Nigerian leaders across the tiers of government, especially at the federal level, have reduced fiscal governance to a crude and barbaric joke. A joke carried out at the expense of the people and which produces direct results in poverty, suffering, disease and death for a good part of the population. There are unequivocal provisions in laws, regulations and policies directing on how public resources should be managed, spent and accounted for. But that is the law in the books which our leaders hold in great disdain and contempt.
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As Amended) provides in Section162 as follows: ”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 of 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”. From the President, members of the federal and state legislatures, governors, revenue generating agencies, etc., everyone is aware and knows about this provision. Again, the Constitution in Section 80 makes it clear that no money should be spent out of the consolidated revenue fund of the federation or any other public fund except upon the authorisation of the National Assembly.
However, some agencies operate above the law on a yearly basis and get away with fiscal murder. The office of the Auditor General of the Federation, an office established by the same constitution states in the 2014-2017 federal audit reports that three agencies- the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, the Department of Petroleum Resources and the Federal Inland Revenue Services withheld a total sum of N5.785trillion. The NNPC is holding on to N4.501tn, DPR N334bn while the FIRS held on to N951bn. They have since failed, refused and neglected to make these humungous sums available to the three tiers of government.
The three deviant agencies ignored sections 80 and 162 of the constitution and took extra-legal steps to violate the law. This raises the poser, why are these sections often obeyed in the breach? Why is no one being brought to account for flagrant disregard of constitutional provisions? Spending without appropriation and in clear disregard of the duty to remit to the distributable pool account is an original sin against the constitution for which the culprits do not deserve an extra day on their seat after the crime has been established. For the President of the Federation, spending without appropriation is an impeachable offence for it is an attempt to combine executive and legislative powers and such a combination is the hallmark of dictatorship.
This is a fact in the public domain at a time the federal government is virtually bankrupt and borrows to pay salaries as well borrows to pay back the due portions of previous loans – debt service and not even the repayment of the capital. If this money is recovered, it would offset the 2020 federal deficit. The N5.785tn is just a part of the unremitted funds reported in the audit reports and if all the due unremitted sums for the four years are put together, it could be as much as the 2020 federal budget.
In a normal situation, the Accountant General of the Federation and the Minister of Finance should follow up these monies, recover and put them back into the Federation Account. But this is a not a normal but an absurd abnormal situation. Therefore, beyond the Accountant-General and Minister of Finance, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd.), by virtue of his broad powers under S.5 of the 1999 Constitution, should give clear orders that all due sums should be paid into the Federation Account. This recommendation is also based on the fact that the key agency responsible for the bulk of the deductions — the NNPC– is directly under his supervision as the Minister of Petroleum. Furthermore, the unauthorised deductions make a strong case for the expeditious enactment of the governance and administrative reforms proposed in the Petroleum Industry Bill to enable the NNPC or its equivalent to operate like a commercial firm. The PIB has been delayed for over 20 years without any reasonable explanation and the last time a governance bill was passed, the President refused assent based on specious reasons.
The case of the NNPC is even most absurd. In the last couple of years, the backlog of joint venture cash calls and new ones are being paid for through the deployment of excess crude oil which the major international oil companies are allowed to take to offset due debts. So, what exactly informs the NNPC’s refusal to pay due sums into the Federation Account? A nation that keeps borrowing to meet basic mandates cannot be bleeding with unremitted sums and no one is being held accountable. No one is in jail for these scams, no one is apologising to Nigerians and indeed, unremitted sums have not been returned. Alternatively, are the NNPC, DPR and FIRS stating that the Auditor-General reported without any empirical evidence or went outside his mandate? No, we cannot continue this charade.
It is surprising that the states who are shortchanged by these unauthorised deductions have kept quiet and have not mounted any vigorous challenge to these infractions. It is the expectation that states should challenge this “customary practice” at the Supreme Court. Apparently, because the Auditor-General of the Federation takes on the cabals and grand fathers of corruption, the bill to strengthen his office, provide more resources and logistics for the office to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the performance of duties has also been in the works for over 15 years, Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Buhari refused assent to the Federal Audit Service Commission Bill and none of them gave any reason for declining assent.
The ball falls back on Nigerians as the ultimate sovereigns to put the required pressure for the enthronement of transparency and accountability in federal fiscal governance. We cannot continue to borrow when the leadership of key revenue generating agencies are sitting on sums which government should have used to fulfil public mandates.