Bayelsa Govt to Sue FG over $1bn ECA Fund Deductions

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Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa

The Bayelsa State Government may in the coming weeks drag the federal government before the courts, if its request that the 13 per cent derivation fund due oil-producing states from the $1 billion Excess Crude Account (ECA) fund is not deducted and sent to the benefiting states before withdrawal of the money.

The government said it had exhausted other avenues for an amicable settlement, including a visit to the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, who heads the National Economic Council (NEC) and officially following it up with a letter thereafter, noting that withdrawing the $1 billion without deducting and paying the 13 per cent derivation to the oil- producing states would amount to ‘arm-twisting’ them to make double contributions to the security funds.

A statement signed by the State Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Daniel Iworiso-Markson, on Saturday said Governor Seriake Dickson was insisting that the 13 per cent derivation component of the money should be removed and disbursed to the various oil-producing states in the Federation as earlier demanded.

Dickson had explained that the wholesome withdrawal of the funds, inclusive of the 13 per cent derivation would mean that the oil producing states would be making double contributions because they would be contributing their allocations like all other states and then the 13 per cent derivation constitutionally provided for, to address security and other pressing needs in the states.

He also demanded that the 13 per cent derivation component of the funds be deducted and deployed in the oil-producing states to address the peculiar security challenges in the region.

The governor had pointed out that while Bayelsa was not opposed to the withdrawal of the funds to enhance national security, “the utilisation of the funds involving the armed forces, intelligence services and police must cover every part of the country.”

According to yesterday’s statement: “The Bayelsa State Government will approach the court to enforce deduction of the 13 per cent derivation component from the $1 billion ECA funds which the Federal Government claims it plans to withdraw to tackle insecurity.

“We have held meetings with the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, on this issue.

We even backed it up with a formal letter to the President through the Vice President which was taken to Abuja by the Deputy Governor and delivered by hand to the Vice President to underscore the importance we attach to the issue in question.

“Our position remains the same: while the state government is not opposing the planned withdrawal of the funds for security and indeed the general well-being of the society, it would be unfair and unjust to pull out the funds without releasing the 13 per cent to the oil- producing states.

“An arrangement that compels a group of states to contribute twice to the fund while their counterparts contribute only part of their statutory allocation cannot be said to be just. The constitution is clear on this and we shall approach the court to advocate our position.

“For the purpose of emphasis, Bayelsa has formally notified the Vice President who is Chairman of the National Economic Council on this matter. That Bayelsa is in support of the withdrawal of the funds to improve the capacity of the Armed Forces and Security Agencies to protect Nigeria and her citizens is not in doubt but we are insisting that the right thing must be done.”

Dickson also reiterated his earlier stand that a committee of the Governor’s Forum to work with the Chairman of NEC and heads of the security agencies on the items listed to be procured with the ECA funds should be constituted.

He said Bayelsa like all other states of the federation would like to know what component of these security procurements would directly benefit the security architecture in the state (Bayelsa State), insisting that only such an arrangement would suffice in addressing the widespread fears already expressed by various bodies and individuals in the country.

If the state government makes good its threat, it would mean more hurdles before the federal government can withdraw the approximately N360 billion, as the National Assembly is also insisting that it must give approval before the funds majorly devoted to fighting insurgency in the North East can be released.