Chris Steven, Abuja
Less than 48 hours that he lamented that he inherited an empty treasury, President Muhammadu Buhari Tuesday told state governors that he would spend the next three months recovering funds looted under the immediate past administration of Dr Goodluck Jonathan.
This was as he warned that impunity, lack of accountability, and fiscal recklessness would not be tolerated in his administration.
The President who met governors on the nation’s financial crisis also said that the period will be tough for Nigerians economically.
Buhari was quoted by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina to have “vowed that funds stolen by government officials who abused their offices in the recent past will be recovered and systemic leakages stopped.”
“There are financial and administrative instructions in every government parastatal and agency. But all these were thrown to the dogs in the past. Honestly, our problems are great, but we will do our best to surmount them.
“The next three months may be hard, but billions of dollars can be recovered, and we will do our best, ” the President told the governors.
The President who as a Major- General in the Nigerian Army had joined other officers to topple the civilian administration of Shehu Shagari on December 31, 1983 over allegations of mismanagement and corruption, told the governors that the recklessness under Jonathan was even worse than that of Shagari administration.
“We will try and put the system back into the right position. What happened in the Second Republic has apparently happened again, and even worse, but we will restore sanity to the system,” President Buhari assured the Governors.
Expressing surprise that the governors had tolerated the atrocities allegedly committed with the Excess Crude Account since 2011 till date when his predecessor held sway, President Buhari promised to tackle the issue decisively.
The President declared that the payment of national revenue into any account other than the Federation Account was an abuse of the constitution, adding that what he had heard was going on in many agencies and corporations, particularly the NNPC, was clearly illegal.
On the refund of monies spent on federal projects by state governments, President Buhari assured the governors that the Federal Government would pay, but insisted that due process must be followed.
The President promised special assistance for the three North Eastern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe that are the worse hit by the Boko Haram insurgency.
He also said that a comprehensive statement on the economic and financial situation inherited by his administration would be made public to the nation within the next four weeks.
On an immediate lifeline for states that owe salaries running into many months, President Buhari said that a committee headed by the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, would look at the Excess Crude Account and see what can be shared immediately.
According to Adesina, the governors, led by Chairman of the Governors Forum, Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara State, had presented a wish list to the President that included obedience of extant Supreme Court ruling that all monies go into the Consolidated Federation Account; an order from the President that all revenue generating agencies must pay into the Consolidated Federation Account; review of the Revenue Allocation Formula; refund of the monies expended by states on federal projects; a special consideration for the three states of the North East under Boko Haram infestation; and full details of the amounts that accrued into the Excess Crude Account from 2011, and how the money miraculously shrank without official sharing.
Briefing State House Correspondents earlier, Yari said the governors presented the situation in their respective states to the President and got a promise from him to do something about it in the next few days.
“The President before he was inaugurated was aware that some of the states were in critical situation as regards payment of workers’ salaries because of the dwindling resources because of the drop of oil prices and other critical areas of the economy.
So we met the President and we shared knowledge from what was gathered from the Transition Management committee, the findings and what is on ground. We also briefed him on the condition of our states, and we all appreciated that something has to be done and going forward, we are going to ensure that most of the states and the federal government that have not paid salaries, that something will be on ground in the next couple days.
We also discussed the issue of frontline states as regards insurgency in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. The President briefed us on his meeting with the G7 countries who have agreed to support the Nigerian government to fight the insurgency to the last.
Also it was noted that the insurgency has done so much damage to our infrastructure – schools, hospitals, and bridges. The President said he had put a committee in place to go and assess the situation and he had also made a commitment that he will not request money from any G7 country but support to rebuild the destroyed infrastructure,” Yari who was flanked by his Bauchi (Mohammed Abubakar) and Abia (Okezie Ikpeazu) counterparts, said.
Corroborating the Presidential spokesman on the details of discussion at the meeting, Yari said: ” We proposed to Mr. President that instead of being given bail out, that the funds for jobs, projects that were done by the states should be refunded by the federal government.
If the affected states are able to get the monies owed them released, they can be able to start paying salaries without bail out. Secondly, we also brought to his notice that most of the loans owed by the state, some between four and seven years, if it can be stretched to 20 years, the states will be relieved and would be able to continue other businesses including paying salaries.
Also the first charge money that are paid by LNG about $1.6 billion, we requested that instead of paying to the federal government, we requested that it be paid to the federation account so that it could be shared amongst the three tiers of government, so that we can also get money to do one or two things.
Also we urged the President to follow the constitution when it comes to money sharing, Section 80 is very clear. That all monies should go to the Consolidated Revenue Account …, no account should be kept anywhere because this is what the constitution says.
And Section 162 also is explanatory, that whatever is going to happen to the money will be after sharing to the three tiers of government. That the NNPC or any other revenue generating agency should not have the first line charges.
So Mr. President said there will be few committees under the chairmanship of Mr. Vice President that are not in Council now in place since the ministers are not in place so that they can discuss and move forward within the few days.
Reiterating governors’ argument against the idea of Sovereign Wealth Fund or Excess Crude Account, Yari contended that the management of the funds had been poor under the immediate past administration.
“Our argument in the past why we did not agree with the sovereign wealth fund, the question is who is the manager? Like the Excess Crude who are the managers? Each state and local government has account in the Excess Crude Account but who are the managers?
The Federal Government is talking about 56 per cent while states and local government areas are taking 44 per cent but the federal government is the manager of these accounts and where your money is being kept and you cannot ask questions.
For instance, before our forum was divided, we left $10.3 billion in the excess crude account and we expected the account to grow but as reported in our last meeting, the account is now $2.6 billion and the sharing has been stopped since May 2013, no kobo has been given to any state or local government. So, under which platform will you save the money? To save the money is good. No matter how beautiful it is, if it does not have the backing of the constitution, it is null and void.
“We are saying we are having issues, at times the economy will be up and sometimes it will be down, what we are saying is for the President to invoke the section of the constitution 80 and 162. Let me tell you the truth, if Mr. President will invoke these relevant sections of the constitution to ensure all the generating agencies (NIMASA, NPA, NNPC, customs etc) will pay and remit the exact amount into the consolidated revenue, we need not touch the oil money.
The issue is the loss. We can have a good President today and tomorrow you have a bad president. You can have a good president today that will grow the account and tomorrow you will have a bad president that will spend the money,” he argued.
The meeting which started at exactly 10.10am with the arrival of the President was held at the Council Chambers of the State House.
Among other governors in attendance were Nyesom Wike (Rivers), Ibikunle Amosun ( Ogun) Rochas Okorocha (Imo), Ibrahim Dankwambo ( Gombe), Dr Samuel Ortom (Benue), Ifeanyi Okowa ( Delta), Abubakar Bello ( Niger), Abdullahi Ganduje (Kano), Aminu Bello Masari ( Katsina), Capt Idris Wada (Kogi), Kashim Shettima (Borno) and Muhammad Badaru (Jigawa)
Others were Atiku Bagudu (Kebbi), Abdulfatah Ahmed (Kwara), Darius Ishaku (Taraba), Ayo Fayose ( Ekiti), Olusegun Mimiko ( Ondo), Nasir el Rufai (Kaduna), Abiola Ajimobi ( Oyo), Rauf Aregbesola ( Osun), Adams Oshiomole (Edo) Willie Obiano (Anambra) Aminu Waziri Tambuwal ( Sokoto), David Umahi (Ebonyi) Akinwunmi Ambode (Lagos), Jubrilla Bindow (Adamawa), Ben Ayade (Cross River) , Udom Emmanuel (Akwa Ibom ) and Ibrahim Geidam Yobe States.
Plateau and Bayelsa States were represented by their deputy governors.