By Tersoo Achineku
If you thought you’d heard the last of Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomhole and former Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala’s squabble then you’re wrong as a new chapter opened up yesterday.
The former NLC boss, in a statmente by his media aide, Kassim Afegbua, said Mrs Okonjo-Iweala was trying to blackmail him.
Furthermore, he faulted former Minister of Finance Ngozi Oknojo-Iweala’s claim that he is attacking her for the withdrawal from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) because she refused to approve a loan for the state.
The statement reads: “It is instructive at this point in time to state categorically without equivocation that there is nothing “personal” between Okonjo-Iweala and Comrade Adams Oshiomhole in terms of the request by the Edo State governor that Okonjo-Iweala should come clean on the issue of revenue that accrued to the Excess Crude Account. As much as her spokesman tries to dramatise his response in defence of his boss, he has shown a manifest uninformed disposition to issues of simple economics of naira and kobo. Here is a former Minister, who has changed her position four times in the last 40 days; each position exposing her dubiety of facts and inherent contradictions in the concocted tales she has been weaving on one simple issue: what happened to the $2.1b ECA funds?
“The simple questions which the Comrade Governor asked were: How come those accruals into the Excess Crude Account got depleted without the knowledge of the National Economic Council? How come moneys that were supposed to accrue into the said account cannot be found in it going by the balance sheet provided by the former minister? How come the minister unilaterally dipped her hand into the Excess Crude Account to spend money in defiance of the constitution and the laws of the land? How come that the minister finds it convenient to publish allocations to states and local governments, but refused to publish accruals into the same account for us to know the status of the account at any point in time; how much was left from where she was distributing from?
“What the Comrade Governor stated was that; it was interesting to note that by December 2012, the ECA had a balance of over $10 billion. This depleted to $2.07 billion by May 2015, according to the former Finance minister. Between January 2013 and May 2015, not more than $4 billion was shared among the three tiers of government. Indeed, the last time any money was shared from the ECA was in May 2013.
“Flowing from the above statement of facts, the Comrade Governor then asked a very pertinent question; how come there was no accretion to the ECA even when crude oil prices averaged between $100 to $108 within the three years period of 2011 to 2014, aware that the National budgets were based on $77 and $79 benchmark? That gives an average of $30 per barrel gains. In fact, based on rough estimates, Nigeria should earn not less than $30 billion accretion based on the official oil exports of 2.3 million barrels per day. The question which Okonjo-Iweala could not answer is; how come Nigeria did not make any savings during those three years of unprecedented oil price boom? Simple question that should ordinarily elicit simple response.
“Without a scintilla of numerical reference, Okonjo-Iweala went into a voyage of storytelling like an intellectual raconteur, leaving out the real substance of the Comrade Governor’s salient questions. First, she responded on May 28, 2015 where she denied the allegations describing them as “baseless”. Among other things she claimed that the 36 governors, who are joint owners of the Excess Crude Account with the Federal Government, were in full picture of how the ECA was managed. She stated inter alia: “How can Governor Oshiomhole claim that governors were not properly briefed on the status of the ECA when his Commissioner of Finance attends all FAAC meetings where decisions are taken and communicated to the nation?”
“On June 29, 2015 exactly a month after, at the inaugural meeting of the National Economic Council (NEC), presided over by Vice President Professor Yemi Osibanjo, and with 36 states in attendance, we deliberated on the status of the ECA. After a critical scrutiny, it was discovered that indeed Dr. Okonjo-Iweala spent $2.1billion from the ECA without authorisation by the NEC. That money was neither distributed to states nor paid to the three tiers of government. This was the rationale for the setting up of the four-man panel to look at what accrued, what it was spent for, when and by whom and who authorised the spending, so that Nigerians will have a full picture of all the transactions as regards the much-talked about Excess Crude Account.”
He accused the former minister of changing her explanations on the ECA withdrawal four times.
Oshiomhole said: “On June 30, 2015, Okonjo-Iweala was once again reported as categorically denying unauthorised expenditure from the ECA under her purview, describing the findings of NEC as ‘false, malicious and without foundation’’. According to her, decisions on such expenditure and sharing were discussed at meetings of FAAC attended by Finance commissioners from the 36 states. In her words, “it is curious that in their desperation to use the esteemed National Economic Council for political and personal vendetta, the persons behind these allegations acted as if the constitutionally-recognised FAAC, a potent expression of Nigeria’s fiscal federalism, does not exist”. Is FAAC superior to NEC? Does FAAC has the constitutional powers to give approval for withdrawals from ECA?”On July 7, 2015, barely a week after Okonjo-Iweala claimed that FAAC was involved in the unauthorised spending from the ECA, members of FAAC, under the aegis of Forum of Finance Commissioners in a public statement, denied approving any withdrawal of the said $2.1 billion. The 36 Finance commissioners categorically described the former minister’s claim as “misleading, and far from the fact”. Hear them: “The Law setting up FAAC, which pre-dates the ECA did not empower the commissioners to approve such withdrawals, and that there were records of committee’s meetings to show that they had always queried the activities on the ECA, particularly on withdrawals. FAAC did not and could not have approved or took the decision to withdraw $2billion from the Excess Crude Account”.
“On July 8, 2015, Okonjo-Iweala opened up a bit of the real gist when she admitted that $2 billion was indeed withdrawn from the ECA this time, on the directives of former President Goodluck Jonathan. She further confirmed that the money was used to pay petroleum subsidies and not shared to the 36 states as she earlier declared.”