SERAP Writes Finance Minister on Alleged Missing N30 Trillion

By Adedayo Ogunleye, Abuja

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, a civil society group working in the area of transparency in government, has written a Freedom of Information, FOIA, request to the minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo – Iweala seeking information on the N30 trillion alleged to be missing under her watch.

Former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Charles Soludo had alleged that as much as N30 trillion naira has been stolen, lost, mismanaged or unaccounted under the Goodluck Jonathan administration during which time Okonjo – Iweala has been minister.

“My estimate, Madam, is that probably more than N30 trillion has either been stolen or lost or unaccounted for or simply mismanaged under your watchful eyes in the past four years. Since you claim to be in charge, Nigerians are right to ask you to account. Think about what this amount could mean for the 112 million poor Nigerians or for our schools, hospitals, roads,” Soludo wrote in a letter to the minister.

In the SERAP letter dated February 2 and signed by its executive director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, the group stated that the minister was legally bound, going by the access to Information law, to provide the information requested within 14 days or face a legal action.

SERAP expressed concern that the “stealing or mismanagement of such a large sum of public funds may be responsible for the economic crisis and attendant hardships being faced by millions of Nigerians in terms of persistent lack of enjoyment of their legally recognized economic and social rights such as the rights to education, to adequate healthcare, to adequate food, and access to clean and portable water.”

Specifically, the group asked the minister to “provide detailed information on the spending of missing N30tn, that presumably represents income or return accruing to or derived by the government of the Federation from any source, including: a) any receipt, however described, arising from the operation of any law; b) any return, however described, arising from or in respect of any property held by the Government of the Federation; c) any return by way of interest on loans and dividends in respect of shares or interest held by the Government of the Federation in any company or statutory body.”

In a fiery and lengthy follow-up to his widely shared article, “Buhari vs Jonathan: Beyond The Election”, the ex-CBN boss responded to the criticisms of his appraisal of the economic policies of the present administration by the finance minister with a piece titled “Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and the Missing Trillions (1)” in which he stated that the tendency of the present administration not to take constructive criticism kindly was dangerous to democracy in Nigeria.

Soludo who defended his credentials as a world-renowned economist and consultant to multinational organizations and nations and his performance during his tenure as the apex bank’s boss, raised a number of allegations against the Jonathan administration.

He, however, asserted that his motivations to speak were not out of vengefulness as insinuated by Iweala’s response to his piece but because “what is at stake is the survival and prosperity of Nigeria”.

He accused the finance minister of manipulating national statistics, calling it a “dangerous gamble which would undermine the credibility of the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS.”

He said that the minister’s discomfort with the implications of the NBS study results necessitated the review and the rebasing of the economy.

“When NBS published the poverty figures in 2011, she felt indicted and incensed. She called upon the World Bank to come and examine the ‘methodology’ and get NBS to ‘review’ its numbers. Oby Ezekwesili (as VP Africa Region rejected the call to try to tamper with a country’s statistics). Once Oby left, the World Bank started talking about ‘new figures’, without conducting any new surveys.  I was told about it by a World Bank economist and I cautioned that it was a dangerous gamble that would damage the credibility of the NBS,” Soludo stated.

The ex – CBN governor noted that when the NBS published its poverty data in 2006 Okonjo Iweala, who was finance minister under the Olusegun Obasanjo administration, did not question the methodology used by the agency “because the figures looked good” but added that in 2011 when the numbers were not favourable to government, “suddenly, the ‘methodology’ is wrong.”

“Now that you decide which economic statistics published by NBS to accept and which ones to ‘change the methodology to give favourable figures, you can keep feeding your manipulated figures to your international media circus for the vain glorious awards to sustain an empty hype, while Nigerians groan under hardship. We can actually ask Nigerians whether they are getting better off now contrary to your bogus figures”, Soludo, who is a professor of Economics stated.

About his achievements while in the saddle as the CBN governor, Soludo stated that even though he inherited 89 “rickety” banks, he succeeded in re-engineering the banking sector such that 25, new stronger banks emerged with  higher levels of capitalization and, within two years, 14 Nigerian banks were in the top 1000 banks in the world and two in the top 300.

Asserting that Nigeria survived the global crisis because of policies implemented during his tenure as CBN boss, Soludo also stated that the economic growth and the privatization of the power sector, as claimed by the Jonathan administration was powered by the banking sector, which was adjudged as mismanaged by Okonjo – Iweala in her rebuttal of his first piece.

The ex-CBN governor also berated the finance minister for her assertion that one of the reasons for the declining foreign reserves is oil theft, wondering how that could be the case given that the amnesty programme had brought a cessation of crisis in the Niger Delta, and the huge budget for protecting the pipelines and security of oil wells.

Soludo reaffirmed his earlier position that it is lamentable that the foreign reserves which should have grown to at least $90 billion had been depleted to $30 billion, inferring that gross mismanagement has denied the country some $60 billion or N12.6 trillion.

Making a reference to the alarm raised by another ex-CBN boss, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, over a missing $20 billion from the NNPC accounts, Soludo wondered why the forensic report promised over a year ago was yet to be made public.

“This is over N4 trillion and we don’t know how much more has missed since Sanusi cried out. How many trillions of naira were paid for oil subsidy (unappropriated?).  How many trillions (in actual fact) have been ‘lost’ through customs duty waivers over the last four years?” he said.

Soludo also debunked the minister’s claim of the debt relief secured during the Olusegun Obasanjo administration was her personal achievement, saying that “Nigeria would have secured debt relief under anyone as Minister of Finance” because then President Obasanjo’s diplomatic efforts during his first term was geared towards getting Nigeria back into the international community and campaigning for debt relief.

Soludo said that the credit for the debt relief obtained by Nigeria should go to ex-President Obasanjo who “mobilized the global political support and coordinated all of us to ensure that the government met the check-list of conditionalities” and the economic team comprising Obi Ezekwesili, Bode Agusto (Dirctor of Budget), Nasir el Rufai (FCT minister), Nuhu Ribadu, EFCC chairman, Steve Orasanye, (the Head of Service of the Federation), Nenadi Usman (minister of state for Finance).

Contrary to Okonjo – Iweala’s claim, Soludo said that the minister’s major role was to lead the negotiating team and that she actually did not get the best bargain for Nigeria because she did not want to offend the donor community since she planned to return to the World Bank after her tour of duty as minister.

“Your major role as stated in your CV was to lead the team to negotiate the specific terms of the relief, having fulfilled the conditions. I still believe that Nigeria should have gotten far better terms than you negotiated. Of course, with your eyes on returning to the World Bank after office, I did not expect you to boldly stand up to the donor community in defence of Nigeria.” Soludo said.

Striking hard at the minister, Soludo challenged her:  “tell Nigerians why you were eased out as Finance Minister and you cried like a baby begging OBJ to still allow you remainn in the Economic Management team—- barely few weeks after the debt relief?”

“Why were you eventually also removed from the economic management team if you were so important?” he questioned further.

The former CBN chief also faulted the proposed Mortgage Refinance Corporation with 23,000 mortgage offers and the proposal for a new development bank financed with loans from the World Bank, wondering about the rationale behind seeking a such a facility loan to set up another development bank in spite of the existence of the Bank of Industry, Bank of Agriculture, National Export-Import Bank, NEXIM, Federal Mortgage Bank.






     

     

    Accusing Okonjo – Iweala of having run out of ideas and an inability to appraise Nigeria except through the prism of the World Bank, he offered free consultancy on how to set up a development bank without a World Bank loan, while insisting that there really was no need for another development bank.

    Soludo, who superintended the CBN from 2004 to 2009, steered the nation through the 2008 global financial crisis and oversaw the recapitalization and consolidation of commercial banks in Nigeria.

    His article Buhari vs Jonathan: Beyond The Election which elicited an angry response from Okonko – Iweala highlighted the nation’s present economic challenges and evaluated the Jonathan administration’s performance, while criticizing both the ruling PDP and the main opposition party, APC as regards their responses to the nation’s challenges.

    The Finance Minister had responded with a rejoinder titled Beyond Belief: Soludo’s Article on Economic Management Deficit in Facts, Logic and Honour, while Kayode Fayemi responded with a piece titled “The Architecture of The Post-Jonathan Administration,” on behalf of the APC.

     

     

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