by Ibrahim Faruk
Former Vice President (Africa) at the World Bank and Minister under former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, yesterday pointed fingers at both the late President Umaru Yar’Adua and his successor, President Goodluck Jonathan for “squandering’’ $67 billion (about N11 trillion) oil money left in two separate accounts by Obasanjo.
Ezekwesili spoke in Nsukka on Thursday, while delivering the Convocation Lecture of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, UNN.
Ezekwesili is generally regarded as a forthright woman not known for mincing her words. When she speaks, Nigerians listen, especially young upwardly mobile Nigerians who view her as a capable change agent. She’s also a thinker who weighs her words before speaking so she must have known the bombshell that she was about to throw and must have been ready for the chatter it’ll surely engender;
She said that the Obasanjo administration left $45 billion (N7.065 trillion) in the Foreign Reserve and another $22 billion (about N3.454 trillion) in the Excess Crude Account, bringing the total amount of money handed over to late President Yar’Adua to about $67 billion or N10.619 trillion.
The former minister lamented “the squandering of the significant sum of $45billion in foreign reserve account and another $22billion in Excess Crude Account being direct savings from increased earnings from oil that the Obasanjo administration handed over to the successor government in 2007.”
“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.
“One cannot but ask what exactly does this level of brazen misappropriation of public resources symbolize? Where did all that money go? Where is the accountability for the use of these resources and the additional several hundred dollars realized from oil sale by the two administrations that have governed our nation in the last five years? How were these resources applied or more appropriately misapplied? Tragic choices.”
She stressed that sorting out the “Nigerian political mess” is critical as there is a strong correlation between politics and economic development.
According to her, university graduates accounted for 4.3% of Nigeria’s youthful population in 2013, a slight increase from the 3% when she graduated in 1985. She pointed out that this figure compared unfavourably with opportunity for university education in other countries put at 37.5% in Chile, 33.7% for Singapore, 28.2% for Malaysia and 16.5% in Brazil.
Ezekwesili, who was a founding director of Transparency International and also, former Minister of Solid Minerals and later Education however, asked graduating students of UNN and other educated young people to become the
Point generation of young and educated Nigerians willing to make the right
choices by serving or having a say in political affairs of the country.
Furthermore, describing Nigeria as “a paradox of the kind of wealth that breeds penury,” the former World Bank executive said “the trend of Nigeria’s population in poverty since 1980 to 2010 suggests that the more we earned from oil the larger the population of poor citizens.”
According to her, the figures of the poor in Nigeria grew from 17.1million in 1980, 34.5million in 1985, 39.2million in 1992, 67.1million in 1996, to 68.7million in 2004 and 112.47million in 2010.
Ezekwesili advocated a new vision for Nigeria, expressed simply as “we believe in dignity,” pointing out that the resurgence of entrepreneurial spirit based on hard work and sound education were critical factors to changing Nigeria.
“For Nigeria’s dignity to be restored your generation must build a coalition of young entrepreneurial minds that are ready to ask and respond to the question. What does it take for nations to become rich? Throughout economic history, the factors that determine which nations became rich and improved the standard of living of their citizens read like a Dignity Treatise in that they all revolve around the choices that ordinary citizens made in defining the value constructs of their nation”.
The 42nd Convocation ceremonies of the UNN commenced, yesterday, with the Convocation Lecture and the Prize and Awards night for distinguished graduands. About 18,150 first degree holders would receive their certificates, while higher degrees and honorary awards would be celebrated and conferred on 1, 730 recipients. There are 116 First Class Honours recipients while 195 will receive Doctorate degrees.