SaharaReporters said is stands by its report on the Nigerian economy.
Online news platform, SaharaReporters, and Nigeria’s Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, are back in a bitter tango, dueling now over what the newspaper claims to be a corrupt and stained management of import waivers that is badly hurting the nation’s economy under the watch of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala
The current duel, the second in five months, was sparked by a publication by SaharaReporters revealing “fraud” and “corruption” in the finance minister’s handling of import waivers in Nigeria.
SaharaReporters said Nigeria’s import waiver scheme administered by Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala is frequently manipulated and administered in a way that fosters fraud and corruption, forcing the minister into a defensive position.
The minister’s press office shot back, describing SaharaReporters’ allegations as falsification and distortion of facts.
A statement from the minister’s office claimed that the Nigerian government reformed the import waiver policy in 2011, offering the privilege to all entitled companies.
“All companies or entities involved in a sector or given activity will benefit from the same waivers once they meet the necessary criteria,” the statement signed by Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala’s Special Adviser, Paul Nwabuikwu, said.
The minister went ahead to publish the list of beneficiaries of the waiver scheme, but the news website insists it was “doctored”.
“The document was compiled in a way designed to feature names that would attract little or no curiosity. In addition, the document referred the public to the main page of the Budget Office rather than to a specific web address containing the waiver information,” SaharaReporters argued in a follow-up letter to the minister.
“Why has the Federal Ministry of Finance found it so difficult to release all the names of beneficiaries from import waivers, including public officials in the latest list?” SaharaReporters asked.
Waiver for the First Lady
A waiver issued to the First Lady to import BMW cars for the All African First Ladies’ Peace summit held in Abuja in 2012, is a major contentious issue between the finance minister and the news website.
The waiver, for 200 BMW cars, was granted to the First Lady for the occasion that attracted only 54 dignitaries. That waiver was subsequently forwarded to Coscharis – an auto company involved in another car scandal concerning the acquisition of armoured cars for the aviation minister, Stella Oduah, at outrageous sums.
While the finance minister justified the waiver saying the arrival of the African First Ladies “necessitated vehicles for the transport of these visiting dignitaries,” SaharaReporters questioned its legality.
“Why was the First Lady of Nigeria, whose office is unknown to the Nigerian constitution, offered waivers to import BMWs for a conference she hosted? And why did Ms. Okonjo-Iweala not question the fact that the First Lady then handed the waivers to Coscharis Motors Limited, an auto dealer implicated in some fraudulent deals, including Oduahgate?” SaharaReporters asked.
The minister is yet to react to the latest shots.
SaharaReporters and the Finance Minister have engaged in similar bouts in the past. In July, SaharaReporters published a story suggesting that Nigeria was broke and was planning to lift funds from the N3.4 trillion pension funds to enable it finance its deficits.
The minister faulted the report and accused the paper of peddling falsehood. But the publication says it’s standing by its report, insisting that the Nigerian economy is indeed in shambles.
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