BY HENRY UMORU
…Says govt ‘ll not engage her in any public debate
ABUJA—THE Presidency has again taken a swipe at former Vice President, World Bank, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, accusing her of inciting Nigerians against the Federal Government, just as it stressed that her allegations were almost stupid and senseless.
Addressing newsmen yesterday, the Senior Special Assistant on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe, noted that the former Minister of Education lied shamelessly by raising false alarm on what she would have buttressed with figures, especially against the backdrop of where she was coming from as an officer of the World Bank.
Okupe who said that it was not true that the money was squandered as alleged, stressed that the Federal Government was not run by proceeds from the external reserves, but what the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, remits to the government and that which is shared among the three tiers of government.
The Presidential aide who dismissed calls for public debate with the Minister of Information, Labaran Maku by Ezekwesili as a non-issue, said the government was not prepared to engage her in such a debate, adding that as at January 22, this year, the nation’s External Reserves stand at $45.3 billion, while in December 2012, it was $43,830,418,364.91.
According to him, in December 2007, the External Reserves was $51,333,152,495.79; in 2008 December, it was $53,000,355,063.51 and in December 2009, the reserves dropped to $42,382,493,319.69; as at December 2010, it also dropped to $32,339,252,389.10 and in 2011 December, it was $32, 639,777,078.09.
It will be recalled that Ezekwesili had alleged that government of late President Umaru Yar’Adua and that of President Goodluck Jonathan had collectively squandered a total of $67 billion from the country’s Foreign Exchange Reserves.
Nigeria’s foreign reserves as at Jan 22, 2013, stand at $45.3bn
Okupe who noted that she was grandstanding and playing to the gallery, said, “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 Oby Ezekwesili, 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 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, 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.
“Ezekwesili alleged that the government of late President Umaru Yar’Adua and that of President Goodluck Jonathan had collectively squandered a total of $67 billion from the country’s Foreign Exchange Reserves. While Minister of Information has debunked this statement as manifestly untrue and not based on any fact, we wish to reiterate for the purpose of clarity as follows that:
“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.
“According to the statement this office received from the CBN, 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 of 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.
“The breakdown of the country’s foreign reserve figures from the CBN which is the only custodian banker of all our National Resources, is also herewith attached for all to see. It shows quite clearly without ambiguity that Ezekwesili lied shamelessly by publishing false figures. We challenge Oby to categorically state her own source of information to authenticate her claims.
Ezekwesili should retract her statement and apologise to Nigerians
“It is obviously preposterous for 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’s administration into disrepute unjustifiably.
“I regret to say that Ezekwesili should show dignity and character by letting the Nigerian people, whom she sort out to fool, to know the source of her figures otherwise, she should be honourable enough to retract her statement and apologize 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.”