Strong indications emerged on Saturday that there would be stormy sessions during Tuesday’s proceedings at both chambers of the National Assembly over the decision by the Federal Government to withdraw $1bn from the Excess Crude Account, to fight insurgency.
Principal officers of the Senate and the House of Representatives, in separate interviews with SUNDAY PUNCH on Saturday, confirmed that the issue would be discussed at both chambers.
Senators and members of the House of Representatives, who spoke with our correspondents, vehemently, differed on the decision by the National Economic Council to withdraw $1bn from the ECA to fight Boko Haram.
While some members condemned both the amount and the procedure for withdrawing it, others expressed reservations about the legality of taking the money from the ECA without the approval of the National Assembly.
The Senate had on November 7, 2017, resolved that the ECA, which was created by the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2004, was illegal and should be abolished.
I will vote against it — Murray-Bruce
The Vice-Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Ben Murray-Bruce (Bayelsa-East), said he would raise the issue in the Senate on Tuesday.
Murray-Bruce stated that the amount was ridiculous, and stressed that he would vote against it.
He said, “I will totally vote against the $1bn from ECA to fight Boko Haram because it is ridiculous. We don’t need a billion dollars to fight Boko Haram. I will vote against it. And when we get to the Senate on Tuesday, I will raise it with my colleagues.”
It is executive reckless — Uroghide
Also, Senator Mathew Uroghide from Edo State described the planned withdrawal from ECA as “executive recklessness.” The lawmaker, who is the Secretary of the Southern Senators Forum, said such expenditures should be subjected to legislative approval.
He said, “It is extra-budgetary, which is not supposed to be. It is the duty of the National Assembly to approve the expenditure of the executive. And I still remember that we resolved that the ECA should be abrogated and that all funds should come from the Consolidated Revenue Fund. All these are tantamount to illegality.”
It is illogical — Iduma-Enwo
Some House of Representatives members pointedly opposed the decision, saying that it raised several questions begging for answers.
One of them, Mr. Igariwey Iduma-Enwo, questioned why the same government that claimed to have ‘technically’ defeated Boko Haram was planning to spend another $1bn to fight the group.
He said, “To set aside $1bn from the ECA is illogical going by the claim by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration that it had defeated Boko Haram.
“More importantly, nothing is said about how such mind-boggling sum is going to be spent. Are we being told the truth about the way the war is going, or do our armed forces badly need new weapons, systems and platforms to prosecute the war?
“Only the latter scenario can justify taking out a billion dollars from a near comatose economy to prosecute a war. The situation calls for a more robust engagement by the National Assembly, being the constitutional gatekeeper of the national treasury.”
Govs’ forum lacks power of appropriation – Sunday
Another lawmaker, Mr. Karimi Sunday, wondered whether the Federal Government would have to make two expenditure channels for the war against Boko Haram.
Sunday recalled that already, funding provisions had been made for counter-insurgency operations in the 2018 budget.
Apart from the budgetary provisions, he recalled that in 2017, appropriation was made for the Presidential Initiative on North-East.
He added, “In the 2018 budget, which is before the National Assembly, there are provisions for security operations.
“Are we going to have provisions in the budget and another separate $1bn that will not be appropriated by the National Assembly?
“The Governors’ Forum, which made this recommendation or approval, do they have any constitutional power to appropriate money?
“Another question is, all the money budgeted for security operations, has anybody explained how the government spent it?”
Military will determine how it will be spent — AGF
The Accountant-General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris, in an interview with journalists on Saturday in Abuja, said the balance in the Excess Crude Account, as of December 15, remained $2.317bn. He also put the balance in the Excess Petroleum Profit Tax account, at $133m.
When asked when the $1bn would be withdrawn from the ECA to fight Boko Haram, Idris said the instruction had been received and was being processed.
He said, “The instruction has been given. But there is a process before money is taken out of an account. So, unless that withdrawal is made, the balance remains the same.
“On what the money will be used for, the appropriate institution will have to give you that, namely the military, who are the ones that will utilise the money, and they know their needs.
“On why the money is being taken from the ECA, everyone should know that it is a savings account and ordinarily should have been distributed to the three tiers of government.
“So, if the same owners decide that part of it should be utilised to secure the country, to secure the system, to make the system work and provide security for life and property, I don’t think it should be an issue.
“If the governor of Ekiti State has a problem with that, he should have made his position known to his forum, which is the Governors Forum.
“His dissension should not come to me on the pages of newspapers. He is entitled to whatever, but it should be directed to the appropriate place.”
N’West, N’Central need special funds too, Sani tells Buhari
The lawmaker representing Kaduna Central Senatorial District, Senator Shehu Sani, also said the $1bn anti-terrorism fund had shown that the Federal Government had not “technically” defeated Boko Haram as it had claimed.
Through his Twitter handle on Friday, Sani said, “One billion dollars to fight Boko Haram as approved by the Federal Government officially means the insurgents have yet to be technically defeated.”
Fayose, other critics, loudmouthed, irresponsible — Ndume
But the Senate North-East caucus has condemned critics of the ECA funds withdrawal and described them as a group of people making irresponsible comments on the issue.
They said the geopolitical zone needed more than $1bn for its rehabilitation, stressing that the withdrawal from ECA could only be condemned where it was not approved by the constituted authorities.
A former Majority Leader, Senator Ali Ndume (Borno-South), who spoke on behalf of his colleagues, particularly condemned Fayose for linking the fund to Buhari’s presidential campaign in 2019.
Ndume said, “I heard about it and I am surprised and disappointed; the response by some of the individuals that are opposing this timely and commendable decision by NEC to set aside $1bn from the ECA to finance the war against insurgents in the North-East.
“I am very disappointed because we are not taking the money to develop Borno or other states, this is money meant for fighting Boko Haram, which is a security issue.”