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Excess Crude Account is not president’s ATM

By Ochereoma Nnanna

THE Nigerian Governors’ Forum, NGF, under the chairmanship of Governor Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara State is in the pocket of President Muhammadu Buhari. To be fair to the President, he never made any effort to pocket it. Buhari has been very avuncular to the governors irrespective of their political parties, offering the states financial bailouts and refunding them their Paris Club debt overpayments. He has done well on that count.

Apart from Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State who has chosen to be outspoken as an opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, governor, most of the others were very sympathetic towards the President in the darkest hour of his illness some months ago. Even opposition governors volunteered to go and see how he was recuperating in London.

The governors feel so cosy with the President (except on the issue of herdsmen’s attacks) that hardly does a day pass without one or two of them tramping the Aso Villa corridors. Governor Yari, for one, virtually lives in Abuja, perhaps to be closer to the President. Senator Kabiru Marafa has accused him of preferring his post as the Chairman of the NGF to his elected mandate as Governor of Zamfara State. So, if Yari and the NGF are in Buhari’s pocket, it is because they crawled in there by themselves not because of presidential manipulation.

This is different from what happened under President Goodluck Jonathan when Governor Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers was the NGF Chairman. It was total war because Amaechi was leading a tranche of governors majority of who were determined to bring down Jonathan. The Forum had to split into two with Amaechi leading the majority group while Governor Jonah Jang of Plateau State was leading the minority faction. That was the beginning of the end of the Jonathan era. The Amaechi-led opposition made the Jonathan regime to fail in its bid to save more money in the Excess Crude Account, ECA, during the height of the last oil boom. The governors insisted on getting their share of the ECA as they had more pressing needs back home.

Being the democrat that he was, Jonathan allowed them to have their way. By the time the regime ended and the recession hit, there was just a little over one billion dollars in the ECA. Conveniently forgetting that while in the opposition they were the ones that forced Jonathan to virtually empty the ECA, the same All Progressives Congress, APC, Federal Government has been drumming it on the rooftops that the “immediate past regime” failed to save during the time of plenty. Lai Mohammed calls it “looting the treasury dry”.

But now that all the governors (except Fayose) through the Yari-led NGF voluntarily put themselves in President Buhari’s pocket, they met in December last year and blindly, without minding the constitutional implications, approved a request by the Presidency for the release of one billion dollars from the ECA to “fight insecurity”. The National Assembly, which is empowered by the Constitution to control the national purse, has insisted that such money cannot be released without following due process as clearly spelt out in Sections 80 and 81 of the constitution.

The ECA was established by the regime of President Olusegun Obasanjo as a means of protecting the economy from the shock of fluctuations in crude oil prices. It helped Nigeria to withstand the worldwide “economic meltdown” of 2007/2009 because we were able to drawdown over $16 billion out of our $20 billion savings lodged in the Account during the Obasanjo regime. If Jonathan had been allowed to save similarly by Amaechi’s NGF, there would have been enough money in the ECA to save the nation from the recent economic recession.

The governors’ current collusion with the Presidency to release $1 billion to fight insecurity is questioned by several constitutional and moral constraints. In the first place, the ECA is not the President’s ATM. The ECA does not belong to the Federal Government alone. Even if it did, Buhari would still need to submit a supplementary budget to the National Assembly, NASS, and obtain its approval before spending the money.

But in this case, sensing that the National Assembly might not be inclined to approve such a proposal due mainly to the ongoing feud of the Executive and the Legislature as well as other political considerations, Buhari decided to sidetrack the NASS. This is impunity and an impeachable offence. The NASS will not take it lying down and there will be a series of lawsuits from concerned citizens and opposition politicians who legitimately entertain the fear that the money could be diverted by the ruling party for its campaigns.

Secondly, the ECA fund also belongs to the states and local governments. The governors have no right to unilaterally give approval for their states’ shares of the fund to be spent without the authorisation of the Houses of Assembly acting in the interests of the states and local governments. There will be more lawsuits on this ground.

Thirdly, apart from these constitutional grounds, there are also the moral and political aspects. Questions will arise as to why the APC Federal Government has become so eager to pull out this fund just when its primaries are around the corner (June 2018). A government that, in its three-year rule, has established an unsavoury track record of reckless lies, propaganda and corruption (as evident in the North-East humanitarian projects, Social Investment Fund which has been bedevilled by looting as admitted by its helmsperson, Mrs. Maryam Uwais, among others) cannot be trusted to spend N360 billion without much of it going into the pockets of Buhari’s rapacious cabal.

How can a government that claimed to have defeated Boko Haram “completely” ask for $1billion to fight insecurity of which the insurgency is still a major part? The Federal Government, FG, must first confess lying to Nigerians. It must also publicly admit its failure to secure the nation, which is one of its cardinal policies. Otherwise, there is no basis for granting the request.

Now they are saying that the insurgency is not the only insecurity we are facing. They are suddenly bringing in the herdsmen’s attacks which they had actually been playing down as “farmers/herders’ clashes”. Because they want this money, the herdsmen’s attacks have suddenly become part of our security challenge! Before now, the President did not show concern when governors rushed to him to cry about the slaughtering of their people and invasions of communities by the armed Fulani militias ravaging the whole country, especially the Middle Belt and South.

The herdsmen’s menace has grown to such a gargantuan level that a former Army Chief, retired General TY Danjuma, accused the military of siding with the killer bandits to steal peoples’ lands. He asked Nigerians to defend themselves. What difference will it make if we dump this staggering amount into containing insecurity which seems to be growing rather than shrinking? Is it a matter of money or competence and commitment to get the job done?

Perhaps, the ECA has outlived its usefulness. Perhaps, it’s time that the FG, each state and local government are automatically given their respective shares of excess crude accruals as well as shortfalls. If the Presidency will no longer obey the law; if it is bent on converting the fund to its Automatic Teller Machine,  ATM, then the ECA should be closed.

We are operating a democracy. Sidetracking the constitution and the Legislature to spend money from the Federation Account is an unacceptable act of impunity. It should no longer be allowed.

 

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