Strong indications emerged on Saturday that there would be stormy sessions during Tuesday’s proceedings at both chambers of the National Assembly over the decision by the Federal Government to withdraw $1bn from the Excess Crude Account, to fight insurgency.
Principal officers of the Senate and the House of Representatives, in separate interviews with SUNDAY PUNCH on Saturday, confirmed that the issue would be discussed at both chambers.
Senators and members of the House of Representatives, who spoke with our correspondents, vehemently, differed on the decision by the National Economic Council to withdraw $1bn from the ECA to fight Boko Haram.
While some members condemned both the amount and the procedure for withdrawing it, others expressed reservations about the legality of taking the money from the ECA without the approval of the National Assembly.
The Senate had on November 7, 2017, resolved that the ECA, which was created by the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2004, was illegal and should be abolished.
The Vice-Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Ben Murray-Bruce (Bayelsa-East), said he would raise the issue in the Senate on Tuesday.
Murray-Bruce stated that the amount was ridiculous, and stressed that he would vote against it.
He said, “I will totally vote against the $1bn from ECA to fight Boko Haram because it is ridiculous. We don’t need a billion dollars to fight Boko Haram. I will vote against it. And when we get to the Senate on Tuesday, I will raise it with my colleagues.”
Also, Senator Mathew Uroghide from Edo State described the planned withdrawal from ECA as “executive recklessness.” The lawmaker, who is the Secretary of the Southern Senators Forum, said such expenditures should be subjected to legislative approval.
He said, “It is extra-budgetary, which is not supposed to be. It is the duty of the National Assembly to approve the expenditure of the executive. And I still remember that we resolved that the ECA should be abrogated and that all funds should come from the Consolidated Revenue Fund. All these are tantamount to illegality.”
Some House of Representatives members pointedly opposed the decision, saying that it raised several questions begging for answers.
One of them, Mr. Igariwey Iduma-Enwo, questioned why the same government that claimed to have ‘technically’ defeated Boko Haram was planning to spend another $1bn to fight the group.
He said, “To set aside $1bn from the ECA is illogical going by the claim by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration that it had defeated Boko Haram.
“More importantly, nothing is said about how such mind-boggling sum is going to be spent. Are we being told the truth about the way the war is going, or do our armed forces badly need new weapons, systems and platforms to prosecute the war?
“Only the latter scenario can justify taking out a billion dollars from a near comatose economy to prosecute a war. The situation calls for a more robust engagement by the National Assembly, being the constitutional gatekeeper of the national treasury.”
Another lawmaker, Mr. Karimi Sunday, wondered whether the Federal Government would have to make two expenditure channels for the war against Boko Haram.
Sunday recalled that already, funding provisions had been made for counter-insurgency operations in the 2018 budget.
Apart from the budgetary provisions, he recalled that in 2017, appropriation was made for the Presidential Initiative on North-East.
He added, “In the 2018 budget, which is before the National Assembly, there are provisions for security operations.
“Are we going to have provisions in the budget and another separate $1bn that will not be appropriated by the National Assembly?
“The Governors’ Forum, which made this recommendation or approval, do they have any constitutional power to appropriate money?
“Another question is, all the money budgeted for security operations, has anybody explained how the government spent it?”