Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State has accused a former Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, of illegally withdrawing $1 billion from the federation account to prosecute the re-election bid of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Speaking at a Seminar organized by the Edo state government for Permanent Secretaries, Directors and Deputy Directors entitled “enhancing IGR in Edo, issues, prospects and challenges”, the governor said the former minister also needs to tell Nigerians how the Excess Crude Account was drawn down to $4.1 billion from the peak of $10 billion when no approval was given by the National Economic Council for any withdrawals.
The governor who said Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala would have been declared a pathological liar if she were a witness in court due to the inconsistencies in her statements.
He said a forensic audit would truly determine how much was illegally spent from the federation account under her watch as Minister.
He said the state government would now hold Permanent Secretaries, Directors and Deputy Directors responsible for any fraud detected in their departments saying the government has trimmed down the cost of running government.
He said: “the truth is, many things went wrong even at the federal level. As you might have read in the papers, while the federal government, under Goodluck Jonathan, with the then Coordinating Minister of the Economy liked to blame “Governors” for wasteful spending, for not saving for the rainy day, for not investing properly, the truth is the real weakness in the Nigerian federal chain has been the Federal Government.
“Our hope is that with the new President, given his pedigree, we will break from the past.
“As I’m sure you will soon begin to hear when all the numbers are published, last week, I complained aloud that Edo State lost about N10 billion over a four year period from only one source: the NLNG remittance to the federation account.
“How did I arrive at the figure? I used my 4-Figure Table and I asked myself at $2.1 billion remitted by NLNG as taxes and Shell, and by the way, Shell is not the only oil operative, we have Chevron and several others. They shared the $2.1 billion based on the revenue allocation formula, Edo State got about N2.27 billion. So I said, thank God this money came after the departure of Okonjo-Iweala and President Jonathan. If the PDP were still in charge in Abuja, this money would have been taken.
“That is not the only money Edo State Government has lost. You have heard of the last instalment of $4.1 billion that was in the Excess Crude Account as of November, 2014, and from that time till today, we have not; when I say we, federal, states and local governments have not touched that money.
“We have not agreed to take anything out of it, and yet it has been drawn down to about $2 billion. Which means $2.1 billion disappeared. If you listened and followed the conversation, when I made this allegation after the National Economic Council meeting that the former Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister, Dr Okonjo-Iweala took $2.1 billion without approval and spent it in a manner that was never accounted for, she replied that I lied and said that it was the Commissioners and herself who agreed to distribute that money to the three tiers of government and that FAAC is the most visible expression of our true federalism. And that we shouldn’t claim that FAAC is unknown to us. That FAAC is a creation of law and so on and so forth.
“I’m going into this, because, as public servants, you need to understand not just the finances of Edo State but also the finances of Nigeria, particularly as they affect our state.
“Now the Commissioners of Finance met and they looked at themselves and they looked at Okonjo-Iweala and they submitted to Okonjo-Iweala that ‘madam, you lied, not Oshiomhole because in truth, we have no powers to decide withdrawals from the Excess Crude Account and that that power is vested in the State Governors at the level of the National Economic Council.’ But whether vested or not, we never, ever resolved to share money from that account.
“Now the former Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, confronted with these hard facts now shifted the argument that ‘oh no it is not FAAC that approved it, it was the former President Goodluck Jonathan that approved it.
“President Jonathan as far as the law of Nigeria is concerned, or any President, his approval is limited to funds of the federal government, not funds of the federation. Funds of the federation can only be approved by Governors and representative of the President as reflected in the composition of the National Economic Council, which is made up by Governors and chaired by the Vice President, with the CBN Governor and Minister of Finance and others as members. But there’s so much confusion now that Okonjo-Iweala can say one thing in the morning and tomorrow she will say I never said so. If she were a witness in a court of law, she would be declared a pathological liar whose evidence is of no value.
“So governments have lost a lot of money and the $2.1 billion, Edo State’s share of that, because that would have included derivation we would have made about N2.6 billion. That, we have lost now to Okonjo-Iweala.
“Now that she claimed she used it, between herself and the last President, they agreed to take the money to pay oil marketers. But if you talk to those oil marketers, they will tell you that within that period, they were paid $1 billion not $2.1 billion. So in truth, about $1 billion was taken for election purposes and Edo State’s share of that should have been about N4.6 billion from that $2.1 billion that Dr Ngozi-Okonjo Iweala, the former Minister of Finance illegally took from Excess Crude account.
“For clarity, that is not the only money they have so illegally taken. If you look at the total number at a point, the excess crude account peaked at $10 billion and we now heard it dropped to $4.1 billion. This means at some point, another $6 billion was taken. So we are hopeful that by the time we carry out some forensic analysis, we will be able to show clearly how much of the funds accruing to the three tiers of government were unilaterally and illegally spent by the Federal Government under the former Minister of Finance.”
The former finance minister could not be reached on Monday to comment on the allegations. Her spokesperson, Paul Nwabuikwu, did not respond to our calls.
On the seminar organized for top public servants to enhance the states IGR, Oshiomhole said: “the need for this workshop arose from reports, that virtually every week when we discuss at the level of the state executive council, issues that have to do with Internally Generated Revenue. The truth is; so much money could be paid by those who are supposed to pay, in most cases when this money is paid, in some cases, they never get to the treasury.
“Those responsible for diversion for running all these closed accounts, or pocketing or opening special accounts rather than the one known to Edo State Government or so authorized are by and large civil servants. And on few occasions, they also enlist some political appointees to be part of such rackets.
“We have over the period had cause to interrogate and fire some persons who were involved either in operating illegal accounts or undervaluing certain things that ought to have been properly valued so that correct taxes are paid the government.
“If government must continue to provide those basic needs of our people, somebody must pay for it. People have to pay taxes.
“Luckily, Edo is not owing workers’ salaries and we will do everything possible to ensure that the pay day is sacrosanct, because even the Bible says a labourer is entitled to his wages but we must understand that if we do not sustain and improve on where we are, with regards to Internally Generated Revenue, if the money is simply not available, something will have to give.
“We have trimmed down considerably as much as we can on the cost of running government. We have suspended overheads and allowances across the board from Governor’s office to Deputy Governor’s office to Secretary to State Government’s office, to Commissioners so that we can free resources to meet our salary obligation, but remember that the primary purpose of government is not just the payment of salaries. If all that government entails is to pay salaries as at when due, to be honest you do not need any other person except a fairly smart Clerk and a fairly honest Cashier.
“The primary purpose of government is to improve on the quality of lives of the people and provide basic economic and social infrastructure. To think that because we can pay salaries, all is well. All is not. I will not accept a situation where we are only able to pay salaries and nothing else.
“Henceforth, Permanent Secretaries, Directors and Deputy Directors will be held liable for any fraud detected in your department or section except if you are the one who raised the alarm. If a fraud is detected in your department by anyone outside yourself, we will assume that you are all a part of it.