From GODWIN TSA, Abuja
Former minister of education and former vice president of the World Bank in charge of Africa, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili has received more knocks from the camp of the Presidency where the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe, said she goofed by consistently lying about the foreign exchange reserve. Specifically, the Presidency described as a “deliberate dissemination of falsehood, unsubstantiated and malicious claims” when the former minister alleged that the late former president Musa Yar’Adua and President Goodluck Jonathan squandered a total sum of $67 billion from the Foreign Exchange Reserve (FER).
Tendering a Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), document at a press briefing yesterday in Abuja, Okupe said as at May 2007, a total of $43,130,301,995.21 was left behind in the FER account by former president Obasanjo. Justifying his position, Okupe disclosed that between June 2007 and December 2008, the FER stood at $53,000,355,063.51, in 2009, the account came down to $42,382,493,319.69, due to the global economic meltdown. In 2010 the account was $32,339,252,389.10 after the commitment of the Federal Government to the IPP project and the Niger Delta crisis, which caused a drop in oil export. In 2011, the figure was N32, 639,777,078.09 while in 2012 the FER rose to $43,830,418,364.91 as at December and then rose again to $45.3 billion as at January 22, 2013.
According to him, “I regret to say that Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili should show dignity and character by letting the Nigerian people, whom she sought out to fool, to know the source of her figures, otherwise, she should be honourable enough to retract her statement and apologise to the government and people of Nigeria. Else, she should be regarded by all as a willfully perjured individual not worthy of any respect or recognition whatsoever. “We find it surprising that after an extensive explanation by the minister of information whereby facts were stated regarding the weighty and sweeping statements made by Mrs. Oby Ezekewsili, rather than cite the sources and establish the credibility of her figures has decided to divert attention from the issues she raised by calling for a national debate on issues that are not in contention.
“Ordinarily, the call by Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili for a national debate with the minister of information ought to have been ignored and allowed to fall flat. However, we are compelled to respond in view of the penchant by some highly placed Nigerians who use government offices to build up reputations for themselves and then later turn on the same government to denigrate it, just to play to the gallery and incite members of the public through dissemination of false, unsubstantiated and malicious information. “Rather than substantiate her claims, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili chooses conveniently to grandstand, claiming that she will remain silent until ‘a responsible response’ is given to her demand on accountability. A more rational approach would have been for her, being the accuser or agent provocateur to assume the responsibility of providing the facts to back her claims.”
According to Okupe, the minister of information had debunked the statement as manifestly untrue and not based on any fact. He said the facts are as follows: “The money spent on running the government is what the CBN remits to the federation which is then shared by the three tiers of government i.e. federal, state and local government. “The corresponding allocation to the Federal Government based on the approved benchmark is then dispensed by the Federal Government and the MDAs according to the items specified and approved by the National Assembly in the budget of that year. “The unspent balance plus income from other income from exports other than oil constitutes the nation’s foreign reserve, a portion of which is kept as the excess crude oil reserve.
The latter is shared periodically by the three tiers of government on need to spend basis.” He stressed that, “it is factually incorrect to say that the reserves of the government were dipped into or misapplied. It is important to note that the Federal Government does not dip its hands into the external reserves. External reserves are available for use in settling both public and private sector foreign currency obligations of Nigeria. “Whenever a ministry or agency of government needs to incur approved expenditures in foreign currency (e.g. payment for goods and services, settlement of external debt, etc.) it must provide the naira equivalent to the Central Bank of Nigeria before the bank sells the required foreign currency.
The same applies to the private sector. “The management of external resources (also known as foreign reserves) is one of the statutory mandates of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). Section 2, Sub-section (C) of the CBN Act 2007 states that the bank shall ‘maintain external reserves to safeguard the international value of the legal tender currency.’ Therefore, foreign reserves are used to support a broad range of national objectives such as defending the naira. It also serves as a buffer especially during periods of crisis. “It is obviously preposterous for Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili to be asking for a national debate on the outlandish and reckless disinformation she made to incite the Nigerian people against the government. This was a deliberately calculated, albeit, unsuccessful effort to bring the Jonathan administration into disrepute unjustifiably,” Okupe maintained.