Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili
By Patrick Ugeh and Muhammad Bello and Christopher Isiguzo
Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, Sunday took on the former World Bank Vice-President, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, over her allegation that the Yar’Adua and Jonathan administrations squandered $67 billion in foreign reserves and from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) left behind by ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, saying the erstwhile Education Minister lied.
Addressing journalists in Abuja, Maku accused Ezekwesili of a “surprisingly limited understanding of government finances,” stating that the reserves at the end of May, 2007, when President Obasanjo handed over to Yar’Adua, stood at $43.13 billion.
He said it comprised the Central Bank’s external reserves of $31.5 billion; $9.43 billion in the ECA and $2.18 billion in the Federal Government’s savings.
Pointing out that the figure could be independently verified from the CBN records, Maku declared: “The $67 billion alleged in her statement is therefore clearly fictitious.”
He explained that since Obasanjo left office, foreign reserves had risen from $43.13 billion, peaking at $62 billion in September 2008 when oil prices reached $147 per barrel, before falling to $31.7 in September 2011.
According to him, the dip was occasioned by the global financial crisis, which caused the CBN’s intervention in the currency market to defend the value of the naira.
“The excess crude savings, a component of the reserves, was also used to stimulate the economy at the height of the financial crisis to the tune of about $1 billion (or 0.5 per cent of our 2009 GDP).
“As a result, Nigeria is one of the few countries in the world that did not seek assistance from international financial institutions.
“It should be noted that the fiscal stimulus used to shore up the economy during that period, was shared by all three tiers of government, including commitments of about $5.5 billion made under the Obasanjo administration for power projects,” he said.
Describing Ezekwesili’s comments on the educational system in her address at UNN convocation on January 24 as hypocritical and disingenuous, Maku tasked the former minister to account for the N458 billion she collected during her tenure in government.
“During her tenure as Minister of Education between 2006 and 2007, she collected a total sum of N352.3 billion from direct budgetary releases,” Maku said.
“In addition, she received about N65.8 billion under the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) Fund, and over N40 billion from the Education Trust Fund (ETF) during her time as Minister of Education.”
The Information Minister queried: “What did she do with these allocations? What impact did it have on the education sector?”
He wondered, “if our education system would have been better today if these allocations were properly applied.”
Maku said by her condemnation of the education sector, Ezekwesili was also condemning herself, as it was an indication that she did not perform well.
He wondered why many public officials become experts in proffering solutions to the country’s problems only after they leave office.
Maku also had harsh words for the media, who he said were adept at publishing allegations of corruption but failed to follow up when government began prosecuting culprits.
He charged them to pay particular attention to corrupt judges that stall cases and hold them accountable.
Noting that Jonathan had acted against persons that he should not have dealt with if he were to consider political interests, yet the media conveniently overlooked those and focused on allegations of corruption against government even when they could not be proven.
The Information Minister, who was summoned by the presidency from his tour of the South-east on the good governance assessment was accompanied by President Goodluck Jonathan’s aides, including Dr. Doyin Okupe, Senior Special Assistant on Public Affairs.
He outlined the achievements of this administration, including bringing trains back on track after 20 years of the rail system being out of service.
However, the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP) Sunday asked the president to immediately mandate the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to scrutinise the Federal Government accounts with a view to unravelling what happened to the $45 billion in foreign reserves and $22 billion in the ECA, which Yar’Adua -Jonathan administration inherited in May 2007.
The CNPP, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Osita Okechukwu, said it had become necessary for the EFCC to examine the record books of the Federal Government from May 29, 2007 to date with a view to finding out where the sums disappeared to.
It also disclosed that available records, which it obtained from the CBN equally showed that as at January 2007, the ECA stood at $27 billion, but was suddenly reduced to $22 billion by May 29 the same year.
“It is our considered view that in the absence of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua of blessed memory, we have nobody to turn to except President Goodluck Jonathan to unravel where all the money went to.
“We also ask the ex-president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo to account for the $5 billion which grew wings and flew out of the national treasury between January to May 2007, especially when the regime failed to fund the electricity projects, failed to fund road projects and social services, leading to the total collapse of infrastructure,” the CNPP noted.
It added that the probe by EFCC would enable the government to prosecute all those who fleeced and raped the nation’s commonwealth, adding that it would be the irreducible minimum in deterring future thieves and sanitising the system.