NAIJAONPOINT-——Governor Adams Oshiomhole, who chaired a special committee set up by the National Economic Council, NEC, in this interview with Sunday Vanguard insists that the President Goodluck Jonathan administration plundered the nation’s economy despite the defence being put forward by the former Minister of Finance,
and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
He insists that the nation cannot succeed in the war against corruption unless people are prosecuted, stressing that “If Nigerians know what these people did, they will stone them to death, jungle justice. 700 million dollars gone on second Niger bridge without any bridge to show”.As a matter of fact, the Governor who is a member of the National Economic Council, NEC, made further disclosures revealing that under the watch of Okonjo-Iweala, the Federal Government spent the sum of N140billion on consultancy for the Second Niger bridge. He said the money was sourced from the Sovereign Wealth Fund, SWF, illegally, asserting that the Igbos must hold the former President responsible since such amount was expended with no bridge on ground.
Oshiomhole, visibly angry, said he may not be able to reveal as much as he would have liked but maintained that if Nigerians knew what actually went down during Jonathan’s reign, they would stone him and his cabinet members on the street.
Sir, the National Assembly recently approved the 75million dollar loan to Edo State, but the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, opposed the loan deal saying the state is already heavily indebted, how would you react to that?
First, is that the PDP does not believe in development and for them anything that will bring prosperity to the people negates what they stand for. Which is politics for the benefit of PDP leaders. And of course they are embarrassed by the amount of goodwill that we have continued to enjoy from the people of the state; it is not easy to be in government for six and half years and you can still walk the streets – on and off. You find people trooping out to hail you and, see, they have been praying, with the declining oil prices such that many states can’t pay salaries.
Their first shocker is that Edo State was never in the club.
Then they started praying that okay if we can’t default in salaries we will default in our contractual obligations, that once people see that no job is going on, they will now cook up stories to confuse the people. So the PDP people are worried that with more resources available to us to sustain the projects we have started and even start new ones, there is no hope for them in the state. But you know there is nothing I have ever done that the PDP did not oppose. While PDP states in the South South were taking bonds of N100billion, N200billion, we applied for N25billion and they went to court to try to stop it, but of course they failed. If you look at the document by the DMO – you have listened to the narrative by the PDP governors which give a window about the debt profile of the states in the South South – you will find that even Bayelsa with eight local Governments is far more heavily indebted than Edo state, we are the least. From a bond of N25billion we have been servicing it because we pay N530million every month and we have paid over N21billion leaving us with less than N5billion left. If you compare this with what is happening in other states across the country, Edo State is the least borrowing. Remember that our neighbours are super rich states but they have borrowed more than us. But
even more outstanding for me, is that I am proud to say any day anywhere that our books are available. We have never borrowed a dime to pay salaries because I feel that will be the height of irresponsibility. To borrow to pay salaries because if you borrow to pay salaries what will you use to do projects. We have met our personnel cost strictly within our revenues while others could not.
So PDP’s worry is basically, ‘oh this guy is going to finish stronger even more than he started’. So everything must be done to stop him.
ALSO READ:- How Babatunde Fashola Spent N139million On Two Boreholes
But they claim that……
(Cuts in) What is their claim? Look, I have also said to them, when we look at how much PDP stole under Okonjo Iweala and Goodluck Jonathan who is their chief, from LNG alone, that they did not remit to the Federation Account, Edo State’s share of it is more than N30billion. Osun State’s share of that is more than N25billion, Ekiti’s share of it is more than N24billion, so if they did not steal the money that should have accrued to Edo State and other states of the country, what the World Bank has lent to us is not up to 50 per cent of what we lost as a state from one source – LNG.
If you add other sources together, if you add NPA, in 2014 alone, they spent N160billion out of N162billion that they earned. They only remitted N2billion to government. The total revenue that accrued to Edo, Osun and Ondo States from the Federation Account is not up to what the NPA spent. So it is like we are the victims of the PDP massive looting and they have gone round to cause distractions but I think Edo people are clear, they know that we are working and we will continue to work.
Was the loan really necessary?
Let me make this clear, the World Bank facility, even the PDP Federal Government tried hard to secure such facility but it failed because it was never transparent. When you run a budget of 85 per cent recurrent and 15 per cent capital and even the capital projects as the National Assembly keep saying was never implemented up to 40 per cent, it means that for all the period of the past five to seven years of PDP, their capital expenditure was not more than 7-10 per cent of the total budget. Now, in Edo State, we revised these figures to 60-40 per cent in favour of capital. And we carried out massive reforms of our financial system.
You have not heard me talk about ghost workers in Edo state because we computerised our operations and with the press of a button everybody gets his pay, not by a team of clerks and typists. And it is these reforms that we carried out that we reformed our tax system, we are now less dependent on the Federation Account compared to what it was under the PDP, where they collected N250million and out of that they paid 30 per cent as cost of collection to their agent.
We don’t use agents, our cost of collection is even less than 40 per cent and we build institutions rather than contractors. These are the reforms the World Bank saw before they offered this DPO. Read the sentiments expressed by the bank as reason for giving us the loan. I think it settles all the questions.
One point which they made, which I feel is amplifying is that only Lagos has enjoyed the facility and now Edo is second and that they hope that this offer of support which is like free money, when you borrow at one per cent with a ten-year moratorium in a country where the lending rate average is 20 per cent, then it is free money indeed. Even a fool can see the beauty of this kind of facility; but they only extended it to Edo and Lagos because we have shown capacity to sustain reform, to build transparency, accountability and a procurement process that will ensure that we get value for money.
READ ALSO: Access Bank Staff Arrested for Forgery and Impersonation (Photo)
And talking about value for money, look at how much PDP government spent from Abuja to the Airport road in Abuja. On dry land using granite that you find even from the road. All the money we spent in Edo State over the past six years, both capital and recurrent is not up to half of what PDP spent constructing Airport Road in Abuja. We looked at their procurement policies, we have contractors that work for them that also work for us, we see their rates as compared to our rates.
Everybody can see how much we are getting in terms of value for money to compare with PDP. So I think the loan was a bold testimonial, an acknowledging of the profound reform that we have carried out. They saw the books of Edo State under the PDP for ten years and contrast that with our record of performance under our tenure and it was clear. The only sad thing about this is that people now talk about the 75 million dollars as if it is such a big money but really it is not when you look at the projects on ground.
But how are you going to spend that money?
We are working in all the sectors; we are not limiting the funds to a particular sector. You see the hospitals we are building in Benin and other areas, we are building a university, we are building schools, we are sustaining our investment in education, we are refocusing on technical education because we realised that a lot of young people graduate and no jobs, they can read and write but no skill. So we want to shift emphasis on technical education. We are not limited to any particular area, we are going to sustain all we are doing. Our urban renewal programme will continue but don’t forget 75 million dollars is not a big money.
If you remember the debate about a kilometre of run way in Abuja that they were going to do for about N15billion per kilometre, this entitre money by PDP standard is not more than one kilometre of road. One project we are doing in Edo, the Benin City Water Storm Project which has helped to de-flood the city. When you hear flood problems in other states, it would have been crazy in Edo if not for this project. We have lost children and families to flood in the past during the PDP reign but today it does not happen. That project alone is N30 billion just drainage and construction of about ten adjourning streets. So we appreciate the money but it is not the kind of money that can do miracles in the life of a state.
Your Committee recently appointed auditors to look at the books of the President Jonathan’s administration, you must have discovered some shocking expenditures which led to your action, can we know some of them?
Yes we have appointed auditors to look at the books and I think at this point we will allow them to do their jobs, to carry out a forensic audit and whatever they come out with people will know. So I don’t think it will be fair to say much about that.
But you recently said $6billion was stolen and each time you make such comments, Okonjo Iweala comes up to dispute them, so are you still insisting that huge funds were stolen?
This is the problem sometimes with the media. Vanguard should publish the three statements made by Okonjo-Iweala because they were all published in the Vanguard. When I said she took N2.1billion without approval and without knowing what it was used for, she denied and claimed that I lied that it was approved by the Commissioners under the auspices of FAAC. When the Commissioners met they said Madam, where is the minute? We never ever discussed this not to talk of approval, in any event it is not within our competence to approve. She realized that she could not hide under that she came up to say no, it was the President who approved it. These two statements were published at different times issued by Okonjo-Iweala on the same subject matter.
So, the problem I have is that the media some times for one reason or the other they don’t follow these stories. If a woman reports in the morning it is Commissioners of Finance, when those people now said no, ‘we were not the one’, she turned around to say it was the President. I expect Vanguard to ask if President Jonathan is in a position to spend the money of the Local Governments and that of the state governments. And which of this version will you believe, the first one or the second one. Okonjo-Iweala came with two, three versions and the more she tries to cover it the more she exposes herself.
My position remains simple. If you celebrate publishing what you gave to Local Governments and states and Federal fine, why do you not also publish what is not distributed. Publish the total sum earned, how much was distributed and how much was left in the account for month to month so that Nigerians, researchers and commentators can follow through the transactions. Not a complicated argument. But I am happy that some editorials have captured this very well so it is not about what Okonjo-Iweala said. She just pretends because she worked in the World Bank and that does not mean angels work in the World Bank. The World Bank has had cause to sack some of its officials, so what the hell are people saying juts because she worked at the World Bank.
But we are talking about the issue of stealing money here?
Monumental stealing went on under her watch and supervision. Would she claim she didn’t know? Would she claim she didn’t participate? How could she be paying for fake subsidies? How can she be excused for making payment for fake subsidies some of which EFCC has charged to court? When Sanusi said money was stolen she was quick to defend even before the books were opened. Everybody knows who her agents are, who were the consultants who were handling all kinds of financial transactions in the Ministry of Finance. Who is Mr. Chi Chi? What is Chi Chi’s relationship with her? I think she does not know people know much more than she thinks. Now the umbrella covering her has been removed and the broom is now sweeping all the dirt they are trying to cover up. We have a duty that those who want to be celebrated must be honest with their jobs, Okonjo Iweala was not fair to Nigerians. People expected so much from her as a professional but she just buckled.
ALSO READ:- How 2 Masquerades Were Nabbed After Robbing Trader Of N57k(Photo)
And people have never asked the question which for me is one of the contradictions in our environment: She worked under President Obasanjo and everybody knows the circumstances under which she left – Obasanjo had to move her out of the Federal Ministry of Finance. Till today nobody has asked that if she was so good, so helpful President Obasanjo moved her out and few years down the road, Jonathan moved her back and even gave her a higher responsibility, why?
READ ALSO: The woman who burnt her child in her pr**ate area has been arrested
So if you are a coordinating minister of the economy, how can you be excused that the economy suffered this kind of haemorrhage from every sector of the economy?
Where is transparency when people earn and spend as they want?
Like I tell people, we all can afford to keep quiet but it will not help us as a nation. It is not my problem it is her problem. I am speaking with facts, she can go to court but the auditors will show the truth.
What did PWC tell the committee?
Now PWC told us on record that although they were appointed publicly to go and
audit but the government of the day did not want the audit and that is why they were forced to audit books that were closed and that was why they came up with a report that was neither here nor there. And look at the way they celebrated that report that meant nothing.
How can she defend as she had done that NNPC could spent 47 per cent of their total earnings? And that is more than all the monies allocated to the 36 state governments, the 774 Local Governments plus the Federal Government. How? For me it is up to our people to choose to keep quiet or speak out but Okojon-Iweala is a failure there is no question about that. She cannot withstand rigorous public scrutiny and those she was having these transactions with they are alive and they are all talking, some of them are even singing. So she should know that the umbrella is no more there to cover and everything is open now. More revelations will come out; much more will come out.
After the report of the audit must have been published, what next; because this would not be the first time that a government would make so much noise about probes and investigations?
We are all stewards in the service of the President. The Federal government will decide what to do with the findings we are just appointed to help to play a role; the power belongs to the President. The position of the President on this issue is very clear, but it is not in my mouth to say, I am sure when the report is ready the President will do the needful.
Your colleague governors in the PDP and their party have cried that this war on corruption is selective, do you agree with that?
This is also the problem of the media, PDP crying that the probe is selective, the question you should ask: who has been in power for sixteen years? Who did the PDP share power with? All the federal institutions were run by the PDP for sixteen years. So should they go to Vanguard or Thisday to find out how NNPC was run? Should they go to Guardian or where, they are the one who ran the Federal Government and the treasury was in their hands so where else do you expect the probe to go to? I think we are not just thorough in our commentary.
If you monopolise power for sixteen years you must also monopolize the burden of investigation for that period. I don’t think it is a complex thing to do. And it is silly for people to say it is witch hunting. So far tell me who has been arraigned in court? And these are the same people who are saying that we need a President with political will, now you have one. Let me tell you witches will not be celebrated they will be hunted, particularly when the witches are responsible for the monumental bleeding of the economy. If they are not hunted down then Nigeria cannot make it.
This is the only country where people want to celebrate fighting corruption, you are fighting a war and no casualties, is that war? There must be casualties and the casualties must be the witches that were responsible for the wrong doings that have caused so much pain and anguish in many families in the country.
The worry is that this war on corruption may distract the President from fulfilling his promises to the people?
Good, what did he promise? The President said three issues he was going to deal with. First he said corruption. He said if we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill us so he will confront it. Two, he said insecurity. We must rebuild, re-motivate and rearm our Armed forces. The third is the economy so that we can create jobs and eliminate poverty. These are the issues. So how do you fight corruption by not prosecuting proven cases of corrupt practices.
There is no distraction there in line with his promises. Don’t forget that our symbol is the broom, you have to use it to sweep, it is not for nothing that the broom is the symbol, it is meant to sweep clean. We must not allow these people to eat their cake and have it. But the people who want him to just move on and forget about what has happened, let it be business as usual, they can look for another party to vote for. But this government on the basis of his promise, I expect him to keep his word.
And what he is doing now is exactly in line with his commitment.
But people are saying that the probe should start from the Obasanjo or others too if it must be total?
Those who said it should start from the Obasanjo era are the ones who have a problem because I think that in normal accounting, you take a five year circle. You look at the years, if it shows that things went wrong beyond that five years, depending on your discovery you can now decide to go further backward. You cannot on the one hand say going to look at what happened in five years is a distraction then on the other hand you say look at the past ten years, look at sixteen years ago. Then somebody will say please go and look at 1960. So, you have to draw the line. There are matters that are time-based. I don’t think that argument makes sense. But if people have specific issues they want the President to do I think it is up to them to raise it.