Rotimi Amaechi, Chairman, NGF
Chuks Okocha and Muhammad Bello
The 36 state governors have resolved to return to the Supreme Court for adjudication on the dispute with the Federal Government over the operation of the Excess Crude Account (ECA).
If the governors get a ruling in their favour, this could stymie the operation of the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF), whose management board the Federal Government named last month with the appointment of Alhaji Mahey Rasheed, as chairman and Mr Uche Orji, as Managing Director/Chief Executive of the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority.
The fund is meant to take off with a seed capital of $1 billion, drawn from the ECA.
The governors have decided to allow the legal battle to run its full course following the failure of both parties to reach an out-of-court settlement, after a series of meetings.
Another of such meetings ended in a deadlock on Wednesday night when the governors rejected the entreaties of the Federal Government to withdraw the matter from court.
Rather, the governors said they would be going back to the Supreme Court for final adjudication on the matter.
In a communiqué issued at the end of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) meeting in Abuja on Wednesday night, and read to reporters by the NGF Chairman and Governor of Rivers State, Hon. Chibuike Amaechi, the governors said they would go back to the Supreme Court to compel the Federal Government to obey the constitution.
“On the Excess Crude Account, the forum unanimously decided to head back to court to enforce the Federal Government’s adherence to the constitution,” Amaechi said.
Other than the SWF, the resumption of the legal battle could also threaten the Federal Government’s ability to fund the fuel subsidy scheme, for which N888 billion was provided in this year’s budget.
The governors had kicked against plans by the Federal Government to transfer $1 billion from the ECA to the SWF.
They had threatened in May to dump the out-of-court settlement bid on the operation of ECA if the Federal Government went ahead to withdraw the money.
The governors, in a suit filed before the Supreme Court on October 23, 2011, had sought an order declaring the proposed creation of the SWF illegal and unconstitutional.
They are also praying the court to declare that all sums standing to the credit of the ECA (or any account replacing it by any name howsoever) be paid into the court or be otherwise secured as the court may deem fit, pending the hearing and final determination of the substantive suit.
However, the Federal Government on March 26, 2012, urged the Supreme Court to suspend hearing on the case to enable the parties to settle the matter out of court.
The communiqué has confirmed speculations that no amicable resolution has been reached on the operations of the ECA.
The governors are insisting that all federally collected revenue should first be paid into the Federation Account and shared among the three tiers of government—federal, states and councils — as stipulated in Section 162 of the 1999 Constitution.
It was gathered that the governors’ decision to head back to court for a final resolution of the dispute was taken after debating the committee’s report presented by Akwa Ibom State Governor, Chief Godswill Akpabio.
According to a source privy to the deliberation at the NGF meeting on Wednesday, “We insisted that the dictates of the constitution be followed. By this, we are saying that all federally collected revenue be shared by the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC).
“The idea that the NNPC and the PPPRA will make withdrawals from the Federation Account will not be accepted by the governors. This was the message the communiqué sent out.”
At a previous meeting of the governors, the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, had appealed to them for a peaceful resolution of the dispute, but with the governors’ decision, it seems they have rejected all overtures from the Federal Government to amicably resolve the matter.
Other resolutions taken at Wednesday’s meeting of the NGF included the governors’ readiness to support “the upcoming good governance tour as conceptualised by the National Economic Council (NEC) and plans to use the opportunity to showcase the achievements of the states in various areas of service delivery”.
The forum also resolved to adopt various strategies to deepen advocacy and the administration of polio vaccines with a view to eradicating polio in Nigeria.
Despite the governors’ stance on the ECA, the federal and state governments have been advised to settle their differences amicably without recourse to the law courts.
This was the outcome of the National Economic Council (NEC) meeting held yesterday at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
In what appeared to be a volte-face after the NEC meeting presided over by Vice-President Namadi Sambo, Gombe State Governor, Ibrahim Dankwambo, alongside his Kwara counterpart, Abdulfatah Ahmed; Minister of National Planning, Dr. Shamsudeen Usman; and Minister of Environment, Mrs. Hadiza Ibrahim Mailafia, said NEC has prevailed on the two parties to resolve the problem within themselves.
NEC, which is the highest economic policy-making body in the country, insisted that the governors must forget about going back to court and negotiate with the Federal Government on neutral grounds.
“After considering a report by the committee on the out-of-court settlement on the Excess Crude Account suit on the extent of the ongoing negotiations between the federal and state governments, NEC encouraged the counsel of both parties to continue the consultations towards working out an amicable solution,” Ahmed said.
NEC also commended the NGF for its decision to fully support and participate in the nationwide good governance tour, which starts today in the FCT.