating substantial part of the nation’s resources to itself and leaving behind only meager and peanuts for the states and local governments; running contrary to the dictates of true federalism that appreciates a reasonable level of autonomy to the federating units. It is for these reasons that revenue allocation has remained one of the major areas of controversy in Nigeria’s federalism.
The major argument supporting the administration of ECA is that it was designed to save Nigeria for the rainy day when income levels are low to keep the nation going. The importance of saving funds for future use is expected of any responsible person or corporate organisation, government inclusive. However, the way and manner ECA has been managed in the country has been decried thus questioning the credibility of the account. According to the National Resource Governance Institute, Nigeria’s Excess Crude Account, is one of the most poorly-managed portfolios around the world. Similarly, the Nigerian Senate, in a show of disapproval, recently passed a resolution abolishing the account, arguing that the ECA was alien to the constitution or any known law in the country.
A cross-section of Nigerians has reacted both in favour and against the decision to use $1 billion for insurgency. For those who support the idea, it is a way of providing the needed lifeline to curtail the excesses of insurgents and belligerents. Not only that, the funds would be used to address other germane security issues in the interest of the nation, as revealed by the Vice-President. On the other hand, critics alleged that the approval of the fund was illegal, considering that the process for its approval did not pass through the National Assembly that is basically responsible for appropriation of public funds.
Other antagonists are of the opinion that the $1 billion allocation could be misappropriated, considering how similar funds were abused in the past while another strong argument allude to the insinuation that it could be an avenue to mobilise resources for the ruling party, for the forthcoming general elections in 2019. This last point flows with belief of the Ekiti State Governor, Mr. Ayodele Fayose, who had dissociated himself from the decision, saying there was no agreement among the governors before the announcement was made public, describing the approval as a ploy to divert the money for political ends, while demanding explanations from the Federal Government on the rationale behind spending such huge sum of money to fight an already ‘defeated’ Boko Haram.
From the opposing views, there are few points that sincerely need adequate appraisals. First, why do we have contradictions in the statements issued by both Osinbajo and the Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, who were both present at the meeting, where the decision was said to have been taken? After the meeting, Obaseki had disclosed that the $1bn was approved to fight Boko Haram insurgency while the Vice-President said the money would be expended on a variety of security challenges facing the nation aside from the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-east. Secondly, the government should give a clear plan of action and blueprint on how the funds would be managed, considering past experiences associated with mismanagement of public funds.
Thirdly, the proposal to withdraw the $1 billion from the ECA would mean leaving the account with a little balance of $1.31 billion, going by the report of the Accountant-General of the Federation that, the amount in the said account stands at $2.317 billion dollars. Then, is this the best way to expend our heard-earned resources at this critical moment when many people are terribly hungry amid other important commitments such as decaying infrastructure that are equally competing for our very limited financial resources?
Another question that demands an answer is; if truly Boko Haram has been ‘technically defeated’, as severally claimed by the government, why should state governors still give approval for such funding now? What is the true position of things? Or, could it be a misplaced priority? Nigerians would also further ask: what is the moral basis for such an intervention when in July 2014, the former administration of Goodluck Jonathan had proposed borrowing the same amount of $1 billion to fight insurgency and same leaders of the opposition All Progressives Congress, APC, were quick to dismiss and kick against the proposal?
Despite the many unanswered questions, one is tempted to dismiss the idea with a wave of hand because investing in the Boko Haram insurgency without any sound, empirical, reliable and convincing result-oriented strategies is sheer waste of resources. This reasoning, in all honesty, is logical. However, hinging on such rigid and stereotype may really not be helpful, especially when concerted and genuine efforts are being made to learn from past mistakes in order to move forward. Security demands great level of prioritisation. Therefore, no amount of money approved for such project may be considered as too much because it is about the safety and welfare of the people; a primary concern of government in tandem with constitutional provisions. Learning from the past, the government should not compromise transparency, accountability and financial discipline. One of the effective ways of achieving this is the monitoring of the funds by the National Assembly in the performance of oversight functions.
More importantly, the government should shun partisan politics in the award of contracts and other activities that are associated with the administration of the $1 billion. This is another litmus test for the Muhammadu Buhari administration’s avowed commitment to anti-corruption.
To always win the support of people, government officials should avoid contradictions in sensitive public communications going by what happened in the case of Osinbajo and Obaseki, mentioned above; security agencies should be more productive, synergise, work collaboratively and desist from unnecessary rivalry to be more productive, while those sponsoring and wreaking havoc through insurgency should have a change of heart. Defeating terrorism, insurgency and curtailing insecurity in the land remain collective responsibility. This calls for deep reflection as we enter into a brand New Year.
Kupoluyi writes from Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), firstname.lastname@example.org,@AdewaleKupoluyi