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January 30, 2013

Nigeria Official Denies Government Malfeasance

by Peter Clottey

An adviser to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan is denying accusations that the government squandered about $67 billion.

Doyin Okupe, senior special adviser for public affairs, says the accusations are malicious and without merit.

Nigeria’s former education minister, Obiageli Ezekwesili, said the government wasted about $45 billion in the foreign reserves account and another $22 billion from an account for increased crude oil earnings, which she said the government of former president Olusegun Obasanjo handed over to his successor in 2007.

“They are frivolous allegations and a very reckless disinformation. The facts on the ground do not support the accusations,” said Okupe. “Based on documents released by the CBN [Central Bank of Nigeria], the total of the foreign reserve was $43 billion, and not $67 billion. In fact, it has never been 67 billion in the last seven years.”
 
Last week, Ezekwesili, who was a World Bank vice president for Africa, spoke at the 42nd convocation ceremony of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), and expressed concern about what she said was the level of corruption in the education sector.
 
“One cannot but ask what exactly does Nigeria seek to symbolize and convey with this level of brazen misappropriation of public resources?” she asked. “Where did all that money go? Where is the accountability for the use of both these resources, plus the additional several billions of dollars realized from oil sale by the two administrations that have governed our nation in the last six years? How were these resources applied or more appropriately, misapplied?”
 
In a rebuttal, the government said it found the former minister’s criticisms disingenuous and hypocritical.
 
Supporters of the former minister say the government is attacking Ezekwesili’s personality instead of addressing the alleged financial malfeasance. But, Okupe says the allegations are a mere publicity stunt.
 
“The CBN sent to my office a breakdown of Nigeria foreign reserve from 2007 until today. And I can tell you that the allegations are not supported by the figures from the Central Bank and that shows that there is no truth whatsoever in the allegations,” said Okupe.
 
He says the Central Bank figures show that Nigeria’s current foreign reserves are $45.3 billion, adding that there has not been a year that they dropped $32 billion.
         
“So the issue of squandering never occurred. The facts that we have given are easily verifiable,” Okupe said. “We have challenged her to bring her own figures and to quote the source of her figures and substantiate it.”
         
Ezekwesili has insisted that her facts are correct and called for a public debate on the issue – a call the government has rejected.
 
“You debate issues that have various sides to them, but facts are sacrosanct and there is no debate about facts. The government has given out the facts to the people of Nigeria,” said Okupe.

Clottey interview with Dr. Doyin Okupe, Special presidential adviser