Ken Chikere, representing Rivers State in the House of Representatives, has thrown a curve into the kerfuffle over the $1bn that the National Economic Council (may have grudgingly donated) to addressing the ravages that the Boko Haram insurgency inflicted on Northeastern Nigeria.
Chikere cited Sections 162(1) of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution and Section 1 of the Allocation of Revenue Act as authorities to make statutory deductions from the $1bn. These laws provide that 13 per cent of revenue accruing to the Federation Account from natural resources must be allocated to the states from where they were derived.
Nigeria’s Sovereign Wealth Fund invests federation funds in real estate, precious minerals, commodities, and viable big bourses, like those of New York and London. The ECA warehouses revenue accruing to the federation in excess of the benchmark assumed for Nigeria’s annual budgets.
It was established in 2004 by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, “to protect planned budgets against shortfalls due to volatile crude oil prices,” and “insulate the Nigerian economy from external shocks.”
Before the ECA was the Petroleum Trust Fund that utilised excess revenue to fund critical projects, like road rehabilitation, classrooms, drugs, and hospital infrastructure. Then Gen Muhammadu Buhari was appointed by Gen Sani Abacha as Chairman of the omnibus agency.
One expects that every cent that accrued to Nigeria above the $40.50 benchmark for the 2017 Budget, for instance, would have been remitted into the ECA. If you wonder if this is backed by law, read Section 8(31) of the Nigerian Constitution that empowers the National Assembly to make laws to that effect.
The NEC, with the Vice President as Chairman, and governors of the 36 states, and of the Central Bank of Nigeria, as members, is created by Section 19 of the Constitution “to advise the President concerning the economic affairs of the Federation… (and) measures necessary for the coordination of the economic planning efforts or economic programmes of the various governments of the Federation.”
The advisory body must be leaning on this provision to partner the Federal Government, by allowing $1bn of ECA funds to be used on behalf of Nigeria’s Internally Displaced Persons, who are victims of the insurgency.
Ordinarily, this shouldn’t be a problem, except that Governors Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State, who are NEC members, have expressed reservations about the (possible) coercing of their colleagues to give.
Fayose claims, tongue-in-cheek: “I was not among the governors who approved the withdrawal of almost half of our savings in the ECA, which belongs to the three tiers of government, to fight an already defeated insurgency.”
Even the Federal Government doesn’t seem to know the purpose of the money. The Senior Special Assistant, Media & Publicity, to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Laolu Akande, claimed that “Governors have offered to contribute over $1bn to support military operations in the North-East. Governors said money should be taken from the Excess Crude Account.”
The Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki, had earlier confirmed: “The Governors of Nigeria, through their Chairman, announced at the NEC meeting that the governors have (sic) given permission to the Federal Government to spend the sum of $1bn in the fight of insurgency.”
The rather jerky, and doubtful, submission attributed to usually eloquent Vice President Osinbajo – that the money was for “policing in the states, community policing, all of the different security challenges that we have –” is somewhat disorienting.
The Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed’s claim that the money was for “Combating the numerous security challenges facing the country, including… illegal oil bunkering, kidnapping, and cattle rustling,” gave it a national spread. These versions of “the truth” suggest a need to publish the minutes of the NEC Meeting.
If you recall that former President Olusegun Obasanjo once suggested that operatives of the previous government turned the Boko Haram war into an ATM to take money from the treasury, you will appreciate the scepticism around the $1bn. Some suspect that the money would be used to fund somebody’s 2019 re-election campaign.
The Federal Government has however been seeking ways to convince Nigerians that there is an urgent need for the money, by slyly splaying photos of Nigerian and American airmen in newspapers, and also releasing information that N895bn will be needed to buy 12 new fighter jets, other military hardware, consumables, and to train officers.
This PR Trojan horse is probably a way to say that if you convert the $1bn, the mere N305bn that you get, if you go by the CBN rate, or even the N360bn that you will get, if you go by the parallel market rate, is not so much, after all.
The baloney that “Operation Lafiya Dole” has substantially degraded the firepower of the insurgents is confusing. Mohammed should simply stick with his admission that “The fact that Boko Haram has been largely degraded does not mean the war is over.”
He could cite the April 2009 “Joint Submission on the State of Realities of the Armed Forces and call for Urgent Intervention,” of the Senate Committee on Defence, to argue that the average combat efficiency of the infantry and armoured corps of the Nigerian Army was 43 per cent, and that of armoured vehicles, a mere seven per cent.
He could also have added that the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, once hired regular haulage trucks to convey troops from both Keffi, in Nasarawa State, and Abuja, to quell a crisis in Jos, Plateau State: The carrying capability of the Army was 11.53 per cent for soft skin vehicles, and 7.31 per cent for armoured vehicles. This brings the average lifting capacity of the Army to roughly 10 per cent.
The history of equipment deficiency goes way back. The Senate report adds that in 2005, the government of former President Obasanjo mustered only $51m down-payment, out of $251m, needed to acquire 12 combat, and three trainer, aircraft. At that time, the Nigerian Air Force had a mere 25 per cent combat capability.
Air Vice Marshal Alex Badeh admitted in a farewell speech as the Chief of Defence Staff that the defence machine that he headed was underfunded and underequipped to fight Boko Haram. His words: “I was head of a military that lacked the relevant equipment and motivation to fight an enemy that was unstable and embedded with the local populace.”
In 2014, there were reports that former President Goodluck Jonathan got a National Assembly’s approval to borrow $1bn in military hardware. He denies it, and reports claim that America blocked the sale on the grounds of human rights abuses by Nigeria’s military personnel.
This was probably corroborated by then American Ambassador, James Entwistle, who said, “As we look at equipment transfer, we look at the situation in the country in the past few years. And as you all know, there have been instances… of human rights abuses by the Nigerian military in the North-East.”
It looks like President Jonathan did not access the loan and President Buhari’s government now needs it badly. To persuade Nigerians that it really needs the $1bn, government should first admit, and publicly tell Nigerians, that the Boko Haram insurgents have not been substantially degraded.
You can’t be speaking from both sides of your mouth.