The Ezekwesili challenge

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At a public lecture she delivered last month to mark the 42nd Convocation of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka(UNN), former vice president of the World Bank, and ex-minister of Solid Minerals as well as that of Education, Mrs Obiageli Ezekwesili, raised issues about accountability and transparency in the revenue earnings of the country, particularly in the last six years.

The period covers the administration of late President, Umaru Yar’Adua, and the current regime of President Goodluck Jonathan. Specifically and pointedly, Ezekwesili alleged what she called a “back to back squandering of the significant sum of $45bn in foreign reserve account and another $22bn in the Excess Crude Account (ECA) being direct savings from increased earnings from oil” that the administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo reportedly handed over to the successor government.

The former Minister had noted in her lecture at UNN that despite such a huge wealth that the Obasanjo government left behind, Nigerians, mostly the poor, continue to “suffer the effects of failing public health and education system as well as decrepit infrastructure and battered institutions”. Attributing the alleged failures of government to utilize the oil revenues to “tragic” and “imprudent choices”, the former minister asked a few pertinent questions: “where did all that money go”?, “where is the accountability for the use of these resources”?.” Were these resources applied or more appropriately, misapplied”? Expectedly, Ezekwesili’s questions have stoked intense controversy, and riled the Jonathan government.

It reacted swiftly and combatively. First to pick up the gauntlet against the claims of Ezekwesili was the minister of Information, Mr Labaran Maku, who at a press conference, described the allegations as “curious, outlandish and fictitious”. According to him, Ezekwesili exbited a surprisingly limited understanding of government finances in her comments at Nsukka, adding that the ex-minister’s accusations amounted to a self-indictment of her stewardship at the education sector between 2006 and 2007,and threatened to probe her tenure as education minister, a period government claimed the ministry received over N458 bn, but in the words of government, “nothing to see in terms of achievements”.

Government also reeled out figures believably from the Central Bank of Nigeria to substantiate its own side of the story. It said Ezekweslili’s own account was the opposite of the true financial statement in both the foreign reserve and ECA balance in the years under reference. Government however admitted that since Obasanjo left office in 2007,the nation’s foreign reserves had witnessed some fluctuations, rising from $43.13bn in May,2007 and peaking at $62 bn in September,2008 during the Yar’Adua administration. Besides, government debunked Ezekwesili’s claims of a rot in the present education system, describing her interrogation in that respect as simply “disingenuous and hypocritical”.

Regardless of these disclaimers, Ezekwesili still stuck to her claims and has challenged the government to a public debate on the matter. All things considered, the claims made by Ezekwesili ought not to have degenerated into the sort of needless furore, outright abuse and threats that have attended the matter. We believe that her concern was genuine and, indeed, made in good faith, and as such it should not have incensed government into casting aspersions on her. Her assertions are not totally new.

These are the same fears that reputable financial institutions, both within and outside the country have repeatedly expressed, about how past and present administrations in Nigeria have failed to seize the rare opportunities of boom and the revenues so generated to transform our economy, and instead, Nigeria continues to slide in the development and productivity ladder. If government sincerely felt her claims were weighty (and indeed, they were), the best way to address the issues she raised would have been to rebut them with superior and unassailable facts and figures, not by grandstanding.

A dispassionate view, tempered by decency of language ought to be the right path to take. When government is accused in a matter of this nature and magnitude, as Ezekwesili has audaciously done, the appropriate thing for it to do is to take the challenge calmly and responsibly rather than being belligerent. Government is a public trust and does not exist for its own sake.

Government, it bears repeating, must be accountable to the people. A personality of Ezekwesili’s background and experience in government and a respected voice in public policy matters knows what possibly went wrong in government and could not have gone off the handle just to impugn or blackmail the government in power for the sake of it. We urge government to accept the debate she has proposed. It will help to clear the fog around the issues she raised.

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13 Comments

  1. She has not debunked the claims of the information minister either. Since she has the guts to accuse Yar’adua and JED’ govts, then she should outline what she has done with funds given to her to run the 2 different ministries she headed. In overall what am saying people leave governance in Nigeria and do nothing significant in office and because they somehow manage to evade justice would accuse another occupying sames offices they themselves occupy and do nothing much instead of outlining clearly how they did their jobs and probably act as an adviser the current occupants of the office which would accepted in good faith. If i were the be minister and later become even the king of the UK will dat mean that I have no questions to answer to exonerate myself on how i did my stewardship. Its in Nigeria we are quick to praise these set of people. I promise you even if the debate arises, it will only raise a red red flag about her personality which she is trying to make saint.

  2. Quicksand you reasoned fine. You also ought to remember that, since she left her ministerial offices, nobody questioned her stewardship till now. Let the dabate be organisdd and afterwards, probe her. She is too wise to accuse govts without facts.

  3. If the government will not abuse the power of its ability to manipulate public debate on the issue at stake, then, public debate is the solution. However, the stand of the Minister of Information tend to show that such public debate as proposed by Ezekwesili may lack the required ingredients to make the public debate rewarding to the public. Therefore, we are in confusion. Only God can see us through.

  4. A government that functions by intimidation is a government that has failed the citizenry it is holding trust on their behalf.

    A government that refuses to see criticism as variable for better services delivery is one that is populated by adventurers and inordinate minds.

    Good governance is driven by adequate attention to opposition comments which is adequately disseminated by a vibrant media. Nigeria is suffering from these factors.

    Rather than embark on white washed “Good governance tour”, government should concentrate on doing the job which it accepted and begged the citizenry to allow it do on their behalf.

    No amount of propaganda will change the fact that President Jonathan does not understand the need to finish the only one East-West road traversing the Delta area.

    Government may think that it is being smart by employing people like Labaran Maku and Dr. Doyin Okupe to falsify facts, but history will boldly reflect the achievement of every person at any given time. I have a better place, in history and providence, by not thrusting myself up to lead that to do so without real things to show for it.

    If a government only waits for criticism to begin to insinuate that a past government official is corrupt or misappropriated funds entrusted on the person, then that government is a blackmailer and the people in that government have no shame.

  5. I have often wondered at the antics of the people in our Nigerian politics.
    This Ezekwesili’s matter would have been an interesting one were it not part of an apparent orchestrated campaign of callumny and hate on the current federal government led by GEJ.
    It is a well-known fact that since independence, all the governments that we have had had left us short-changed by way of the lack of investment in our infrastructural development.
    The point is that a public debate will not leave the OBJ administration (which she served in) without blemish. In fact, the touted public will have to go further back and afield than she envisages and will not be palatable to a lot of people, including her. The mud-slinging will be of such magnitude that the common man would suffer unnecessary harm…….!
    The purpose may be to cause political harm to GEJ but the result will definitely not be so.
    So, I think that she is a time waster. She can go to the EFCC with her claims….(remember, that was what OBJ used to tell people during his administration)
    Minister of information, Labaran Maku should not bother himself with these people who obviously have an agenda of their own.
    GEJ should try and deliver the change he promised and quickly too.

  6. ‘Sun news’ thanks for this kind worded Editorial. Govt. should see reason in all these and make itself available for a public debate, the former minister has only made statement, it is left for the government of the day to come out and refute this claim and not sit back to cast aspersion.

  7. Since she (Ezekwesili)left public service as a minister of de fed.republic of nig.no body has eva acused her of misapropriation of fund.It is now dat she shared her views on de national interest dat de likes of labran maku wil be caling 4 her head.Nigeria is one of such countries dat hates any one dat dear raise constructive opinions on issues of interest. It’s hi time 4 nigerian leaders 2 admit dia faults & make amend, otherwise democracy in dis country shal continue 2 remain in de mud.

    • ichie onyibe, i will advise that using abbreviations meant for informal conversation is inappropriate e.g dat for that, eva for ever. It makes reading your comment very difficult. Note that it not everybody that knows the abbreviations. please take correction for your own good.

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