Olalekan Adetayo, Adelani Adepegba, Okechukwu Nnodim and Olaleye Aluko
The National Economic Council, on Thursday, asked the Federal Government to withdraw $1bn from the $2.3bn currently in the Excess Crude Account and use it to fight insurgency in the North-East.
The decision was taken at a meeting of the council presided over by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The council chaired by the Vice-President has all state governors as members.
Some civil society groups and analysts, however, faulted the move by the Federal Government on the basis that past allocations to defence and the anti-terrorism operations had yet to be judiciously accounted for.
Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, disclosed the decision of NEC to State House correspondents at the end of the meeting.
Obaseki said council members expected that the money would be spent on the purchase of security equipment, procurement of intelligence and logistics, among others.
The governor stated, “The NEC also resolved through the Chairman of the NGF to support the effort of the Federal Government in the area of security.
“Pleased with the achievements that have been made till date in the fight against insurgency, particularly in the North-East, the governors of Nigeria, through their chairman, announced at the NEC meeting that the governors have given permission to the Federal Government to spend the sum of $1bn on the fight against insurgency.
“This money is supposed to be taken from the Excess Crude Account.
“As you know, the issue of security, particularly as regards the North-East, is a very comprehensive response by federal forces. So, we expect that the contribution of the states to these efforts will cover the whole array of activities required to secure the country and counter-insurgency.
“We expect that the amount will include but not limited to the purchase of equipment, procuring intelligence and logistics and all things required to ensure that we finally put an end to the scourge of insurgence.”
Towards the end of the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015, the Federal Government requested and got approval from the National Assembly for a loan of $1bn to fight the Boko Haram menace.
No explanation has been given on how the money was expended to date.
FG threatens to stop budget support facility to defaulting states
The governor quoted the minister as complaining that most states had failed to meet certain conditions for the loan as earlier agreed.
He further quoted the minister as saying that the Federal Government would not hesitate to stop giving the support to defaulting states.
Dankwambo added, “The Minister of Finance informed council that the budget support facility to states is also based on certain conditions as agreed under the fiscal responsibility plan.
“She complained that most states are yet to comply, adding that non-compliance will make her ministry stop any further payment to states that do not comply.”
The governor added that the council received the update report on the forensic audit of revenue that accrued into the federation account up to 2015.
He said as a follow-up to the report that was submitted last month, the council was informed that KPMG was still conducting the audit of the Nigeria Customs Service and the Nigerian Communications Commission.
Dankwambo also quoted the Accountant General of the Federation as putting the balance in the Natural Resources Development Fund Account as of December 13 at N106.984bn.
The balance in the Excess Crude Account was also put at $2.317bn while that of the Stabilisation Fund Account was put at N7.78bn.
Don’t touch account, SERAP, other CSOs warn NEC
But civil societies have lambasted NEC for planning to take $1bn from the ECA to fight terrorism, noting that earlier funds expended to fight Boko Haram had yet to be accounted for.
The President, Campaign for Democracy, Usman Abdul, said, “This is what happens when you have leaders who are not thinkers. They cannot think outside the box. We are bound to be faced with such challenges.
“The military have come out to say that Boko Haram was technically defeated and Camp Zero was captured. I don’t see then any rationale behind dipping our hands into our excess crude account.
“These are the proceeds of our generality and we have other presidential sources of revenue going into the North-East. What is the Presidential Committee on the North-East Initiative doing? The political leaders are rather looking for ways to steal money for the 2019 campaigns.”
Also, the Executive Director, Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, Debo Adeniran, believed the past allocations to defence and the military should be accounted for before voting another huge amount for military operations.
Adeniran added, “Let us first know how the budgetary allocations for defence and the military have been expended. We all recall the $2.1bn Dasuki loot. The governors should not put their eyes on the excess crude oil account.
“The Ministry of Defence and the services should first give account of how the monies on fighting the Boko Haram insurgency were spent before we can start talking about dipping hands into our excess crude account.”
On its part, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project said the decision to take $1bn from the excess crude account was not rational, adding that anything outside the budgetary allocations must be tabled before the National Assembly for consideration and approval.
SERAP Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, stated, “Whatever is not properly appropriated for should not be considered. That is the only way we can maintain sanity in our public expenditure.
“The Presidency may want to say that security matters are fundamental. But we cannot continue to have all manner of expenditures on Boko Haram. That will be reckless to me.”
North-East crisis needs extraordinary approach –Utomi, security experts
However, a frontline political economist, Prof. Pat Utomi, told one of our correspondents that the crisis in the North-East was a big issue that needed extraordinary approach to be adequately addressed
He said, “An extraordinary intervention of the nature of what you have described is needed. As a student of history, I think the North-East matter is important and should be given the right priority because we need to do something strategic about that region.
“This is because the situation in the North-East is very much akin to the situation in Ethiopia and Somalia back in the 1980s that fuelled the old view of Africa, which was known as Afro-pessimism, meaning that Africa was a lost continent of diseases and wars, etc. That is what the North-East crisis has caused Nigeria.”
Also, a security analyst, Ben Okezie, said no amount was too much to fight insurgency, noting that without addressing the security issues, there could be no development.
Okezie, who lauded the move, explained that countries like the United States had spent billions of dollars to fight insurgency and insecurity within and outside their borders.
“No amount is too much to spend on fighting insurgency because without peace, there cannot be social or economic development. I think it is a good development,” he noted.
A retired Commissioner of Police, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav, also endorsed the decision to withdraw money from the excess crude account, noting that without security, no development could take place.
The ex-Lagos CP added, “It is a good move but the government should ensure that it is judiciously utilised. I also want President Buhari to caution the governors and other office seekers against arming thugs to win elections. Insecurity is the result of proliferation of arms.”
Between 2011 and 2014, N6.21tn was shared from the Excess Crude Account by the three tiers of government.
A former Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, had while releasing the figure said the Federal Government received N3.29tn, while the 36 states got a total of N2.92tn from the ECA within the four year period.
The opening balance was $4.56bn in 2011 and reached a peak the following year at $8.7bn before declining to $2.3bn in 2013.
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