Offloading the Boko Haram debacle

The exact cost of dealing with the Boko Haram affliction in the Northeast, and elsewhere may not be easy to put together.

Since the insurgency war has become protracted and we don’t have an exit date, and since military budgets are not to be probed, we may never know the total monetary cost of this madness.

However, we recently got a whiff of additional $1b offered by governors from the Excess Crude Account for continued prosecution of the war.

At the December 14 meeting of the National Economic Council (NEC), which held in the council chamber of the Presidential Villa, Abuja, the governors, through the governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki announced the gift.

Since the announcement, a lot has been said of the manner states arrived at the gesture, its legality, and otherwise. Others have queried why that hefty sum should be allocated to a war that is almost over, going by several accounts of persons in government.

Perhaps, if the Governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose had also capitulated like his fellow governors, not much would have been heard of the matter.

Fayose is himself a crab, and you cannot chew him silently. He will expose you. That was what happened, when other governors did not think it mattered to consult him before they arrived at the decision to tamper with the Excess Crude Account, which belongs to the three tiers of government.

The account as at December 13 has a balance of $2.317b, according to the NEC. Established in 2004 to warehouse excess oil revenues above yearly benchmarks, this same account has been a subject of litigation between states and the Federal Government. But that is not the topic of today.

The Ekiti State government and its local governments are said to be heading to the courts, to query why their portion of the ECA was willed to the Federal Government without the state’s permission. Fayose does not see the sense in investing that sum of money in a Boko Haram battle that is close to being won, while other challenges stare governments in the faces across the federation.

The havoc done to the country by Boko Haram is too huge to calculate. They have destroyed farmlands, rendered desolate communities. They are agents of destruction and some account say they have killed 100,000 and dispersed millions from their homes. Each time they visited any community, they destroy everything in sight, schools, hospitals, police station, everything.

Therefore, a sincere pledge to terminate their activities would be well received, provided there are no surreptitious plans to benefit unduly therefrom. The ECA is an account where money is stored for the rainy day.

The National Assembly is the organ vested with the constitutional powers to debate issues of appropriation, upon presentation by the Executive. It does not make sense that after Budget 2018 had been presented and is being debated, ECA would give approval for the Executive to spend $1b outside what the budget would allocate. There is an allocation going to the Defence Ministry, which does not take account of this new order to spend.

The NASS was to discuss this subject last Thursday, but excuses were offered to explain why that was not possible. The country is waiting to hear what the representatives of constituencies in 774 local government areas would say. Even if the NASS decides to play politics with it, one serious minded governor could challenge acts of illegality done by 35 states and the Federal Government.

The timing of the approval by NEC for the government to spend $1b is highly suspicious. Everyone knows that come 2018, most of the attention of this government will be deployed to 2019 elections, the timetable of which has already been issued by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). It is the tradition of all governments since 1999 to reserve the last year in government for politicking.

So far, the All Progressives Congress (APC) has not demonstrated in any manner that it is different. If the former Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), David Babachir Lawal could be sent home for benefiting unlawfully from the money meant to address displacements in the Northeast, and there are recorded cases of diversion of items meant for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), right under the Presidency, then this government cannot be trusted with more money for the Northeast without proper oversight.

Beyond spending money to physically conquer Boko Haram, more effort should be geared towards educating younger population in the Northeast and all over the country. Many had thought that this government would declare an emergency in the education sector going by the promises made during their campaigns in 2015.

Deploying $1b to revamp the sector could yield far more dividend than acquiring all the arms in the world. Boko Haram did not drop from heaven. It all started with politics, when a former Borno governor, Modu Sheriff thought it was wise to romance the deadly sect while it was still in infancy. Today, nobody wants to talk about that recent origin of the sect.

Even the present governor, Kashim Shettima who inherited the mess suffers deliberate amnesia. All blames belong only to Mr. Goodluck Jonathan.

Yet, the previous government showed some concern with almajiri education, in order to capture young minds before zealots and haters mislead them. That policy may have been fraught with poor planning and procurement irregularities, but it is for a reforming government to pick it up and turn it into an asset. This government is yet to unveil its policy on almajiri education, but is willing to spend $1b on arms purchase.

The governors who are proposing this idea are the most insincere set of human beings on earth. These governors have picked countless bailouts and Paris Club refunds, yet they cannot pay teachers, so that learning takes place and young minds are not ensnared. Perhaps, they think it is payback time for a Federal Government that has been so generous with bailouts?

Fayose is standing his grounds. He has always distinguished himself from ‘yes men’ governors who have no guts to confront a derailing government. Others who were there while the decision was taken and did not oppose it are now injecting clauses into it, now asking that 13 percent derivation should first be taken out of the $1b before the FG begins to disburse. One of such is the Bayelsa governor, Seriake Dickson. He may have seen the backlash. The Akwa Ibom governor, Emmanuel Udom has queried the grant by the Governors’ Forum. He said he was not there when the decision was taken.

It is not a surprise, that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has offered some clarification on the matter, though belatedly. Each time there are blunders out there; the man comes in to attempt some damage control. He said the money is not meant for the Northeast insurgency alone, but to tackle insecurity in all the flashpoints across the country. If that was the initial explanation, Governor Fayose will have little or no reason to oppose it.

To really deal with Boko Haram, all hands must be on deck. When it all began, some people lived in denial. They felt the menace was for the ruling government alone. Others even made political capital of it, used it as campaign material and promised to do what the United States has been unable to do in Afghanistan.

The Kano Emir, Sanusi Lamido understands the root of the problem. But those who benefit from the system do not want him to create a revolution. To offload this burden, we need a government that will cause a social revolution that will put vagrant children in schools and get parents to be accountable to children. We need a government that will look religious bigots in the face and tell them to shut up. We need a restructured Nigeria!

Sunday Narrative is going on holiday and will return in 2018. Special apologies to my kind and wonderful partners out there. Merry Christmas and a better New Year. See you then.

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