By Emma Ujah, Abuja Bureau Chief & Simon Ebegbulem
ABUJA— Immediate past Co-ordinating Minister for the Economy & Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, yesterday described as “false and malicious,” the allegation by Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State, that she spent $2.1 billion from the Excess Crude Account, ECA, without authorization.
Speaking through her Media Adviser, Mr. Paul Nwabuikwu, in Abuja, the ex-minister said that there was no unauthorized expenditure from the ECA under her watch in the Finance Ministry.
According to her, decisions on withdrawals from the ECA were discussed at monthly meetings of the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee, FAAC, attended by Finance Commissioners from the 36 states.
It will be recalled that after the National Economic Council meeting on Monday, Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State told newsmen that “Dr Okonjo-Iweala reported by November 2014 that we had $4.1bn. Today, the Accountant-General’s office reported that we have $2.0bn which means the minister spent $2.1bn without authority of the NEC and that money was not distributed to states, it was not paid to the three tiers of government”. The ‘unauthorized’ spending, according to the economic council is among the anomalies discovered in the management of the nation’s economy between 2012 and May 2015.
Denying the allegation however, Dr Okonjo-Iweala said: “It is curious that in their desperation to use the esteemed National Economic Council for political and personal vendetta, the persons behind these allegations acted as if the constitutionally-recognized FAAC, a potent expression of Nigeria’s fiscal federalism, does not exist.
“But Nigerians know that collective revenues, allocations and expenditures of the three tiers of government are the concern of the monthly FAAC meetings,” the minister said.
They failed before, they will fail again — Okonjo-Iweala
She added that Governor Oshiomhole and some others like him, had made futile efforts at rubbishing her in the past and that the current effort would fail like the ones before it.
According to her, “it is clear that this is the latest chapter of a political witch-hunt by elements who are attempting to use the respected National Economic Council for ignoble purposes having failed abysmally in their previous attempts to tar the Okonjo-Iweala name.
“It will be recalled that one of such attempts took place in May when some of these governors, hiding under the auspices of the Nigerian Governors Forum, asked Okonjo-Iweala to explain $20 billion alleged to be missing from the same ECA.
“The Finance Ministry subsequently issued a news release and published an advertorial in national newspapers on May 25, 2015, giving details of what the Federal Government and states received from the ECA in the last four years. It also provided details of the use of the funds for payment of petrol subsidies for the Nigerian public and SURE-P allocations to the three tiers for development purposes.
“After the publication, the accusers lost their voice. But the latest allegations show that these persons are still in the business of throwing up wild, unsubstantiated figures to damage Okonjo-Iweala’s name. For instance, within the last few months, Governor Oshiomhole and his fellow travelers have asked Okonjo-Iweala to account for “missing” $30 billion, $20 billion and now $2.1 billion. What they don’t seem to understand is that the strategy has lost all credibility because the falsehood is clear for all to see,” she said.
She wondered how some governors who fought the Federal Government’s efforts to leave robust savings in the ECA and even took the Federal Government to court over the matter now turn around to make such unfounded allegations. She also acknowledged the efforts of governors who are working hard to overcome the current revenue challenges facing their states without resorting to character assassination and blame games.
The former minister also said she pioneered the practice of publishing monthly updates of all allocations to different tiers of government in order to empower Nigerians with information and knowledge of government revenues and expenditure.
“This enabled the Nigerian public to ask questions about the utilization of these resources. Of course many elected and appointed public officials were not happy with this development”, she claimed.
Publishing government revenues and expenditure, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, said, continued till the end of the Goodluck Jonathan administration as well as periodic updates on the Excess Crude Account, subsidy payments for verified claims by oil marketers for fuel imports and SURE-P payments to the three tiers of government.
She insisted that the idea that she spent $2.1 billion without authorization “is simply not credible given that details of government receipts and expenditure are public knowledge”.
Oshiomhole throws fresh challenge
Following Dr Okonjo-Iweala’s denial, Governor Oshiomhole has therefore challenged her to publish letter of authority as to how six billion dollars of excess crude taxes from the Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas and other funds were transferred to the consolidated Federal funds. Stating that all the information released to the public by the National Economic Council was obtained from the Accountant-General’s office, Governor Oshiomhole declared that his committee is inviting the former minister to tell Nigerians how excess crude funds and other allocations were disbursed in the last four years.
He said : “She should publish the letter or instrument of authority as to how the excess crude fund and fund from other sources such as NIMASA and about $6bn paid as taxes from NLNG as well as the remittance for four years were paid but not transferred to the consolidated federal funds.
“The funds belong to the three tiers of government and she should produce monthly statements of accruals and the distributions. Authorization of funds are not verbal matters, there must be approvals and that is what we are asking for.
“My committee will invite her and allow her ample opportunity to reply to each of the charges against her office and NNPC as coordinating minister. She will also be required to justify billions of naira and dollars she granted as waivers, that should have flowed into the federation’s consolidated revenue fund.
“There is no hiding place now. Everyone must now answer his/her father’s name. Bold face will not suffice. She will be invited to exercise her right to fair hearing” .