The Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, has reacted to the recent decision to spend $1 billion of the funds in the Excess Crude Account to fight Boko Haram.
The Governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, on Thursday told journalists in the State House, Abuja, that the governors agreed at the National Economic Council, NEC meeting, to spend $1 billion from the ECA to fight Boko Haram insurgency in the North-east region.
Mr. Obaseki did not, however, give specifics of how the fund will be spent, a development which has generated public criticism.
Unlike his Ekiti State counterpart, Ayo Fayose, who opposed the decision and said he was not a party to the governors agreeing to make such spending, Mr. Wike did not oppose it or deny he was part of the decision.
Rather, the Rivers governor asked the federal government to also release funds for tackling issues of environmental degradation and security in the Niger Delta.
The governor said the problems of environmental and security challenges in the Niger Delta are as important as the fight against Boko Haram.
He said this during the Annual General Meeting of Okpo Club of Nigeria (Association of Ikwerre Lawyers) on Saturday in Port Harcourt.
Details of his speech were made available to PREMIUM TIMES by the goveror’s Special Assistant, on Electronic Media, Simeon Nwakaudu.
Mr. Wike urged the federal government to release the derivation component of the Excess Crude Account to the oil producing states of the Niger Delta.
“Niger Delta environmental problems are as serious as the Boko Haram Insurgency,” he said. “I am not saying that you should not fight Boko Haram. If you can get funds from the National Pool to tackle Boko Haram, then you should go to the pool to get funds to fight environmental problems in Ogoni and other Niger Delta communities.”
In its reaction, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, questioned the decision to spend the $1 billion.
The group in a statement signed by its Deputy Director, Timothy Adewale, wants the president to explain the need for such withdrawal since Boko Haram has been reportedly defeated.
President Muhammadu Buhari and other officials of his administration had repeatedly said the terror group has been technically defeated; a statement repeatedly criticised by the opposition.
“Nigerians should have some sense of what it is the government is doing in our name, especially against the background of the declaration by the authorities that the anti-insurgency war has ended and the Boko Haram terror group defeated, as well as the unresolved questions on how over $2 billion was spent by former Jonathan administration to fight Boko Haram.
“The government also ought to tell Nigerians whether and how the legal requirements for approving the extra-budgetary allocations were met.
“As a government presumably pursuing a change-agenda, Buhari should do things differently from the former Jonathan administration including by proactively engaging the Nigerian people in an honest conversation about the fight against Boko Haram and the use of the public funds so far invested to prosecute it,” Mr. Adewale said.
SERAP expressed worry over the persistence of Boko Haram insurgency despite increased budgetary allocation to the defence sector.
“Since the start of the Boko Haram insurgency, Nigeria defence and security budgets have increased significantly yet there has been no resolution of the conflict; and troops in the front line have reportedly complained of lack of military equipment and resources to fight Boko Haram insurgents and restore full security.
“For instance, in 2014 about N340billion (US$1.7billion) was allocated to the military. Funds allocated to the military was the largest in Nigeria’s federal budget in 2014.
“In October 2014, the National Assembly approved a request to borrow US$1billion as an additional amount for purchase of military equipment. In 2015, about N375billion (US$1.8billion) was allocated to the military in the federal budget. In 2015, an interim report of the presidential investigations committee on arms procurement under the Jonathan administration revealed an extra-budgetary spending to the tune of N643.8 billion and an additional spending of about $2.1 billion under the Jonathan administration.
“The investigation indicated that about $2.1 billion was inexplicably disbursed into the office of the National Security Adviser in procurement of arms to fight Boko Haram insurgency, but was not spent for the purpose for which the money was disbursed.”
The group urged President Buhari to be transparent in his dealings and asked him to investigate cases of corruption linked to the fight against Boko Haram.
At least one former official, Babachir Lawal, has been indicted for alleged corruption in handling funds meant for Boko Haram ravaged states.
Mr. Lawal, a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, was eventually removed from office by Mr. Buhari, several months after his indictment by the Senate and following public outcry. He is yet to be prosecuted.