By Adewale Kupoluyi
Controversy has continued to trail the recent disclosure by the Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Abdulaziz Yari that state governors in the country had asked the Federal Government to withdraw $1bn from the Excess Crude Account to fight insurgency in the North-east. The decision was recently taken at the Federal Executive Council meeting, presided over by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Justifying the decision, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, said that the $1bn was not meant for the fight against insurgency alone. He said the sum was meant for all security challenges being experienced in all the states of the federation. In view of the crisis trailing the information, he gave the clarification at the opening of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation/Secretaries to State Governments’ retreat held in Abuja.
The Vice-President explained that the state governors had agreed to approve the money for the nation’s security after a national security summit, organised by the National Economic Council, held earlier that considered various security challenges facing the country such as armed robbery, kidnapping, small arms trafficking, terrorists’ activities of Boko Haram in the North-East, clashes between herdsmen and farmers as well as cattle rustling, among others.
“It was on account of the security summit that the governors at the Governors’ Forum subsequently decided that they would vote a certain sum of money, which has become somewhat controversial; the $1bn, to assist the security architecture of the country. It was to assist all of the issues in the states, including policing in the states, community policing, all of the different security challenges that we have. “It was after the security summit that the Governors’ Forum met across party lines, again I must add, in order to approve and to accept that, this is what was needed to be done to shore up our security architecture”, Osinbajo said.
However, a cross-section of Nigerians has reacted in favour and against the decision. For those who support the idea, it was seen as a way of serving the needed lifeline to curtail the excesses of the insurgents. Not only that, the fund would be used to address other germane security issues in the interest of the nation, as revealed by the Vice-President. On the other hand, critics believe that the approval of the fund was illegal, considering that the alleged process did not pass through the national assembly that is basically responsible for appropriation of public funds. It is against this back-drop that the argument that the proposed fund was not appropriated for, could be hinged on.
Other antagonists are of the opinion that the $1 billion allocation could be misappropriated, considering how similar funds were abused in the past while another strong argument points to the insinuation that it could be an avenue to mobilise resources for the forthcoming general elections in 2019.
This flows with the position of the Ekiti State Governor, Mr. Ayodele Fayose and other critics. Dissociating himself from the decision, Fayose stated that there was no agreement among the governors before the announcement was made, describing the approval as a “ploy to divert the money for political ends, demanding that Nigerians deserve proper explanations from the Federal Government on the rationale behind spending such huge sum of money to fight an already defeated Boko Haram”.
From the opposing views, there are few points that need adequate clarifications. First, why do we have contradictions in the statements issued by both Osinbajo and the Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, who were both present at the meeting, where the decision was said to have been taken? Obaseki had disclosed that the $1bn was approved for the fight against insurgency while the Vice-President said the money would be expended on a variety of security challenges facing the nation. Secondly, the government should give a clear plan of action and blueprint on how the fund would eventually be managed, considering past experiences that had negatively impacted the nation in terms of corruption and mismanagement of funds.
Thirdly, the proposal to withdraw the $1 billion from the ECA would mean leaving the account with a balance of $1.31 billion, going by the report of the Accountant-General of the Federation that the amount in the said account stands at $2.317 billion dollars. Is this the best way to expend our hard-earned resources at this time when many people are hungry amid other important commitments that are competing for our very limited financial resources?
Another question that demands an answer is that if truly Boko Haram has been ‘technically defeated’, as severally claimed by the government, why should the state governors still give approval for such funding at this critical time when the economy is lull? Could it be a misplaced priority, or the alleged defeat of insurgency in the country is a mere farce, as many people still strongly feel.Nigerians would also ask: what is the moral basis for such an intervention when in July 2014, the former administration of Goodluck Jonathan had proposed borrowing the same amount of $1 billion to fight the insurgency; leaders of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC), were quick to dismiss and kick against the proposal?
Despite the many unresolved questions, one is tempted to dismiss the idea with a wave of hand because investing in the Boko Haram insurgency without any sound, empirical, reliable and result-oriented strategies that did not work in the past, would still likely not work. This reasoning, in all honesty, is logical. However, hinging on a rigid and stereotype may really not be helpful, especially when concerted and genuine efforts are being made to learn from past mistakes, to move forward.
Therefore, no amount of money approved for such project may be considered as too much on matters touching the safety and welfare of the people that should form the primary concern of government in line with constitutional provisions. What the government should not compromise are transparency, accountability and financial discipline. One of the effective ways of achieving this is the monitoring of the funds by the National Assembly through the performance of oversight functions.
More importantly, the government should shun partisan politics in the award of contracts and other activities that are associated with funds administration. This is another litmus test for the Muhammadu Buhari administration’s avowed commitment to the fight against corruption. Security agencies should work collaboratively and desist from unnecessary rivalry while those behind the insurgency should have a change of heart. Defeating terrorism, insurgency and insecurity in the country remain a collective responsibility for all.