The former World Bank Vice President for Africa made her original remarks during last week’s convocation lecture at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, following which the Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, accused Mrs. Ezekwesili of “misinformation” and “a surprisingly limited understanding of government finances.”
Although Maku made these sweeping statements, he did not provide any substance to his attempted rebuttal of Mrs. Ezekwesili, who was briefly the Minister of Education before her departure for the World Bank.
But Minister Maku did say of Mrs. Ezekwesili that she “collected” N352.3 billion as Minister of Education, suggesting that Ministerial budgets are normally “collected” by Ministers.
“I wish to reassure Nigerians that my integrity and transparent record in public office can never be tarnished by baseless allegations regarding my ten months as Minister of Education,” Mrs. Ezekwesili responded today.
She added: “Citizens who follow Education sector closely will know that the Education Sector budget which the Government spokesperson carelessly referred to represents the consolidated direct budgetary allocation by the National Assembly to the 22 parastatals plus all the Federal Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education in the country. At no time does a sitting Minister of Education have access to the Budgets of statutory bodies under her Ministry.”
During her lecture, Mrs. Ezekwesili said, among others, “Six years after the administration I served handed over such humongous national wealth to another one; most Nigerians but especially the poor continue to suffer the effects of failing public health and education systems as well as decrepit infrastructure and battered institutions.
One cannot but ask, what exactly does Nigeria convey with this level of brazen misappropriation of public resources? Where did all that money go? Where is the accountability for the use of both these resources plus the additional several hundred billions of dollars realized from oil sale by the two administrations that have governed our nation in the last six years? How were these resources applied or more appropriately, misapplied? Tragic choices! Yes.
Our national dignity continues to be degraded by cycles of stagnation because of the terrible choices my generation and those before repeatedly make as a result of free oil money. The wealth and poverty of a nation never found a better Symbol!"
An apparently startled government, finding itself under such withering assault from a credible international figure, responded through Mr. Maku, who seemed determined only to inflict a personal attack on the speaker. Not once did he focus on the challenge offered by Mrs. Ezekwesili, which is on good governance on the grounds of transparency and accountability.
The former Minister, who was also widely-known for her leadership of the Due Process department in the presidency before she became a Minister, pounced: “I have already asked the Federal Government to a PUBLIC DEBATE of the FACTS raised in my speech,” she said in her response today.
“Such an open debate of facts and figures of oil revenue since 2007 would help situate public accountability as the centerpoint of our democracy. In accepting to publicly debate the questions raised in my speech, the Federal Government would model the democratic culture of responding to citizens' demands for accountability especially at a time when the general public is eager for improvements in the good governance records of the Administration.”
Shying away from the central issue, Mr. Maku merely urged Nigerians to acknowledge the achievements of the government. He did not say what those achievements are.
Nor did he say whether the government will accept the challenge to publicly debate the facts concerning government expenditure of Nigeria’s oil revenues.
In December 2011, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo similarly blasted the Goodluck Jonathan government, saying it had squandered over $35 billion of Nigeria’s foreign reserves since May 2007. The former President said the money may have been “shared.”
Mr. Jonathan has since declared that the only entity that is fighting corruption more than his administration is the United States.