For the umpteenth time, former Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on Wednesday said any attempt to link her to the misuse of the $322 million (about N63 billion) Abacha loot other than security purpose, was a futile exercise.
Yesterday, we reported here, citing PREMIUM TIMES investigations that Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala and former President Goodluck Jonathan illegally diverted the aforementioned funds to the former National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.) to prosecute the fight against Boko Haram.
The report stated that the fund was approved and released without appropriation, in clear violation of the country’s Fiscal Responsibility Act.
This latest information confirmed several claims by Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State that the former minister abdicated her responsibility by allowing the administration under which she served to spend money not appropriated by the National Assembly.
But in her defence, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala said the money she approved from the Abacha loot to the former NSA, weeks before the 2015 presidential election was a loan.
Dr Okonjo-Iweala also described allegations of illegal diversion of the Abacha loot as “part of a campaign of falsehood” to “tarnish her image”.
Speaking through her media adviser, Paul Nwabuikwu, in a statement last night, the former minister said: “Some new Abacha funds of about $322 million were returned with another $700m still expected to be returned. Former President (Goodluck) Jonathan set up a Committee comprising the former Minister of Justice, former NSA and the former Minister of Finance to determine how best to use both the returned and expected funds for development”.
Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala said at the meeting, “the NSA made a case for using the returned funds for urgent security operations since, he noted, there cannot be any development without peace and security. Based on this, a decision was taken to deploy about $322m for the military operations, while the expected $700m would be applied for development programmes as originally conceived”.
She stated that based on the urgency of the NSA’s memo, she requested the former president “to approve the transfer of the requested amount to the NSA’s Office for the specified purposes”.
Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, referring to the meeting’s memo, said she “insisted on three conditions: a. only a part, not the entire Abacha funds, would be spent on the arms; the rest would be invested in developmental projects as originally conceived b. the money was to be treated as borrowed funds which would be paid back as soon as possible and c. the NSA’s office was to account for the spending to the President who was the Commander-in-Chief, given the fact that the Minister of Finance is not part of the security architecture and does not participate in the Security Council.
“Throughout 2014, there were public complaints by the military hierarchy to President Goodluck Jonathan about the inadequacy of funds to fight the anti-terror war in the North East, resulting in Boko Haram making gains and even taking territories. A lot of the criticism was directed at the Federal Ministry of Finance under Dr Okonjo-Iweala which was accused of not doing enough to find funds for the operations”.
Mr. Nwabuikwu insisted that “the attempt to link the former Minister’s name to any misuse of these funds for any purpose other than security as far as she understood it is totally false and cannot stand”.