The verbal clash between the immediate past Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo–Iweala, and the Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, over the management of Nigeria’s finances, may not end any time soon, as the exchanges between the duo continued Wednesday.
On Monday, after the National Economic Council (NEC) meeting in Abuja, Mr. Oshiomhole and his Kaduna State counterpart, Nasir El Rufai, had said that about $2.1 bn had been withdrawn from the $4.1 bn left in the Excess Crude Account (ECA) last November “without authorization.”
In a quick reaction Tuesday, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala hit back at the governors, through her spokesperson, Paul Nwabuikwu, who described the allegations as “false, malicious and totally without foundation.”
“It is clear that this is 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 tar the Okonjo-Iweala name,” Mr. Nwabuikwu said in a statement.
But, Mr. Oshiomhole, who was guest on Channels TV programme on Wednesday, accused the former Minister of not only toying with figures about the country’s finances, but also being economical with the truth on the state of the economy bequeathed to President Muhammadu Buhari.
Mr. Oshiomhole accused Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala of mismanaging the economy, particularly the controversial waivers granted various organizations that cost the economy several billions of naira, adding that the Federal Government would have been in a worse financial position than the states if it had not resorted to borrowing to pay wages.
“With all due respect to the former Minister Okonjo-Iweala, she knows how to play around with statistics,” Mr. Oshiomhole said. “I have made the point before that she keeps opening part of the pages and not the entire book.
“The logic of transparency is that every minister must publish in full what is accruing to the Federation Account month to month and what is distributed to them.
“What she has been publishing has been what went to the federal, state and local governments. She never published simultaneously what accrued during the period, out of which these were distributed, so that we can know what was collected; what was distributed, and what was left in the excess crude account.”
As a member of NEC, Mr. Oshiomhole said he had confronted the former Minister on several occasions to demand that reports on matters of Federation Account should not be presented to members verbally, but in written form, for reasons of accountability.
On the controversial unauthorised spending, Mr. Oshiomhole said the power to take money from the ECA was vested in the NEC, an institution created by the constitution, and not State Finance Commissioners, who were members of the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC).
On claims by Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala that Nigerians knew what the three tiers of government usually collect through the State Commissioners who attend the monthly FAAC meetings, Mr. Oshiomhole dismissed it as her administrative arrangement not known to the constitution.
On the controversial $2 bn, the governor said Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala had stated in her last report that $4.1 billion was the balance in the ECA.
“She said so orally, but was captured in the minutes, only for her to come around again at the last minute to say “X” figure is left. We (governors) asked her, what did you pay for?
“The situation was always compounded by the fact that the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Petroleum Resources always worked together to refuse to transfer to the Federation Account huge sums of money that ought to have accrued to the government,” Mr. Oshiomhole said.
He cited the example of payments from the Nigeria LNG, which were not accounted for, and challenged Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala to produce records of huge payments of between $1.5bn to $2 bn every year over the past 4 to 5 years, which ought to have gone to the federation account.
“These monies were never transferred to the Federation Account. They were unilaterally expended by the Federal Government.
“We were not even informed of the fact that these monies were paid. Each time we asked the then Minister what was happening with the proceeds from the NLNG, no explanation was ever offered, whether in black and white, or orally.
“There are several other federal agencies that made huge sums of money, which were illegally and unilaterally spent by the Federal Government, without being allowed to flow into the Federation Account,” Mr. Oshiomhole stated.
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