THE controversy over the intention of the President Muhammadu Buhari regime to spend $496 million (about N179 billion) on the purchase of military aircraft from the United States without prior legislative approval shows we are still struggling to transit from military to democratic rule.
The Minister of Defence, Alhaji Mansur Dan-Ali in February this year announced that President Buhari had “approved” the withdrawal of this huge amount from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) for the purchase of 12 pieces of Super Tucano military attack helicopters, a deal which was affirmed when Buhari paid an official visit to the USA recently.
Expectedly, the National Assembly was livid that the Executive could brazenly dip its hand into the national till to spend such money belonging to the three tiers of government without approval. Some even mooted the idea of “impeaching” of the President.
Presidency officials reacted in mixed fashion. While Senator Ita Enang, Buhari’s National Assembly aide (Senate) affirmed that the President would still bring the matter before the lawmakers, the President’s new campaign spokesman, Festus Keyamo, insisted the fund is being spent under the “doctrine of necessity”.
Some have even held that this is nothing new, as past presidents frequently dug into the ECA without even referring to the National Assembly.
All these are just political red herrings because they do not address the real issue concerning what the law says we should do in spending the nation’s resources. There is no “doctrine of necessity” or “anticipatory approval” in our laws. Even though we invoked the “doctrine of necessity” to enable former President Goodluck Jonathan fill the leadership vacuum occasioned by the terminally-ill President Umaru Yar’ Adua who did not transfer power constitutionally, it was the National Assembly that adopted the doctrine by unanimous acclaim.
Indeed, we need all the security equipment we can get to combat the lingering Boko Haram insurgency. Why didn’t the Federal Government include it in the 2018 budget or bring a supplementary budget while negotiations for the aircraft were going on? Why the seeming urgency when the earliest time for the delivery of this equipment is 2020? Some have even come up with figures suggesting that Nigeria would be paying much higher than the actual cost.
We reiterate that money in the ECA belongs to all tiers of government and must be appropriated in line with constitutional injunctions and laws guiding fiscal transparency. The fact that former regimes violated the Federal treasury does not justify a continuation of this practice.
We need absolute transparency and due process in dealing with this issue. It will help to put to bed the allegations that the money could be diverted to political campaigns or Boko Haram war profiteering.