I am not in the business of rising to the defence of previous presidents or regimes, especially as most of them are still alive and capable of defending themselves. Besides, those of them who refuse to retire into graceful silence deserve the return brickbats they get.
My intervention is motivated by the desire to focus attention on the solution. 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 to be distributed among the federal, state and local governments.
The exact language is as follows: Section 162, “(1) The Federation shall maintain a special account to be called ‘the Federation Account’ into which shall be paid all revenues collected by the Government of the Federation, except the proceeds from the personal income tax of the personnel of the Armed Forces of the Federation, the Nigeria Police Force, the Ministry or department of government charged with responsibility for Foreign Affairs and the residents of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
“(2) The President, upon the receipt of advice from the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission, shall table before the National Assembly proposals for revenue allocation from the Federation Account, and in determining the formula, the National Assembly shall take into account, the allocation principles especially those of population, equality of States, internal revenue generation, land mass, terrain as well as population density;
“(3) Any amount standing to the credit of the Federation Account shall be distributed among the Federal and State Governments and the Local Government Councils in each State on such terms and in such manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly.”
No provision was made for savings. This, with considerable charity, can only be called an unforgivable oversight.
If we have to lay blame, it should be at the door of those responsible for the 1999 constitution. This does not mean General Abubakar Abdulsalaam alone, or the military regime alone, but includes elements of the judiciary and civilians who were all instrumental in midwifing that constitution.
Serious attempts were made by both the Obasanjo and Jonathan administrations to put in place savings through the backdoor, such as Excess Crude Accounts and Commonwealth Savings Funds. Both were frustrated by the states and the judiciary. The irony in Nigerian history is that some of the state governors who spearheaded the opposition to the attempts to save are now prominent in the cabinet and the Senate.
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% of the government’s revenue from royalties and dividends are paid. In any one year, no more than 4% 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 goes beyond name calling and the blame game.
––Akinyemi, a former Minister of External Affairs and deputy chairman of the 2014 National Conference, issued this statement on October 1 in response to the trading of blames between President Muhammadu Buhari and his predecessors over the current recession in the country.