BY ONYEMA GODWIN
A survey by experts under the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Foundation has shown that Nigeria cannot account for a whopping $82.5-billion about N10-trillion that accrued to the Excess Crude Account (ECA) for over a period of 10 years.
This is the Abuja-based group has also called for a review of the Niger Delta Master Plan and immediate implementation to replace the economy of the oil region before oil would run out.
The survey claimed that successive governments between 1999 and 2018 have all been guilty illegal withdrawals which largely blamed for the missing amount meant to be saved for rainy days.
The experts indicated the various administrations from the Obasanjo to the present administration saying that what was happening under Goodluck Jonathan and Olusegun Obasanjo is still happening under Muhammadu Buhari in terms of unauthorised withdrawals from the ECA.
The group warned that unless Nigeria adopted total transparency in withdrawal from the ECA, the loss of over N10 trillion in the past 10 years would mean that Nigeria stands the risk of losing even more in the next decade.
In a startling report presented in Port Harcourt at a roundtable on A Savings and Stabilisation Mechanism for Nigeria, by Aisha Haruna, an economist, the foundation noted that Buhari’s administration withdrew 52 per cent from ECA without it showing in the only place required by rule for it to be recorded, the Federation Accounts and Allocation Committee (FAAC).
She said though the Buhari regime withdrew very little the percentage was high too, showing that if much was saved, much would also have been withdrawn without due process.
The right way of withdrawing, she stated, was for all extras to be saved and then request for withdrawal to be tabled and recorded in FAAC so that other two tiers of government that also have shares in the ECA would be accommodated.
The panel said in Port Harcourt that allowing unapproved withdrawals would create room for fraud, adding that the rule must be followed. Some of the reasons given for withdrawing from the ECA under Jonathan were given as fight against Boko Haram while the same reason was given by the Buhari administration when she said $1Bn was unilaterally withdrawn.
As a way out, the foundation, through the coordinator, Amara Nwankpa, in a press briefing, called for immediate halt to unauthorised withdrawals and a merger of all the financial stabilisation funds including the ECA under one account, the SWF.
The coordinator said the SWF was more difficult to withdraw from and yields interest to the federal government.
An expert, Andrew onyeanakwe, debunked the fear that saving at a low rate in the SWF while borrowing at the higher rate to run the budget may not be sound financial thinking.
He explained the SWF would generate profit which he added that the FG can depend on instead of loans. Another expert, Jide Ojo, said diversification of the oil industry to maximise profit would reduce the need to break into ECA or the SWF. He said Nigeria was simply exporting jobs by relying on crude oil alone.
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