The Nigerian government reacted angrily to claims by the former World Bank Vice President that over N10 trillion of Nigeria’s oil savings bequeathed by former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, to successors, Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan, was “squandered”.
Mrs. Ezekwesili, who served as Minister under various portfolios during the Obasanjo administration, made the allegation while delivering a keynote address at the 42nd convocation of the University of Nigeria.
According to the former World Bank executive the country had about $45 billion in foreign reserve account and $22 billion in the Excess Crude revenue Account saved by the Obasanjo administration, which handed over in 2007 to Yar’adua.
“Six years after the administration I served handed over such humongous national wealth to another one, most Nigerians, but especially the poor, continue to suffer the effects of failing public health and education systems as well as decrepit infrastructure and battered institutions,” Mrs. Ezekwesili, who served as Education Minister in President Obasanjo’s government, said.
But, in a swift reaction, the Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, on Sunday described Mrs Ezekwesili’s claims as “fallacious”, betraying a “surprisingly limited” understanding of government finances.
It said such statements emanating from one who had held senior positions in government as well as the World Bank, are “curious.”
According to Mr Maku, at the end of May 2007, Nigeria’s gross reserves stood at $43.13 billion, comprising external reserves of $31.5 billion, $9.43 billion in the Excess Crude Account, and $2.18 billion in the Federal Government’s savings, as shown in the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, records.
“These figures can be independently verified from the CBN’s records. The figure of $67 billion alleged in her statement is therefore clearly fictitious,” Mr. Maku said.
Though Mr. Maku admitted the dip in the nation’s foreign reserves over the past few years, he attributed it to the CBN’s interventions in the currency market to defend the value of the Naira in the wake of the fluctuations as a result of the global economic recession.
According to him, the Excess Crude savings, which is a component of the reserves, was also used to stimulate the economy at the height of the global financial crisis to the tune of about $1 billion, or 0.5 percent of our 2009 gross domestic product, GDP.
He said the use of the savings made Nigeria one of the few countries in the world that did not seek assistance from international financial institutions in the wake of the global recession, pointing out that the fiscal stimulus used to shore up the economy during that period was shared by all 3-tiers of government, including commitments of about $5.5 billion made under the Obasanjo Administration for power projects.
Mr. Maku insisted that the federal government had never dipped its hands into the country’s external reserves, as it falls under the CBN’s statutory management.
“Whenever a ministry or agency of government needs to incur approved expenditure in foreign currency, it must provide the naira equivalent to the CBN before the Bank sells the required foreign currency. As a former World Bank Vice-President for Africa, surely, Mrs. Ezekwesili must have known this,” Mr. Maku said.
‘Inefficient Education Minister’
On the state of education in the country, Mrs. Ezekwesili had noted that Nigerian citizens were gradually but steadily retrogressing into palpable poverty, noting that the dismal state of the nation’s education sector required “absolutely necessary reforms”, which were frustrated by key political elites during her time.
But Mr. Maku found Mrs. Ezekwesili’s appraisal of the education system as “somewhat disingenuous and borderline hypocritical”, having been the minister between 2006 and 2007.
The minister said that during her tenure, Mrs Ezekwesili collected a total sum of N352.3 billion from direct budgetary releases, apart from about N65.8 billion under the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) Fund, and over N40 billion from the Education Trust Fund (ETF) during her time as Minister of Education.
“In view of these humongous allocations, a few legitimate questions arise. What did she do with all these allocations? What impact did it have on the education sector? One wonders if our educational system would have been better today if these allocations were properly applied,” Mr. Maku said.
The Information Minister further reiterated the present’s administration’s achievements in the areas of restoring macroeconomic stability in the face of global economic crisis; removal of bureaucratic and structural bottlenecks in the economy; as well as job creation and youth empowerment.
He said that in the first three quarters of 2012, Nigeria’s economy grew by about 6.4 percent and is set to continue at a similar pace in 2013, according to independent forecasts, adding that the country has reduced her fiscal deficit to only 2.17 percent of GDP in the 2013 budget, while re-balancing her spending in favour of capital expenditure.
“In the power sector, most Nigerians will attest to improvements in power supply, even as the 10 new power plants being built by this administration are yet to fully come on stream.
“There have also been improvements in rail services; for example, the Lagos—Kano rail line is now fully operational and serving Nigerians for the first time in over 20 years.
“There have been significant improvements in road development; aviation – in particular refurbished terminals; and agriculture, where new jobs are being created every day,” Mr. Maku said.
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