A former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on Wednesday said she transferred $322m from the looted funds recovered from the former Head of State, the late Gen. Sani Abacha, to the Office of the National Security Adviser for military operations in the North-East.
The ex-minister, in a statement by her Media Adviser, Mr. Paul Nwabuikwu, said the transfer of the fund was approved after a committee, set up by former President Goodluck Jonathan, gave approval for the use of the fund.
She explained that based on the decision of the committee, she personally requested that part of the recovered fund be used for security operations while the rest be channelled to developmental purposes.
The minister stated that she decided to release the amount to the ONSA following various accusations from some quarters that she was starving the military of funds to prosecute the war on terrorism.
There was a report on Wednesday that the former minister diverted N61.4bn from the Abacha loot to the office of the former NSA, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.).
Okonjo-Iweala was reported to have written a letter to Jonathan requesting the transfer of the fund to the NSA office.
The former finance minister had, last week, said she had nothing to do with the $2.1bn arms probe.
Responding to a statement by the Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, the ex-finance minister had said she had “absolutely nothing” to do with the arms purchase scam.
But the statement by Nwabuikwo explained that as captured in the memo, Okonjo-Iweala insisted that the fund be deployed after satisfying three conditions.
The statement reads in part, “As part of the campaign of falsehood against the former Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala by Edo Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, and other powerful and corrupt interests, another baseless story has been published by some online media.
“To achieve their evil propaganda objective of tarnishing her name, these evil elements have distorted the contents of a memo, dated January 20, 2015, in which the former Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, responded to a request by the former National Security Adviser, Col. Ibrahim Dasuki (retired), for funds to prosecute the terror war against Boko Haram.
“The central responsibility of the Minister of Finance is to find sources of funding for the financing of approved national priorities such as security, job creation and infrastructure.
“It will be recalled that throughout 2014, there were public complaints by the military hierarchy to President Goodluck Jonathan about the inadequacy of funds to fight the anti-terror war in the North-East, resulting in Boko Haram making gains and even taking territories.
“A lot of the criticism was directed at the Federal Ministry of Finance under Dr Okonjo-Iweala, which was accused of not doing enough to find funds for the operations.”
She added, “It was about this time that some new Abacha funds of about $322m were returned with another $700m still expected to be returned.
“Former President Jonathan set up a committee, comprising the former Minister of Justice, former NSA and the former Minister of Finance to determine how best to use both the returned and expected funds for development.
“The NSA made a case for using the returned funds for urgent security operations, since, she noted, there could not be any development without peace and security.
“Based on this, a decision was taken to deploy about $322m for the military operations, while the expected $700m would be applied to development programmes as originally conceived.
“Following the discussions and based on the urgency of the NSA’s memo, Dr Okonjo-Iweala requested the President to approve the transfer of the requested amount to the NSA’s Office for the specified purposes.”
The statement said the attempt to link the ex-minister’s name to any misuse of these funds for any purpose other than security “is totally false and cannot stand.”
Okonjo-Iweala must be arrested, insists Oshiomhole
Meanwhile, Oshiomhole has said the Federal Government must make sure that the ongoing investigation into arms deals under the past administration is total by ensuring that all those involved in what he called “the chain of conspiracy” are dealt with decisively.
Specifically, the governor called for the arrest and prosecution of Okonjo-Iweala, arguing that there was no way money could have been taken from the nation’s treasury without her knowledge.
Oshiomhole spoke with State House correspondents on Wednesday shortly after he met behind closed-doors with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
He said the government could not afford to be selective in the probe because in criminal law, all those involved must be charged with conspiracy.
He said Okonjo-Iweala, who was also the Coordinating Minister of the Economy under former President Goodluck Jonathan, could not be coordinating “a corruption-ridden economy” and be pretending to be an angel.
Oshiomhole argued that if a Minister of Finance endorsed documents to ensure the release of funds, it was the responsibility of the government official to also ensure that the money was spent on the purpose for which it was released.
The governor said, “I am not shocked at the revelations from the arms probe. I have just told some people that the government has to go the whole hog because I know as a governor that no money gets out of the treasury even after I have approved as the governor without the commissioner of finance. That is the procedure.
“So, the probe should go into whether or not this money was properly appropriated, all of it. How did the money get out of the treasury, through who? The Minister of Finance, under the rules, must endorse before money gets out of the treasury, before the Central Bank of Nigeria will release the money.
“All those ministers of finance, including Okonjo-Iweala, should be probed. I don’t care what people say. You cannot be coordinating a corruption-ridden economy and be pretending to be an angel.”
Oshiomhole added, “We cannot selectively deal with the issue. We must deal with all those involved in this chain of conspiracy.
“In criminal law, when two or three people are involved in an act of criminality, all of them are charged with conspiracy because you cannot get money out of the treasury without them knowing.
“For a government that was talking about transparency, due process, no objection and all those things they put in place, I am unable to accept that money can come out without the Minister of Finance endorsing documents.
“When you endorse documents, you must follow through to ensure that funds are used for the purpose that they were released.”
Oshiomhole noted that the then National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.), was supposed to be an advisory officer and not a procurement agent for government.
While saying he was happy about the revelations so far, the governor said the figures currently in public domain were just a tip of the iceberg.
He stated, “Dasuki is only one bleeding point. There were several bleeding points in the system.
“If you look at the total expenditure on subsidy, which the World Bank has just released its figure, lay your hands on the various appropriation bills passed by the National Assembly in the recent past and see how much was appropriated for oil subsidy for those period and you will find out that they are not up to half of what government actually spent.
“This means money not appropriated was spent. That is criminal. People, who were involved in those acts, must be brought to justice.”
On the position of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum on the ongoing minimum wage debate, Oshiomhole said his colleagues missed the point.
He argued that if there were crises in the system, it was natural that those who had excess fat should shed weight.
The governor said by considering reducing minimum wage or workforce, governors were only looking for an escape route.
He said, “With all due respect to my brother-governors, they missed the point. It is offensive to talk about minimum. How can the food of the steward be the reason why elders have nothing to eat?
“If there are crises in the system, it is those who have excess fat that should shed weight, not the skeleton.
“The idea of using minimum wage is very offensive to my own morality. Governors of course must shed weight but it goes beyond token system. We are dealing with structural challenges.
“When there are issues, we just look for the escape route option. Those are not at the heart of the challenge. We must revisit issues.”
Oshiomhole added that it was wrong to profer the same solution to the various problems facing each of the states of the federation, saying each state should evaluate its problem and come up with solutions.
He wondered why he, as governor of Edo State, would earn the same salary as the governor of Lagos State and other states richer than his state.
He added, “I also believe that it is simplistic to believe that one drug will cure all the ailments in the various states. Every state has to take its own independent evaluation of its own problems and design appropriate policy instrument to deal with those problems as they relate to each state.
“We cannot have governors’ wives’ solution. The problem in Y State is not the same with the ones in Edo State. Everybody has to deal with his own.
“I also think that if anybody ever wants to talk about federalism, let us not talk about it when it affects the wage of the lowest paid.
“I have asked this question: why should Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, receive the same salary as Ambode, the governor of Lagos State, when the population of Lagos State is more than double the population of Edo State and their GDP is much higher than that of Edo State?
“Why should I receive the same pay as the governor of Zamfara State? Why should I receive the same pay as the governor of Akwa Ibom State? These states are richer, not necessarily courtesy of anybody’s industry, but by the accident of location.
“If we want to preach this principle of federal system, everybody should pay according to his cost of living. The cost of governing Edo State is not the same as the cost of governing Lagos State.
“Why should the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission fix my pay and fix the pay of Lagos State?
“If we want to run a true federal system, start from the top; that is leading by example. We cannot protect those privileged ones at the top and attack those at the bottom.
“This has nothing to do with the fact that I was once a labour leader. Even if I wasn’t, the truth is that wages are not a burden to this economy. People also need to understand that assuming, without suggesting that we abolish wages, no more salary, what happens?
“When people do not earn and therefore they cannot spend, they are excluded from the economy. That fact of exclusion will have devastating impact on consumption levels in the economy.
“Where will manufacturers of goods and services sell? You take a look at the average living pattern of salary workers, you will find out that their average consumption pattern is more inward looking. They will likely be the guys who eat a lot of garri, pounded yam, fried yam and pepper soup made in Nigeria.
“Compare it to the consumption pattern of the elite. They are the ones that will buy first-class ticket on British Airways. They are the ones that are likely to buy vehicles that are imported; they are likely to live in homes half of which are built with imported materials.”
The governor said he was currently fighting battles in his state by forcing the rich to pay taxes, especially land use charge.
Oshiomhole stated, “I am fighting battles in Edo State. I am saying to the rich guys that they have to pay tax.
“They are saying ‘who am I’ and I am saying ‘I am government’. You pay your land use charge on your house abroad.
“I squeeze you; if you do not pay, we will take you to court and secure conviction and take you to prison.’’
While justifying the Federal Government’s proposed N6tn 2016 Budget, Oshiomhole said it was clear that over the past four years under the past government, budgets had been used to service recurrent expenditure.
He observed that the nation did not have more than 10 per cent allocated to capital project in the 2015 budget.
This, he argued, meant that the country would be watching helplessly while its infrastructure decayed daily.
He said the situation was responsible for the infrastructure crisis across the country.
The governor explained, “If you are going to reverse that, you need to increase the size of the budget.
“If you want to cut the personnel cost in order to reduce recurrent expenditure, then two things will happen: you either reduce wages or you reduce the number of workers. Because this government is committed to job creation, that option is clearly not on the card.
“How then will you find fund to deal with capital projects that will improve the quality of lives of the people, infrastructure that will create an enabling environment for businesses to compete? You need to spend more money.
“We cannot bail Nigerians out of the dejection we face without injecting more money into the economy.
“Under the past government, under the cover of arranged stealing, what was recorded as oil production was as low as 1.7 million barrels per day, the rest are stolen. Government has taken steps to get the Armed Forces to protect the nation’s crude oil.”