Where Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is right now is not an easy place to be and unless she acquits herself, the halo of integrity that made her Managing Director of the World Bank and Finance Minister twice under different presidents she may never rekindle. The sacked Board and Management of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) also have a lot to explain.
But in a swift reaction issued to the media yesterday, Okonjo-Iweala, has described the allegation as vendetta and witch-hunting. Her media aide, Paul Nwabuikwu, stated that no unauthorised expenditure from the ECA was made under her watch and that decisions on such expenditure were discussed at meetings of the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) attended by finance commissioners from the 36 states.
The National Economic Council, chaired by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, had accused the former Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy under ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, of spending $2.1bn from the Excess Crude Account without authorisation.
Ahmed Idris whom President Muhammadu Buhari named the new Accountant General of the federation with immediate effect on Thursday June 25, 2015 had told NEC that only two billion dollars remained in the Excess Crude Account whereas Okonjo-Iweala had reported to the council (as seen in the minutes) on November 2014 that the account had in it $4.1 billion.
“Today, the Accountant-General Office reported we have $2.0bn. Which means the honourable minister spent $2.1bn without authority of the NEC and that money was not distributed to states, it was not paid to the three tiers of government,” Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomhole told State House correspondents after the NEC’s 58th meeting in Abuja.
Within the period, the NNPC was said to have earned a total of N8.1 trillion but remitted only N4.3tn.
President Buhari has constituted four governors – Oshiomhole, Nasir el-Rufai (Kaduna), Udom Emmanuel (Akwa Ibom) and Ibrahim Dankwambo (Gombe) – into a panel to probe the NNPC and the ECA between 2012 and May, 2015.
Oshiomhole said, “We are talking about transparency; we are talking about change. And what we saw from those numbers, which I believe that Nigerians are entitled to know, is that whereas the NNPC claimed to have earned N8.1tn, what NNPC paid into the Federation Account from 2012 to May 2015 was N4.3tn. What it means is that the NNPC withheld and spent N3.8 tn.
“The major revelation here is that the entire federation, that is the Federal Government, the states and all the 774 local governments, the amount the NNPC paid into the Federation Account for distribution to these three tiers of government came to N4.3 tn and the NNPC alone took and spent N3.8tn. This means that the cost of running the NNPC is much more than the cost of running the Federal Government. That tells you how much is missing, what is mismanaged and what is stolen. These are huge figures” he said.
Oshiomhole said the only lawful way decreed by the Constitution was that if the NNPC needed to spend money, it needed to prepare its budget like every other business enterprise, get it scrutinised by the executive and then forward same to the National Assembly for appropriation.
He asked, “If the Federal Government cannot spend without appropriation, why should any agency spend without appropriation?
“This is what the Constitution provided for and this is what President Muhammadu Buhari has promised to do; henceforth all money must go to the Federation Account. If you were doing that, you would not have a situation where the NNPC alone will spend N3.8trn and remit to the federal, states and local governments N4.3trn, which means NNPC is taking about 47 per cent and that explains all the leakages you are talking about” Oshiomhole said.
However, Okonjo-Iweala’s rebuttal described as ‘curious,’ the seeming “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. Okonjo-Iweala’s name is at stake and she has a right to defend it to the hilt.
The four governors hope to be done and dusted with their investigations and be ready to report their findings and recommendations to NEC when it reconvenes on July 23. Okonjo-Iweala will not be the only minister to take the fall if need be. With NNPC in their sights, the Petroleum Minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke may be summoned too. Anyone found culpable may be turned over to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
Until proven guilty, the NEC panel of four governors shouldn’t scandalize former public servants, but should summon Okonjo-Iweala, the Petroluem Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke and other NNPC top notch to answer questions pertinent to the “unauthorised spending” of $2.1 billion and $3.8 trillion. Nigerians need to know the truth.