By Ohia Israel
President Muhammadu Buhari Monday said that he inherited a “Virtually empty treasury” with debts running into hundreds of millions of Dollars and appealed to the media to explain the true position to Nigerians so that “they won’t match on us”.
The President, who spoke while meeting with members of the State House Press Corps, said it was a disgrace that Nigeria is not able to pay workers salaries, adding that this was as a result of bad management.
According to him, there was already a lot of pressure on his government due to the huge expectations of Nigerians on what they desire from the administration. While calling on the media to cooperate with his administration, President Buhari said he chooses Femi Adesina to be his Adviser because he is ‘one of the best’.
“It is not by accident that I got the best of you to be the special adviser, one of the 15 aides I had to get clearance from the Senate. He is one of the best Presidents of the guild that I can have as special adviser. I brought one of the best of you so that he can consistently defend me against you.
“Whether my job is a difficult one or easy it is up to him, but I’m here to thank you in advance for what good and ill you are going to do to me. I have to quickly come and see you and welcome you to this place. I hope what happened of recent between the former president and one of you (the seizure of the accreditation of the Radio Germany reporter) will not happen between me and you.
“I hope we are starting and this culture developed, of 100 days is bringing so much pressure with treasury virtually empty, with debts in millions of dollars, with state workers and even federal workers not paid their salaries. It is such a disgrace for Nigeria. I think Nigeria should be in a position to even pay its workers. This bad management that we find ourselves in, we really need your help to protect us from people before they match on us” he said.
For members of the State House Press Corps, it is a first time that they would be meeting the president, starting from President Obasanjo up to President Goodluck Jonathan. Chairman of the State House Press Corps, Kehinde Amodu who spoke on behalf of members of the Corp pledge to work with the government in the interest of Nigeria.
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari last Tuesday warned governors that the days of impunity, lack of accountability, and fiscal recklessness in the management of national resources are over in Nigeria.
Speaking at a meeting with the Governors in the Presidential Villa, President Buhari also vowed that funds stolen by government officials who abused their offices in the recent past will be recovered and systemic leakages stopped.
“There are financial and administrative instructions in every government parastatal and agency. But all these were thrown to the dogs in the past. Honestly, our problems are great, but we will do our best to surmount them.
“The next three months may be hard, but billions of dollars can be recovered, and we will do our best,” the President told the governors.
Expressing surprise that the governors had tolerated the atrocities allegedly committed with the Excess Crude Account since 2011, President Buhari promised to tackle the issue decisively. The President declared that the payment of national revenue into any account other than the Federation Account was an abuse of the constitution, adding that what he had heard was going on in many agencies and corporations, particularly the NNPC, was clearly illegal.
On the refund of monies spent on federal projects by state governments, President Buhari assured the governors that the Federal Government will pay, but insisted that due process must be followed. The President promised special assistance for the three North Eastern states badly affected by the Boko Haram insurgency.
He also said that a comprehensive statement on the economic and financial situation inherited by his administration will be made to the nation within the next four weeks. “We will try and put the system back into the right position. What happened in the 2nd Republic has apparently happened again, and even worse, but we will restore sanity to the system,” President Buhari assured the Governors.”
On an immediate lifeline for states that owe salaries running into many months, President Buhari said that a committee headed by the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, will look at the Excess Crude Account and see what can be shared immediately.
The governors, led by Chairman of the Governors Forum, Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara State, had presented a wish list to the President that included: Obedience of extant Supreme Court ruling that all monies go into the Consolidated Federation Account; An order from the President that all revenue generating agencies must pay into the Consolidated Federation Account; Review of the Revenue Allocation Formula; Refund of the monies expended by states on federal projects; A special consideration for the three states of the North East under Boko Haram infestation; Full details of the amounts that accrued into the Excess Crude Account from 2011, and how the money miraculously shrank without official sharing.
The President also hinted last week that his administration has received firm assurances of cooperation from the United States and other countries on the recovery and repatriation of funds stolen from Nigeria.
Speaking at an audience with members of the Northern Traditional Rulers Council led by the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar, President Buhari said that it was now up to Nigeria to provide the international community with the facts and figures needed to drive the recovery effort.
“In the next three months, our administration will be busy getting those facts and the figures to help us recover our stolen funds in foreign countries,’’ the President told the traditional rulers .
Citing the report submitted by the Ahmed Joda-led transition committee, President Buhari said that several revenue-generating institutions in the country have been compromised leading to a weak economy. On insecurity, the President said that the traditional rulers could play a key role in stemming the terrorism and insurgency in Nigeria by assisting the government with cost-effective intelligence gathering.
President Buhari also assured the traditional rulers that his administration was working hard to end insecurity and terrorism in the country in the shortest possible time with the cooperation of neighbouring countries and the international community.
Acknowledging that Nigerians expected a lot from his administration, the President appealed for patience and understanding while his government works diligently to speedily overcome the huge national challenges it inherited.
Sultan Abubakar had earlier presented the Northern Traditional Rulers’ recommendations to the President on issues related to national development.
The Sultan told the President that as custodians of tradition and stakeholders in the Nigerian project, the traditional rulers had a responsibility to always advise political leaders on the ‘path of truth and justice’. “We have always advised our leaders, but their acceptance of our advice is their own prerogative,” the Sultan said.
The traditional rulers assured the President of their unflinching support for his administration’s efforts to fulfill its promises to Nigerians.
Barely hours after President Buhari cried out that he inherited virtually an empty treasury from former President Jonathan, the latter has fired back saying he handed over $30 billion to Buhari.
Immediate past Minister/Deputy Chairman of the National Planning Commission (NPC), Dr. Abubakar Olanrewaju Sulaiman who spoke for the Jonathan administration said the $30b left in the treasury was in addition to the $2 billion left in the Excess Crude Account as at May 29.
Sulaiman, in a statement he personally signed in Abuja, warned that Jonathan must not be criminalized under the guise of playing politics, even as he described Buhari’s claim as “unscientific and unfair.”
According to him “The immediate past administration left behind close to US$30billion in its Foreign Reserve. So, how does the question of an empty treasury arrive? In the Excess Crude Account, we left behind US$2billion as at May 29. And the sum would have been higher if not for the governors’ insistence on sharing it.
“The government can’t tell us that there is no Excess Crude Account (ECA), Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) or are we saying the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIR) and related agencies had not in the last one month been generating revenue? Until they are able to prove they had no receipts from these government agencies in the last one month before Nigerians can now buy into Mr. President’s claims of an empty treasury.
“Money made by government is meant to be spent, and this the immediate past administration did responsibly. Every government, even in the so-called western world, including the US which today remains one of the largest debtor nations in the world, government operates on deficit. Is it not on record that President Obama inherited US$3 trillion debt, a collapsed banking sector and mortgage industry, yet he never raised any alarm. None of these has happened in Nigeria under Jonathan.
“Under Jonathan, Nigeria became the largest Africa economy and 26th in the world amidst deadly security challenges and dwindling international prices of oil. In spite of all these, the Federal Government never owed salaries.
“Upon inception of Jonathan’s administration, it is on record that the price of oil at the global stage was over $100 per barrel and at the close of the administration, it dropped to $46. Yet, there wasn’t collapse of government and federal civil servants were paid as at when due.” He said it was a “disgrace that Nigeria cannot pay salaries of its workforce.”
Meanwhile, the Buhari transition committee has said that the former President Goodluck Jonathan left behind a massive debt after he stepped down in May. Ahmed Joda, the chairman of the transition committee set up to assist in a smooth transfer of power, revealed to a national daily not DESERT HERALD that President Muhammadu Buhari inherited a deficit of at least 7 trillion naira, or about $35.2 billion.
“We were told at the beginning of the exercise that the government was in deficit of at least 1.3 trillion naira and by the end people were talking about 7 trillion naira; everything is in a state of collapse,” Joda, a retired permanent secretary, said during an interview with the Daily Trust newspaper in Abuja on Sunday. “The civil service is bloated and the military and police, if you are a Nigerian, you know what they have been facing for a long time; everywhere is in a mess and these things have to be fixed.”
Buhari’s administration has not yet echoed Joda’s claims. Ahead of the May 29 presidential inauguration, Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbanjo said the country’s local and foreign debts stood at about 12 trillion naira or $60 billion.
“Local and international debt stands at $60 billion. Our Debt servicing bill for 2015 is N953.6 billion, 21 per cent of our budget,” Osinbajo an online news media in May that; “On account of severely dwindled resources, over two-thirds of the states in Nigeria owe salaries. Federal institutions are not in much better shape. Today, the nation borrows to fund recurrent expenditure.”
Jonathan’s political party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), accused Osinbajo of misrepresenting the facts and deliberately trying to discredit his administration. The former finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said Osinbajo’s figure included state and federal debts, which largely predated Jonathan’s presidency.
Lawmakers in Nigeria, Africa’s richest and most populous nation, have called for a bailout to cover months of unpaid government salaries in several states. Some states have been unable to pay employee salaries for as long as 10 months. The tumbling price of oil has meant diminishing revenues for the federal government since 2014. More than two-thirds of the $70 billion that Nigeria generates in state revenue per year comes from oil and gas exports.
However, Nigerian senators are still on track to receive 506,000 naira, or $2,500 each year, just to spend on clothes. The West African nation has some of the highest paid politicians in the world, earning up to 397.9 million naira a year, or $2 million.