A billion dollars is a huge chunk of money and it is no surprise that the cavalier manner the Nigerian Governors Forum ‘authorised’ its spending from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) to combat insurgency in the North-East angered many Nigerians. The ruling All Progressives Party (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have diametrically opposed views on the issue. Among the governors themselves, a few dissenting voices are emerging. Among the generality of the population, many discordant voices are rising, questioning the rationale, the process and, ultimately, the grand plan for the money.
Already, some Nigerians are threatening to go to court to seek a judicial interpretation of the action of the Governors Forum and its legality. Sixteen local government chairmen in Ekiti State have also sued the Attorney General of the Federation and the 36 state governors on the constitutionality of the proposed expenditure. They are also seeking an order of injunction restraining the Federal Government and the state governors from giving effect to the approval of the $1 billion, unless and by means of statutory allocation by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC). Before the court rules on this case, we must remind Nigerians that our democracy is anchored on the rule of law and due process, which must always be the guide to reassure Nigerians that this is a government of laws, not of men. Our executive and legislative actions must always be based on known laws and regulations and must be seen to be so.
In this connection, therefore, the question must be asked: has the Governors Forum the right within the framework of our democracy to give this approval? Does it have the power to allocate roughly N365 billion as it pleases? The answer must be in the negative.
Section 59 (1) (a) of the Nigerian Constitution spells out how money must be appropriated and the processes for the handling of public funds. The authority is vested only in the National Assembly. Appropriation bills may come from the executive branch and, when in the considered judgment of the executive, the funds are not enough, it can propose a supplementary bill. But, it must be processed through the National Assembly. It is not for nothing that the constitution-makers prescribe that these issues go through the National Assembly where they will be scrutinized, vetted and debated, all to ensure that a decision to expend public money is made with a great deal of prudence and diligence.
The Excess Crude Account reportedly has only $2.3 billion. How the $1 billion is going to be spent is not stated. Will it be spread among the three regular arms of the Armed Forces: Army, Air Force and Navy? Will the Police get any part of it? The Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps and other paramilitary organs, will they get some support?
The Federal Government must understand that Nigerians support the fight against insurgency, and they support voting money for it, but there is no reason the funding request should be made outside the National Assembly. Indeed, some budget purists are wondering why the funding request was not captured in the 2018 Budget which was presented to the National Assembly about a fortnight ago.
The Chairman of the Governors Forum, and Zamfara State Governor, Abdul’aziz Abubakar Yari, has argued that this is not the first time such a request was made in the country, that a similar move was made during the preceding administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. He ignored the fact that in 2014, President Jonathan went through the National Assembly for the arms funds. Besides, the Jonathan administration’s $2.1 billion arms funds scandal and the other numerous scandals that have accompanied it are still too fresh in the memories of Nigerians to trust that the $1 billion under consideration would not meet the same fate.
We find it very curious that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has tried to soften the issue by saying that the money was not for the North-East alone and that other parts of the country would benefit. Our honest opinion is that the government should make a detailed proposal about its insurgency funding needs and educate Nigerians on the state of the war. Its claim that Boko Haram has been technically defeated has become controversial in the face of its recent resurgence. Let the government take its arms funding needs to the National Assembly for approval and enactment. A government that came to power on the mantra of anti-corruption should not be seen to be involved in anything that is not above board.