Withdrawal from the Excess Crude Account and the tale of many “$1billions”

Buhari in Sambisa
By Lakinbofa Goodluck
Many may disagree on the achievements of the current administration; and in actual fact some may choose to unsee anything positive in the Buhari-led APC government. But it is difficult to dispute the evident success in the fight against the Boko-Haram insurgents in the north eastern part of the country. That we have made progress is undeniable; but that we have won the war is highly contestable. The word “technical” was introduced into our national lexicon in an unfamiliar style in late 2015 when the President confidently declared on BBC that the insurgents in the north east have been technically defeated. That expression would probably go down in history as one of the most ambiguous expression from this government to the Nigerian people. It was perhaps politically correct at the time but certainly unrepresentative of the true situation. The assertion by the President can be likened to the story of the teenage girl that went to her mum and says “Mum, I think I’m a little bit pregnant.” With shock written all over the mother looked at her daughter and responded “Hey! You are either pregnant or not; there is no such thing as a little bit pregnant.” And of course the visibility or size of a pregnancy does not necessarily determine its authenticity. In the same manner a war is either won or not. Maybe in the military, wars can be technically won; but generally wars are won when there are no more battles to fight. You cannot claim to have won a war when the enemy still attacks every so often.
Now contrary to the declaration by the President, the suicide bombings, kidnappings and killings by the insurgents have not been exterminated. Manifestly, they no longer launch brazen attacks that led to seizing of territories in the past, but they surely still attack and maim innocent lives. Even the President alluded that the new strategy of the insurgents is to attack soft spots using guerrilla style, which is a recognised tactic in war. If the guerrilla style is a known strategy in warfare then it means the insurgents have only adopted a new strategy in the ongoing war. In the month of December alone scores of people have been killed and many injured in suicide bomb attacks from the insurgents. To that extent, the declaration by the government that the war is over is somewhat discourteous to the Nigerian people who can feel and see the continued existence of the insurgents. Besides, how do we admit that the war is over when the army chief issued a deadline for Abubakar Shekau to be captured after the declaration of victory yet the man has remained a most wanted terrorist?
The inconsistencies of the government was brought to the fore last week at the National Economic Council (NEC) meeting presided over by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osibanjo. The meeting approved a withdrawal of $1billion (about $305billion at CBN exchange rate) to fight the Boko Haram insurgents. According to the Governor of Edo State, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, the governors approved the withdrawal of $1billion from the ECA as their contribution to the fight against the insurgency. Historically, the Excess Crude Account was instituted under the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo as a savings mechanism for the nation. Excess oil incomes above budget estimates are saved in this account to fund future capital expenditure and augment budget deficits. It is often referred to as the nation’s savings for rainy days. However, over the years the essence of this account has been defeated as different administrations withdraw from the account for reasons that do not directly align with the initial purpose for its creation.
There are probably only two possibilities from the latest decision by the federal government to withdraw $1billion from the account: the first will be that the Boko Haram war is still ongoing and the government has indirectly acknowledged that reality. The second could be that the federal and state governments have decided to draw money from the excess crude account under the guise of Boko Haram insurgency. Whatever the case may be it is difficult to accept the latest decision without raising justifiable suspicion.
Coincidentally, but in a somewhat different style, the former president, Goodluck Jonathan also got senate approval to access $1billion loan in 2014 to fight the Boko Haram insurgents, yet the war was not won. The common denominators in the two instances apart from the amount are: 1) the funds are to fight the same insurgents 2) the funds are being accessed in the build up to general elections. In the previous instance the government made some advancement against the insurgents leading to the 2015 General Elections but the war continued despite the huge amount spent. Years before 2014 and after, findings reveal that the Ministry of Defence had and still receives a most significant sum of the nation’s annual budget because of the insurgency. For instance the Ministry of Defence alone got 20% of the N4.962 trillion budget in 2014. And since the beginning of the Buhari administration the recurrent and capital allocation to the ministry has remained colossal. The ministry got N465billion in the 2017 budget, and with the latest approved withdrawal from the ECA, the Ministry of Defence alone would have received more than $2billion from the government this year yet the war against Boko Haram is far from being over. The huge funds Nigeria has spent on prosecuting the Boko Haram war is enough to provide world class infrastructures in our federal universities.
The major worry now is that the Excess Crude Account (ECA) has been depleted by almost half from $2.13 billion as at 13th December 2017 just by this singular decision. Truth to tell, it is important for our nation to fight the Boko Haram insurgents and put the war to rest at once. However, it is worrisome that we are committing another $1billion to this endeavour from our insufficient reserves despite the huge budgetary allocation to the ministry in charge of prosecuting the war. Again it calls to question the massive funds that were committed to the war in the past and the real motive underpinning the latest decision. This ambiguity and suspicion provide credence to the conjectures in some quarters about the deliberate efforts to sustain the war in order to use it as means to siphon funds.
It is however questionable that while our government could draw funds from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) to fight Boko Haram the same government has been unable to answer the question of funding for the Ogoni clean-up exercise which incidentally requires the same $1billion. Perhaps, the government has failed to recognise that much as the Boko Haram insurgents are killing with bombs and arms, the contamination in Ogoni is killing the people and the environment gradually. The only difference is that while the impact of the Boko Haram attacks could be felt immediately, that of Ogoni and its environs may take a while to manifest. In any case many reports have opined that the people in the area are prone to all kinds of deadly diseases including cancer as a result of the contaminated environment. Presently, the environment is so devastated that it is nearly impossible to grow anything in the area. Government has consistently maintained that the clean-up would be funded by the oil companies yet nothing on ground shows that the oil companies are willing to provide the fund required for the clean-up. Since the flag off exercise and inauguration of the Hydrocarbon Pollution and Restoration Project,  HYREP, practically nothing has been done to show commitment to the clean-up exercise. Yet it is amazing that money in the Excess Crude Account (ECA) from which the government will be drawing $1billion supposedly to fight insurgency is provided by the region that requires $1billion for a major environmental clean-up.
In the end every Nigerian wants to see a defeated Boko Haram and a restored north eastern Nigerians. It is the responsibility of the government to achieve this yet with the support of the people. But the war must be fought with clear understanding and an objective to better the lots of Nigerians. Many were suspicious that the loan obtained by the Jonathan’s administration on the basis of fighting Boko Haram would be used to prosecute the 2015 elections; and upon assuming office, the Buhari administration revealed what we now know as Dasukigate. The former National Security Adviser is currently undergoing trial along with many others on the allegation of diverting funds meant to fight insurgency to prosecuting elections. Will it be out of place for Nigerians to be suspicious that nearly one year to the next election the government is drawing another $1billion from the ECA to prosecute a war that the same government claimed victory? We can only hope that this will signal the ultimate end of Boko Haram, and not the beginning of another “gate” that will come to the fore after the 2019 elections.

Copyright Ships & Ports Ltd. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit given to www.shipsandports.com.ng as the source.