Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Falana wants FG,Ezekwesili debate beyond US$67 billion squander claims


Femi Falana

Falana said the Jonathan administration is missing an opportunity to question the Obasanjo era spending.

Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, has thrown his weight behind calls for the Nigerian government to engage former World Bank Vice President, Oby Ezekwesili, in a public debate.

Mr. Falana, however, said the debate should go beyond Mrs. Ezekwesili’s allegation that federal government squandered US$67 Billion (N10.72 trillion) by the federal government since 2007.

“For goodness sake, let the federal government take up Mrs. Ezekwesili’s timely and patriotic challenge,” Mr. Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, said on Sunday.

“But the debate should not be limited to the withdrawal of US$67 billion from the Federation Account. It should be a debate on the reckless diversion of huge public funds and the gross mismanagement of the Nigerian economy since 1999.”

Diversionary tactics

The former World Bank Vice President had accused the administrations of Goodluck Jonathan, and Umar Yar’Adua, his predecessor, of wasting US$45 billion(N7.2 trillion) of foreign reserves; and US$22 billion(N3.5 trillion) in the Excess Crude Account saved by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration.

Mrs. Ezekwesili said the huge accruals were handed over the incoming administration of Mr. Yar’adua as the Obasanjo era ended in 2007.

Rattled by the allegation, the Jonathan administration, in turn, accused the former minister of gross incompetence during her tenure as Education Minister.

Mr. Falana said the government’s attempts to “divert attention” may be an “unconscious” admission of guilt.

Mr. Falana said the government was rather concerned having Nigerians believe that Mrs. Ezekwesili acquired a large, landed property in Abuja for her husband’s church building, in questionable ways.

“Instead of joining issues with the former Minister over the serious allegation of gross economic and financial crime, the Jonathan administration has decided to divert the attention of Nigerians by resorting to cheap blackmail and vulgar abuse,” said Mr. Falana.

The lawyer also stated that the government was convinced it would lose in the debate, hence its decision to turn the offer down.

“It is a shame that the Federal Government has rejected a golden opportunity to call off the bluff of the arrogant officials of the Olusegun Obasanjo regime who are trying to hoodwink Nigerians to accept that the Nigerian neo-colonial economy was better managed when they were in power,” Mr. Falana said.

Secret NNPC account

He said rather than castigate the former minister, the regime should have explained how the account was drawn down to service an unproductive bureaucracy and a thriving corruption industry since 2007.

Having done that, he said, the Jonathan administration should have proceeded to ask the Olusegun Obasanjo regime to account for the N26 trillion earned from oil and non oil sectors from 1999-2007.

“Specifically, General Obasanjo and his ministers should be asked to explain how they generated darkness with $16 billion, wasted over N1 trillion on fixing roads and refurbishing hospitals that have collapsed, granted duty waivers worth N500 billion to a few importers, sold public enterprises worth trillions of Naira at give away prices to imaginary core investors, plundered and mismanaged the banks which have recently been bailed out with about N3 trillion,” he said.

“Was it not in 2002 that NNPC opened a secret account with J.P Morgan Bank when General Olusegun Obasanjo was the Petroleum Minister and chairman of the NNPC Board? Is it not on record that the regime illegally withdrew N1.5 trillion from the NNPC Account and distributed same to unnamed individuals and organizations?” he added.

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