Did President Jonathan squader $67b? A question yet to be answered by FG

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Oby Ezekwesili

FORMER Minister of Education and immediate past vice-president of the World Bank, Mrs. Obiageli Ezekwesili, and the Federal Government have been exchanging words over the former’s serious allegation that the Yar’Adua regime and the present administration of President Goodluck Jonathan squandered $67billion left by former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration.

Specifically, she alleged that $45billion in foreign reserves account and another $22billion in Excess Crude Account which were direct savings from increased earnings from oil handed over by Obasanjo in 2007 was squandered by Yar’Adua’s and Jonathan’s administrations. This, she claimed, had worsened poverty in the country.

Jolted by Ezekwesili’s frightening revelation, the Federal Government fired back through its Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, who, rather than explain satisfactorily how the money was spent, challenged Ezekwesili to account for billions of naira allocated to her ministry when she was Minister of Education.

Perhaps in order not to be left out, President Jonathan’s media aide on public affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe, saw Ezekwesili not only as “grandstanding”, but also challenged her to state the source of her information to authenticate her claim. Noting that Ezekwesili had challenged the government to a debate on this issue, Dr Okupe, probably afraid of the consequence of such, said that Jonathan’s government “would not dignify her sweeping statements by joining her for a national debate that she asked for”. Like Maku, Dr Okupe did not address the issues raised by Mrs. Ezekwesili. Rather, he went on sermonising about things and events that were absolutely irrelevant to providing satisfactory answers to Ezekwesili’s damaging allegation.

For obvious reasons, Nigerians would ask why the Federal Government should wait for this long before it accused Ezekwesili of embezzlement of her ministry’s fund as education minister. Why accuse her of embezzlement now after she had boldly accused the government of misappropriation of $67bn? In fact, the government’s counter-accusation – a miserable afterthought – is a perfect self- indictment on the part of a government that has for so long allowed someone who had “squandered” public funds to walk the streets free since she left office as education minister in 2007. The fact that Maku and Dr Okupe never addressed Ezekwesili’s weighty allegation, but instead indulged in fighting back with irrelevances and subtle threats, is a hallmark of corruption, to say the least.

It is noteworthy, however, that, as Nigerians tend to believe Ezekwesili’s allegation and disbelieve the Federal Government’s tissue of lies, the House of Representatives, through its committee on finance as well as appropriation, has put its weight behind Nigerians by initiating a probe into the allegation by Ezekwesili. It is very unlikely that she would be that bold to have accused the government of squandering the nation’s resources without good reason, judging from her standing as former special adviser to the president on public procurement and former World Bank vice-president. She was in a position to know the status of the nation’s foreign reserves during Obasanjo’s administration and the time the foreign reserves were squandered.

Truth is bitter and we do not expect the government to easily admit to Ezekwesili’s allegation. But the matter can be resolved through unbiased investigation, and certainly not by irrelevances and subtle threats by the Federal Government. The House of Representatives and the Senate should probe the matter and let Nigerians know the true state of affairs with regard to the foreign reserves and excess crude account.


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