Strong indications reportedly emerged yesterday that there would be stormy sessions during Tuesday’s proceedings at both chambers of the National Assembly over the decision by the Federal Government to withdraw $1bn from the Excess Crude Account, to fight insurgency.
Punch reports that Principal officers of the Senate and the House of Representatives, in separate interviews yesterday, confirmed that the issue would be discussed at both chambers.
Senators and members of the House of Representatives, who spoke with our correspondents, vehemently, differed on the decision by the National Economic Council to withdraw $1bn from the ECA to fight Boko Haram.
While some members condemned both the amount and the procedure for withdrawing it, others expressed reservations about the legality of taking the money from the ECA without the approval of the National Assembly.
The Senate had on November 7, 2017, resolved that the ECA, which was created by the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2004, was illegal and should be abolished.
The Vice-Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Ben Murray-Bruce (Bayelsa-East), said he would raise the issue in the Senate on Tuesday.
Murray-Bruce stated that the amount was ridiculous, and stressed that he would vote against it.
He said, “I will totally vote against the $1bn from ECA to fight Boko Haram because it is ridiculous. We don’t need a billion dollars to fight Boko Haram. I will vote against it. And when we get to the Senate on Tuesday, I will raise it with my colleagues.”
Also, Senator Mathew Uroghide from Edo State described the planned withdrawal from ECA as “executive recklessness.” The lawmaker, who is the Secretary of the Southern Senators Forum, said such expenditures should be subjected to legislative approval.
He said, “It is extra-budgetary, which is not supposed to be. It is the duty of the National Assembly to approve the expenditure of the executive. And I still remember that we resolved that the ECA should be abrogated and that all funds should come from the Consolidated Revenue Fund. All these are tantamount to illegality.”
Some House of Representatives members pointedly opposed the decision, saying that it raised several questions begging for answers.
One of them, Mr. Igariwey Iduma-Enwo, questioned why the same government that claimed to have ‘technically’ defeated Boko Haram was planning to spend another $1bn to fight the group.
He said, “To set aside $1bn from the ECA is illogical going by the claim by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration that it had defeated Boko Haram.
“More importantly, nothing is said about how such mind-boggling sum is going to be spent. Are we being told the truth about the way the war is going, or do our armed forces badly need new weapons, systems and platforms to prosecute the war?
“Only the latter scenario can justify taking out a billion dollars from a near comatose economy to prosecute a war. The situation calls for a more robust engagement by the National Assembly, being the constitutional gatekeeper of the national treasury.”
Another lawmaker, Mr. Karimi Sunday, wondered whether the Federal Government would have to make two expenditure channels for the war against Boko Haram.
Sunday recalled that already, funding provisions had been made for counter-insurgency operations in the 2018 budget.
Apart from the budgetary provisions, he recalled that in 2017, appropriation was made for the Presidential Initiative on North-East.
He added, “In the 2018 budget, which is before the National Assembly, there are provisions for security operations.
“Are we going to have provisions in the budget and another separate $1bn that will not be appropriated by the National Assembly?
“The Governors’ Forum, which made this recommendation or approval, do they have any constitutional power to appropriate money?
“Another question is, all the money budgeted for security operations, has anybody explained how the government spent it?”
The Accountant-General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris, in an interview with journalists on Saturday in Abuja, said the balance in the Excess Crude Account, as of December 15, remained $2.317bn. He also put the balance in the Excess Petroleum Profit Tax account, at $133m.
When asked when the $1bn would be withdrawn from the ECA to fight Boko Haram, Idris said the instruction had been received and was being processed.
He said, “The instruction has been given. But there is a process before money is taken out of an account. So, unless that withdrawal is made, the balance remains the same.
“On what the money will be used for, the appropriate institution will have to give you that, namely the military, who are the ones that will utilise the money, and they know their needs.
“On why the money is being taken from the ECA, everyone should know that it is a savings account and ordinarily should have been distributed to the three tiers of government.
“So, if the same owners decide that part of it should be utilised to secure the country, to secure the system, to make the system work and provide security for life and property, I don’t think it should be an issue.
“If the governor of Ekiti State has a problem with that, he should have made his position known to his forum, which is the Governors Forum.
“His dissension should not come to me on the pages of newspapers. He is entitled to whatever, but it should be directed to the appropriate place.”
The lawmaker representing Kaduna Central Senatorial District, Senator Shehu Sani, also said the $1bn anti-terrorism fund had shown that the Federal Government had not “technically” defeated Boko Haram as it had claimed.
Through his Twitter handle on Friday, Sani said, “One billion dollars to fight Boko Haram as approved by the Federal Government officially means the insurgents have yet to be technically defeated.”
However, the Senate North-East caucus has condemned critics of the ECA funds withdrawal and described them as a group of people making irresponsible comments on the issue.
They said the geopolitical zone needed more than $1bn for its rehabilitation, stressing that the withdrawal from ECA could only be condemned where it was not approved by the constituted authorities.
A former Majority Leader, Senator Ali Ndume (Borno-South), who spoke on behalf of his colleagues, particularly condemned Fayose for linking the fund to Buhari’s presidential campaign in 2019.
Ndume said, “I heard about it and I am surprised and disappointed; the response by some of the individuals that are opposing this timely and commendable decision by NEC to set aside $1bn from the ECA to finance the war against insurgents in the North-East.
“I am very disappointed because we are not taking the money to develop Borno or other states, this is money meant for fighting Boko Haram, which is a security issue.”
In his submission, the Senate Majority Leader, Ahmad Lawan (Yobe-North), said the $1bn could only be condemned if it was not duly approved. He expressed his optimism that Buhari would seek the approval of the National Assembly for the withdrawal of the money from the ECA.
Lawan said, “What the Federal Government requires to rehabilitate, rebuild and reconstruct the North-East because of the devastation caused by the insurgency is much more than $1bn. I believe that we need so much more resources for our armed forces to be better.”
It is a right step in the right direction — House spokesman
The Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Abdulrazak Namdas, in his reaction, said the decision to withdraw the $1bn was in the interest of the country.
Namdas, who is a member of the All Progressives Congress from Adamawa State, noted that fighting insecurity and insurgency was not cheap.
The lawmaker added that the $1bn, if judiciously spent, would help to end the counter-insurgency war.
Namdas said, “It is a right step in the right direction. People are looking at it from the point that the government earlier said that Boko Haram had been ‘technically defeated.’
“That is not the issue here. The issue is that the insurgents are still carrying out attacks, killing people and rendering more people homeless.
“If the defeat must be total, then the government must spend heavily on weaponry, training and the welfare of our military personnel.”
When asked whether the House would support the withdrawal or demand that it passed through appropriation by the National Assembly, the spokesman replied, “The House and I think all other arms of government will support any effort of the government that will ultimately end insurgency.”
Also, a Peoples Democratic Party member from Edo State, Mr. Johnson Agbonayinma, said he didn’t see anything wrong with the approval to withdraw the $1bn.
Agbonayinma argued that in ordinary times, all Nigerian security agencies were largely underfunded and were always in need of funding.
He added that with the insurgency war added to their responsibilities, the security agencies would naturally do better with increased funding.
An APC member from Bauchi State, Mr. Mohammed Sani-Abdu, told SUNDAY PUNCH that there was nothing wrong with spending the $1bn on the counter-insurgency operations as long as the approval followed the due process of law.
He explained, “The National Assembly is the only body empowered to appropriate funds for the good governance of the country.
“As a legislator, I will say that the proper way to spend the money has to be by appropriation by the legislature.
“If they bring the proposal ($1bn), we won’t stop them, but let the proper procedure of the law be followed.”
The Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Alhaji AbdulAzeez Yari, has said that the Governor of Ekiti State, Mr. Ayodele Fayose, has no right to query the decision of his colleagues over the authority given to the Federal Government to withdraw $1bn from the ECA, to fight insurgency in the North-East.
Fayose had declared, in a statement, that the $1bn to be withdrawn from the ECA to fight the insurgency battle was a ruse.
But Yari, who is also Governor of Zamfara State, in a statement on Saturday, said the decision to allow the Federal Government access the amount was a collective one by the forum.
He explained that absenteeism from the meeting did not exculpate anyone from responsibility from the forum’s resolutions.
He said, “I am saying that, that statement was unfair against the Forum.
“When a decision is taken by the Forum in one’s absence, once there was a quorum at the meeting where the decision was taken, it becomes binding on all.
“I am sure Fayose was not making the statement to undermine the Forum. He was just doing his thing.”
Governor Yari said the issue of withdrawing from the ECA was broadly deliberated at the forum’s meeting on the eve of the National Economic Council meeting where the decision was taken.
According to him, “If Governor Fayose was there at the meeting, he would have seen the wisdom in the decision.”
However, Fayose, on his Twitter handle on Saturday said Yari did not query his action in condemning his colleagues’ approval for the withdrawal of $1bn from the ECA to fight insurgency in the North-East.
He said, “Governor Yari also said an emergency meeting of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum has been fixed for next week Tuesday where this issue will be properly addressed.
“However, let me state clearly that like every other right thinking Nigerians, I am concerned about the security situation in the North-East and other parts of the country.
“I am concerned about the war of hunger that is ravaging Nigeria and will continue to support efforts aimed at alleviating the sufferings of Nigerians.”