Opinion: Sorry NASS, ‘You cannot build legality on ILLEGALITY’
Combatants at war. President Buhari, Senate presidet, Saraki and Dogara of the house of Reps (Daily Trust)
By Olusola Balogun
London, April 27, 2018 (AltAfrika)-The topic on the national menu today deserves no comments! It shouldn’t be a topic for discussion by intelligent people. Why? Because the whole debate is a dance in shamelessness, ignorance and deception contrived by the PDP and weaved at the National Assembly and orchestrated by a few who tries to hoodwink the gullible among us.
It is sad that as a Nation, Nigerians still allow themselves to be dragged around by sentiment and fallacies.. This is my candid view of the brouhaha by some national assembly members. With all due respect, those who are jumping up and down at the National Assembly are nothing but hypocrites and enemies of the nation. Pardon me for being harsh and caustic. But the hard truth is they are people who thrive in the sustenance of collective amnesia (forgetfulness) of Nigerians!
For the purpose of those who might have forgotten, and for those who are too young to remember, I will attempt to bring us to speed. First of all, President Muhammadu Buhari’s approval of some money from the Excess Crude Account for the purchase of 12 Fighter Jets from the US to aid the fight against insurgency should be seen as a patriotic and honest move by a leader who is determined to ensure he face the security challenges of the nation squarely. He has done nothing odd to warrant the insult and abuse being hauled at him talk less of impeachment!
We will all recall that shortly after the African Union (AU) alerted African countries that remnants of ISIS fighters, routed in Syria and Iraq, are on their way to Africa to rejoin the numerous rebel groups plaguing African countries hence the various African governments where rebellion or insurgency exist should be gird their loins, the President asked Governors to allow him use $1bn out of the money lying fallow in the ECA to purchase military hardware for our soldier.
The request generated heated debate with only Ayo Fayose of Ekiti state rejecting the request. But he was in clear minority out of the 36 State Governors. So the Governors approved the request. I recall too that several uninformed commentators said the money was meant to assist PMBs reelection. Some even drew parallel in the manner Goodluck Jonathan too sought loan to buy weapons only to turn the money to what Sambo Dasuki was sharing all around.
Let me deviate a little to explain the genesis of the ECA. The account was created by the Government of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo to hold excess funds that accrued over and above the budgeted oil exports. The account is ILLEGAL AND UNKNOWN TO OUR CONSTITUTION. It is an account being managed, exclusively, by the FG and the state governors! Amazing!
Like all such shadowy accounts, a lot of abuses have happened in time past that resulted in bitter rows between the Governors and the FG.. I recall that Governors fought chief Obasanjo seriously over its creation. I recall too that the mode of spending from this ECA was one of the reasons former governors like James Ibori, Kalu Uzor Kalu, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and the late DSP Alamieyesegha ran into trouble with FG under Baba Obasanjo. I also recall that Rotimi Amaechi as the Chairman of the Governors forum had face off with Goodluck Jonathan over spending from this same ECA!
It is bewildering that despite the fact that it was apparent (even to the blind) that the ECA was alien to the laws of the land, no government moved to either scrap it or legalise it. It is equally strange that the previous NASS knew about this illegal ECA and did nothing. Senators in the finance and Public Account committees in both lower and upper houses saw the account but chose to look elsewhere(maybe after collecting their own cut from the ECA cake). It was very strange ! I recall that Governors once took the FG to court over that account when it was discovered that the FG was just dipping it’s hands into the ECA and turned it into its personal contingency funds. I also recall that it was because of the abuse that Governors rebuffed the suggestion by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala that the ECA be turned to ‘an account to’ save for rainy days’.
It is from this ‘All-purpose’ ECA that President Buhari took from to strengthen our military! It is worthy of note that this is not the first time PMB would be withdrawing from that ECA for national cause. I remember he once gave money out from it to state governments to assist the Governors in the payment of salary and other allowances to their workers
One will need to ask the Nollywood actors at the NASS where they were when that was being done. One need to ask too which of the Governors took the money from ECA to their various Houses of Assembly for appropriation before they spent it
Unlike other Presidents before him, PMB did not dip his hands into the account.. He repeatedly sought permissions from the ‘joint operators’ of the account. And he got it. Strangely again, he didn’t immediately spend the money on the military equipment. He still decided to include the purchase of the Jet fighters in the 2018 budget! No previous Government ever showed such transparency and even-handedness since the return of democracy in 1999!
In the case under review, PMB got approval for $1b from the Governors’ Forum and hasnt even spent half of what he was authorised to spend. He hasn’t breached any section of the constitution.
It is out of this $1b approved by the Governors’ Forum that President Buhari took out $462m to pay for 12 fighter jets from the United States. The payment has been receipted and acknowledged as having been paid by the Nigerian Government to the US government. He was very transparent. He didn’t patronise roadside vendors or load the cash into one Imams plane and head to China with it! unlike the other guy that loaded a pastors private jet with dollars and headed to South Africa to buy arms from street hawkers! . PMB did straight business.
Under the PDP government and GEJ, funds in the ECA was deployed as ‘pocket money’ and subjected to all manner of abuses. Governors weren’t consulted before it was spent! Some members of this present national assembly were part of those Governors that fought GEJ. This was what caused the suit by the governors against the FG under GEJ. That case was eventually settled out of court while proceedings were before the Supreme Court. In fact, the Supreme Court encouraged an out-of-court settlement on that case.
In the instant case, not one dollar was spent without the approval of the 36 State Governors. So what’s the need for that noise for?
I am surprised former governors like Theodore Orji and Godswill Akpabio are in this same Senate and they cannot educate their colleagues who are displaying gross ignorance.. I should not be blaming them anyway! They are partisan. But the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, was a former Governor too and should have called their attention to this unnecessary and disgraceful exuberance.
The international community would be watching and laughing at us why and how we have this collection of empty- heads with no sense of history as our lawmakers.
Well.. Let those empty heads at NASS be aware that U cannot build something on nothing. Hence, U CANNOT STAND LEGALITY ON ILLEGALITY! PMB hasn’t offended any section of the constitution
In any event, this brouhaha, nasty as it might look is equally nice for our democracy! The issues surrounding the ECA account will have to be brought out in the open and examined and the account brought from under the table where the PDP dodged it!
Olusola Balogun is a Public Affairs Analyst based in Nigeria.