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Squandering Of $67b Reserves: Ezekwesili refuses to be cowed

By The Citizen
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AMID denials and counter-allegations, former Vice President of the World Bank, Ms. Obiageli Kathryn Ezekwesili, has renewed her charge of government frittering $67 billion reserves, including accruals to the Excess Crude Account (ECA), in the last six years.

She maintained that her call for accountability and transparency in government business could be addressed in a public debate to ascertain the true position of public finances she had highlighted.

Ezekwesili, who, in an email exchange with The Guardian, declined invitation for an exclusive interview on the matter, urged relevant officials of the Federal Government to accept her offer, as doing so would be in its interest and that of the generality of Nigerians.

She, however, expressed the hope that government would, in the end, respond positively to her right, as citizen, to demand accountability in a democracy.

'Thanks for you kind invitation,' she wrote in the electronic mail. 'I am, however, unable to grant any interviews at this time.

'As you know, I have already asked for a public debate with the relevant representatives of the Federal Government.

'I however, continue to hope that the Federal Government will in the end respond positively to my right, as a citizen, to demand for public accountability in a democracy.'

She said that if the Federal Government accepted to participate in the public debate on the way it had managed oil revenues in the last nearly six years, 'I have no doubt that it would be beneficial to all citizens,' enhancing our 'right to know' how public resources and institutions are managed .

The former Minister of Solid Minerals, and Education during the Obasanjo administration before moving back to the World Bank as Vice President for the Africa region in 2007, had delivered a Lecture at the 42nd Convocation Ceremony of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) two weeks ago.

In the lecture entitled, 'The Wealth And Poverty Of A Nation: Who Will Restore The Dignity Of Nigeria?', she raised issues with the manner the Yar'Adua and Jonathan governments had managed the nation's foreign reserves left by the Obasanjo administration.

She alleged that the regimes mismanaged $45 billion in Foreign Reserves and $22 billion in Excess Crude Account, which they inherited from the Obasanjo administration in 2007.

Ezekwesili, who referred to the squandering of the nation's resources by the elite, said the present cycle of boom of the 2010s was, however, much more vexing than the other four that happened in the 70s, 80s, 90s and 2000s.

'This is because, we are still caught up in it even as I speak today and it is more egregious than the other periods in revealing that we learned absolutely nothing from the previous massive failures,' she said.

'Furthermore, it is happening back to back with the squandering of the significant sum of $45 billion in foreign reserve account and another $22 billion in the Excess Crude Account being direct savings from increased earnings from oil that the Obasanjo administration handed over to the successor government in 2007.

'Six years after the administration I served handed over such humongous national wealth to another one; most Nigerians, but especially the poor, continue to suffer the effects of failing public health and education systems as well as decrepit infrastructure and battered institutions.'

She continued: 'One cannot but ask, what exactly does symbolise with this level of brazen misappropriation of public resources? Where did all that money go?

'Where is the accountability for the use of both these resources plus the additional several hundred dollars realised from oil sale by the two administrations that have governed our nation in the last five years? How were these resources applied or more appropriately misapplied? Tragic choices! Yes.'

Government's response to Ezekwesili's UNN's Convocation Lecture was swift and fiery.

Information Minister, Labaran Maku, argued that, after the administration of Obasanjo, the reserves had risen from $43.13 billion, in May 2007, to $62 billion, in September 2008.

According to him, when oil prices fell from $147 per barrel to $31.7 in September 2011, and against the backdrop of the global financial crisis, the Central Bank of Nigeria had to intervene, to defend the value of the Naira.

Maku, who sign advertorials countering the former minister's charge, said the excess crude savings, a component of the reserves, was then used to stimulate the economy to the tune of about $1 billion.

But the former World Bank topnotch, while responding to a request for an email exchange on the matter, said: 'Unlike a bilateral interview of the kind you request, a public debate is not one-sided and would be extremely useful to the Federal Government and its officials, who have so far refused to engage on the substance of issues I raised in my Convocation speech at the University of Nigeria.

'Such debate would help reassure that the Federal Government is not narrowing the governance space with disturbing signs of intolerance for citizens' voice, considering the manner it has so far conducted its reaction to my speech.

'Again, thanks for reaching out. Blessings always.' (Guardian)