.Falana

By FEMI FALANA

SINCE the acquisition of security equipment alone cannot guarantee peace, law and order the Constitution has prescribed that the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.

In examining the topic of our discourse we shall review the crisis of insecurity and the mismanagement of the economy which has frustrated the realisation of the objective of establishing a welfare state in the country.

In doing justice to the topic we shall look at the relevant provisions of the Constitution with a view to pointing out that the members of the ruling class have no fidelity in the rule of law. We shall challenge the advocates of restructuring for failing to take advantage of the loopholes in the 1999 Constitution to ensure power devolution in the overall interests of the Nigerian people.

Democracy or Plutocracy?

As part of the fundamental objectives of the neocolonial state, the participation of the people in their government is guaranteed in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and the Electoral Act.

The implication is  that elected officials are mandatorily required to have their mandate renewed periodically through fair and free elections. Nigeria is said to be a state that is based on the principles of democracy and social justice, the federal, state and local governments are under a legal obligation to promote the happiness, freedom and prosperity of the people.

But in view of the monetisation of the electoral process by the political class, Nigeria cannot  be said to be a democratic society. It has become a plutocratic society where only the few rich people can contest and win elections. In other words, democracy is no longer a government of the people but a government of a few rich and powerful individuals.

It is common knowledge that the wealth with which the democratic process is sabotaged by members of the ruling class has been traced to the coffers of the government. A public officer and his cronies have just been charged with the criminal diversion of N109 billion from the Federation Account and bribes received from governors, finance commissioners and heads of parastatals who had to jump the queue that was artificially erected in the office of the Accountant-General of the Federation.

I am also aware that the sum of N4.5 billion has just been found in the bank account of the Surveyor-General of Ogun State. The Abeokuta Club should lead a campaign for the recovery of the stolen fund and prosecution of the suspect and his collaborators. The recovered loot should be invested in one of the sectors calling for urgent attention of the state government.

If we fail to monitor the movement of the fund it may turn out to be a case of “ole gbe, ole gba” (a thief steals something, another thief divests him of it).

A situation whereby corruption is fought, even though partially, by the Federal Government alone should stop. In view of the duty imposed on the State by section 15(5) of the Constitution to “abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power”, the authorities of the 36 state governments and the Federal Capital Territory should establish anti-graft agencies to fight the menace of corruption, recover looted funds and prosecute indicted individuals, groups and organisations. In addition to the recovery of looted public fund from all criminal elements, serving and retired public officers who wish to contest elections should be thoroughly investigated.

Those who betrayed the public trust by looting the treasury should not be allowed to pollute the electoral process with stolen money. Nigerians must stop the dangerous culture of of “Owo Abu lafi se Abu lejo” (we used Abu’s money to entertain Abu as a visitor).

The mismanagement of the Nigerian economy

The National Economic Council, NEC, established pursuant to section 153(1) and Paragraphs 18 & 19 of Part I of the Third Schedule to the Constitution has the mandate to “advise the President concerning the economic affairs of the Federation, and in particular on measures necessary for the coordination of the economic planning efforts or economic programmes of the various governments of the Federation.” The National Economic Council chaired by the Vice- President is comprised  of the governor of each state of the Federation and the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria.

Notwithstanding the establishment of the NEC by the Constitution, successive regimes have ignored its advice. They prefer to rely on the advice of the Presidential Economic Council on the one hand and the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank on the other. As a matter of fact, government has swallowed hook, line and sinker the neoliberal economic policies dictated by the Bretton Wood institutions. Even though such policies have turned Nigeria into the headquarters of global poverty, the Federal Government has not plucked up the courage to abandon them in the interest of the national economy.

I wish to submit without any fear of contradiction that the economic policies of government are in conflict with section 16 (3)(d) of the Constitution which provides that the State shall ensure that “suitable and adequate shelter, suitable and adequate food, reasonable national minimum living wage, old age care and pensions, and unemployment, sick benefits and welfare of the disabled are provided for all citizens.”

To guarantee adequate resources to meet the basic responsibilities of government, the Constitution has prohibited the concentration of wealth or the means of production and exchange in the hands of a few people or of a group.

It is crystal clear that the economy will soon enter into another recession due to unprecedented importation of fuel and other goods from Western countries and China, grand corruption, dollarisation of the economy and implementation of neoliberal economic policies to the Nigerian economy. The mismanagement of the economy has been confirmed by top officials of the Buhari administration. While the Comptroller-General of Costoms, Colonel Hamid Ali, has accused the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and Directorate of Petroleum Resources of involvement in the smuggling of fuel into neighbouring countries, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr. Godwin Emefiele has blamed the NNPC for not remitting dollars into the Federation Account. Whereas the sum of N443 billion was provided for fuel subsidy in the 2022 budget the National Assembly has passed the supplementary budget which increased the fund to N4 trillion.

Based on the massive devaluation of the Naira through dollarisation the Minister of Finance, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, has disclosed that fuel subsidy may gulp N6.5 trillion this year.

Meanwhile, the NNPC has been unbundled in accordance with the provisions of the Petroleum Industry Act. But President Buhari has singlehandedly reorganised the oil and gas industry by appointing members of the Boards of the NNPC and the new companies.

Although the NNPC, Central Bank of Nigeria, and scores of other parastatals and enterprises were  established with fund from the Federation Account they are managed by the Federal Government alone.

The investment of Nigeria in the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas Limited, NLNG, was paid from the Federation Account. But the huge return of over $20 billion on the investment of the Federation in the NLNG has been cornered by the Federal Government.

The electricity companies and other parastatals and enterprises owned by the people of Nigeria have privatised, commercialised or concessioned by the Federal Government  without the consent of the state and local governments. Even the Federation Account is exclusively managed by the Federal Government. Thus, a token of the revenue generated by over 100 public enterprises belonging to Nigeria is remitted to the Federation Account by the Federal Government.

In the light of the foregoing,  it is suggested that the Nigeria Governors Forum, NGF, and the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria, ALGON, should demand for urgent review of the Petroleum Industry Act to ensure the joint management of the natural resources of the nation which has been vested in the Government of the Federation by section 44(3) of the Nigerian Constitution. In the same vein, the NGF and ALGON should demand for the joint management of the NNPC and other parastatals and enterprises which were established with fund from the Federation Account.

Being paper presented by Femi Falana, SAN, at the 50th anniversary interactive session held by the Abeokuta Club on Tuesday, August 2, 2022 at Abeokuta, Ogun State

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