The immediate past Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has finally confirmed that the $2 billion she withdrew from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) without authorisation from NEC was used to pay for fuel subsidy on the instruction of former President Goodluck Jonathan, Premium Times reports.
“Payments made were used for paying for petroleum subsidies for the Nigerian people and were approved by Mr. President,” the former minister said on Tuesday through her media adviser, Paul Nwabuikwu. “Therefore, there is no question of mismanaging any resources here.”
Following an allegation by the Edo State governor, Adams Oshiomhole, that she unilaterally approved the withdrawal of the money from the $4.1 bn left in the ECA “without authorization”, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala had initially dismissed it as “false, malicious and totally without foundation.”
“We want to state categorically that no unauthorized expenditure from the ECA was made under Okonjo-Iweala’s watch in the Finance Ministry,” Mr. Nwabuikwu said in a statement.
“Decisions on such expenditure were discussed at meetings of the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) attended by finance commissioners from the 36 states.
“It is curious that in their desperation to use the esteemed National Economic Council for political and personal vendetta, the persons behind these allegations acted as if the constitutionally recognized FAAC, a potent expression of Nigeria’s fiscal federalism, does not exist.
“But Nigerians know that collective revenues, allocations and expenditures of the three tiers of government are the concern of the monthly FAAC meetings.”
However, Commissioners of Finance and Accountants General from the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, constitutionally recognized as members of the FAAC, on Tuesday distanced themselves from the Minister’s claim.
Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala’s reaction had given the impression that the commissioners and other members of FAAC were part of the decision to approve the controversial withdrawal.
In disowning Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, the FAAC members, under the aegis of the Forum of Commissioners of Finance, described her explanation as “misleading and far from the fact”, pointing out that the law that established the Committee, which existed before the creation of the ECA, did not allow them to approve such withdrawals.
“FAAC did not and could not have approved, nor took the decision to withdraw the sum of Two Billion U.S. Dollar ($2,000,000,000.00) from the Excess Crude Account,” the commissioners explained.
“If anything, FAAC, as records of it meetings indicate, had often queried the activities on the ECA, and therefore did not decide any withdrawal.”
The commissioners, however, accepted that FAAC had “noted and observed” the withdrawal of $2 bn from the ECA in December 2014.
When they drew the attention of the then Minister of State for Finance, Bashir Yuguda, to their finding that the withdrawal was made without the consent of the states, the commissioners said the Chairman of FAAC had explained during plenary session and subsequent meetings that approval came from the former President, Goodluck Jonathan, “to pay oil marketers subsidy claims as they had threaten to stop importing petroleum products.”
The commissioners said Mr. Yuguda “further explained that this action will be ratified later by NEC (National Economic Council), apparently confirming the allegation that the withdrawal was actually carried out before the mandatory approval by the governors.
Governor Oshiomhole had always accused the former minister of acting illegally, as the power to take money from the ECA was vested in the NEC, an institution created by the constitution, and not state Finance Commissioners, who were members of the FAAC.
Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, in a response to the commissioners, alleged persecution, saying approval for the withdrawal from ECA was given by former President Jonathan and used for the settlement of fuel subsidy claims.
“If monies were used to pay for subsidies for the Nigerian people and duly approved, why is Okonjo-Iweala’s name being battered in this way?” the Minister said. “This persecution should stop.”