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$2.1 Billion: Okonjo-Iweala Fires Back, Says Allegation Another Political Witch-Hunt

By Abdul Gaffar Bello – The immediate past Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of Economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala,  has described allegation of spending the sum of $2.1 billion out of the Excess Crude Account (ECA), “without authorization” as false, malicious and baseless, as well as a new plot to witch-hunt her.

Dr. Iweala while responding to the latest allegation against her, in a statement issued Tuesday by her Media Adviser, Paul Nwabuikwu specified that no unauthorized expenditure from the ECA was made under her watch in the Finance Ministry, adding that decisions on such expenditure were discussed at meetings of the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) which is also attended by the 36 States Finance Commissioners.

The former Minister stated it was curious, that in an attempt to use the esteemed National Economic Council (NEC) for political and personal vendetta, the persons behind the allegations acted as if the “constitutionally recognized FAAC, a potent expression of Nigeria’s fiscal federalism, does not exist”.

Dr. Iweala disclosed that Nigerians knew that collective revenues, allocations and expenditures of the three tiers of government were the concern of the monthly FAAC meetings.

The statement however noted that it was important to acknowledge the efforts of some Governors who were working hard to overcome the current revenue challenges, facing their states without resorting to character assassination and blame games.

Iweala pointed out she was ready and willing to respond to legitimate enquiries about issues under her purview, as Finance Minister, yet, insisted 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” her name.

She recalled that one of such attempts took place in May this year, when some of the alleged Governors, she indicated were hiding under the auspices of the Nigerian Governors Forum and asking her to explain $20 billion alleged to be missing from the same ECA.

The ex-Minister informed: “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 travellers 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.

How can some governors who fought FG’s efforts to leave robust savings in the ECA and even took the Federal Government to court over the matter turn around to make such unfounded allegations?, queried the former Minister.

While noting that Nigerians were too smart to be hoodwinked by the partisan desperation to tar her name, Iweala who recalled she pioneered, during her first stint as Minister of Finance in the Obasanjo administration, started 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, affirmed that the practice enabled the Nigerian public to ask questions about the utilization of the resources, despite the displeasure of many elected and appointed public officials.

She equally clarified that the practice continued when she returned in 2011 and even added periodic updates on the ECA; subsidy payments for verified claims by oil marketers for fuel imports as well as SURE-P payments to the three tiers of government.

Dr. Iweala wondered about the allegation of unauthorized spending as she confirmed details of government receipts and expenditure were in the public domain

Meanwhile, the former Minister has advised public officials to avoid temptation to politicize economic issues, so as to balance analyses that could lead to real solutions.



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