Yesterday, the federal government accused former minister of education and former World Bank group for Africa vice president, Mrs. Obiageli Ezekwesili, of misappropriating a total of N458billion allocated to the country’s educational sector when she served as minister between 2006 and 2007.
It also described as factually incorrect Ezekwesili’s claim that late President Umar Musa Yar’adua and President Goodluck Jonathan squandered $67 billion in reserves, comprising $45 billion in the external reserves and $22 billion in the Excess Crude Account left by former President Olusegun Obasanjo at the end of May 2007.
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Speaking through minister of information, Mr. Labaran Maku, government argued that Ezekwesili’s made no single reference of what she did during her stay in office in such sectors.
Noting that her statements were rather self-indicting, Maku said, "We also found Mrs. Ezekwesili’s interrogation of the educational system somewhat disingenuous and borderline hypocritical. During her tenure as minister of education between 2006 and 2007, she collected a total of N352.3 billion from direct budgetary releases.
"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). In view of these humongous allocations, a few legitimate questions arise: what did she do with all these allocations? What impact did it have on the education sector? One wonders if our educational system would have been better today if these allocations were properly applied."
According to Maku, Ezekwesili’s alleged claims during UNN’s convocation ceremony on January 24, 2013 "betray a surprisingly limited understanding of government finances."
He said, "These statements are even more curious in the light of the fact that she has held senior positions in government, and, more recently, a position as a vice president of the World Bank. However, rather than speculate about her motives, we would focus on the facts."
Maku further stated that the government did not intend to take her to court, but "will only explain and leave her in the court of public judgement."
Clarifying the allegation of Ezekwesili while speaking to State House Correspondents, the minister said, "At the end of May 2007, Nigeria’s gross reserves stood at $43.13 billion - comprising the CBN’s external reserves of $31.5 billion, $9.43 billion in the Excess Crude Account and $2.18 billion in the federal government’s savings. These figures can be independently verified from the CBN’s records. The figure of $67 billion alleged in her statement is therefore clearly fictitious.
"However, since President Obasanjo left office, the reserves have experienced fluctuations, rising from $43.13 billion in May 2007, peaking at $62 billion in September 2008 during the Yar’Adua/Jonathan administration when oil prices peaked at $147 per barrel, and falling subsequently to a low of $31.7 in September 2011.
"This fall in reserves was a result of the vicissitudes of the global financial crisis which caused CBN interventions 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 global financial crisis to the tune of about $1 billion (or 0.5 percent of our 2009 GDP)."
This move, he said, ensured that Nigeria was one of the few countries in the world that did not seek assistance from international financial institutions. He also remarked 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.
"No one disputes that Nigeria still faces challenges, most of which were built up over a long time," the minister further stated, "but we need to acknowledge the significant achievements of this administration in the aftermath of difficult but necessary macroeconomic and structural reforms being implemented in the country."
The minister went on to name some the achievements of the Jonathan government on the economic front, some of which have attracted international recognition.
"This administration," he said, "has restored macroeconomic stability against the backdrop of global economic uncertainty, slow growth in the United States and high unemployment and unsustainable debt in Europe. In the first three quarters of 2012, Nigeria’s economy grew by about 6.4 percent and is set to continue at a similar pace in 2013 according to independent forecasts. We have reduced our fiscal deficit to only 2.17 percent of GDP in the 2013 budget, while rebalancing our spending in favour of capital expenditure.
"These achievements have already received strong endorsement from international ratings agencies. At a time when many advanced and emerging markets are being downgraded, Fitch and S&P have upgraded our sovereign credit ratings. The inclusion of Nigeria’s sovereign bonds in the emerging market bond indices of JP Morgan and Barclays also testifies to the growing confidence of the international investment community in our economy."
Maku also listed commencement of rail transport from Lagos to Kano, improved electricity supply, rehabilitation of road and aviation infrastructure and improvement in agriculture value-chain, where new jobs are being created every day, in addition to providing enabling environment for the private sector to create jobs for the youth as some of the good work done by the Jonathan.
Govt Should Respond To Demand For Accountability – Ezekwesili
But Ezekwesili has faulted the allegation of the federal government in response to her speech at the UNN convocation ceremony, saying that what she was advocating was the need for the government at the centre to give accountability over its spending from the foreign reserve and excess crude account.
While responding to Maku’s claim, the ex-minister stated that she would not be deterred from calling for accountability as it was her inalienable right to demand good governance.
She said, "I refuse to be distracted; because what I am saying in my speech is that the federal government should respond to my demand for accountability over its spending from the Excess Crude Account and foreign reserve.
"I am not in government and I have the inalienable right to demand accountability. People should read my speech and see the larger message in it."