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Finance Minister, Governors in war of words over Excess Crude Account

By The Citizen
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Governors, yesterday, put aside the two-year feud that factionalised the Nigeria Governors Forum, NGF, and demanded an account of the estimated $20 billion they claimed accrued to the Excess Crude Account, ECA, while the NGF crisis lasted.

The demand which was directed at the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was immediately rebuffed by the minister, who asked the governors to seek clarification from their finance commissioners.

Reflective of their new unity, the governors by consensus, adopted Governor Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara State as the new chairman of the NGF to take over from Governor Rotimi Amaechi, who presided at the session. Governor Jonah Jang of Plateau State, who had claimed chairman of the other faction of the NGF, was absent at the meeting that was, however, attended by several members of his faction.

Rising from the meeting which commenced late on Monday and ended in the wee hours of yesterday, the governors urged the minister to explain the circumstances sorrounding the money that accrued to the ECA between June 2013 and April 2015.

Reading a communiqué at the end of the meeting which started 9 pm and ended 1am, the outgoing chairman, Governor Amaechi announced that Governor Yari was adopted as chairman of the body to serve for one year from May 2015 to May 2016.

The meeting which took place at the Lagos/ Osun Hall of Transcorp Hilton, Abuja, also approved the establishment of a Governors' Forum Academy to be tagged the NGF Leadership Academy that would be responsible for capacity building of governors and other officials holding public office and to be overseen by the secretariat of NGF.

According to the governors, there would be an induction course for new and returning governors in June, 2015 aimed at equipping them with knowledge of global best practices in the running of their offices.

The governors, who congratulated the President-Elect, Muhammadu Buhari on his election also hailed President Goodluck Jonathan for his statesmanship in accepting the outcome of the elections.

The communiqué read thus: 'We are hereby reconciled and reunited as a single umbrella association of the 36 state governors of Nigeria regardless of party or region.

'Forum congratulates the President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari on his victory in the recent presidential election which held on March 28, 2015 and President Goodluck Jonathan for his statesmanship in accepting the outcome of the elections.

'In light of the fact that funds in the Excess Crude were disbursed in May 2013, there is need for the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to provide explanation for accruals to this account from June 2013 to April 2015 which is estimated at over$20 billion.'

Responding, yesterday, through her special adviser Mr. Paul Nwabuikwu, the minister said that issues about the ECA was discussed at the monthly meetings of the Federation Account Allocation Committee, FAAC, attended by state commissioners of finance.

She said: 'It has come to our attention that governors under the aegis of the Nigeria Governors Forum have requested that the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance should account for an estimated $20 billion oil revenue from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) from June 2013 to April 2015. There is no basis for the demand and the stated amount.

'The statement by the governors is totally strange because FAAC meets every month, and the ECA is discussed at every session with all the state commissioners of finance present. Nothing is hidden. At these meetings, the Honourable Minister of State, who is the Chairman of FAAC, announces the balance in the ECA, which is then discussed. So, governors who want any information about the ECA, should ask for details from their commissioners who should have the records of what was discussed and agreed upon. Details of the ECA are also published every month along with the allocations to the three tiers of government.

'The reference to June 2013 in the statement is probably because the National Economic Council last met in May 2013. But this is immaterial because the FAAC meetings during which the ECA and similar issues are discussed have generally held regularly every month.