Opinion: President Buhari and Tinubu’s Blindspot by Reno Omokri

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Opinion: President Buhari and Tinubu's Blindspot by Reno Omokri

I read the papers today and two of the most conspicuous headlines centered on comments made by President Muhammadu Buhari and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, National Leader of his party, the All Progressive Congress, APC.

As if in a coordinated onslaught, both of them blamed Nigeria’s current woes on the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and its 16 years in power.

There were many headlines reflecting their accusations, but the most descriptive, in my opinion, were from ThisDay and Punch newspapers.

The ThisDay headline went thus ‘Buhari Blames PDP for Nigeria’s Economic Woes’, while Punch had the following title ‘PDP Responsible For Fuel Scarcity-Tinubu’.

But are these claims and accusations factual?

Let us examine the first accusation by President Muhammadu Buhari. He said “In the First Republic, more enduring infrastructure was built with meagre resources. But in the past 16 years, we made a lot of money without planning for the rainy day”.

If the President actually is aware of contemporary history, he may have thought twice before making that accusation for the simple reason that it is actually his party, or more accurately, those who would go on to form the nucleus of the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC, that are to blame for the problems identified by the President.

Let me explain.

Being the type of person that he is, President Jonathan thought it wise to save for the rainy day and he not only thought about it, but he began to do so through two vehicles, namely the Excess Crude Account, which he inherited from the Obasanjo administration and the Sovereign Wealth Fund, which was an initiative of his administration.

After he formed his cabinet following his victory in the 2011 general elections, both President Goodluck Jonathan and the new Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, came under excruciating pressure from Governors, most notably Governor Rotimi Amaechi, to end the Excess Crude Account and atop saving in the Sovereign Wealth Fund and instead share the funds in those accounts amongst the three tiers of government.

As a matter of fact, the Governors, with Rotimi Amaechi at the forefront, approached the Supreme Court, to challenge the legality of the Excess Crude Account and the decision to transfer $1bn from that account to the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF). They further wanted the court to order that the proceeds of the ECA be paid into the Federation Account and shared amongst the three tiers of government. Was President Buhari unaware of this when he rewarded the same Rotimi Amaechi with a ministerial appointment?

Ever a man of peace, President Jonathan tried reasoning with the governors and called a National Economic Council meeting and even brought the unfolding matter to the attention of the National Council of State of which President Muhammadu Buhari was a member. To the best of my knowledge, President Buhari did not speak out against the behaviour of the governors. Perhaps if he had, he would not be complaining today.

It should be recalled that though he met about $6.5 billion in the ECA, the Jonathan administration had grown that amount to almost $9 billion by 2012.

Eying this amount, the Governors using their influence at the House of Representatives had gotten that august body to declare the Excess Crude Account illegal in 2012.

Going a step further after the founding of their party, APC members of the House of Representatives approached a Federal High Court on the 7th of February, 2014, for a perpetual injunction restraining the Jonathan administration from operating the ECA and to pay all the proceeds of that account into the Federation Account for sharing amongst the three tiers of government.

I cannot speak to the eleven years before the Jonathan administration, but the truth is that those who frustrated the desire of the last PDP administration to save for the rainy day are precisely those who are most vociferous ink condemning that administration for not saving in the time of plenty. Is that not a tad bit hypocritical?

Even if President Muhammadu Buhari wants to start saving anew today he may or may not be aware that he cannot do so with the Federation Account, as everything going into that account must be shared according to the revenue formula.

The President cannot also save in the Foreign Reserve. Unknown to a lot of people who think that the foreign reserve is cash in the bank which government’s can dip into, a foreign reserve is simply foreign currency reserves that are held for the sole purpose of guaranteeing or attempting to guarantee a nation’s liabilities such as its import and other valuables sourced from foreign nations.

The Government cannot also count on the Treasury Single Account (itself an initiative of the Jonathan administration from start to finish). The TSA is just a single account. It is not a savings account.

So, if President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration wants to save money for the future, there is no other way to go about it than creating a savings account other than the Federation Account, which is precisely what the Jonathan administration did.

And for one who is so convinced that we ought to be saving, I am rather surprised that the President agreed to bail out state governments with some of the funds saved up by the Jonathan administration (although the APC falsely claimed the funds came from the dividends paid to the government by the Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas Limited)

So you see, even from his first month in office, President Buhari has himself succumbed to the pressure from our governors to spend and share.

As for the esteemed Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, what I would say to him is very short. Very short indeed.

Before Tinubu blames the PDP, he should look to his right and his left, look in front and behind. What he will see around APC are former PDP members.

Of the remaining APC members who are not former PDP, he will find that a great number of them helped to ground the country in January 2012 in protest against then President Jonathan’s plan to completely deregulate the petroleum industry, a move that would have prevented further scarcities such as the excruciating one we are experiencing today.

Having frustrated that effort, can Asiwaju in all good conscience today blame the PDP today?

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