The Senate was told yesterday that the Federal Government diverted N873 billion from the Natural Resources Development Account to finance unrelated projects in the various ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) within 10 years.
During debate on a motion sponsored by Senator Abu Ibrahim (CPC, Katsina South) and nine others, on the "Development of Solid Minerals Sector as a Panacea to the Bankruptcy of States of the Federation and Creation of Jobs in Nigeria", Senator Ahmad Lawan (ANPP, Yobe North), said the Senate Public Accounts Committee, which he chairs, discovered during a recent investigation that the monies were diverted between 2002 and 2012.
He said the total accrual to the account from 2002 to 2012 was N873 billion while utilisation stood at 701 billion, leaving a balance of N172 billion.
Lawan said this was contained in the report submitted to the Senate last month, citing the diversion of N11 billion from the Natural Resources Development Account in 2005 to finance the monetization programme.
Another N11 billion was loaned to the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to develop aviation infrastructure while N4 billion was given to the ministry of foreign affiars to build a chancery in Tokyo, Japan.
The Natural Resources Development Account was set up in 2002 to develop alternative mineral resources with a view to reducing the nation's reliance on oil, but Senator Lawan said yesterday that his committee had discovered from government records that the monies in the account had never been used for the purpose intended.
A member of the Senate Public Accounts Committee, Senator Olubunmi Adetunmbi (ACN, Ekiti North) corroborated Senator Lawan's position, saying that the Federal Government had sabotaged the natural resources fund.
She insisted that the government be made to account for the N873billion with which the solid minerals sector ought to have been developed in the various states.
Adetunmbi, who flayed the government for drawing the funds to finance items that ought to have been ordinarily budgeted for, said the committee, in its investigation, discovered that N20 billion was diverted from the Natural Resources Development Account in 2004 to finance the Abuja-Lokoja road project; N50 billion in 2009 to finance a supplementary budget, and another N70billion diverted in 2010 to finance the central budget.
Senator Lawan also told Daily Trust after the session that efforts were underway to prevent future abuse of the fund.
"We have come up with a bill to establish the account because presently there is no regulation on how the money will be used. The bill will cover the Ecological Fund account and stabilisation account. It also prescribed penalty such abuses," he said.
Lending his voice to the motion on the floor of the Senate, Senator Ayogu Eze (PDP, Enugu) said the funds in the Natural Resources Development Account were diverted and misused because the National Economic Management Team misled the government.
He said: "There is a lot of mischief on the part of those working with the Federal Government. Those managing our economy are not sincere in advising their principal because the issue of budget is under someone's portfolio. The solid minerals sector is more enduring than oil. If the solid minerals sector is developed to stabilise the economy, contentions will go down. This should be a wake-up call for the leaders who are receiving allocations to work on behalf of Nigerians."
Senators Victor Lar (PDP, Plateau South), Danjuma Goje (PDP, Gombe Central), Smart Adeyemi (PDP, Kogi West), George Akume (ACN, Benue) and Abdullahi Adamu (PDP, Nasarawa West) asked the Senate to do everything possible to ensure that the Federal Government utilises the natural resource account funds for the purpose intended.
Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the session, stressed the need to first assess the impact of solid minerals before addressing their exploration, adding that "we need to reverse the current situation where the Federal Government is contributing to the states". The Senate, therefore, resolved to mandate its committee on Solid Minerals to embark on holistic assessment of solid minerals development in Nigeria.
Earlier in his lead debate, Senator Ibrahim said the solid minerals sector is under-funded, and argued that the diversification of government revenue away from oil is a key focus and that the solid minerals sector has the potential to play a major role in providing substantial revenue to government and grow the economy.