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Dr. NgoziOkonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s immediate past Finance Minister and former managing director of the World Bank, is set to defend her integrity against the allegation by the National Economic Council, which is chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, that she spent $2.1 billion without authorization.“The allegation by some governors is false, malicious and totally without foundation. I am ready and willing to respond to legitimate enquiries about issues under my purview as Finance Minister,” she said.

She described the allegation as 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 tarnish her name.

The National Economic Council (NEC) made the allegation on Monday after its meeting in Abuja.

According to her, there was “no unauthorized expenditure from the ECA” made under her watch in the Finance Ministry. She explained that decisions on such expenditure were discussed at meetings of the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) attended by Finance commissioners from the 36 states,” adding that the allegation that she “spent $2.1 billion ‘without authorization’ is simply not credible given that details of government receipts and expenditure are public knowledge”.

She wondered how some governors who fought Federal Government’s efforts to leave robust savings in the ECA and even took the Federal Government to court over the matter could now turn around to make such unfounded allegations.

“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. Nigerians know that collective revenues, allocations and expenditures of the three tiers of government are the concern of the monthly FAAC meetings.”

While acknowledging the efforts of governors who are working hard to overcome the current revenue challenges facing their states, she advised not to resort to character assassination and blame games. Okonjo-Iweala pointed out that one of such previous attempts to tarnish her image took place in May when some of these governors, hiding under the auspices of the Nigerian Governors Forum asked her to explain $20 billion alleged to be missing from the same ECA.

This led her to issue a news release and published an advertorial in national newspapers on May 25, 2015, that detailed 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.

Okonjo-Iweala also reminded her detractors that 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 utilisation of these resources. Of course, many elected and appointed public officials were not happy with this development.”

She said she continued this practice when she returned in 2011 and even added periodic updates on the Excess Crude Account, subsidy payments for verified claims by oil marketers for fuel imports as well as SURE-P payments to the three tiers of government.

Part of the published advertorial on May 25 reads: “The figures show that they received N966.6 billion in 2011, N816.3 billion in 2012, N859.4 billion in 2013 and N282.8 in 2014. The low figure for 2014 reflects the steep decline in revenues due to the impact of the crash in global oil prices which began in the middle of the year.

“The summary of the inflows and outflows from the Account shows that the opening balance was $4.56billion in 2011 and reached a peak the following year at $8.7 billion before declining to $2.3billion in 2013. The balance as at May 2015 is $2.07 billion.

“Subsidy and SURE-P payments are also made from the Excess Crude Account. FG’s share from the ECA during the period was N3.29 trillion.”

Okonjo-Iweala’s effort to clear her name notwithstanding, Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State, has dismissed the former Minister of Finance defense as untrue. “I think with all due respect to former minister Okonjo Iweala, she knows how to play around, I don’t want to lie with statistics. I have made this point that she keeps opening only parts of the pages and not the entire book. The logic of transparency is that the honorable minister must publish in full what is accruing to the federation account month to month and what is distributed to who,” he stated.

Oshiomhole is a member of the panel that will probe the ECA.

By Dike Onwuamaeze

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