WHEN the National Assembly’s attention was drawn the other day to Federal Government’s collection, for its exclusive use, revenue from 31 government agencies against the provisions of the Constitution, it was obvious that adversity could truly concentrate the mind. With dwindling revenue and so little left to share by all tiers of government, loopholes and leakages are being found in a new regime of diligence. This is welcome as it means Nigeria may begin to do things properly.
Shettima Umar Abba Gana, Acting Chairman of Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), who opened the lid and called for an amendment of the laws setting up the affected 31 government agencies explained that the sought-for amendments are to ensure that the revenues generated by the agencies are pooled into the Federation Account. That way, such revenues become available for distribution to the three tiers of government in line with subsisting revenue sharing formula between them.
It is noteworthy that these agencies have been in existence and most, if not all, of them were established during the military era when they were made only accountable to the federal government. It is also of importance to observe that the RMAFC or its equivalent had also operated in the country for many years without raising any issue with the way the revenues from the agencies were being handled.
So, while the revenue commission’s current finding and request are apt, it is worthy of note that it is only at this point in time when the country is facing severe financial and economic challenges that the Commission is waking up to the reality that those agencies are using ‘’federation assets’’ in their operations and therefore their revenues should be for the Federation Account. This means, in typical Nigerian fashion, an aberration has gone on unchecked for so long. This glaring usurpation of what belongs to the 3-tiers of government by one tier is an impunity that kills a nation. It is regrettable that this has lasted for so long and must stop now.
What may have happened is that the previous leaderships of the RMAFC did not have the courage to make public the situation or indeed, call the National Assembly’s attention to it for correction. Having failed the nation in carrying out some of its duties dispassionately, it is also clear that there were weaknesses in the commission’s system. Thus, it may therefore, not be difficult to believe that this discovery and its coming to public light now, may have resulted from the insight of a well informed and mere courageous leadership. Gratifying as this may seem, it illustrates the weakness of that institution, the strength of which is only as it is embodied by a strong man. Nigeria needs strong astute men. But she needs strong institutions more.
Notwithstanding that the amendment of the laws will take a long time to be realized given the rigorous processes in either making a new law or amending existing ones, the time to commence action now. The National Assembly should of necessity appreciate the well informed rationale and objectives adduced by RMAFC and therefore accord the request due attention in order to assure proper and holistic accretion of funds in the Federation Account and equitable distribution thereof.
It should be emphasized that the current situation as revealed is part of the pillars of justification for the practice of true federalism in Nigeria. When true federalism is in practice, each level of government will be conscious of its available sources of revenue and do everything reasonable and lawful to exploit them for its programmes. That way, dependence on the central government would be drastically reduced and healthy competition among the constituent parts of the country will be enhanced leading to across-board development.
It is important also to acknowledge the current leadership of RMAFC, which has not only observed the on-going illegality but had the courage and forthrightness to bring it to the attention, not of the Executive but the Legislative arm of government whose duty it is to remedy the situation by Acts of the National Assembly. What it has done is to challenge the status quo with a view to ensuring fair play in the administration of funds belonging to all members of the federation. Nigeria needs men and women who are not ready to circumvent, bend or break the laws of the land either to satisfy ephemeral masters or themselves. The nation needs men and women who can challenge impunity and illegality without selfish intentions or expectations even at personal risks. Such men and women in time, become beacons of trusted leadership and building blocks for a fair and equitable nation.
The ball is now in the court of the National Assembly and Nigerians are waiting to see what kind of treatment it gives to RMAFC’s proposal, which would signal faith in a genuine federation.
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