Nigeria’s Senate will debate Thursday whether to allow President Muhammadu Buhari to reappropriate $1 billion in surplus oil revenue to the fight against Boko Haram, an Islamic State affiliate Buhari claimed to have defeated two years ago.
Withdrawing these funds would cut the nation’s Excess Crude Account (ECA) almost in half. Nigeria is Africa’s largest producer of crude oil and its largest economy.
Buhari’s proposal has caused an uproar among opposition politicians who argue that the demand proves Buhari lied about the state of the terrorist group when he told the BBC in December 2015 that “we have won the war” against Boko Haram. Others argue that, given evidence of widespread corruption within the Nigerian military, there is no way of guaranteeing the proper use of this funding if appropriated to the war on terror.
Nigeria’s Punch newspaper quotes Senator Samuel Anyanwu (PDP, Imo-East) as clarifying that, despite reports in national media suggesting that the nation’s governors had already approved the withdrawal of funds, appropriating funds is a strictly legislative activity according to the Nigerian constitution.
“It is very clear in our constitution. Section 80(1)(2)(3) states that any withdrawal from the Consolidated Revenue Account of the Federation or any other account must have the approval of the National Assembly,” Anyanwu argued. “I will want to bring up this issue as a formal motion.”
Punch predicts the Senate will not approve the funding and notes that the Senate has already decreed the creation of the ECA itself illegal.
Claims that the money was ready to be reappropriated began with Edo state governor Godwin Obaseki claiming that the nation’s governors had already approved the move.
“We are pleased with the federal government achievements in the insurgency war and in that vein, state governors have approved that the sum of $1 billion be taken from the excess crude account by the federal government to fight the insurgency war to its conclusion,” Obaseki reportedly said.
The remarks triggered a wave of protests from other governors insisting they were not involved in the approval.
“For posterity sake, I wish to place it on record that I was not among the governors who approved the withdrawal of almost half of our savings in the Excess Crude Account, which belongs to the three tiers of government to fight an ‘already defeated’ insurgency,” Ekiti State Governor Ayo Fayose told reporters.
Fayose said he believed the government was illicitly trying to fill its coffers for the upcoming 2019 elections and announced he would pursue legal action against Abuja.
“Since they said they have defeated Boko Haram, what else do they need a whopping sum of $1 billion (over N360 billion) for, if not to fund the 2019 elections?“ he reportedly asked. “The [ruling party] APC promised to wipe out Boko Haram within six months, now it is 31 months and what the government is wiping out is the economy of Nigeria and the means of livelihood of the people.”
Other governors disagreed. “I think it is really important for us not to play politics with national security because whatever ambition anyone might have for 2019, first, Nigeria has to be in continued existence before such ambition can make any sense,” Kashim Shettima, the governor of Borno, said on Monday. Borno has been the hardest hit of all states by Boko Haram terrorism and is where the group first became established.
Shettima said he “laughed” at the idea that the government would need less defense spending because Boko Haram had been, according to Buhari, defeated. “Are we going to wait until Boko Haram regroups and begin to attack the military before we strengthen our armed forces?”
A report by the State Department published this month suggested that Africa could become a popular destination for Islamic State jihadists following the group’s collapse in Iraq and Syria. As Boko Haram is one of the group’s largest affiliates on the continent, it could potentially attract many of these failed ISIS terrorists.
Protests that there is no reason to fight a defeated Boko Haram led the government to clarify Tuesday that it would use the money for more than just fighting this particular terrorist group, but all terrorist threats in the country.
The government has yet to issue a direct rebuttal to fears that the money will fall into the hands of corrupt actors. Accusations of corruption have long plagued the Nigerian military. In May, a report by Transparency International (TI) found that Nigerian military officers regularly enriched themselves with kickbacks and politicians took money meant for soldiers who did not exist. At the time, the nation’s vice president said he believed at least $15 billion had been lost to corruption.
Those who support Buhari’s push argue that the days of corruption within the military are long gone.
“People may be remembering that during the last administration when excess crude money was given to members of the armed forces to procure arms and ammunition, the money ended up in the pocket of some highly placed individuals,” Katsina State governor Aminu Masari told State House correspondents on Monday. “We know now that with the current president it is impossible for anybody to divert this money except for what it is earmarked for.”
He added that “one billion dollars is not much for security” and that the threat of Boko Haram attacks remained present.
As recently as late November, Buhari insisted that Boko Haram’s effectiveness had been “massively degraded” and that any subsequent terror attacks were “the last kicks of a dying horse.”
“In their desperation to stay relevant, they have resorted to the wicked and dastardly act of using innocent under-aged children to carry out suicide bomb attacks,” he said.
This opinion matches Buhari’s comments in the now infamous 2015 BBC interview, where he stated, “I think, technically, we have won the war. Boko Haram is an organized fighting force, I assure you, [but] we have dealt with them.”
This month, Buhari reformed his opinion, warning that all of West Africa is under “constant threat of violent terrorist groups such as Boko Haram, AQIM and Al-Qaida.”