Transparency activists reject $82.5Bn deficit in ECA, demand merger into SWF

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– No change between Jonathan and Buhari on ‘illegal’ withdrawals

Experts and activists working under the Musa Yar’Adua Foundation have rejected the alleged deficit of about $84Bn in the Excess Crude Account (ECA) in the past 10 years and said what was happening under Goodluck Jonathan and Olusegun Obasanjo is still happening under Muhammadu Buhari in terms of unauthorised withdrawals.

The Abuja-based group has also called for a review of the Niger Delta Master Plan and immediate implementation to replace the economy of the oil region before oil would run out. This is as the group also warned that unless Nigeria adopted total transparency in withdrawal from the ECA, the loss of over N10 trillion in the past 10 years would mean that Nigeria stands the risk of losing even more in the next decade.

In a startling survey presented by Aisha Haruna, an economist, the foundation noted that Buhari’s administration withdrew 52 per cent from ECA without it showing in the only place required by rule for it to be recorded, the Federation Accounts and Allocation Committee (FAAC).

Before Buhari, she said, the ECA was expected to receive $187Bn but was less by $82.5Bn, leaving a mere $2.5Bn or 49 per cent withdrawn outside the rules. She said though the Buhari regime withdrew very little but the percentage was high too, showing that if much was saved, much would also have been withdrawn without due process.

The right way of withdrawing, she stated, was for all extra to be saved and then request for withdrawal to be tabled and recorded in FAC so that other two tiers of government that also have a share in the ECA would be accommodated.

The panel said in Port Harcourt that allowing unapproved withdrawals would create room for fraud, adding that the rule must be followed. Some of the reasons given for withdrawing from the ECA under Jonathan were given as fight against Boko Haram while same reason was given by the Buhari administration when she said $1Bn was unilaterally withdrawn.

As a way out, the foundation, through the coordinator, Amara Nwankpa, in a press briefing, called for immediate halt to unauthorised withdrawals and a merger of all the financial stabilization funds including the ECA under one account, the SWF.

The coordinator said the SWF was more difficult to withdraw from and yields interest to the federal government. An expert, Andrew Onyeanakwe, debunked the fear that saving at a low rate in the SWF while borrowing at higher rate to run the budget may not be sound financial thinking. He said the SWF would generate profit which he said the FG can depend on instead of loans.

Another expert, Jide Ojo, said diversification of the oil industry to maximize profit would reduce need to break into ECA or the SWF. He said Nigeria was simply exporting jobs by relying on crude oil alone.