The Sun News

Needless row over utilisation of recovered loot

The brewing controversy over the handling of recovered loot, between the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and the National Assembly, should be avoided in the overall national interest. This is more so at a time of dire economic straits when all hands are required on deck to ensure speedy and sustainable economic recovery for the country.
The controversy is over the proper place to keep the money, whether it should be in a dedicated account and for how long? Or, whether the money should have been shared amongst the three tiers of government as stipulated in the constitution, especially at this time that there is so much economic hardship in the country. The National Assembly favours the latter option. But, given our recent history of mindless re-looting of recovered loot, many in the polity are wary and would prefer a more cautious approach to the deployment of the recovered funds.
There is also the question of how much has been recovered. In a measured response to several calls on the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to disclose all the funds that have been recovered so far, Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information, said that N78 billion and $3 million, plus yet another $9bn that is still a subject of litigation, have been recovered. Add these amounts to the $723 million that has become known as the Abacha loot which has been returned in the past ten years by the Swiss government out of the total sum of N3.2 trillion allegedly looted by that government, with $5bn of the sum already established by the courts, and the picture of the mindless looting of the country becomes clearer.
At the end of the day, however, the funds must be deployed to serve the people and be seen to have been well utilised and managed. This is the acid-test for integrity and proper management of public funds everywhere in the world. Many a keen observer would readily testify that on that score, we have failed again and again as a nation.
It is in this regard that calls have been made in several quarters for the recovered loot to be used to execute specific projects that would demonstrate to all Nigerians that stolen public funds will be recovered and put to public use.  The projects will also be an everlasting testament to future generations that they were built with funds recovered from particular thieving public officials. This sentiment has been popular, much as it has been controversial.
Again,the idea of having legacy savings for the proverbial rainy day and, indeed, the future generations is not new. It led to the creation in the past of funds such as the Excess Crude Account (ECA) and the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF).
But, these special funds have not been without controversies, mostly on account of the absence of a proper legal framework for them. This should naturally lead us to the question of if, indeed, there was ever a consensus on the matter of saving for the rainy day and the political will to bring it to reality. If there is a general understanding that the nation needs to spend with discipline, and save for future generations, why has it been very difficult for successive federal executives and the federal legislatures to initiate and pass a law to that effect?
If this legal lacuna had been taken care of before now, the present controversy would have, perhaps, been avoided. As it is, the placing of funds and revenues in dedicated accounts, no matter how good the intentions may be, does not enjoy the express protection of the 1999 Constitution( as amended) and gives room for all kinds of sinister motives to be imputed whenever this is attempted. Recall the controversies between the Governors Forum and the Olusegun Obasanjo government, and later, the Goodluck Jonathan administration, on the creation of the ECA and SWF, and later, what to do with the monies in the dedicated accounts.
Section 162 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) provides inter alia: The Federation shall maintain a special account which shall be called “the Federation Account” into which shall be paid all revenues collected by the Government of the Federation ….It goes on to add in (3): Any amount standing to the credit of the Federation Account shall be distributed among the Federal and State Governments and the Local Government Councils in each State on such terms and in such manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly.
Perhaps, the latter provision is very important in bringing this brewing controversy to an end. The National Assembly has a very important constitutional role to play in the appropriation of funds in the country, and all agencies that do so may just be acting on its behalf, and must therefore get its express permission to so act.
We believe that committing the recovered funds to specific landmark projects that can be of great value to the people will greatly boost the anti-corruption war. However, whatever innovation we want in the deployment of the funds must be routed through the National Assembly to empower it with the instrumentality of law.


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