Over 500 placard-carrying protesters on Wednesday in Abuja stormed the Federal Ministry of Finance and demanded the immediate resignation of the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
They called for the minister’s sacking for what they described as unfavourable economic policies of the current administration and an alleged fraudulent payment of N2. 7bn to a firm which was allegedly not registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission.
They specifically accused the minister of allegedly paying “the fictitious company” N2.7bn subsidy claim.
The groups also alleged that the minister breached the Appropriation law by her failure to release funds for the implementation of capital project, a situation they said had led to less than 50 per cent budget implementation.
The protest by a whistle-blowing organisation, Anti-Corruption Network and the Alhaji Balarabe Musa-led Conference of Nigerian Political Parties coincided with the time the minister was attending the Federal Executive Council meeting.
Some of the placards carried by the protesters read, ‘Economic policies would kill us’, ‘Ngozi Okojo-Iweala is an imperialist agent’, ‘Ngozi Okojo-Iweala must go,” “Ngozi Okonjo Iweala is our major problem’, ‘You can’t be saving money when Nigerians are suffering’, among others.
But in his response, the Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Mr. Danladi Kifasi, urged the groups to put their allegation in writing for onward delivery to the minister whom he said was at the FEC meeting at the time of the protest.
He however absolved the ministry of any wrongdoing.
Executive Secretray of ACN and former member of the House of Representatives, Mr. Dino Melaye, alleged that the group’s finding had revealed that a firm received payment of N2.7bn from the ministry without registration with the CAC.
He said, “The minister must tell Nigerians who are actual owners of Pinnacle as it is not known to Nigerian law, it is a made-in Taiwan company.
“We are demanding the immediate resignation or sacking of Madam Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. I want to educate Nigerians that the minister of finance and the Coordinating Minister of the economy released a list of 25 companies after the submission of report by the Aig –Imoukhuede-led presidential committee on fuel subsidy claims. Number 22 on the list of the companies is Pinnacle Construction Nigeria Limited. Pinnacle got N2.7bn tax payers money.
“An investigation conducted by the Anti-Corruption Network at the CAC revealed that the company is not registered with the commission. We are here to ask who approve the payment, who authorise the payment of the money and the minister must tell Nigerians who are the actual owners of the company?”
Secretary-General of CNPP, Chief Willy Ezugwu, condemned the alleged corruption going on in the ministry and said, “It is either we live as a country or we seize to exist.”
The Director of Outreach Services of the anti-graft group, Mr. Timi Frank, said it was unfortunate for the finance minister to be involved in frivolous payments, wondering why she was not veting documents as required of her.
In her reaction, Okonjo-Iweala on Wednesday said the demonstration, led byMelaye was sponsored by “indicted oil barons.”
In a statement by her Senior Special Assistant (Communications), Mr Paul Nwabuikwu, the minister described the protest as a deliberate attempt to force her out of office.
She said her resolve to ensure prudent management of the country’s resources would not make her abandon her responsibilities to Nigerians.
The statement read, “Earlier today (Wednesday), a disreputable former member of the House of Representatives, Mr Dino Melaye, brought a handful of demonstrators to the Federal Ministry of Finance who conducted themselves in an unruly manner.
“We have it on good authority that Mr Melaye’s group was sponsored by some of the indicted oil barons who are currently being investigated and prosecuted for subsidy fraud.
“Their allegation of wrong subsidy payments made by the ministry is a mere ruse to conceal their true motives. It is important to note that the Federal Ministry of Finance does not pay any contractors directly. The relevant ministries do.
“So this allegation by Mr Melaye and his group is completely wrong and without foundation.”
She added, “The Melaye demonstration was ostensibly to call for the resignation of the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance who is well known for fighting the fraudulent oil barons whose names were published by the Federal Ministry of Finance for various breaches of the subsidy regime.”