Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari may probe former finance minister Okonjo-Iweala

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari may invite former Minister for Finance Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to shed more light on how millions of dollars stolen by erstwhile Head of State Late Gen. Sanni Abacha, was spent after the World Bank helped the country recover the funds from Switzerland.

A non-governmental organisation (NGO) in Nigeria, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) said it is in possession of several documents from the World Bank detailing how the recovered funds were spent.

The NGO noted that Mrs Okonjo-Iweala had told her former employers that about $500 million recovered from Abacha in Switzerland was spent in the 2004 and 2005 budgets on roads, electricity, education, water and health across all six geo-political zones of Nigeria. The economist who left the World Bank Group where she was vice president and corporate secretary became Nigeria’s Finance Minister at the instance of Former President Olusegun Obasanjo. It was during Obasanjo’s tenure that the said loot was recorded to have been spent.

While SERAP said it was still studying the files sent by the World Bank, to compare the information therein with the facts on ground, it said preliminary review had raised questions.

Nigeria's Former Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is now a Senor Advisor at Lazard Amantha Perera/flickr.com
Nigeria’s Former Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is now a Senor Advisor at Lazard
Amantha Perera/flickr.com

“First, that Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as Minister of Finance in a letter dated 9 January 2005 explained to the Bank that around $500m of Abacha loot received from Switzerland was programmed into and spent in the 2004 and 2005 budgets on roads, electricity, education, water and health across all 6 geo-political zones of Nigeria,” SERAP stated.

“Second, Mrs Iweala explained to the Bank that N18.60bn ($93.4m) was spent on roads; N10.83bn ($54.4m) spent on health; N7bn ($35.2m) spent on education; N6.20bn ($31.2m) spent on water; and N21.70bn ($109m) spent on electricity. She also said that part of the funds were spent on new and ongoing investment projects. Mrs Iweala said that relevant federal ministries have the full details on the spending of repatriated Abacha loot. The Bank noted that there was no funds monitoring and tracking mechanism in place to trace the spending of Abacha loot.”

The NGO further stated that Mr Rachid Benmessaoud, Director of the World Bank in Africa had confirmed that the global lender only played a monitoring role in the asset recovery but is not involved in the monitoring of spending of the recovered stolen funds.

“Given Mrs Okonjo-Iweala’s involvement in the spending of Abacha loot, SERAP calls on President Muhammadu Buhari to urgently probe the role of the Ministry of Finance and relevant federal ministries at the time in the spending of Abacha loot particularly given the strong allegations of mismanagement that characterised the use of the funds,” the organisation said.

Explaining the reason for its call, SERAP pointed out that although Mrs Okonjo-Iweala claimed that the recovered funds were spent on developmental projects, there were no signs of such.

However, it is unlikely that the former minister will be probed if reports on why President Buhari did not extend his probe of past administrations beyond the immediate past President Goodluck Jonathan are anything to go by.

But SERAP which has been consistent over the years as one of Nigeria’s crusaders for accountability and good governance is not expected to give up its call until a good explanation of how the money was spent is made.

“… President Buhari can no longer continue to remain silent on this issue of public interest if Nigerians are to continue to trust him in his fight against corruption,” the NGO stated.