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Okonjo-Iweala’s rail project response: The perm. secretary or PMB’s media team have some explaining to do

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Okonjo-Iweala’s rail project response: The perm. secretary or PMB’s media team have some explaining to do

Former Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has come out to strongly condemn what she described as a “sponsored media campaign” against her.

Her anger stemmed from media reports which named her in relation to diversion of funds allegedly budgeted for the Lagos-Kano rail project, being funded via a loan from the China-EximBank.

The origin of the rumour was a statement released by the presidency and signed by one of the president’s spokesmen, Garba Shehu, after a meeting between Pres. Muhammadu Buhari and the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Transportation, Alhaji Mohammed Bashar.

Below are the three paragraphs from the statement which were interpreted by some newspapers in a way that cast Okonjo-Iweala in a bad light.

“I hope that due process was followed before such diversions were carried out. Taking money from one project to another has to be done properly,” the President warned.

President Buhari was reacting to the specific instance of the diversion of a substantial part of the loan of USD1.005 billion from the Chinese Exim Bank, obtained for the construction of a standard gauge rail line linking Lagos to Kano but which was moved elsewhere.

The Permanent Secretary had informed the President that only USD 400 million of that loan remained with the Ministry of Finance.

In response, Okonjo-Iweala said she has been receiving media inquiries regarding “an allegation reportedly made by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Transport, Alhaji Mohammed Bashar, that a substantial part of a $1bn loan obtained from the China-EximBank by the Jonathan administration for a Kano-Lagos rail project was diverted to other projects.

“I want to state categorically that there is no truth in the reported allegation. Anyone who is interested can cross-check with the China-EximBank or the Chinese Embassy.

“It is noteworthy that even though President Buhari, in his reported comments on the allegation, made no reference to Dr. Okonjo-Iweala but rightly stressed the need for due process and transparency in the execution of public projects, a sponsored media campaign has once again been launched by political elements to make the former Minister the culprit in a non-existent scandal.

“The alleged diversion has no substance for the simple reason that the Kano-Lagos project was not even among the projects presented for funding by the China Exim Bank for several strategic infrastructural projects across the country.

“In fact, it was the Lagos–Ibadan rail project, not Lagos-Kano rail project that was proposed in the original application to the China-EximBank. But in the end, no funds were assigned for the Lagos-Ibadan rail project by the China-EximBank,” she said.

So where did the error come from? Who misrepresented the name of the project? The media is not allowed to observe the briefings between the president and the Permanent Secretaries,so the public records on the issue are those spoken afterwards by any of the two parties.

Was it the Permanent Secretary who made the mistake and did not know these details? If he truly said that, then he has some explanations to give – a briefing with the president is not something one should approach without proper preparations.

Was the error from the president’s media team which perhaps wrote Lagos-Kano instead of Lagos-Ibadan rail project? In that case they also have some explaining to do.

Either way some explanation is needed.

Okonjo-Iweala further stated that:

“The fact which can be confirmed is that the following projects which are at various stages of progress are being funded from facilities obtained from the China-EximBank:

· $500m for the expansion of four International Airport Terminals in Lagos, Kano, Abuja and Port Harcourt.
· $500m for the Abuja Light Rail project
· $984m for the Zungeru Hydro-electric power project
· $100m for the Galaxy Backbone project

“It is also important to note that even if the alleged project was on the list of China-EximBank funded projects, diversion of any Chinese funds would have been extremely difficult because the terms of the contract and the processes would simply not have permitted such action.

“The procedure is that funds for approved loans remain in the China-EximBank and are released directly to the Chinese firm executing the contract only after the presentation of duly certified proof of work by the responsible Ministry, in this case it would have been the Federal Ministry of Transport, based on the agreed milestones.

“For the sake of emphasis, the China-EximBank does not disburse money directly to government and therefore the issue of diversion does not arise,” she said.

In her statement which was signed by Paul Nwabuikwu, her spokesman, she condemned the media reports as “another example of the kind of whispering campaign of calumny, innuendo, misinformation, and outright distortions being perpetrated by certain political elements against Dr. Okonjo-Iweala in a bid to try to damage her reputation. We are confident that those behind this campaign will continue to fail.

“We respectfully request the media to refrain from attaching Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s name and photographs to spurious and unfounded allegations. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala as a Nigerian citizen in a democracy, a citizen who has served her country with honesty and integrity, also has some fundamental rights to justice and fair play.”

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