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NGF's Seeming Rebellion Against FG

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President Goodluck Jonathan must have been thinking seriously recently of how to tackle the seeming revolution by the Nigeria Governor's Forum (NGF). The group has not hidden its stand in saying that the Federal Government's management of a certain Federation Account is out of place. The group has opened the battle against the idea of the federal government's creation of the Sovereign Wealth Fund, SWF, said was hinged on saving excess money chiefly gained from crude oil sales.

Speaking of the underlying principle for the antagonism to the creation of the SWF, Governor Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State, who is also the chairman of the NGF, had said: “The rule of law eliminates completely the rule of man. Governors agree that the federal government should save but the law has to be respected. What the federal government has done is merely kidnapping of our money... Section 80 of the 1999 Constitution talks about consolidated revenue. The federal government should give states their money.”

This case between the NGF and FG many thought had been buried was tremendously exhumed, as NGF is not leaving anything to providence as it went many steps ahead of which one was filing a suit at the Supreme Court against the FG. The suit was to challenge the setting up of the SWF with $1 billion seed money taken from the Excess Crude Account, ECA. 27 of the Nigerian 36 state governors were asking the Supreme Court to stop the move by the federal government to withdraw $1bn from the ECA to kick-start the SWF. This is what the forum in the same vein did some three years ago. It had then asked the Supreme Court to stop the federal government from going ahead with the operation of the SWF. The amount in the ECA account by 2008 when the governors first approached the Supreme Court was N5.51trn. The governors reminded the FG that the withdrawal of $1bn as seed capital to launch the SWF was a subject matter of a two-year old litigation pending before the court. Through their attorneys-general, the state governors seek for a separate order directing the federal government to pay into the account of the chief registrar of the apex court all the outstanding sums to the credit of the ECA, pending determination of the suit.

But the Minister of Finance who is also the coordinating minister for the economy, Madam Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, had told journalists at a conference organised by The Economist that the federal government was kicking off implementation of the SWF as put-in-a-nutshell in the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority, NSIA Act, with the seed deposit of $1 billion to be taken from the ECA many Nigerians have regarded as controversial. Because many Nigerians see the account in this light, the FG seems is not getting the support it needed from the governors due to the glaring suit at the court. The National Assembly is not even supporting FG. The latter's anger perhaps was that the account was established without any constitutional backing, but this was after 'Emperor' Obasanjo's regime. The National assembly had queried the legality of the account.

Since setting the ECA in 2004 as a reservoir for the difference between the budget yardstick for crude oil sales and the actual proceeds from the international blemish market by Former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, the FG has not drink and rest cup in the hands of the governors. The governors had argued that the creation of the ECA contravened the provisions of section 162 of the Constitution, which states: “The Federation shall maintain a special account to be called the Federation Account into which shall be paid all revenues collected by the Government of the Federation… Any amount standing to the credit of the Federation Account must be distributed among the federal and state governments and the Local Government Councils on such term and manner prescribed by the National Assembly.”

But the government reportedly has been drawing funds from the ECA during the Obasanjo administration. The money that was drawn was said to have been channeled to special projects such as the $17mn for the two additional days of the 2006 National Population Census and $2.3bn for the National Independent Power Projects. This had infuriated the NGF and it saw the point as illegal, for revenues accruing to the Federation Account to be expended through any means other than sharing among the federal and 36 states, as well as the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, and the 774 local government councils.

NGF had frowned that the creation of the ECA is against the declaration of the Supreme Court in 2002, which stated that no presumption be made from the Federation Account by any arm of government without due regard to constitutional provision and directed the governors and the Presidency to settle the matter out of court. Hence, the court nullified the maintenance of any form of special fund, including the Stabilization Fund established by the previous military administrations for saving a fraction of Nigerian revenue for drizzling days. The governors had argued that the ECA is a violation of the order of Supreme Court.

Conversely, we hereby state that the NGF and FG should stop playing politics with the citizens of this country with all that rofo-rofo about an account. We say this because no country has survived when its people cannot speak with one affirmed voice. The governors' signified intention to stop arbitrary deductions from the Federation Account with their directives to their commissioners not to receive any allocation that is not in accordance with the 2011 Appropriation Act, could be termed a practice that might have led to anarchy. The poor masses are the people receiving the brunt. Such parastatals like the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, and the Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency, PPPRA, should dialogue with all the fraying nerves before they could deduct any dime whether as subsidy payment from the allocation from the Federation Account or from any such account in altercation. Walking out from any group or individual could amount to be an insult as was reported the state commissioners for finance walked out on Lawan Yerima Ngama, the Minister of State for Finance and chairman, Federal Accounts Allocation Committee on Tuesday 18 October.

Nigerians do not need further gridlock of any kind from the NGF and the FG. Revenue derived from the Petroleum Profit Tax, PPT, and royalties above the country's budgeted standard for each year should be kept sacrosanct. The NGF should consider the reports that the ECA also facilitated the payment of $12.4bn used to offset Nigeria's debt to the Paris Club, and states and local governments also received funds from the ECA to augment their monthly allocations from the Federation Account, especially when there was a shortfall, and stop giving President Jonathan avoidable headache.

Odimegwu Onwumere is the Coordinator, Concerned Non-Indigenes In Rivers State (CONIRIV). Mobile: +2348032552855 (or) +2348057778358. Email: [email protected]

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Articles by Odimegwu Onwumere