NASS members walked out on us when confronted over their jumbo pay — ex-RMAFC boss, Tukur

Hamman tukurHamman Tukur, an engineer and former Chairman of the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission, in this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, speaks about his tenure, the huge allowances taken by members of the National Assembly, his constant brushes with former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the administration of FAAC and other sundry issues.

PT: How did the Commission handle the issue of revenue sharing formula?

Tukur: Usually the Commission carried out research into what would determine the revenue formula, particularly in line with what the Constitution says, to accommodate the interest of the Federal, all the states and the 774 Local Governments, whether elected or selected.

PT: Did you say selected?

Tukur: My opinion is that except the recent election (Buhari’s), most others were selected.

PT: Are you saying that even the two governments you served – Obasanjo and Yar’adua, were also selected?

Tukur: I am not aware of Obasanjo, but, anybody else – Yar’adua or Jonathan – were by selection.

PT: But you accepted to serve in them. If you knew they were not elected, like Yar’adua, why did you accept to serve under him?

Tukur: I think I must have told him. Yes, I know, I must have told him. He even admitted his election was rigged.

PT: You were always so critical of Obasanjo. Why were you so hard on him?

Tukur: No! Not that I was hard on him. You see, if Obasanjo determines to do something, anything, you can hardly change his mind. But, he will admit it. Take for instance when a committee was set up to fix the salary of the president. When he threatened to sack me, I said, “oya”.

PT: Then why did he not sack you?

Tukur: By law, he cannot. By the provision of the Constitution, only two thirds majority of the Senate can drive away any one member of the Commission.

PT: If he knew that why did he threaten to sack you?

Tukur: He did not know at that material time, I think. When he found out, he backed off.  But, I don’t know if he forgot. That was the problem of Chief Obasanjo, or Kabiyesi of Yorubaland, and the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic. There is a wide difference between the two.

PT: What were the issues you were always disagreeing with him?

Tukur: Well, a lot of controversies. The one I can easily remember had to do with the issue of his salary. When we told him what he was going to be paid, he did not believe it. We had suggested to him that we wanted to pay him a little less than the then Chief Justice of the Federation.  He did not believe it.

PT: And he disagreed?

Tukur: He said, “How dare you?”  Do you know who you are talking about?

PT: So, did he say how much he wanted to be paid exactly?

Tukur: Well, I don’t know. He did not say. It is not what he wanted, but what the Commission wanted to pay the President of the Federal Republic. The Commission’s job is to determine the pay of Mr. President and all political office holders. And we fixed it. But, when we finished the computation, it turned out that it was a little more than what the Chief Justice was to earn. It took a little allowance to earn more than the Chief Justice.

PT: To have survived Obasanjo, your Commission must have been a tough one!

Tukur: In those days, the Commission had very serious members who would not accept anything from anybody.  They knew their job and were ready to do it the best way they could. That is not the situation today. The way the Commission allows the National Assembly members to pay themselves is not right. In those days, the issue of ‘brown envelops’ to members did not arise. Nowadays, the members don’t even want to go away.

PT: What would they have done?

Tukur: A lot! There are no complaints about the country going down, down and down. For instance, I think it was only when Obasanjo asked for $5.3 billion to finance NIPP (National Integrated Power Programme) that the Commission said he cannot take it from the Federation Account without reference to the other tiers of government. Obasanjo was told that if he wanted any money, he should take it from the Federal Government’s share of the money, and then go to the National Assembly for approval. Just like the recent issue of bail-out by the Federal Government to states. The president (Buhari) has to be careful. We have to caution Mr. Buhari, like we did to Obasanjo when he wanted $5.3 billion. When the Commission said he cannot take the money, one day he had to send Yayale Ahmed, who was the Secretary to the Government of the Federation then to come and tell the Commission that he wanted that money. I said no, the money does not belong to me, but the Federation Account. What that means is that all the three tiers of government that own the Account must be aware and agree that the money be withdrawn for the purpose. Then the formula for sharing between the federal, states and local governments would apply. There should be no question of states staying somewhere to allocate what the local governments want. This is wrong. The money in the Federation Account belongs to the federal, states and the local governments. This is democracy. That is what applies to the National Population Commission. If the Commission says one village is 200,000 people, before anyone can undo it and change that decision, it would pass through a lot of processes.

Buhari gave out a lot of money to states recently in the name of bail-out. Who gave him that money? How did he get access to the Federation Account, or the authority to release that money? Did he go through appropriation for approval? If he released the money before it was approved, then it is illegal.

In any case, who told the states to be broke? Who stole their money? He (Buhari) should have asked the state governors where their money was. Some people argue that the money used for the bail-out was from the Nigeria LNG dividend. But, the Constitution is very clear: all revenues of government must go into the Federation Account first before anything. The only exception that is made is written in the Constitution itself, and that is Armed Forces, including the military, Police and Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Anybody or agency paying tax to government for whatever description it should be channelled to the Federation Account.

That is why one of the key responsibilities of the Commission is to mobilise government revenue to the Federation Account before allocating. It is total. Exceptions are clear, so that no one can pretend.

What that means is that wherever any revenue has not been remitted to the Federation Account by any agency, the Commission must ask questions. If any money must be released, the National Assembly must be approached for supplementary appropriation.

PT: The National Assembly continues to receive allowances different from what the Commission approved for them. Why was the Commission not able to stop that during your time?

Tukur: It was not a question of not being able to stop it, but because of the pressure from Labour. We told them (Labour) in a circular some time ago that every single naira any member of the National Assembly receives outside what the Commission approved was illegal, null and void.

PT: Who approved that money?

Tukur: I would not tell you the Commission did not know, because it was our job to know. But, we knew as much as we knew, and what we knew was what we approved. One time, they invited us to the National Assembly, and we said let us start by asking: who approves your budget? They started walking out from the meeting. And that is how the meeting ended. How can you as a National Assembly, the legislative arm of government not be answerable to anybody? All information about budget is always on the executive, which defends its budget before the National Assembly. But, we are in a democracy. People must know.

PT: Let’s talk about excess crude revenue and budget benchmark.

Tukur: What is benchmarking? Benchmarking is killing us. The role of the Commission has to do with mobilizing the revenue and allocating it. The fiscal aspect is meant to check what the beneficiaries of the allocation did with what they got. The only thing the law did not give the Commission was the power to punish those who fail to use it properly. If the Commission mobilizes and allocates revenue, if one fails to use the revenue well, for instance, steal, the Commission cannot do anything beyond just monitoring. If one steals, the Commission should say one has stolen, and that you must not continue to steal.

PT: During your time, were there no incidences of stealing your Commission found out?

Tukur: Did the stealing start yesterday? Stealing has been going on in this country for quite some time. But, I must say the situation was never this alarming. At that time NNPC never failed to remit monies to the Federation Account.

PT: But, would you say all these cases of missing revenue, as a result of one government agency or the other, like NNPC not remitting monies to the Federation Account, would not have arisen if the Commission was doing its job well?

Tukur: The big answer is No.  Before every Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) meeting held every month, the Commission would monitor every revenue agency, including the Ministry of Finance, to know what has gone into the Federation Account. Throughout my tenure, I never went to the Accountant General Federation to ask what he was doing with the Federal Government’s money. Similarly, each of the Commissioners from each state of the federation is supposed to be monitoring what their state government was doing with the total percentage revenue allocation sent to him, while their counterparts in the local governments should do the same.

PT: How did you deal with the issue of missing monies in your time?

Tukur: You must understand the role of the Commission. We are talking about revenue mobilization and then allocation. The Commission should be able to mobilise all the revenue from all sources to the Federation Account before sharing among the three tiers of government.

PT: What would say is the biggest challenge in managing the Federation Account?

Tukur: First, the structure of that management is faulty. For the Federal Government to put its own Minister of State for Finance as the Chairman of the FAAC is wrong. It is not right that the Federal Government as a principal beneficiary from the Federation Account should be the one to preside over the sharing. There is no way it would be fair and transparent. Does that make sense? For transparency and accountability, the Commission should preside over the FAAC meetings. So long as the government is a beneficiary and also presides over the FAAC meetings when the revenue is being shared, there will always be problem. There is no way all the revenues that should come in would be declared. This why there is always a problem about Stabilization Account and the other components of the Federation Account – oil minerals revenue, ecological fund and derivation. Top functionaries are not helping the country on what it should do to develop. If one wants to steal, one should work first, may be steal in bits later till he is caught.

PT: What’s your view about the excess crude oil revenue account (ECA?)

Tukur: Whether you call it excess crude revenue account, or Sovereign Wealth Fund, all of them are illegal. There is no place for any of these things in the Constitution. They keep talking about benchmark. What is the meaning of benchmark in terms of the budget?  Budget is a proposal of what a government wants to do within the next one year. If one comes out to say one has gotten enough of the money and does not want any more, without a law, does it make sense? If that budget is approved by the National Assembly and the President signs it, it is absolutely illegal. Which agency fixes the benchmark in the budget?  This is also illegal, because all revenues are supposed to go into the Federation Account and shared to the three tiers of government according to approved sharing formula. The data the Commission had are still the ones being used till today. We did not change the governance structure. It is the Commission that has refused to give the country a fresh revenue allocation formula. It was supposed to be changed every five years. Nobody knows what is happening at the Commission any more. It appears there is no political will to do so.

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