BY KUNLE OLASANMI, Abuja; ABDULLAHI Olesin, Ilorin; EMMANUEL MGBEAHURIKE, Owerri; HEMBADOON
ORSAR, Makurdi; BERNARD TOLANI DADA, Uyo; HARUNA MOHAMMED, Bauchi; and ANAYO ONUKWUGHA, Port Harcourt
Legal and security experts as well as other stakeholders have expressed divergent views on the decision of state governors to approve the use of certain portions of shares in the Excess Crude Account (ECA), Natural Resource Development Fund and the Economic Stabilisation Fund (ESF) for the purchase of arms and other equipment for the military and other security agencies involved in internal security operations.
Some of the senior lawyers, security experts and stakeholders who spoke to LEADERSHIP on the development pointed out the aberration, saying all the three tiers of government must agree before any money can be withdrawn from ECA, while others threw their weight behind the decision, describing it as expedient at the moment.
The prominent lawyers opposed to the move said that the federal government cannot take money from the Excess Crude Account without approval from the 36 state governors and the third tier of government.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Ahmed Raji, said there has to be an agreement among all the tiers of government.
He, however, said since it is in a case of an emergency the federal government can take out its own share of the money only.
He wondered why the federal government which owns 52 per cent of the ECA cannot utilize its own funds before asking other tiers of government to release theirs.
The learned silk said, ”The federal government can’t spend money from the Excess Crude Account without approval by the state governments and all the local government councils in the country.
”But since it is in an emergency situation, the federal government has 52 per cent share of the money, so they can spend from their own 52 per cent.
”Taking out of its 52 per cent should be after taking out the 13 per cent derivation that they can spend from the money depending on the revenue allocation formula agreed upon”.
Another senior lawyer, Abdul Balogun, aligned with the submission of Raji, saying the federal government cannot unilaterally take money from the ECA without the consent of other stakeholders.
Balogun said the federal government must consult the other tiers of government before money can be pulled out of the account.
”Don’t forget that the ECA has been a subject of litigation at the Supreme Court. The account is jointly owned and one tier of government must consult and seek the consent of others before money can be pulled out,” he argued.
For her part, a Lagos-based lawyer, Barrister Ngozi Njoku, said the federal government cannot afford to breach the law by withdrawing money from the said account.
”The federal government knows the implications of pulling money out of the accounts without the knowledge of other tiers of government. I’m sure the federal government will not do that because it has grave implications,” Njoku said.
On their parts, some security experts berated state governors for working in concert with the federal government without due consultation with the local government councils in the country, even as they contended that such action without the state assemblies’ approval was abnormal.
The Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF), through its chairman, Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, had announced the governors’ decision saying: “On our part, we are prepared to support the dedication of portions of the Excess Crude Account, the Natural Resource Development Fund, and the Economic Stabilisation Fund to providing the necessary equipment for the military and other security institutions to address immediately the impunity associated with all of the crimes and criminality that we have highlighted in this briefing.”
A security expert with Universal Security Control Limited, Okon Eyo, said the release of such a large sum could raise concerns over the unwholesome attitude of officials to fleece the fund.
He explained that ceding such money by the state governors could encourage corruption, which is a problem in the country.
“My fear is that if such money is ceded to fight the insurgency, by the state governors when some of them are like lost soul seeking for financial salvation, we shall be encouraging corruption which is perhaps the biggest challenge to Nigeria’s development,” Eyo said.
According to him, since the beginning of the fight against Boko Haram insurgents, billions of naira have been voted and spent but troops have been underpaid, and under supplied with weapons, while vehicles and other basic equipment have often been lacking.
A counter-terrorism expert in Bauchi, Naziru Ibrahim, said the decision of the state governors in the past to part with a certain portion of their savings in ECA for the purchase of arms to confront Nigeria’s security challenges did not give the desired outcome.
Ibrahim told LEADERSHIP that in view of the worsening security challenges in the country, the governor’s decision has not produced results at the moment.
“In reality, we are yet to see the impact of their decision, because the security challenges in Nigeria are not getting better and the security agencies are still complaining about obsolete weapons,”
The security consultant who worked with counter-terrorism village domiciled at the Nigeria Defence Academy Kaduna said more proactive measures such as intelligence gathering, training and retraining of security personnel on modern combat operations needs to be intensified in order to confront the evolving security challenges in the country.
Also, a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Bauchi, Yakubu Salahuddin, advised state governors to intensify efforts on local policing to address the security challenges in their states.
“Rather than ceding a substantial amount of their excess crude money for arms purchase which effect we are yet to see, I think governors can do better when they make personal efforts around community policing, engagement of traditional rulers and local intelligence gathering,” he said.
Also, a financial expert, Eugene Abels, said it would amount to illegality for state governments to cede their own share of the excess crude account to the federal government to purchase arms without approval from their respective Houses of Assembly.
Speaking with our correspondent in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Abels said the state Houses of Assembly must sit to pass a resolution that will give powers to their respective governors to cede their own share of the account to the federal government.
He argued: “They are governors because they are employees of the people. So, their position is being held in trust for the people and if they want to forfeit that which is accruable to the people, the most important thing is that they must go to their State Houses of Assembly.
“The Assembly must sit and pass a resolution authorising the governor to cede whatever that is due the people to the federal government.
“Don’t forget that the excess crude account is an illegal account because all proceeds whether above the benchmark or not, by the law or Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, must go into the main account and not an illegal account.
“We know the legal issues concerning the excess crude account. That one is an illegality and if governors wake up and say they are going to do without their Houses of Assembly, it is an illegal action”.
But those in support of the decision by state governments to cede their share of the excess crude for purchase of arms described it as a welcome development against the backdrop of the level of insecurity prevalent in the country.
According to the programme director, Development Dynamics, Dr Jude Ohanele, the issue is not about the provision of funds for the purpose; rather, it is whether the funds will be judiciously applied.
Ohanale stressed that several funds had been made available in the past for the same purpose which did not see the light of the day.
He called on the federal government to apply the funds judiciously for maximum results.
Also reacting, a security expert, Chief Harold Onumo, noted that the time has come for the nation to define its roadmap in tackling insecurity.
Onumo observed that wars are won with tactics, even as he stated that troops can have the best arms and ammunition in the world and if not properly utilised, they might be embarking on an endless journey.
He advised the federal government to look inwards and find out if there are moles sabotaging efforts in ending insecurity in the country.
Onumo stated that all the efforts of the federal and the state governments seem not to have any positive impact, just as he called for a change of strategy.
Also, an APC chieftain in Benue State, Terhemba Gbaa, said the previous decision did not yield any positive result, as the insecurity in the country is getting worse every day.
He said, “If it is true that the governors have conceded their share of the excess crude account to the fight against insecurity in the country, it is a plus but they need to do more because as it is, I can authoritatively tell you that these governors are part of the insecurity we are facing in the country today.
“This is because the insecurity in the country is 50 per cent political, and in some instances, some governors need to be held responsible for insecurity in their domains.
“But by and large I want to commend President Muhammadu Buhari for the recent proactive measures he took in the fight against insecurity through the provision of sophisticated weapons to the Nigerian Army which they openly acknowledge.”
Meanwhile, a professor of political science in the University of Ilorin, Prof Hassan Salihu, a labour activist, Comrade AbdulKareem Onagun and a peace, security expert, Dr Jimoh Ahmed, lauded the state governors for offering their states’ share of the excess crude account for the purchase of arms.
The trio during separate interviews with LEADERSHIP in Ilorin, Kwara State, described the governors’ action as statesmanlike and very germane to the fight against insurgency and banditry in the country.
Prof Salihu said, “This is commendable as it will go a long way in changing the perception about them (the governors). I will urge them to do two more things; they should stop making inflammatory speeches on insecurity and they should invest more on conversation and dialogue in addressing issues that have been thrown up by the recent shape of the country.
“I strongly feel that the solution to banditry and herders-farmers conflicts lies more in politics/governance than the military option.
The two paths can be pursued together.”
Also speaking, Comrade Onagun, former chairman of Inter- party Advisory Council (IPAC), said, “The action and contribution of the State Chief Executives towards improvement in the nation’s security networking by ceding their own share of excess crude share to purchase arms is a welcome development.
“State governors should not stop at this as collaborations among themselves in close monitoring of their borders to check the activities of various criminals to curb the multiple criminalities
should equally be given adequate and appropriate attention. Governors should be magnanimous to religiously spend their security votes for the purposes meant.
“The federal government should equally endeavour to reach out to a number of other stakeholders in the country in this direction; traditional rulers, religious leaders, students’ union governments in the institutions of higher learning, trade unions, etc. And even periodic jaw jaw with rank and file members of the security agencies will help significantly too; it makes them have a sense of belonging and useful information would be obtained directly from this kind of meetings. Neighbouring countries that share borders with Nigeria should not be left out in checkmating the criminals in the four corners of the country.”
For his part, Dr Ahmed, a chief lecturer at Kwara State College of Education, Ilorin, said, “The decision of the state governors is highly commendable and could be best described as demonstration of patriotism of the highest level.
“This is happening for the first time since the return of democratic government in 1999 and it has come at a time when the country is having fresh air in the military sector.
“The governors’ gesture will no doubt go a long way to serve as morale booster to our dedicated officers. It’s my advice that other stakeholders such as members of the National Assembly, ministers and other well-meaning Nigerians should follow suit in the spirit of these noble steps taken by our dear governors.”
Count Me Out Of The Plan – Wike
But Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, said he was not in support of the NGF’s endorsement of federal government’s
fresh withdrawal from ECA even as he threatened to sue his colleagues over their decision.
In a statement signed by his special assistant on media, Kelvin Ebiri, Governor Wike wondered what happened to the $1billion withdrawn from ECA in 2017 to purchase arms to fight insurgents.