Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State lamented the massive looting of the funds during the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
The Governor said while he was in no position to determine if the former President was personally guilty, or if he acquiesced to the looting, but as President, he must take responsibility for what happened under his watch.
In an interview with Sahara Reporters TV in Washington DC, Governor Oshiomhole also said although he had raised many questions on the tenure of the former Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, he has nothing personal against her.
He said: “what is obvious is that so much money was diverted and unaccounted for from government treasury. Not just from excess crude account, but also from other agencies of government. The numbers are huge.
For example, NNPC reports that they earned about N8 trillion within three to four years and over the same period, they claimed they spent N3.5 trillion and paid to the federation account about N4.1 trillion.
So the cost of running NNPC was as much as the cost of running the federation, both the Federal, State and local governments. So that tells you the amount of primitive stealing that went on. The numbers are mind-boggling. So when we talk of Excess crude, that is just one element.”
He said his grouse with Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was that as Coordinating Minister of the Economy, so much sleaze and malfeasance went on under her watch without raising an alarm, saying “she has to come clean. Having accepted the role of the Coordinating Minister, so many things went wrong with the Nigerian economy even to the extent that for the first time in our history, even the Federal Government could not pay salary, they had to borrow. The pension scheme has been drawn down, the social purpose of the pension scheme has now been defeated.
“So first of all we are saying, accept responsibility that you failed to manage the economy properly. Two, you never gave in even when we argued that the economy was in distress she was on record as always saying no, the economy was fine, the economy was strong, we are the largest economy on the continent. Of course, people are not fooled, just revaluing your assets and playing with the numbers. What has changed in the quality of life of the people? You have rebased the economy, have you rebased the quality of life? You haven’t!
“If you claim to have the largest economy, you can’t also plead insolvency at the same time. What we are simply asking her to do is to open the whole book. What the council has asked us to do is, the Committee of Four Governors is to just look at this excess crude thing, and show what went in, who took what, when and who authorized it. So at least we have a basis to start. But I think, going forward, we will need a forensic audit by competent auditors to look at the books so that the whole truth can be known even if we can’t retrieve some of the money but I believe a lot can be retrieved and it is good that we have a basis to identify who is responsible and who to be blamed.
“I think people need to recognize that from my own background, I am never intimidated. As a labor leader, I questioned authority, I interrogated power and the fact of being in government doesn’t give me much comfort as to be indifferent about gross abuse of power and criminal diversion of funds. What should I hate her for? What for? I am not a federal official, I am as privileged as any other governor but I am troubled by people saying one thing in the afternoon and doing another at night.
“People should ask the question, how come each time the issue of corruption and abuse or diversion of funds was raised, Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was the first to defend rather than show concern and have open mind. You remember when the CBN Governor whom you can’t dismiss talked about huge billions of dollars diverted, Ngozi was quick to say no, it is not $20billion, it is only $10.8 billion.
“Even that was offensive to good conscience and then later she said we are going to do forensic audit, NNPC books have not been audited. How could she preside over an economy in which the main player such as NNPC was not, as a matter of course, carrying out annual audit? Why should that happen under her watch? A lot of funds accruing to institutions like NIMASA were diverted. Why should that happen under her watch? Contracts were awarded without any bidding.
“If people say there was too much corruption in Nigeria, who was presiding over the economy? She is not on record as having raised any alarm on abuse of office. So there is nothing personal about it. If anything I consider her a friend but she knows that my friendship is subordinated to the bigger national interest. What do I stand to gain? I could as well play along, keep quiet, be a good guy but I will rather be a good guy to my conscience, not to any body’s face.
“So the truth is, she should answer the questions. She was reported to have said that because she didn’t approve the loan the Governor wanted to take to pay contractors and I said very good, I wanted to borrow money to pay contractors, not to pay workers but she was borrowing money to pay salaries but I have never borrowed money to pay salaries, I am up-to-date with the payment of salaries.
“So I am not grumbling because I am frustrated, I am making a point because that is the truth. She is not entitled to claim an honor that she doesn’t deserve in the face of these huge numbers that cannot be accounted for. I believe the President is quietly doing some works to determine what went wrong in the rot that he inherited, to determine who is responsible for what.
“When these numbers begin to come out, I will expect the minister to explain how she can claim to have been a successful Coordinating Minister of the Economy yet the economy suffered so much bleeding and diversion of funds.
“Here in Washington, everybody is talking about billions of dollars of Nigeria crude money that was taken. How could you supervise an economy, you are cooking the soup, the elephant leg is being stolen and you didn’t raise an alarm. People raised an alarm and you shut them up. So I think Nigerians should move away from sentiments. I have even heard people saying it is ethnic issues. It is the typical Nigerian issue when a public officer has no explanation, he seeks escape route by bringing in sentiments of ethnicity and religion.
“For people like me, that doesn’t disturb me at all. I am a union man, I have always interrogated power and when I was in the NLC, I challenged some of our policies. So she knows where I stand. I would rather be known for something that be known for nothing.
“On the issue of PMB decision to probe the immediate past administration of GEJ, Oshiomhole said, “I don’t think probe is the right word. For a President whose major campaign was hinged on ‘if we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill us’, it is only natural that he recovers what was stolen and I think it is only patriotic that we do that.
“More also when you inherited huge debts and you will be devoting huge resources to service those debts. If we recovered money from Abacha government even after his death, why should anybody ask questions if indeed he should probe.
“I don’t think it is about probing. Probe means investigating what is not obvious but when you can see a thief stealing and you can arrest him, ask him and recover what has been stolen, that is not probe. Probe is like finding what is not clear, it is so clear that so much money was diverted even we were told we are losing 400 thousand barrels a day. How can that happen? Yes we have always had issues of illegal bunkering but then you talk of 10 thousand or 20 thousand barrels. How can anybody explain 400,000 barrels consistently for 2, 3 consecutive years and incidentally, this is the time that the government gave out contracts to people to protect the pipelines and huge sums of money was paid. So you are asking yourself, how come during the previous government under Yar’Adua, even at the peak of militancy, we didn’t suffer this huge demurrage.
“I think it is not about choice for President Buhari whether or not to recover what has been taken. I think he is obliged to do it in the national interest. I don’t see how he can shy away from it because it is like seeing something stolen from your household and you refuse to recover it; you can see the thief, and sometimes you even can see the stolen goods.
“A lot of stealing went on under President Goodluck Jonathan’s watch, there is no question about that but as for his own personal level of guilt, it is not for me to say. But every President, just like every Governor or Local Government Chairman must accept responsibility for whatever happened under his watch. Leadership is about responsibility.”