The New Independence Group (NIG) views the reported resolve of the Federal Government to share about $320 million returned Abacha loot among a so-called poorest of the Nigerian poor, in some 19 states of the federation, as a most egregious assault on the Nigerian constitution that must be halted immediately.
More worrisome is the disposition of President Muhammadu Buhari to treat national patrimony as a family estate which he, as the putative head, can dispense with as he wishes.
This instance of sharing of retrieved Abacha loot will not be the first, indeed it is the third of such unilateral disbursement of Nigeria’s income outside of constitutionally-laid down procedures.
We recall the brazen withdrawal of $1 billion from the Excess Crude account, purportedly to fight insurgency in the North East in 2017, without the input of the National Assembly. Also, the decision to withdraw from the Federation Account the sum of $496 million to pay for some Super Tucano jets from the United States of America without first seeking legislative approval was in clear breach of the laws of the land.
Ordinarily, in a clime where strong institutions are the fulcrum of state administration, and public affairs are not subjected to the whims and caprices of the strong man, President Buhari should by now be a subject of impeachment by a National Assembly alive to its duty to God and country. Yet, the present outlet through which the president has launched his now familiar distemper against the laws of the land is bereft of clear thinking in the execution.The point is, the government has displayed an unfathomable lack of clue about how to treat public funds, especially in a season of economic dire straits in which every income – whether earned or not – ought to be put to prudent use.
For one, it beggars belief that a government that has reportedly obtained foreign loans to the tune of N11 trillion in the last three and a half years, and is seeking yet another $2 billion credit facility will treat so casually an unearned windfall of $320 million. If prudently utilized, will the $320 million not take a huge chunk away from the fresh loan that the country is seeking? So, how come a government that is seeking fresh loans on one hand is planning to fritter away such a windfall with another hand?
Besides, the Buhari administration seems to lack quality legal advice on the provision of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) on the implication of selecting the so-called poorest of the poor in 19 states while leaving out people in that category in the remaining 17 states.
Section 42 of the constitution states:
(1) A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person:-
(a) be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions are not made subject; or
(b) be accorded either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any such executive or administrative action, any privilege or advantage that is not accorded to citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions.
In other words, it is against the fundamental rights of other citizens for the Federal Government (a) “either expressly or by practical implication … (take) any executive action … to which the citizens of Nigeria of other communities … are not made subject,” or (b) “any privilege or advantage that is not accorded to citizens of other communities …”
Not only that, Section 80 of the constitution provides that any income – whether earned or not – that comes into government, must first be paid into the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the federation, and thereafter appropriated by the National Assembly.
(1) All revenues or other moneys raised or received by the Federation (not being revenues or other moneys payable under this Constitution or any Act of the National Assembly into any other public fund of the Federation established for a specific purpose) shall be paid into and form one Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation.
(2) No moneys shall be withdrawn from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation except to meet expenditure that is charged upon the fund by this Constitution or where the issue of those moneys has been authorised by an Appropriation Act, Supplementary Appropriation Act or an Act passed in pursuance of section 81 of this Constitution.
(3) No moneys shall be withdrawn from any public fund of the Federation, other than the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation, unless the issue of those moneys has been authorised by an Act of the National Assembly. (4) No moneys shall be withdrawn from the Consolidated Revenue Fund or any other public fund of the Federation, except in the manner prescribed by the National Assembly.
It is therefore great wonder that in spite of these express provisions, the federal executive is treating the Abacha loot so casually as if the National Assembly is an outsider in the disbursement of public funds, and that the states as well as local governments have no say in what happens to the money, which ordinarily belonged to all parts of the country before it was looted by the late military ruler, General Sani Abacha.
We at the NIG are particularly worried that the federal executive does not seem to have a clue about what to do with money, hence the decision to share – simply share – among the people, a simplistic approach to fighting poverty.
As provided for by the Constitution, a special Appropriation Bill on the disbursement of the returned loot could have been sent to the National Assembly to meet specific national needs, like the construction of a world class cancer treatment facility, or anything of the sort, to meet the needs of all Nigerians and the global community at large. It could be channeled towards meeting a specific national electricity or water need, or any other problem that is facing all citizens, instead of mere sharing among a select number of Nigerians in some states.
We wonder at the criteria for identifying the so-called poorest of the poor and could not but fear that much of the money would be buried in the labyrinthine process of bureaucracy and eventually into private pockets, as Nigeria inches towards a general election in 2019. Who, really, are the poorest of the poor Nigerians, in a nation where the middle class has been all but wiped out?
During the recent botched attempt at recalling Senator Dino Melaye of Kogi State, the purported signed petition that triggered the exercise was found to be riddled with fictitious names, a discovery that largely questioned the integrity of the entire exercise. How are Nigerians to therefore determine the reliability of the record of the Federal Government on the so-called poorest of the poor?
A social security scheme, as is practiced in some other climes, is not a knee-jerk money-sharing, one-off exercise but a well-thought out programme by which citizens subscribe to a revolving-door tax system that guarantees specific rights to subscribers, such as education loans for their children, free health for family and payments to the unemployed, the elderly and the infirm.
Pray, what happens when the sharing of the Abacha loot is exhausted? From where will the next money to be shared come? What happens to those that will be left out of the current largesse? Why discriminate against some citizens?If the government has no clue about what to do with unearned income, it can institute a loan scheme reminiscent of the defunct Peoples Bank, which has lifted Malaysia from the league of poor nations, by making credit facilities available to small-scale entrepreneurs, bypassing the usurious and cut-throat lending rates of regular banks.
The Buhari administration can also facilitate the setting up of training centres for fresh graduates and the army of job seekers across the country.The plan to share is fraught with inherent fraud, and we urge the National Assembly to act its constitutionally-assigned role as the custodian of Nigeria law
*for NIG by Akinyemi Onigbinde