The management of the nation’s Excess Crude Account, a controversial creation of the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidency, has unfortunately remained a major source of friction between the Federal Government and the governments of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The issues at the centre of this frequent bickering border on the desirability of the account, how much money is in it at any particular point in time, how much of that should be shared among its owners and when it is most appropriate for that sharing to be done.
With the coming of a new federal administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, those issues have arisen again, this time with very heavy partisan coloration. Governors, mainly of the All Progressive Party, APC, have put the Excess Crude Account on the administrations’s inquisition list. At a recent meeting of the National Economic Council, NEC, the management of the account by the immediate past federal administration featured prominently. Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who was minister of Finance and coordinating minister of the Economy in that previous administration was accused of facilitating the unauthorised spending of $2.1 Billion from the account. A committee made up of four governors – Adams OIshiomhole of Edo State, Nasir el-Rufai, Kaduna State, Emmanuel Udom, Akwa Ibom and Ibrahim Dankwambo, Gombe State, was set up to probe this allegation and submit its findings at the next meeting of NEC on July 23, 2015. Oshiomhole’s end of meeting media briefing on the decision of NEC was essentially a verbal onslaught on Okonjo- Iweala.
The former minister wasted no time in countering the allegations made at the NEC against her and the government she served. In a statement, she dismissed the allegations as “false and mischievous.” She explained that there was nothing like unauthorised spending by the Ministry of Finance under her watch because every withdrawals from the account was discussed at the monthly meeting of Federation Accounts Allocation Committee, FAAC, which was always attended by commissioners for finance from the states. She described the allegation as an attempt to use the instrumentality of NEC for political vendetta.
This newspaper is fully in support of every step necessary to correct procedural lapses in the administration of the country’s finances. This country has been too many times a victim of these lapses, the result being the chronic debility of our systems of financial management and poor results on development and the general welfare of the people. The case of the Excess Crude Account should not be an exception. Its existence has been very controversial, made even more so by the governors’ inability to see the need to save for the rainy day, the reason for the creation of the account. What we cannot condone, however, is the recklessness of throwing around figures to tarnish the image and reputation of people just because they happen to be on the other side of the political divide.
Dr Okonjo-Iweala has been several times a victim of spurious allegations in the past while she was still in the saddle as minister of finance, mostly intended to blackmail her into altering federal government’s financial plans in favour of state governors’ un-ending desires for more money from the Federation Account. It is on record that she had always refuted those allegations with facts and figures. That is the reason the public must be circumspect about the present allegations of the governors against the former minister regarding the Excess Crude Account. A thorough and nonpartisan investigation of the allegations is desirable. The idea of a committee to also handle the investigations is laudable. But we fear that the committee as composed by NEC is unlikely to be fair to Okonjo-Iweala and the administration she served. The reason is that those probing the allegations are also the complainants in this case. They are, therefore, an interested party. Their involvement in the investigations will put them in the position to adjudicate over their own matter. This is against the principles of equity and justice. We believe that there are other equally competent, if not more competent, Nigerians to probe the allegations. Against this back drop, we suggest the governors’ committee be replaced with another that is non-partisan and even more knowledgeable in financial matters. It is the only way a report of the investigation can be received by the side that Okonjo-Iweala represents and, indeed, the public in general, as credible and acceptable.
This approach should be adopted as the model for all the other investigations that the Buhari administration intends to carry out on the activities of the immediate past government and its agencies. This is the first time in this country that a new political party is taking over governance from another at the federal level. That development has been welcomed as historic and healthy for our democracy. But there is the tendency for the bitterness that trailed the political campaigns to be transferred into government as a style of relating to those who served in the precious administration. This must not be so. The new administration must not allow political sentiments to colour its perception of issues and determine its decisions and actions. For the results of its probes and decisions on them to bear the stamp of credibility and respectability, the process must be fair and devoid of partisan sentiments.