It is instructive at this point in time to state categorically without equivocation that there is nothing “personal” between Okonjo-Iweala and Comrade Adams Oshiomhole in terms of the request by the Edo Governor that Okonjo-Iweala should come clean on the issue of revenue that accrued to the Excess Crude Account. As much as her Spokesman tries to dramatize his response in defense of his boss, he has shown a manifest uninformed disposition to issues of simple economics of naira and kobo.
Here is a former Minister who has changed her position four times in the last forty days; each position exposing her dubiety of facts and inherent contradictions in the concocted tales she has been weaving on one simple issue: what happened to t5he $2.1b ECA funds?
The simple questions which the Comrade Governor asked were: how come those accruals into the Excess Crude Account got depleted without the knowledge of the National Economic Council? How come monies that were supposed to accrue into the said account cannot be found in it going by the balance sheet provided by the former Minister? How come the Minister unilaterally dipped her hand into the Excess Crude Account to spend money in defiance of the constitution and the laws of the land? How come that the Minister finds it convenient to publish allocations to States and Local Governments, but refused to publish accruals into the same account for us to know the status of the account at any point in time; how much was left from where she was distributing from?
What the Comrade Governor stated was that; it was interesting to note that by December 2012, the ECA had a balance of over $10billion. This had been depleted to $2.07billion by May 2015, according to the former Finance Minister. Between January 2013 and May 2015, not more than $4billion was shared among the three tiers of Government. Indeed, the last time any money was shared from the ECA was in May 2013.
Flowing from the above statement of facts, the Comrade Governor then asked a very pertinent question; how come there was no accretion to the ECA even when Crude oil prices averaged between $100 to $108 within the three years period of 2011 to 2014, aware that the National Budgets were based on $77 and $79 benchmark? That gives an average of $30 per barrel gains. In fact, based on rough estimates, Nigeria should earn not less than $30billion accretion based on the official oil exports of 2.3 million barrels per day. The question which Okonjo-Iweala could not answer is; how come Nigeria did not make any savings during those three years of unprecedented oil price boom? Simple question that should ordinarily elicit simple response.
Without a scintilla of numerical reference, Okonjo-Iweala went into a voyage of storytelling like an intellectual raconteur, leaving out the real substance of the Comrade Governor’s salient questions. First, she responded on May 28, 2015 where she denied the allegations describing them as “baseless”. Among other things she claimed that the 36 State Governors who are joint owners of the Excess Crude Account [ECA] with the Federal Government were in full picture of how the ECA was managed. She stated inter alia; “how can Governor Oshiomhole claim that State Governors were not properly briefed on the status of the ECA when his Commissioner of Finance attends all FAAC meetings where decisions are taken and communicated to the nation?”
On June 29, 2015 exactly a month after, at the inaugural meeting of the National Economic Council [NEC] presided over by Vice President Professor Yemi Osibanjo, and with 36 states in attendance deliberated on the status of the ECA. After a critical scrutiny, it was discovered that indeed Dr. Okonjo-Iweala spent $2.1billion from the ECA without authorization by the NEC. That money was neither distributed to states nor paid to the three tiers of government. This was the rationale for the setting up of the four-man Panel to look at what accrued, what it was spent for, when and by whom and who authorized the spending, so that Nigerians will have full picture of all the transactions as regards the much talked about Excess Crude Account.
SHIFTING THE GOAL POST.
On June 30, 2015, Okonjo-Iweala was once again reported as categorically denying unauthorized expenditure from the ECA under her purview, describing the findings of NEC as “false, malicious and without foundation”. According to her, decisions on such expenditure and sharing were discussed at meetings of FAAC attended by Finance Commissioners from the 36 states. In her words; “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”. Is FAAC superior to NEC? Does FAAC have the constitutional powers to give approval for withdrawals from ECA?
On June 30, 2015 the Comrade Governor stated during his Live Television interview with Channels Television that the power to take money from ECA was vested in the NEC, an institution created by the Constitution and not State Finance Commissioners who were members of FAAC, an administrative arrangement that was not known to the Constitution. Rather than open up, giving full disclosure, she was opening part of the book and not the entire book. According to Comrade Oshiomhole, the logic of transparency is that every Minister must publish in full what is accruing to the Federation Account month-to-month basis and what is distributed to them.
On July 7, 2015, barely a week after Okonjo-Iweala claimed that FAAC was involved in the unauthorized spending from the ECA, members of FAAC under the aegis of Forum of Finance Commissioners in a public statement, denied approving any withdrawal of the said $2.1 billion. The 36 Finance Commissioners categorically described the former Minister’s claim as “misleading, and far from the fact”. Hear them; “the Law setting up FAAC, which pre-dates the ECA did not empower the Commissioners to approve such withdrawals, and that there were records of Committee’s meetings to show that they had always queried the activities on the ECA, particularly on withdrawals. FAAC did not and could not have approved or took the decision to withdraw the sum of $2billion from the Excess Crude Account”.
On July 8, 2015, Okonjo-Iweala opened up a bit of the real gist when she admitted that $2billion was indeed withdrawn from the ECA this time, on the directives of former President Goodluck Jonathan. She further confirmed that the money was used to pay petroleum subsidies and not shared to the 36 states as she earlier declared. The former Minister was quoted as saying; “payments made were used
for paying for petroleum subsidies for the Nigerian people and were approved by Mr. President”. She then made a volte face saying she did not claim that FAAC members approved the spending but that they were informed of the decision, “if monies were used to pay for subsidies for the Nigerian people and duly approved, why is Okonjo-Iweala’s name being battered in this way? She wondered, adding that “this persecution should stop”. In fact, she is the one that is persecuting herself.
Subjecting this position to the crucible, one is prompted to ask Okonjo-Iweala if in all her experiences at the World Bank and elsewhere whether, the President has the right and powers under our laws to give approval for the withdrawal of $2billion from the ECA? Whether the President has the power to usurp the powers of NEC with respect to withdrawals from the ECA? Whether the President has the powers to touch any money that belongs to the States and Local Governments?
It may interest Okonjo-Iweala to note that when the $5billion Power Intervention Fund was approved by NEC with all the 36 states Governors in session, due process had to be followed before the money was withdrawn from the ECA. Indeed, each of the 36 Governors had to seek the authorization of the Houses of Assembly, the 774 Local Government Chairmen and their Legislative Councils. Just waking up in the morning to declare that “Mr. President” gave the approval and it was used to pay subsidy claims flies in the face of logic, common sense, due process and law. Was payment for subsidy not captured in the Appropriation Law? Why would a Minister that is worth her salt dip her hands into our collective patrimony to take that much, a whopping $2billion on the directives of one Mr. President? Can any World Bank Chief Executive dip hands into the till to take what belongs to all vide approval against what the laws and rules guiding World Bank specify? Was the Federal Government portion of the $2.1billion appropriated by the National Assembly before it was used to pay oil marketers? To the best of our knowledge, there was nothing of the sort. We think very seriously that Okonjo-Iweala has more questions to answer. She has shifted grounds on four different scores. That tells so much on her integrity.
According to Brian Tracy, that celebrated author; “integrity is more than a value. It is the one quality of mind that assures or guarantees all the other values that you select. You cannot have a little bit of integrity. It must be all or nothing”. If Okonjo-Iweala truly understands the whole essence of integrity, we had expected her to come clean on these serious allegations of financial malfeasance instead of allowing her ill-informed Spokesman, such vend-able lick-spittle, to be vomiting incoherent and inconsistent banalities on issues that border on our collective patrimony. This was the same attitude she put up when the issue of misappropriated N19.5billion Aviation Fund was being investigated under former President, Chief Olusegun Obaanjo. Till date, she has not been able to clear the air on the N6.5 billion loan she allegedly raised from Commercial Banksto fix Control Towers of Four Airports. That is a story for another day.
Her latest resort to blackmail using her refusal to grant Edo State Government a loan request as the reason why the Comrade Governor is asking her valid questions that border on fraud and financial recklessness is completely at variance with the real issues at stake. What has the request for loans got to do with the claim that someone dips her hand into the public till to spend what was not approved by the collective? How does she expect the states to survive when she refused to make full disclosure on accruals and declined to give them their share on a regular basis as required by law? Because she plundered the resources with reckless abandon, she is now running from pillar to post without addressing the real issues. Please help us ask her; Madam Okonjo; what happened to ECA withdrawals?
What is the meaning of “numerical diarrhea” in the context of financial malfeasance and official sleaze that characterized Okonjo-Iweala’s regime as Finance Minster? From the records we have seen so far and the tantrums she has been throwing rather than address the real issues, it is appropriate to conclude that she was indeed Coordinating Minister of Economic Fraud and Financial Malfeasance. All the acclaimed World Bank experiences were just part of the hollow rituals to hoodwink the Nigerian public from addressing the real issues of mismanagement. We will continue to insist that she comes out clean, no matter how ostentatiously dramatic she chooses to go.
Kassim Afegbua, Special Adviser on Media and Public Affairs to Edo State Governor.