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Oshiokpekhai Utu-Orbih

As Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State crept into the national conscience upon becoming the president of the Nigeria Labour Congress. This was in 1999. Then he was undoubtedly the voice of the common man, especially in those dark days of arbitrary increases of petroleum costs by the President Olusegun Obasanjo. He fought for the welfare of the Nigerian worker for increased living wage and upon that, he amassed enormous goodwill from the generality of the Nigerian People. For instance, in the early stage of President Obasanjo’s administration, he negotiated a 25% wage increase for workers in the public sector.

Based on that goodwill, Oshiomhole rose into prominence and unparalleled popularity, contested the 2007 Gubernatorial elections in Edo state and the Election Tribunal came to rescue him from a disputed poll figures, declaring him the governor of Edo state in November 2008. Furthermore, we can’t take away the fact that as Governor, Adams Oshiomhole has done a lot in Edo State, especially in road constructions and opening up the hinterlands.

However, since last May, Governor Oshiomhole has found himself in a different terrain, playing a new but complicated role Nigerians are yet to fully comprehend. This new role can be traced to the June 29, 2015 when President Buhari inaugurated the National Economic Council. Section 153 (1) (h) of the 1999 Constitution as amended established the National Economic Council and the composition and Powers of the Council are spelt out to include that “The National Economic Council shall have power to advise the President concerning economic affairs of the Federation, and in particular on measures necessary for the co-ordination of the economic planning efforts or economic programmes of the various Governments of the Federation.”

Immediately after this inauguration, Governor Adams Oshiomhole and his Kaduna State counterpart, Nasir El Rufai told state house correspondents that Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, the immediate past minister of finance and coordinating minister of the economy withdrew $2.1 Billion from the Excess Crude Account in November 2014 without authorisation. Oshiomhole also accused the ex-minister of withdrawing the sum of $1 Billion from the federation account to fund the Presidential election of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan in March 2015.

It is important at this juncture, to point out that Nigerians irrespective of tribe and religion are all in pact on the need to battle and reduce to the barest minimum, the scourge of corruption in every area of our National life. However, what is very important is laying down and consolidating on structures already put in place for fighting corruption.

My question now is, in what capacity is Oshiomhole acting? The role of the National Economic Council as clearly spelt out by the constitution is advisory. Yet, in utter contradiction, the body since its inauguration has not come out clearly with an economic policy strategies for the federal and state governments; has not told Nigerians how the regime can tap and explore the abundant mineral resources that God in his infinite wisdom has deposited in virtually every state of the federation; has not advised the President on how to stop the bleeding in the mining sector which amounts to billions of Dollars annually, and worse, has not addressed the lopsided and unfair regime of Value Added Tax in Nigeria.

A regime that allows Sharia States like Kano to destroy alcoholic beverages and now turn around to share from VAT revenues derived from alcoholic beverages in southern states like Lagos, Aba, Benin, Port Harcourt etc. What an unfair federation.

The only explanation for Oshiomhole’ s rantings is the fact that he is trying to play the role of the finance minister and the auditor general of the federation at the same time. Section 85 of the Constitution as amended laid out how all government accounts should be audited and forwarded to the National Assembly – but what Nigerians have been witnessing since May is a deliberate relegation of the constitution by the Buhari Presidency while promoting a fanatic and senseless kind of followership obtainable in rogue Nations like North Korea and Iran.

Governor Adams Oshiomhole’ s latest dance in the market place has not only ridiculed the Buhari administration, but revealed the kind of characters that currently run the Nigerian state. Every decent Nation all over the world has laws, rules, procedures and processes with which issues of financial accountability are addressed. It is the deliberate refusal of President Buhari to set up the laid down constitutional framework and his penchant to fumble and fiddle with all matters of state without the benefit of skilled advisers and technocrats that give room for the likes of Oshiomhole to continue to dance naked in the market place.

Again, as a matter of reference, Section 85 (2) of the 1999 Constitution as amended provides that “The public accounts of the Federation and of all offices and courts of the Federation shall be audited and reported on to the Auditor General who shall submit his reports to the National Assembly; and for that purpose, the Auditor General or any person authorised by him in that behalf shall have access to all the books, records, returns and other documents relating to those accounts”. This sacrosanct provision of the constitution did not in any way mention the National Economic Council as the statutory body empowered to audit the accounts of the Federation. The actions of the National Economic Council and the excesses of Governor Oshiomhole in respect of the Extra Crude Account are repressively unconstitutional.

The framers of the constitution also in subsection 6 of Section 85 clearly provides that the Auditor General shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other authority or person in the exercise of his function under the constitution. This is to ensure transparency, fairness and justice and at the same time prevent political witch-hunt. But with the current state of uncertainty, these values are in jeopardy.

Governor Oshiomhole, who just came back from Washington, DC with President Buhari on a State visit stunned the Nigerian media when he alleged that an unnamed minister in the past administration stole the sum of $6 Billion. Oshiomhole further alleged that a faceless US official gave him that information. As at the last time I checked, the US has denied outright that statement credited to Oshiomhole urging him to name the US government official or forever remain silent. As long as President Buhari remains defiant if following the provisions of the Constitution, especially section 85 which clearly spells out how all government accounts should be audited for good governance, Governor Adams Oshiomhole definitely have no moral or legal basis for all his vituperation. They at best remain the symptoms of numerical diarrhea.

Oshiokpekhai Utu-Orbih an attorney, broadcaster, and media consultant

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