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Editorial

Excess Crude Account And Missing $5bn

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In response to allegations of a missing $5bn
from the Excess Crude Accounts, the
Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala explained that the said amount had been shared to the three tiers of government.
The Minister said the sharing of the $5bn was to make up for the revenue shortfalls during the Federation Accounts Allocations Committee process and that part of the fund also went for SURE-P payments and the balance for subsidy payments to oil marketers.
The explanation of the minister, The Tide believes has ruffled more feathers than expected. This is more so because proceeds of the excess crude account belongs to the three tiers of government and not open for the Federal Government to spend at will, besides it is meant to be kept as future savings in a stabilization account.
Going by the explanation of the Finance Minister there seems to be flagrant abuse of process, more worrisome is the huge amount involved and the express disregard for the National Executive Council (NEC) decision on the use of the funds.
Contrary to some outcry, the issue may not be one of fraud, but the failure on the part of the Federal Government to obtain the support of the States before funds in the account could be touched.
We believe that the handling of the fund is suspicious and capable of providing an excuse for future financial recklessness. To serve as a deterrent, circumstances leading to this unapproved withdrawal should be probed and those behind it brought to book.
We think that the matter should not be reduced to a mere quarrel between the Minister and some Governors. The National Assembly should wade into the matter and bring about order in the way the finances are managed in Nigeria.
Like the finances of the SURE-P Committee, if funds under the Excess Crude Accounts fail to follow laid down procedure, a number of things can be wrong; considering the position of the National Executive Council which had been that such savings be made for the rainy day and not to be shared in the manner the Honourable Minister now seems to suggest.
While we believe that the Federal Government may have made the withdrawal with the best intention, the need to follow laid down rules should never be compromised, especially on things that are jointly owned. Indeed, people in government should lead in bringing to an end the culture of impunity in Nigeria.
Because of the hurry to tamper with the Excess Crude Account, which is the proceed from crude oil sales, in excess of what was budgeted for, some people have tended to disagree with the Finance Minister. In fact, they want to know the actual accruals from oil between January and March 2013.
While no state has denied collecting the enhanced allocation as claimed by the Finance Minister, Nigerians would truly want to know what warranted the withdrawal of $5bn at the time they did and why it was not brought to the attention of the States before.
Even so, the apparent face-off between the States and the Federal Government cannot be in the interest of the country. The attendant loss of confidence and the recourse to mud-slinging and name-calling at every opportunity cannot be supported.
Like it is said in some quarters, “matters of money are not matters of fancy, but matters of fact,” we expect that all persons saddled with the responsibility of managing public money from the Federal to Local Government must be cautious and guided by the law. That people do not speak up does not mean they don’t know that public officers sometimes go beyond their mandate in appropriating public money.

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Editorial

Party Defections Taken Too Far

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The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), last week, instituted a legal action at the Supreme Court against the Zamfara State Governor, Alhaji Bello Matawalle, and members of the State House of Assembly and federal lawmakers from the state who defected with the state chief executive from the PDP to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
In the suit which follow an earlier one initiated by the Zamfara State Chapter of the PDP at the Federal High Court in Abuja seeking similar reliefs, the main opposition party in the country is asking the Apex Court of the land to declare as vacant the seats of its erstwhile members in the National Assembly as well as the Zamfara State House of Assembly who dumped the party for the APC. The party also wants Governor Matawalle to lose his governorship position as a consequence of the defection.
On June 28, 2021, Matawalle had announced his defection from the PDP to the APC at an occasion attended by leaders of the ruling party including the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and 11 APC governors in Gusau, the state capital. Also received into the APC from the PDP were all the 24 members of the State House of Assembly, all three senators and six out of the seven members of the House of Representatives from the state. Only the Deputy Governor, Aliya Gusan and the member Representing Anka/Talata-Marafa Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Hon. Kabiru Marafa, chose not to defect of all that benefitted from the Supreme Court judgement in 2019.
Governor Matawalle was declared governor and the lawmaker’s winners of their contested seats on May 24, 2019 after the Supreme Court disqualified all the APC candidates in the general elections of 2019 over the failure of the party (APC) to conduct valid primary elections to produce the candidates.
Before Matawalle and his group defected, the governor of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi and his Cross River State counterpart, Ben Ayade had walked out of the PDP into the APC this year. On the other side, Governors like Aminu Waziri Tambuwal of Sokoto State, Samuel Ortom of Benue State and Godwin Obaseki of Edo State had moved without much ado from the APC to the PDP and scores of lawmakers criss-crossing the political divides at will at different times in the past under questionable and very disturbing circumstances.
Observers and stakeholders have continued to express worry at the unhealthy trend describing it not only as embarrassing to the nation, but also as a dangerous development that could spell doom for the country’s democracy which requires urgent and decisive action to contain.
While The Tide concedes to politicians their right to freely move and pitch tent with any political party of their choice and has nothing against political groups’ freedom to poach influential members of rival parties, we are concerned that the recklessness of the act, if not checked, could weaken the system and erode every advantage and benefit accruable to the people from the liberal democratic system the country is nurturing.
Critical watchers of the Nigerian political space have come to the inevitable conclusion that the constant defection of politicians from one party to another have less to do with principles and ideologies but more to do with self-serving motives. Whether by enticement, coercion, manipulation, blackmail or intimidation employed to compel this indiscriminate move of the political class, the fact remains that the indulgence systematically eliminates viable and vibrant alternative voice that is necessary for the socio-political and economic development of the country.
According to a certain commentator, the ongoing rash of defections being instigated and celebrated by the APC is particularly baffling because of the absence of concrete ideological validations or performance indices driving the defecting politicians.
“It is not as if states being run by PDP governors are faring worse in development than APC states. It is not like the current Federal Government is a PDP-run one under which insecurity, poverty and socio-economic conditions have become nightmarish. In a twist of paradox and curiosity, political actors are defecting to the ruling party today at a time when the government is widely rated to score lowest in nearly all performance indices,” he said, concluding that the defectors could only be doing so either for political survival, exemption from prosecution form corruption or promises of future juicy positions and privileges.
It is, therefore, to entrench a more accountable political class and to protect the people from dubious political actors that The Tide commends and supports the PDP for the bold and courageous step to seek legal redress which outcome could conclusively address and stem the ugly tide.
While defending his party’s decision to go to court, Kola Ologbodiyan, spokesman of the PDP, averred a “combined reading of Section 221 of the 1999 Constitution and the pronouncement of the Supreme Court in Faleke Vs INEC (2016) is clear in holding that it is the political party that stands for election, that votes scored in election belong to the political party and that the candidate nominated to contest at an election by his party acts only as the agent of the party”.
Suffice to say that the shameless political harlotry of the Nigerian politician and all the dangers it portends for our democracy has just got to stop, and we urge the Supreme Court to attend to this case in the light of all that it is meant to put right to save our democracy.

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Editorial

For Seamless Voter Registration

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In the run-up to the 2023 general elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has
launched the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) across the country. This follows a three-year suspension of the exercise in 2018 to allow the commission to produce the Permanent Voter Cards used for the 2019 general election.
However, after the 2019 general election, INEC failed to proceed with the CVR as required by the Electoral Act. This disenfranchised many eligible voters of the off-season elections in Ondo, Bayelsa, Edo and Kogi States, as well as other by-elections. Those who would have participated in local government elections in some states were equally denied the opportunity to be part of the ballot since INEC voters register is a significant basis of the polls.
These deprivations had a major impact on the possibility of quality leaders emerging from the process. Furthermore, it is against global democratic standards. Though the electoral body had kept referring to the creation of 56,872 additional polling units in the country as reason for the long suspension of the registration exercise, we consider it untenable. While the creation of more units is desirable, both activities would have been executed simultaneously.
INEC’s failure to register new voters that turned 18 years for the long period of lull, has deprived them their right to vote as provided for in the extant laws, and has similarly increased the number of unregistered voters in the country. To facilitate its work, it is important that the electoral umpire adopts developments in other countries. For example, in Argentina and Australia, persons at the age of 16 and 17 are placed on provisional lists and are immediately transferred to the voters list as they turn 18. This makes voter registration an on-going event in these countries.
If what INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, let out that the commission was hoping to register 20 million persons in the current registration activity, bringing the total number of voters to about 100 million is anything to go by, then the body has a herculean task to accomplish. But the question is, does the electoral umpire have the ability to register the number of Nigerians in the short period allocated to this exercise?
Experience has shown that voter registration exercises are hardly successful without hitches. Normally, the one year specified for the activity should be sufficiently long to exclude barriers. But in many cases, the registrants complain that they are being asked to donate money or provide logistics, like fuel to power the generators so they can be registered. This is unacceptable and inhibits participation.
The commission should put an end to extortion and simplify the enrolment of eligible Nigerians. Some voters have relocated, but are having trouble exercising their right to vote because their PVCs have not been transferred to their new locations. INEC needs to effect such changes to stimulate voter participation and avoid double registration, which has often facilitated redundant voting practices.
We welcome the decision by the election agency to open a portal for voter pre-registration. This is a viable innovation that will ease the awful predicament of registrants and reduce the time it takes to register. There is no question that it will also decongest enrollment centres, particularly in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the website should be configured in a manner that effectively supports a lot of traffic without collapsing.
Following the recent attacks on its offices, notably in the South-East and South-South, INEC must be wary of security threats. Yakubu has recently indicated similar concerns. Therefore, security agents must ensure the safety of INEC personnel and registration centres, especially those located in incendiary areas. States and local governments must assist in ensuring safety in this regard. Nigerians need to be proactive and protect INEC installations as well. They can provide intelligence to security officials about suspicious movements.
As information and communications technology advances, voter registration should be a flawless performance. Fortunately, Nigeria has several means of identifying citizens, some of which include the National Identity Number, the Bank Verification Number and vehicle driving licence, all of which have the biometric data of Nigerians, including age and nationality, the two requirements for voting. Efforts must, therefore, be made to synchronize all data bases. After all, in many countries, citizens are obliged to provide only one piece of ID to vote.
There is also a need to facilitate the collection process of PVCs. Since many Nigerians apply for visas within the country by simply mailing their passports to the relevant foreign missions and their passports are returned to them through courier services, INEC can do likewise at a cost to the voter as this would reduce the number of uncollected PVCs, which stands at over one million in Lagos State alone based on the commission’s admission.
If executed with care, the process will also reduce the needless community of people during this Covid-19 pandemic. In addition, the voting of minors, which has become widespread in certain parts of the country, begins with questionable registration. It remains a crime and INEC would do well to penalise errant workers who engage in the registration of children.
Nigerians must resist the temptation to wait until the last minute to register, as this could prove deleterious, as previous experiences have shown. A credible register of voters is the first step in carrying out elections and INEC needs to play its role effectively. Civil Society Organisations and other stakeholders should play their role well by fostering registration through effective support.

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Editorial

Nigeria’s Growing Debt Burden

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Thursday, July 15, 2021, the Nigerian Senate approved two new foreign loans of $8.325 million and
€490 million respectively. That has raised a lot of questions among many stakeholders in the country, who have equally considered the approval as a bad move in the management of the already battered economy, especially at this period of torturous debt service compulsion.
The loans are said to be part of the Federal Government’s 2018-2020 external borrowing plan. It was ratified after the Senate considered the report of the Senate Committee on Local and Foreign Debt. In May this year, President Muhammadu Buhari asked the National Assembly to endorse the loan for funding various “priority projects” in the country.
Earlier, the Senate had approved $1.5 billion and €995 million respectively. The $1.5 billion was to be sourced from the World Bank for the financing of critical infrastructure across the 36 states of the federation under the States Fiscal Transparency, Accountability and Sustainability (SFTAS) programme and Covid-19 action recovery plan. 
Similarly, the €995 million was to be procured from the Export-Import Bank of Brazil to finance the Federal Government’s Green Imperative project to enhance the mechanisation of agriculture and agro process to improve food security. These are aside several other loans taken by the administration since inception in May 2015. 
Statistics from the Debt Management Office (DMO) on Nigeria’s liability portfolio over the last six years show how the accumulation has progressed hazardously. According to the DMO, Nigeria’s total debt as of June 30, 2015 (the year President Muhammadu Buhari took over) stood at N12.12 trillion. As of December 31, 2020, the country had a debt portfolio of N32.92 trillion. The latest DMO statistics, covering the first quarter of 2021, indicated that the debt portfolio had increased again to N33.10 trillion. 
In addition, the Federal Government also incurred another N10 trillion in overdrafts with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). This overdraft, which may also be provided by printing currency, has been reconditioned to be repaid over 30 years. We wonder what the managers of the economy have up their sleeves when they take on these liabilities which have serious implications not only for the present, but also for the future generations of Nigerians. 
These allegations of printing of funds that have followed a trend across the country in recent times may be seen as apparently corroborated by this huge N10 trillion owed by the CBN. The CBN may have always relied on printing money to meet the government’s overdraft demands.
The unfortunate and highly impoverished argument still put forward by the government and proponents of increased borrowing is the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio is still sound and below 40 per cent. However, they lose sight of the fact that GDP does not pay the debt, but incomes do. GDP only reflects the size of the economy and not that a mechanism has been put in place to service the loan when it becomes due.
What the Buhari government has done over the past six years, with its incompetent economists, is reckless borrowing, and has obviously borrowed beyond its repayment capacity. That is why the Federal Government is in trouble as far as servicing the debt is concerned. It recently admitted this much, claiming it spent N1.8 trillion on debt servicing from its N1.84 trillion revenues in the first five months of 2021 (January to May).
Thus, the debt-to-revenue ratio of the Federal Government, a key measure of debt sustainability, stands at 97.8 per cent over the reviewed period. How outrageous is that? In 2016, the federal debt service amounted to only 44.6 per cent. But by 2020, the debt-to-revenue ratio had increased to about 84.8 per cent. That is why 33 per cent of the current 2021 budget is dedicated to paying down the debt. 
As debts increase for payments, the strain on incomes increases. In the 2019 budget, for instance, over N2.1 trillion was set aside for debt servicing. Also, in the 2020 budget, N2.45 trillion was dedicated for debt repayments. That was close to 25 per cent of the budget. No country can achieve development with such enormous debt settlements.
The huge amount spent on debt servicing leaves the Buhari government with little money for infrastructure. That is why it takes more loans and print money to finance the cost of personnel, pensions and capital expenditures. Since printed currency also forms part of the debt of any government, we are concerned with the staggering way the CBN has printed money over the last six years and handed it to the Federal Government. It increased sharply from N2.2 trillion printed in 2016 to an estimated N10 trillion by the end of 2020.
There is no use borrowing for projects such as railways and airports. No sane government continues to invest in such infrastructure. Investments in areas like that and many others should be led by the private sector while the government creates an enabling environment. Public funds should be expended on health, education and social welfare, not on areas better managed by the private sector.
Nigerians have always been bombarded by constant requests for loans from the President. Such loans have become too numerous and most well-meaning citizens have called for an end to the alarming tendency to incur loans infelicitously. The nation already has a huge debt burden and must not permit this situation so far aggravated by the Buhari administration.
Time and time again, the current government, aided by an implacable legislative assembly proud of its docility, has invoked various excuses to justify its borrowing frenzy. Sadly, the administration does not show creativity when it comes to reducing governance costs and consolidating the revenue base. It is all about here and now: it does not think of the future. The fiscal situation of the country is disastrous and disheartening, and it is time for the government to change course.

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