Buhari Okays Release of $1bn from ECA to Fight Insecurity

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• FG silent on approvals by state assemblies

• Fayose insists funds meant for president’s re-election bid

Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja

President Muhammadu Buhari has given approval for the release of $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) to fight the rising spate of insecurity across the country.

The Minister of Defence, Col. Mansur Dan-Ali, who made the disclosure after a meeting of the president with security chiefs at the State House, Abuja Wednesday, told journalists that the president recently approved the use of the money for the purchase of military equipment.

“What I can add, after all that I have said, is to inform you that of recent, President Muhammadu Buhari gave approval for the purchase of more equipment for the military, worth $1 billion,” he said.

The minister, who stressed that the money had earlier been approved by governors, described Wednesday’s meeting as “a normal meeting of the security agencies in the country”, adding: “We discussed current activities that affect most of the states in the federation like Taraba, Zamfara and other states.”

At the National Economic Council (NEC) meeting presided over by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo in December last year, the federal government was given the nod to withdraw $1 billion from the $2.31 billion left in the ECA to fight the insurgency in the North-east.

The NEC decision, however, led to criticism from both the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and some of the governors, notably Ekiti State Governor Ayodele Fayose at the time.

The National Assembly also joined the fray, saying it must be consulted before the withdrawal could be made.
Since then, nothing was heard of the money until the defence minister disclosed Wednesday that the president recently gave the approval for its use.

Dan-Ali was also silent on if the state Houses of Assemblies had given the federal government the green light to withdraw the funds from the ECA, even after the governors had given the approval at the NEC meeting for the $1 billion to be taken from the account.

Given that the funds in the ECA belong to the three tiers of government, the 36 state Houses of Assembly are required to give the federal government the go ahead to withdraw funds meant for projects for the federation.

In 2007, the governors had cried out after former President Olusegun Obasanjo unilaterally gave approval for the withdrawal of between $3 billion and $5 billion from the ECA for the construction of the 10 National Integrated Power Projects (NIPPs) mostly located in the Niger Delta.

It took his successor, the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, to rectify the issue when he stopped the construction of the power plants and set up of a presidential committee headed by then Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan.

It was only after the committee, which included one governor representing each of the geopolitical zones in the country, got the approval of the state Houses of Assemblies to withdraw more funds for the NIPPs that construction on the power plants resumed.

Dan-Ali, who also said Wednesday’s meeting resolved to deploy military operations in Zamfara and Katsina States, added that another military division had taken off in Sokoto, and that the strength of the military personnel in the country has equally increased.

He also said efforts were being made to rescue Leah Sharibu, one of the abducted Dapchi girls who has remained in Boko Haram captivity because she refused to renounce her Christian faith and convert to Islam.

According to him, “We have operationalised a division in Sokoto. There will be a brigade in Katsina and another brigade in Zamfara that will take care of the security situation in that area.

“Of course, the strength of security personnel has been increased including the Nigerian Air Force for additional quick response. So they have added enough manpower in that area.”

On Leah Sharibu, he said: “Well, we are making all available efforts to see that the girl is returned safely.”
But reacting to the announcement on the withdrawal of the $1 billion from the ECA, Fayose’s aide Wednesday questioned Buhari’s approval, describing it as the pooling of public funds for the purpose of funding the president’s re-election bid as well as the up coming governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun States.

The governor demanded to know whether or not the $1 billion was from the ECA, noting that it will be illegal and against the principle of federalism that operates in Nigeria for the president, who is the head of just one of the federating units to approve spending of funds belonging to the three tiers of government without the consent of heads of other federating units.

In a statement issued in Ado Ekiti, the Ekiti State capital, by his media aide, Lere Olayinka, the governor asked: “When did the National Assembly approve the spending of the $1 billion? Or can the president spend $1 billion belonging to Nigerians without the approval of the National Assembly?”

He said Nigerians required explanations from the federal government as to where the $1 billion will be sourced because the president lacks the power to unilaterally spend money from the ECA.
“Not even when there is a pending suit by Ekiti State local council chairmen challenging the powers of the 36 state governors to purportedly execute the constitutional duty of the federal government without their consent.

“Another question the federal government must answer is: which insurgency are they buying arms worth $1 billion (N370 billion) to fight? Is it the same Boko Haram that they told Nigerians they have completely defeated?

“Since they said they have defeated Boko Haram, and later told Nigerians that they had a ceasefire agreement with the insurgents, what else do they need a whopping $1 billion for, if not to fund the 2019 elections?

“Also, up till now, the government is yet to give satisfactory explanations as to the abduction and return of the Dapchi schoolgirls. With the hurried approval of $1 billion, is it not being reinforced that the Boko Haram insurgency has become a source of looting public funds by this government?

“It is on record that Transparency International (TI) once said in its report that some top military officials in the country were feeding fat from the war against Boko Haram by creating fake contracts and laundering the proceeds in the United States, United Kingdom and elsewhere,” Fayose said.

The governor reiterated his challenge to the federal government to make available to Nigerians how the money released by international donors for the fight against Boko Haram was spent.

He said: “Like I have maintained, they are building a very huge financial warchest towards the 2019 elections and our treasury is daily being looted to achieve this.

“One of such means is the $1 billion approved by the president purportedly for the procurement of arms to fight a Boko Haram insurgency they claimed to have defeated.”