There appears not to be an end in sight to the war of words between the Governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi and the Coordinating Minster for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala over the governor’s concern about the management of the Excess Crude Account, ECA.
Amaechi, who is also the Chairman Nigeria Governor’s Forum, NGF, raised the concern during the 2nd retreat of the NGF in Sokoto.
Amaechi, has alleged that the sum of $5 billion was withdrawn, mysteriously, from the Excess Crude Account, arguing that there was $9 billion in the account in January this year, but regretted that the amount had depleted without the governors knowing why the money was withdrawn.
“The Excess Crude Account in January was N9bn. That account belongs to federal, states and local governments. Today it is N4bn. We don’t know who took the $5bn,” he said.
Governor Amaechi had alleged that the ECA is being managed like a piggy-bank contrary to provisions of the law and in a manner that does not allow for transparency and accountability.
Since the governor raised the issue, the finance ministry came out hard to debunk the claim and further alleged that the Rivers State government was indeed, received N56.2 billion from the ECA between January and September 2013.
However, a statement on Thursday by Ibim Semenitari, Rivers State Commissioner for Information and Communication, said that the spat from the Minister’s office since the governors’ complaint has been suggestive of chasing a red herring. “Instead of answering the questions raised by Governor Amaechi, and clarifying the issues, the Honourable Minister is simply muddying the waters,” Ibim said.
For the records and for the avoidance of doubt, the Rivers State Government, according to the statement, has not at any time contested that it has received funds from the federation account.
“In its response to the claim by the Honourable Minister that it received N56.2 from the Excess Crude Account, the Rivers State Government simply explained the well-known fact that the monies received were from the federation account and part of its statutory allocation.
“All state governments receive their statutory allocation from the federation account and the Rivers State Government is no different,” the statement said.
Rivers State government insisted that “There is a position of the National Economic Council’s (NEC) on the matter of the Excess Crude Account. This position is that the savings in the ECA belonging to all the states is not to be touched.
“Indeed, this is in tandem with the position of the Honourable Minister that the ECA is savings for all to be set-aside for the rainy day and not to be “shared” in the manner she now seems to suggest. The Rivers State Government finds it curious and very disturbing that our rainy day savings has been “shared” in complete breach of the known procedure for doing such and in what might be considered an under the table and clandestine manner.”
Semenitari said that it is evident that funds from the Excess Crude Account are not one of the statutory sources of revenue for the federation account, as was also explicitly outlined in the response of the Rivers State Government.
“That account is not expected to be touched except when the appropriate processes have been followed as was explained in our previous statement. It is therefore, misleading and a threat to our practice of fiscal federalism, for the Minister to suggest that the ECA is now one of the means through which the FAAC is funded and to expect the governors to know about this aberration when the Ministry of Finance hasn’t made this information public.”
The statement said that the Rivers State Government as a policy publishes what it earns from all revenue sources and what it expends as well. “Since we have nothing to hide, the Honourable Minister is welcome to re-affirm these figures for the public as they are already in the public domain.
“What is not in the public domain and what the Rivers State government has respectfully requested the Honourable Minister to publish are the following:
· How much oil does Nigeria produce?
· Where is the differential between the oil pump prices?
· What price is our oil being sold for?
· How much have we earned from our crude oil sales in the last year?
· What percentage of budget 2013 does our crude oil sales revenue fund?
· Can the Honourable Minister assist in shedding more light on the subsidy savings since the reduction in petroleum subsidy?
Semenitari insists that the Rivers State Government “therefore most respectfully wishes to request Madam Minister to please answer the questions it has raised and clarify the issues for Rivers people.
“The red herring of how much Rivers state has received from the federation account can be the matter for another day as right now those figures are not in contest, and the spat against Governor Amaechi unnecessary.”