Recession: Advocate Change of Anti-savings Constitution, Instead of Blaming Past Leaders, Akinyemi Tells Buhari

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By Vincent Obia in Lagos

As Nigerians struggle in the current recession, with the federal government blaming past administrations for the hard times, a former Minister of External Affairs, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, has said the blame for the plights lies in an anti-savings culture promoted by the country’s constitution.

Akinyemi said President Muhammadu Buhari should push for constitution amendment to redress the lack of provision for savings, rather than blaming past leaders.

The former minister called the absence of such provision in the constitution “an unforgivable oversight” on the part of those who produced the constitution.

Akinyemi’s intervention, which was contained in a statement he released at the weekend in Lagos, came against the backdrop of a recent tendency by the current and past leaders of the country to trade blames for the recession that the federal government officially acknowledged in July.

Speaking at an event last week tagged: ‘The Conversation: An Evening with Creative Youths,’ at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa in Abuja, Buhari had said he would continue to blame past administrations for the current economic challenges facing the country.

He said this was to let Nigerians know the truth about the current woes, which he blamed on frivolous spending and corruption by past administrations, before the present record drop in the prices of crude oil.

But Akinyemi, who was Deputy Chairman of the 2014 National Conference, said: “It is thoroughly misleading to isolate and demonise past regimes for the situation where Nigeria has no savings. The fault is in the 1999 Constitution (Section 162), which makes it mandatory for all monies collected by the federal government, with a few exceptions, to be deposited into a central account and distributed among the federal, state and local governments.”

He lamented the situation where, “No provision was made for savings. This, with considerable charity, can only be called an unforgivable oversight.”

The ex-minister stated: “If we have to lay blame, it should be at the door of those responsible for the 1999 Constitution. This does not mean General Abdulsalaami Abubakar alone, or the military regime alone, but includes elements of the judiciary and civilians who were all instrumental in midwifing that constitution.”

Akinyemi noted the attempts by former President Olusegun Obasajo, who led the country between 1999 and 2007, and ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, who led from 2010 to 2015, “to put in place savings through the backdoor, such as Excess Crude Account and Commonwealth Savings Funds.” But he regretted that the efforts were frustrated by the states and the judiciary because of the lack of constitutional backing.

According to Akinyemi, “What previous administrations failed to do and which the present Buhari administration should do is to single-mindedly drive a constitutional amendment that would follow the Norwegian model. The Norwegian experience involves setting up a Government Pension Fund Global into which 100 per cent of the government’s revenue from royalties and dividends are paid. In any one year, no more than  four per cent is allowed to be drawn from the account.

“The Nigerian model, given our peculiar federalism, can include a provision that any withdrawal from the fund must be with a unanimous decision of the members of the National Economic Council.

“This is the way forward and  it goes beyond name calling and the blame game.”