$1b, for who, for what?

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A FURTHER proof of the challenges Nigeria faces, if any was required, is the acquiescence to the proposed expenditure of $1 billion to fight Boko Haram. State governors, attending the National Economic Council (NEC), invaded the Excess Crude Account and awarded $1 billion “to fight insurgents in the North East”. National and state legislators are silent.

ONLY Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State has opposed the scandal, saying he had no hand in the $1 billion proposal. The fund in question belongs to the federal, state and local governments. The governors have no legislative powers over funds of the federation.

THERE are multiple grounds for objection to the scandal, maybe a scam. We would list only a few:

· Boko Haram has been defeated since December 2015, according to Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information. He told journalists in Lagos on Tuesday 29 December 2015 that Boko Haram had been technically defeated, and degraded beyond any threat. What was left, he concluded, was the re-settlement of displaced persons.

· A year later in December 2016, the government claimed Boko Haram had lost its last strongholds in Sambisa Forest. Which Boko Haram was it fighting in 2017 and required $1 billion?

· Who gave governors approval over the funds? Assuming governors had such powers, what happens to the scrutiny of a budget that legislators are meant to superintend?

· What would be the return on investment of $1b in fighting Boko Haram? Are there no other options that would provide funding for the State and local governments, with funds still left to fight Boko Haram?

· There are other areas of engaging national concerns that are unattended. Infrastructure is one of them. Could they not have had more preference to the waste in the North East?

PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari had also likened suicide bombings by Boko Haram terrorists to the last kicks of a ‘dying horse’. “What we are witnessing now are the last kicks of a dying horse. Yes, these kicks may be dangerous, but they don’t last long. Progressively, they become weaker and weaker until the horse finally dies,” the President had said over a year ago. After the recovery of the “last strongholds in Sambisa Forest” why would $1 billion be needed to fight a horse in its last kicks since 2016?

A LOT can be done with $1 billion that would benefit the entire country. The All Progressives Congress in its manifesto had promised to set up a regional economic development commission for each of the six geo-political zones to tackle the zone’s economic challenges. It had a budget of N50 billion for each of the zones to run its commission.

THE promise of APC in its manifesto is to “balance the economy across regions by the creation of 6 new Regional Economic Development Agencies (REDAs) to act as champions of sub-regional competitiveness”. In clearer words, there would be North West Regional Development Agency, North Central Regional Development Agency, South West Regional Development Agency, South South Regional Development Agency, and South East Regional Development Agency.

APC promised more. It would, “put in place a N300bn regional growth fund (average of N50bn in each geo-political region) to be managed by the REDAs, encourage private sector enterprise and support to help places currently reliant on the public sector”.

OF the six commissions promised, only the North East Economic Commission has been created. As if leaning on the APC manifesto, it allocated N45 billion to the North East Economic Commission, through its intervention fund in the 2018 budget. Other zonal intervention projects, according to the 2018 budget, would get N100 billion. If that amount were split among the other five zones, the average would be N20 billion, less than half of what the North East got.

WHEN a bill for the creation of the South East Economic Commission was raised on the floor of the House of Representatives, where members thought they did a patriotic act in providing succour for the North East, through the North East Economic Commission, Yakubu Dogara, Speaker of the House of Representatives, shot it down with such vehemence that you would have thought that the sponsors of the bill just sought permission to commit a heinous crime.

DID the governors know that they did by throwing away resources that belonged to their States in favour of the North East? What is their interest in the North East that beclouds them to the challenges their States face? Would their State Houses of Assembly permit this travesty? Would the National Assembly recline to somnolence while the national purse is appropriated?

MOST States owe civil servants salaries for months, and some years, in some cases. They do not meet their obligations to pensioners. They owe contractors. Their infrastructure, if they have, is in decay. They excuse their poor performances with poor funding, but they vagrantly threw away N306 billion to support a lie that has been sustained in the North East.

IF the Federal Government took its giant share of N183.6b, the States would still be left with N122.4b, an average of N3.3b each, including Abuja. How could the money be so mindlessly handed over for the fight against insurgents in the North East, without provisions for States that are under siege from herdsmen? The governors asked no questions about how the $1 billion would be spent, neither did the supervising authority.

THE money should be returned to the Excess Crude Account immediately. The execute recklessness involved in this expenditure should not be tolerated. Legislators at the national and state assemblies should ensure that national resources are not dispersed with such thoughtlessness.

IF the Federal Government needs money for any cause, it should go through the budgeting process. Our laws say so emphatically in Sections 80, 81 and 162 of the Constitution for the President, and Sections 120, 121 for governors. What is going on reflects the dangers the illegality of the Excess Crude Account embodies. It should be stopped.

More than just Christmas

NIGERIA defies logic in ways that are overdue for studies on how Nigerians survive. Christmas is around the corner. The celebration of the birth of Christ, Son of God, is important to Christians – they celebrate Christmas with an abundance that puts the hard times to shame and creates wrong impressions that hard times are non-existent.

ON the contrary, the times are still hard. Families are in deep distress. They cannot meet basic needs. There are no food, resources for medicals or simple plans for the future. We can easily forget these families that are readily reckoned with in cold statistics, stripping them of humanity.

THE message of Christmas centres on the immense mercies of the Almighty, His exemplary gift of Himself through His Son to mankind. We should imitate it.

LET us in all ways make this Christmas merry for those who cannot afford daily basics. They are all around us.

WE wish our readers and our business partners Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

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