‘Blame 1999 Constitution for lack of savings, not past regimes’
• Presidential aide says only attorney-general can comment
Nigeria’s constitution does not make a provision for government savings and lawyers yesterday failed to agree on whether it was enough reason for the country’s failure to save for its future.
Going by Section 162 of the 1999 Constitution as amended, reckless government expenditures cannot be adequately blamed on former leaders, Bolaji Akinyemi, a professor of political science and Nigeria’s former external affairs minister said in a statement.
“It is thoroughly misleading to isolate and demonise past regimes for the situation where Nigeria has no savings; the fault is in the 1999 Constitution (Section 162), which makes it mandatory for all monies collected by the Federal Government — with a few exceptions — to be deposited into a central account and to be distributed, among the Federal, State and Local Governments.”
A group, Lower Niger Congress, in agreeing with Akinyemi’s position, said the sentence in the preamble of the 1999 Constitution “falsely asserts and presupposes a meeting and an agreement among the peoples of Nigeria. It is this false claim that is at the core of the fraudulence of that constitution of 1999 and all it contains and creates, including the very Nigeria itself as one political union, the 36 states, 774 local councils, the federal Exclusive List, the quota system and all other shenanigans therein,” said Mr. Tony Nnadi, a lawyer and Secretary General of the Lower Niger Congress.
The former minister advised the President Muhammadu Buhari government to “single-mindedly drive a constitutional amendment that would follow the Norwegian model.” The Norwegian experience, he said, involves setting up a Government Pension Fund Global into which 100 per cent of the government’s revenues from royalties and dividends are paid. “In any one year, no more than four per cent is allowed to be drawn from the account,” he said.
He observed that the Nigerian model, “given our peculiar federalism, can include a provision that any withdrawal from the fund must be with a unanimous decision of the members of the National Economic Council. This is the way forward and goes beyond name-calling and the blame game.”
But a top presidential aide who spoke with The Guardian on telephone last night, declined commenting on the matter. “The office of the Attorney General is in a better position to respond to Akinyemi on this matter,’ he said.
Two telephone calls and a text message to the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, did not elicit a response. His media aide, Mr. Salihu Othman, could not issue a comment.
Prof. Akinyemi was appointed Nigeria’s external affairs minister in 1985 by former Military President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. He also served as deputy chairman of the 2014 National Conference organised by former President Goodluck Jonathan, which the current government said it would not implement.
Monday Ubani, a vice president of Nigeria’s body of lawyers, disagreed with Akinyemi, saying that Nigeria’s lack of saving culture should not be blamed on its constitution but on corrupt leadership. He argued that statements of fundamental laws across the world, including the United States, do not make provision for savings. “Absence of sanity is the cause of our madness,” he said, wondering why federal and state governments did not save their shares of previous allocations.
Section 162 of the 1999 Constitution states: “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 from 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.
“The President, upon the receipt of advice from the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission, shall table before the National Assembly proposals for revenue allocation from the Federation Account, and in determining the formula, the National Assembly shall take into account, the allocation principles especially those of population, equality of states, internal revenue generation, land mass, terrain as well as population density; (3) Any amount standing to the credit of the Federation Account shall be distributed among the Federal and State Governments and the Local Government Councils in each state on such terms and in such manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly.”
“No provision was made for savings,” and “this, with considerable charity, can only be called an unforgivable oversight,” Akinyemi remarked.He said serious attempts were made by the Obasanjo and Jonathan administrations to save through the Excess Crude Account and the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) and were frustrated by the states and the Judiciary. “The irony in Nigerian history is that some of the state governors who spearheaded the opposition to the attempts to save are now prominent in the Cabinet and the Senate”, he said.
Ubani agreed that the Sovereign Wealth Fund under former President Jonathan failed because it was not backed by law as governors challenged its legality. “The SWF was a scheme that was set up to save money for the rainy day. There should have been an enactment by the National Assembly to support it,” the lawyer said.
Akinyemi said his intervention was motivated by the desire to focus attention on solution to Nigeria’s problems. “If we have to lay blame, it should be at the door of those responsible for the 1999 constitution. This does not mean General Abubakar Abdulsalami alone, or the military regime alone, but includes elements of the judiciary and civilians who were all instrumental in midwifing that constitution,” he said.