Abuja — The controversy over the nod given by governors under the aegis of Nigeria Governors' Forum (NGF) to withdraw $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) to fight the insurgency in the North-east took another turn Tuesday, when Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo clarified that the $1 billion was not solely earmarked for the fight against Boko Haram, but to tackle security challenges nationwide.
Osinbajo's clarification came just as Ekiti State Governor Ayodele Fayose said he had dragged the federal government and the NGF to court over the matter.
The vice-president, who spoke at the opening of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Secretaries to State Governments' retreat in Abuja, said the $1 billion approved by the governors was meant to fight all forms of security challenges facing various states in the country.
He said the money from the ECA would be used to tackle security challenges such as Boko Haram in the North-east, kidnapping, small arms trafficking, cattle rustling, and clashes between herdsmen and farmers.
According to Osinbajo, "It was on account of the security summit that the governors under the NGF decided that they would vote a certain sum of money, which has become somewhat controversial.
"The $1billion is meant to assist the security architecture of the country. It is to cater to all of the issues in the states, including policing in the states, community policing, and all of the different security challenges that we have.
"It was after the security summit that the governors' forum met across party lines, and I must add that this is what is needed to be done to shore up our security architecture."
At the end of last week's meeting of the National Economic Council, the governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, had made public the approval given by the governors to the federal government to withdraw the $1 billion from the ECA to fight the insurgency.
But the decision has stirred up a lot of criticism, especially from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which claimed that the reason given for the withdrawal was a ploy to deceive Nigerians.
PDP also alleged that the $1 billion was going to be used by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to fund its campaigns for the 2019 elections.
Fayose Heads to Court
But even as the presidency moved to do some damage control, the Ekiti State governor announced Tuesday that he had dragged the federal government and the NGF to court over the matter.
Fayose, who disclosed this to State House correspondents after a meeting of the NGF and Conference of Speakers of State Houses of Assembly at the State House, Abuja, said he filed the case in court Tuesday at exactly noon.
The meeting of state governors and speakers of the state assemblies was convened to discuss the amendments to the 1999 Constitution as presented to the assemblies by the federal legislature.
Fayose, however, said he did not have the opportunity to express his objection to the decision before all the governors Tuesday, because the matter was not listed on the agenda for the meeting.
"May I say this to you? I filed the case in court as early as noon today (yesterday). If it was not listed as part of the meeting, so how am I going to raise the issue? I have options and I have said it expressly. I have gone to court," he said.
But when doubts were expressed by reporters over his submission that such a controversial matter was not discussed at Tuesday's meeting, Fayose responded: "No, no, if it was one of the issues discussed, I would have said so. I am not a pretender. I won't suffer in silence."
He insisted that he was opposed to the decision because the people of Ekiti State had been robbed of their own share of the money which he said would further compound the hunger ravaging the state.
Insisting that the matter was not raised at all in the meeting, Fayose said his position on the matter was not that of his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), but personal, pointing out that the matter had not been considered at all by the PDP, nor was he part of the NGF meeting where the decision was taken.
"I'm not in support of the $1 billion and will never be in support. In my state, we have agreed to go to court to contest this. It is our legitimate right. All accruals to the federation must be shared by the three tiers of government and for me to get justice, I have to go to court.
"The issue was not discussed at all. But for me, I have taken appropriate steps because the money belongs to Ekiti people not for any other use. But I am speaking for Ayo Fayose.
"With the PDP and other stakeholders, we have not met. I did not attend the meeting (last week). Even if I was part of the meeting, I would have made it expressly clear that I will not support it. Every state has its own peculiarities in terms of security.
"Ekiti State has 'hunger haram' where hunger is afflicting people everywhere. A lot of people are being kidnapped daily. Whatever is in that money, as far as I am concerned, we should share it.
"Let everybody go and solve his own problem. I have challenges and they should give me my money. It is Ekiti's money," he stressed.
Also addressing reporters on the issue, NGF Chairman Abdulaziz Yari said Fayose had the right to protest against the decision because democracy gives room for agitation.
According to him, the matter was discussed at the meeting of the NGF in November this year, also revealing that the meeting was attended by 32 of the 36 governors and there was no single dissenting voice to the decision.
Yari also argued that by the governors' decision, they were only building on the precedent set by the former administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, when according to him, $2 billion was withdrawn from the ECA to fight the insurgency.
Yari claimed that it was the then Governor of Akwa Ibom State Godswill Akpabio, who moved the motion for the concession of $2 billion to the federal government from the ECA to fight the insurgency.
He said it had become imperative to build on the precedent because of the need to purchase equipment for the military to aid the battle against insecurity.
Yari who stated that the decision would be backed by resolutions of Houses of Assembly, added that a similar decision was taken during the administration of President Umaru Yar'Adua.
He also argued that the money in the ECA was actually being kept for emergency use, recalling that there was a time money belonging to states was illegally deducted by the federal government, a situation he said the current government was now redressing.
"Gentlemen, this is a democracy and each and every person has his own way at looking at things and you cannot stop him from being a dissenting voice.
"One, the Nigeria Governors' Forum discussed this issue at our November meeting and we agreed across party lines that this thing has been done in 2014 when $2 billion was taken in agreement with the governors at that meeting.
"Governor Akpabio was the one that moved the motion. This time, we realised that there was the need to purchase equipment for the military. So, we felt we should not compromise the issue of security for the entire country.
"We said as governors, we agreed to forfeit $1 billion of our own share of the Excess Crude Account which we are going to back up with the State Assemblies' resolution at a later time.
"This is not the first time a decision like this is being taken. It happened during the Jonathan era when they took $2 billion. We all agreed at that time collectively in the same chamber to withdraw $2 billion to procure equipment and logistics for the military because they were telling us, whether it was true or false, that our soldiers were being killed.
"Some came on the social media, saying that they were being killed like rats because they didn't have the training and equipment. That was what generated discussions in the same chamber and there was no controversy. There was no opposition to the decision at that time.
"Secondly, there was this decision also during Yar'Adua's time when they were sourcing funds for the Niger Delta Power Holding Company to build the independent power projects.
"They took over N5 billion for power generation and we followed the same process to withdraw the money from the same account and our respective Houses of Assembly passed the resolution.
"The $2 billion taken during Jonathan's time was not backed up by any resolution from the state assemblies. So, gentlemen, we should not play politics with the issue of national security.
"By the way, in the governors' forum, 12 members form a quorum. At the time we took this decision, we had 32 members in attendance and there was no single opposition to the decision.
"So, if anybody has his own idea of how he wants things to go, we had the majority and there was not even a minority opinion at that meeting. We looked at the country, Nigeria, first before any other issue. It is only when you have a country that you can have the politics.
"You see if you are not an economist, you may not understand what we are talking about. These monies are kept there for the rainy day, and how much is in the ECA? It is about $2 billion.
"In the past, the federal government was deducting the money illegally. So, we were asking the federal government to give us what was our own. Then, we were appealing but they did not listen.
"But thank God today, we have a listening government which also makes an attempt to pay 50 per cent (of the Paris Club refund). So, we are looking forward to the last balance of 50 per cent.
"And graciously, understanding the economies of the states, the federal government has agreed to pay that, so that the state governments can pay outstanding salaries and meet their obligations to their citizens," Yari explained.
However, as Fayose and Yari made the case for and against the approval given to the federal government to withdraw the $1 billion from the ECA to wage the war against Boko Haram, the chairmen of the 16 local government areas in Ekiti State dragged the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and governors of the 36 states to court challenging the approval.
The applicants in the suit filed Tuesday before the Abuja division of the Federal High Court are seeking an order of injunction restraining the federal government and the 36 states governors, their agents, servants, privies, representatives in interest, howsoever called and by whatsoever name designated, from giving effect to the appropriation and/or approval of appropriation of the sum of $1 billion or any other sum whatsoever, from the Excess Crude Account of the Federation, as contained in the decision made on December 15, 2017, unless and by means of statutory allocation by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC).
In the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1264/17, the council chairmen asked the court to declare that the approval of the sum of $1 billion by the 36 state governors to purportedly execute the constitutional duty of the federal government, which has been sufficiently funded from the Federation Account, without their consent was ultra vires, unlawful, null and void.
The suit, which was filed at the registry of the court by the counsel to the plaintiffs, Mr. Ola Olanikpekun (SAN), also listed RMAFC as a defendant.
The chairmen are Deji Ogunsakin (Ado LGA); Bola Alonge (Ikere LGA); Lanrewaju Omolase (Ekiti South West LGA); Dapo Olagunju (Irepodun/Ifeelodun LGA); Samuel Adeniyi (Ekiti East LGA); Olumide Falade (Ise/Orun LGA); Sade Akinrinmola (Gbonyin LGA); Tayo Ogundare (Oye LGA); Chief Ayodeji Arogbodo (Ido/Osi LGA) and Taiwo Oguntuase (Emure LGA).
Others include Kolawole Omotunde (Ekiti West LGA); Bolaji Jeje (Efon LGA); Adesola Adeyanju (Ikole LGA); Ganiyu Bakare (Ilejemele LGA); Adeniyi Adebayo (Moba LGA) and Abiodun Dada (Ijero LGA).
The applicants, in addition, are seeking for an order of court declaring that in the discharge of its constitutional duty to safeguard the security and territorial integrity of Nigeria, the Federal Government of Nigeria, being the 1st defendant's principal (AGF), must be funded in accordance with its Appropriation Act and by means of due accruals from the Federation Account only.
A declaration that the 1st-37 defendants' appropriation and/or approval of appropriation of the sum of $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account of the federation made at the National Economic Council meeting of December 12, 2017, without regard to the consent of the 38th defendant (the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission), the plaintiffs (integral part of the Local Governments of the Federation of Nigeria), and the due appropriation of the various state Houses of Assembly, was unconstitutional, unlawful, ultra vires, null and void ab initio and of no effect whatsoever.
The council chairmen also asked the court for a declaration that they are entitled to a full share of all revenue accrued and accruable to the Federation Account and the Federation Excess Crude Account or any other account whatsoever operated by and for the Federation of Nigeria, including the sum of $1 billion (which was purportedly approved for the expenditure of the federal government by the 1st-37th defendants at the 83rd National Economic Council meeting of December 15, 2017, in accordance with Section 162 of the 1999 Constitution and the provisions of Allocation of Revenue (Federation Account) Act.
They want the court to determine "whether by the provisions of Sections 153 (1) (h), 162 and Paragraph 18, Part 1 of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution, the 1st -37th defendants can lawfully appropriate and or approve the appropriation of funds in the Excess Crude Account of the Federation of Nigeria, without affecting, reducing or obliterating the plaintiffs' lawful share of proceeds from the Federation Account".
Furthermore, they asked: "Whether the 2nd defendant can lawfully appropriate and/or approve the appropriation of funds in the Excess Crude Account of the Federation of Nigeria, without the consent and/or consultation of the plaintiffs.
"Whether in the discharge of the federal government's constitutional duty of safeguarding the security and territorial integrity of Nigeria, (as mandated by Section 217 of the 1999 Constitution, the federal government can lawfully resort to funding other than by means of its Appropriation Act."
The suit was supported by a 14-paragraph affidavit deposed to by one Everest Igweokolo, a litigation executive in the law firm of Messrs Ola Olanikpekun.
As of Tuesday, it had not been assigned to any judge for a hearing.