Lack of savings: Why Buhari should stop blaming past leaders, by Bolaji Akinyemi •X-rays 1999 Constitution •Explains role of National Economic Council

FORMER Minister of External Affairs and deputy chairman, 2014 National Conference, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to stop blaming past leaders for having no savings to fall back on, saying the blame should be laid squarely at the doorstep of the 1999 Constitution.

Professor Akinyemi said this on Sunday, in reaction to a statement credited to President Buhari while playing host to a group of youths at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

He, however, quickly charged Buhari to “single-mindedly drive a constitutional amendment that would follow the Norwegian model, which favours setting up a government pension fund into which 100 per cent of the government’s revenue from royalties and dividends are paid and from which no more than four per cent is allowed to be drawn from the account in any one year.

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,” he said, adding that “this is the way forward and goes beyond name calling and the blame game.”

Buhari had accused past presidents, including Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Dr Goodluck Jonathan, of expending all the country’s savings on importing fuel and food without building infrastructure and, thereby, making it difficult for his administration to fulfill his campaign promises to Nigerians.

When we came in by some unfortunate coincidence, I screamed to high heavens because I had promised a lot seeking votes. I said where is the savings? There was no savings.

There was no infrastructure – power, rails, roads; there was none. What did we spend the money on? I was told it was spent on buying food and petrol,” President Buhari was quoted to have said.

But in a statement entitled: “Blame the Constitution and not past regimes for lack of savings,” which was made available to the Nigerian Tribune, Professor Akinyemi, while noting that he was not in the business of rising up to the defence of previous presidents or regimes, especially as most of them were still alive and capable of defending themselves, said it was thoroughly misleading to isolate and demonise past regimes for the situation where Nigeria had no savings.

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.

The exact language is as follows: Section 162. (1) 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,” he said.

Akinyemi said the same constitution also enjoined the president, upon the receipt of advice from the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), to table before the National Assembly, proposals for revenue allocation from the Federation Account, who would, in determining the formula for its sharing, take into account the allocation principles.

He said the principle included especially those of population, equality of states, internal revenue generation, land mass, terrain, as well as population density, among others.

The deputy chairman of 2014 conference contended that no provision was made for savings, describing such lapse as an unforgivable oversight.

No provision was made for savings. This, with considerable charity, can only be called an unforgivable oversight,” he said.

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 added.

Akinyemi, however, recalled that both the Obasanjo and Jonathan administrations made attempts to put in place savings through the backdoor, such as Excess Crude Accounts (ECA) and Commonwealth Savings Funds (CSF), lamenting that both plans were frustrated by the states and the judiciary, with the irony being that some of the state governors who spearheaded the opposition to the attempts to save for Nigeria were now key players in current government.