We’ll recover funds stolen by govt officials, says Buhari
• ‘Days of fiscal recklessness, impunity over’
• Govs demand refund for projects executed
• Seek extension of loan repayment periods
• FAAC meets, FG, states share N418.45b
GOVERNORS yesterday got an earful from President Muhammadu Buhari when he told them to embrace fiscal discipline in the management of resources accruing to their states as the days of impunity, lack of accountability and fiscal recklessness were over.
The President, whose admonition was contained in a statement made available to State House correspondents by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina at the end of a meeting between him and state governors at the Presidential Villa, also vowed that funds stolen by government officials in the recent past will be recovered and systemic leakages stopped.
“There are financial and administrative instructions in every government parastatal and agency. But all these were thrown to the dogs. Honestly, our problems are great, but we will do our best to surmount them.
“The next three months may be hard, but billions of dollars can be recovered, and we will do our best, “the President told them.
Also, the President yesterday, disclosed that his administration had received firm assurances of cooperation from the United States and other countries on the recovery and repatriation of funds stolen from Nigeria.
A statement by Adesina quoted the President as telling members of the Northern Traditional Rulers Council led by the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Mohammed Sa’ad Abubakar III that it was now up to Nigeria to provide the international community with the facts and figures needed to drive the recovery effort.
“In the next three months, our administration will be busy getting those facts and the figures to help us recover our stolen funds in foreign countries,’’ the President told the traditional rulers.
Citing the report submitted by the Ahmed Joda-led Transition Committee, Buhari said that several revenue-generating institutions in the country have been compromised leading to a weak economy.
The Sultan had earlier told the President that as custodians of tradition and stakeholders in the Nigerian project, the traditional rulers had a responsibility to always advise political leaders on the path of truth and justice.
Meanwhile, a silver-lining has appeared in the gloomy skies of cash-strapped Federal and state governments with the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) yesterday reporting an increase of N42 billion in the revenue collected in the month of May compared with the previous April’s figure.
The committee reported a net distributable revenue of N418.452 billion up from the April’s N388.339 billion.
The drivers of the increase were increases in the volume of crude oil sales which improved to N225.167 billion from N180.470 billion the previous month and foreign gain which yielded to the coffers of the Federation the sum of N31.240 billion.
While the Naira/Dollar exchange rate for 2015 budget was predicated at N160 to a dollar, the prevailing rate is now N194 to a dollar.
Expressing surprise that governors had tolerated the atrocities allegedly committed with the Excess Crude Account (ECA) since 2011, Buhari promised to tackle the issue decisively.
The President declared that the payment of national revenue into any account other than the Federation Account was an abuse of the constitution, adding that what he heard that went on in many agencies and corporations, particularly the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) were clearly illegal.
He also noted that a comprehensive statement on the economic and financial situation inherited by his administration will be made to the nation within the next four weeks.
“We will try and put the system back into the right position. What happened in the Second Republic has apparently happened again, and even worse, but we will restore sanity to the system,” Buhari assured.
On the agitation for the refund of the monies spent on federal projects by states, the President assured the governors that the Federal Government will pay, but insisted that due process must be followed.
To this end, a committee headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to verify the authenticity of the claims has been set up even as the President promised special assistance to the three north eastern states affected by the Boko Haram insurgency.
On an immediate lifeline for states that owe salaries running into many months, Buhari said a committee headed by the Vice to see what can be shared immediately.
The governors, led by Chairman of the Governors Forum (NGF) Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara State, had presented a wish list to Buhari that included obedience of extant Supreme Court ruling that all monies go into the Consolidated Federation Account and an order from him that all revenue generating agencies must pay into the Consolidated Federation Account (CFA).
Other demands by the governors included review of the Revenue Allocation Formula; special consideration for the three states of the North East under Boko Haram infestation; full details of the amounts that accrued into the Excess Crude Account from 2011, and how the money shrank without official sharing.
The governors also raised the issue of the unconstitutionality or otherwise of keeping the Excess Crude Account or the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) when there exists the CFA into which all monies accruing to the Federal Government must go before being distributed to various states and local councils.
Briefing State House correspondents after the meeting, Yari who was joined by his Abia and Bauchi states’ counterparts, Okezie Ikpeazu and Mohammed Abubakar respectively, expressed the hope that something positive would happen in the next few days.
Yari also said the governors did not discuss the issue of a possible bailout with the president as had been reported, but only about the way forward on the critical financial situation facing both the federal and state governments.
He said: “We proposed to Mr. President that instead of a bail-out, that the funds for jobs, projects done by the states should be refunded by the Federal Government. If the money owed the affected states is released, they can start paying salaries without a bail-out.
‘‘Secondly, we also brought to his notice that tenure for most of the loans owed by states be extended to 20 years. This will bring relief to the states such that they would be able to continue other businesses, including paying salaries.”
Justifying the NGF’s rejection of the ECA, the Zamfara governor said it was based on the governors’ mistrust on how the fund had been managed so far, which he said was less than transparent.”
His words: “Our argument why we did not agree with the account was based on the question as to who the managers are. Each state and local government has account in the Excess Crude Account but who are the managers? The accounts and the funds are being managed by the Federal Government which takes about 56 per cent while states and local governments together are taking 44 per cent. For instance, before our forum was divided, we left $10.3 billion in the excess crude account and we expected the account to grow.
‘‘But as reported in our last meeting, the account is now $2.6 billion, the sharing stopped since May 2013 and no kobo has been given to any state or local government. Therefore, under which platform will you save the money? To save the money is good but no matter how beautiful it is, if it does not have the backing of the Constitution, it is null and void.
“We made it clear to Mr. President that the total debt of the 36 states and Federal Capital Territory was N658 billion but the domestic debt of the Federal Government is N5.53 trillion. So we appreciate the fact we are all in this problem.”
‘‘We also raised concern about the dismantling of military checkpoints on the highways which we thought was not timely. But Mr. President cited some incidents that happened at the military checkpoints but where necessary, he has given the Chief of Army Staff, the permission that they can continue especially in the North, South East and the frontline states.”
In his intervention, Bauchi Governor, Mohammed Abubakar said:
“Let’s understand first and foremost, that the meeting was not about sharing. It was about cross fertilisation of ideas between the President and the governors. We are saying that if there is going to be any sharing, it should be done according to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and let’s abide by that constitution.”
Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Finance, Mrs. Anastasia Daniel -Nwobia who presided in the absence of a statutory Minister of State, Finance, also explained how the figure appreciated and why FAAC was delayed by one week.
A breakdown of the revenue distributed indicated that the Federal Government is to receive N151.805 billion representing its 52.68 per cent of the allocation formula and another sum of 8.182 billion from the VAT pool, representing 15 per cent share of that formula.
The states on the other hand are to share N76.998 billion, representing 26.72 per cent and another sum of N27.274 billion, from the VAT pool which represents 50 per cent of their share while the local councils are to get NN59.362 billion as statutory revenue and another sum of N19.092 billion.