The Leader of the House of Representatives, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, said on Sunday that the National Assembly had no legal authority to query state governments on how they chose to spend their money.
Gbajabiamila, a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress from Lagos State, stated that the authority to query the expenditure of states resided in the state Houses of Assembly.
He also noted that so long as the legality or otherwise of the controversial Excess Crude Account had yet to be decided by the courts, the ECA would remain in operation as a property of the three tiers of government.
Gbajabiamila, a lawyer, argued that if state governors, being co-owners of the ECA, decided that their share should be used to prosecute the war against Boko Haram, it was not within the powers of the National Assembly to question them.
He was reacting to the decision of the National Economic Council to withdraw $1bn from the ECA to fund the war against Boko Haram.
Gbajabiamila explained that the power of the National Assembly to appropriate funds was relevant so long as the money in question belonged to the Federal Government, not when it involved other tiers of government that chose to spend their own money.
This was contained in an electronic mail to The PUNCH in response to enquiries by the newspaper on the $1bn fund appropriated by the states and the Federal Government for the fight against insurgency in the North-East.
The Reps Majority Leader stated, “It is important that the legality of the withdrawal of $1bn from the ECA is properly understood.
“The ECA, I have always maintained, is an illegal account and I instituted a court action against it during (President Goodluck) Jonathan’s administration.
“Unfortunately, until a final decision has been made by the courts, the account is still operative.
“There is a clear misunderstanding of the powers of the National Assembly over public funds and the limitations.
“The National Assembly only has power of appropriation over funds belonging to the Federal Government. The ECA does not belong to the Federal Government but to the three tiers of government.
“The National Assembly cannot query how the states decide to spend their money. The only institution that can query this is the state assembly.
“Where the governors have decided to ‘donate’ some of their funds from the ECA to fight Boko Haram, their state assemblies can kick against it that such was not appropriated by them. I do agree that due process wasn’t followed by the governors, as they should have sought the approval of their state assemblies before the donation.
“It is, however, not for the National Assembly to complain on behalf of the state assemblies. This is part of the principle of separation of powers in a constitutional democracy. The National Assembly can only discuss the portion of the Federal Government’s money spent, if any.”
The House leader also backed the Governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose, and any other governor, who opposed the $1bn withdrawal on the grounds that he would not allow his state’s portion to be deducted.
He added, “On whether governor Fayose or any other governor has a right to kick, I believe he does. No matter how inappropriate, if he does not accede to the request or deduction from his state’s portion, there is no amount of consensus that can bind him as postulated by the Chairman of the Governors’ Forum.
“This is because such a portion belongs to his state and not to the governors’ forum. So he may be entitled to a refund.
“This is my position on the legality of the withdrawal of $1bn from the ECA.”
Meanwhile, the member representing Madagali/Michika Federal Constituency of Adamawa State, Mr. Adamu Kamale, said on Sunday that the decision of the governors had vindicated his strident calls that Boko Haram was still very active in the North-East.
Madagali shares common boundaries with Sambisa Forest, the operational headquarters of Boko Haram insurgents.
The town has suffered frequent attacks by the insurgents, resulting in loss of lives, raping of women, kidnapping of children and burning of buildings.
He stated, “The approval of $1bn by NEC to fight insurgents in the North-East has vindicated my several calls and cries to the Federal Government and the general public on the existence of insurgents in Borno, Adamawa and parts of Yobe states, contrary to the propaganda by the military.
“I have raised concerns on the reports given to Mr. President by the Armed Forces, claiming that the insurgents have been decimated. The truth on the ground shows powerful insurgents killing, maiming our people and burning villages serially, day-by-day in the Madagali Local Government Area.
“The situation requires the military to step up their campaigns. All Nigerians, irrespective of their locations, need to support intensive measures against the insurgents. It must also be stressed that the Nigerian Army must change its present docile defensive approach to offensive tactics if the war is to be won.
“I call on Mr. President to ensure that the required peace is achieved with the present resources at his hand. As for the doubting Thomases, who claim that the approved $1bn is for other uses in disguise, l call on such Nigerians to show patriotism and pray for the region in addition to the money approved for the security operations.”
FG stealing $1bn to fund political programmes –PDP
But the Peoples Democratic Party alleged that the Federal Government was attempting to divert attention from its move to pilfer $1bn from the ECA to finance partisan activities.
The main opposition party insisted that the Federal Government must tell Nigerians what it wanted to do with the huge sum.
PDP National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, stated these in a statement in Abuja on Sunday.
It said there was no iota of truth in the claim by the Federal Government that the money would be used to fight insurgency.
The PDP, which insisted that the Federal Government must address the issue, noted that “the attempt by the APC Federal Government to divert attention from the fraud, by resorting to unsubstantiated allegations against the PDP only reinforces its manipulative tendencies and arrogant spurn to the sensibilities of Nigerians.”
He also challenged the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, to substantiate his claims that the PDP was rebranding with stolen money.
Ologbondiyan said, “Such wild allegation (by Mohammed) was only intended to divert public attention from the heavy sleaze under the current administration, the latest being the moves to use the fight against terrorism as a conduit to siphon public funds for partisan purposes.
“The Federal Government has failed to address issues raised by the PDP and majority of Nigerians, including the APC members who cannot fathom how this administration would want to expend N365bn on fighting insurgents it claimed had been technically defeated.
“It is indeed appalling that rather than being remorseful, the APC Federal Government has renewed its wild allegations and cheap blackmail against the PDP.
“While we understand the nervousness of the APC Federal Government over our rebranding and the renewed popularity of the PDP, which has signalled their inevitable death knell, resorting to outlandish allegations will not help them as Nigerians have since seen through such old-fashioned propaganda and gimmicks.
“While we challenge this government to come clean on the issue of the $1bn Excess Crude money, we also challenge the minister of information to comment on allegations that the APC funded its 2015 presidential campaign with stolen public funds, particularly from Lagos and Rivers states.”
Avoid Jonathan’s error, SERAP tells Buhari
In the same vein, a human rights advocacy group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, called on President Muhammadu Buhari to be careful not to fall into the same error as his predecessor, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, regarding the funding and management of information on the Boko Haram insurgency.
The group’s advice came on the heels of the approval of $1bn for the anti-terrorism war by the National Economic Council.
In a statement on Sunday by its Deputy Director, Timothy Adewale, SERAP urged Buhari to urgently explain to Nigerians the rationale behind such an allocation when the government itself had consistently claimed that the Boko Haram insurgents had been defeated.
The statement read in part, “Nigerians should have some sense of what the government is doing in our name, especially against the background of the declaration by the authorities that the anti-insurgency war has ended and the Boko Haram terror group defeated as well as the unresolved questions of how over $2bn was spent by the former Jonathan administration to fight Boko Haram. The government also ought to tell Nigerians whether and how the legal requirements for approving the extra-budgetary allocations were met.
“As a government presumably pursuing a change-agenda, Buhari should do things differently from the Jonathan administration, including by proactively engaging the Nigerian people in an honest conversation about the fight against Boko Haram and the use of the public funds so far invested to prosecute it.
“Buhari should keep Nigerians up-to-date about what he’s doing to end Boko Haram, including by explaining why $1bn is needed at this time to fight the insurgency.
“Transparency in the spending on Boko Haram would also have an indirect effect on other branches in the sense of setting an example and changing the background tone of the government.”
It added, “For instance, in 2014 about N340bn ($1.7bn) was allocated to the military. Funds allocated to the military were the largest in Nigeria’s federal budget in 2014.
“In October 2014, the National Assembly approved a request to borrow $1bn as an additional amount for purchase of military equipment. In 2015, about N375bn ($1.8bn) was allocated to the military in the federal budget.
“In 2015, an interim report of the presidential investigations committee on arms procurement under the Jonathan administration revealed an extra-budgetary spending to the tune of N643.8bn and an additional spending of about $2.1bn under the Jonathan administration.
“The investigation indicated that about $2.1bn was inexplicably disbursed into the office of the National Security Adviser in procurement of arms to fight Boko Haram insurgency, but was not spent for the purpose for which the money was disbursed.”
Don’t divert fund, Ilorin NBA chairmen tell Buhari
Also, the Chairman, NBA, Ilorin Branch, Mr. Manzuma Issa, and his predecessors, Chief Rafiu Balogun and Salman Jawando, have urged Buhari not to divert the $1bn Boko Haram Fund to 2019 electioneering campaign.
Stating that they had confidence in Buhari, they urged the President to ensure that his aides and associates did not use the fund for other purposes.
They spoke on the sidelines of the branch’s annual Bar dinner on Saturday in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital.
Balogun and Issa said Buhari must ensure transparency in the use of the fund, advising the President to ensure that the money was approved by the National Assembly.
Jawondo stated that since Nigeria had not totally defeated Boko Haram, it was imperative to still upgrade the nation’s military architecture.
He said, “The money must not be meant for 2019 elections. It should be spent for the purpose which they told us. It will have a multiplier effect on the security of the country.”
Issa cautioned that the money must not be diverted to political activities.
He said, “I am surprised that $1bn is allocated to the same insurgency that we were told has been decimated. However, there is nothing wrong in upgrading a country’s military standing to defend the territorial integrity of a country, but I think the right people must be put in the right places.
“If the money will be appropriately utilised to upgrade the country’s military, it is okay. The country needs huge finance for infrastructure upgrade, but unfortunately, we found ourselves in this situation because in the past, the country’s army was not adequately taken care off.
“Money allocated to the military was diverted for political purposes. I hope it will not repeat itself again. Buhari must ensure transparency and the money must not be diverted.”
The Chief Judge of Kwara State, Justice Sulyman Kawu, who was represented by one of the judges in the state, Justice Adenike Akinpelu, said all was not well with the judiciary.
He stated that there had, in recent times, been a decline in standard, etiquette and character in the legal profession, which he noted, had been giving members of both the Bar and the Bench a bad image.
He stated that in the same vein, members of the bench in judgement, should desist from using uncouth and indecorous language against members of the Bar appearing in proceedings before them.
Kawu said, “By this, I must not be misunderstood to say that judge cannot, when appropriate and in a decent language, deprecate and admonish a counsel who conducts himself in a manner unbecoming of a member of the noble profession.
“In correcting one another, members of both the Bar and bench must bear in mind the larger image of the legal profession and the indelible negative impressions which unguarded comments may have on members of the general public.”
Wike demands special fund for N’Delta
In another dimension, the Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, has declared that the Federal Government must, as a matter of urgency, release funds for tackling issues of environmental degradation and security in the Niger Delta.
Wike said while he would not condemn the release of $1bn to tackle Boko Haram, the environmental and security challenges in the Niger Delta far outweighed the Boko Haram conflict.
The governor spoke during the Annual General Meeting of Okpo Club of Nigeria (Association of Ikwerre Lawyers) on Saturday in Port Harcourt.
He urged the All Progressives Congress-led Federal Government to release the derivation component of the Excess Crude Account to the oil-producing states of the Niger Delta.
The governor stated, “The Niger Delta environmental problems are as serious as the Boko Haram insurgency. I am not saying that you should not fight Boko Haram.
“If you can get funds from the national pool to tackle Boko Haram, then you should go to the pool to get funds to fight environmental problems in Ogoni and other Niger Delta communities.”
Speaking on politics in Rivers State, the governor urged all ethnic nationalities to work together to fast-track development in the state.
A former NBA President, Chief Onueze Okocha (SAN), commended Wike for his commitment to the development of the state.
Also, the Chairman of Okpo Club of Nigeria, Mr. Chukwuma Chinwo, said the club would continue to mobilise Ikwerre lawyers for the development of the area.