NIGERIA: I Won’t Join Issues with Soludo, Says Okonjo-Iweala

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 The Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, in Tuesday said she would not join issues with a former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Prof. Charles Soludo, over allegations by the latter that N30 trillion had been unaccounted for under her watch.

Okonjo-Iweala said this while responding to questions on a radio programme on Raypower.

She however advised Nigerians not to be deceived by the misinformation by some politicians in the country.

When asked to comment on the alleged missing N30 trillion, the finance minister said: “This is part of the packaged lies that Nigerians must avoid. I don’t want to enter into that debate, we have answered him (Soludo) and I don’t want to join issues with him because you don’t join issues when things don’t make any sense.”

She explained that the forensic report on the alleged unremitted oil revenue by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) that was submitted to the presidency by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) on Monday was never under her ministry, contrary to the insinuations by some members of the public.

“There is a lot of misinformation that is being put out and it is sad for me. I have not been controlling the audit, it is the Auditor General. Nigerians have been misinformed. They left out the fact that the Auditor-General was in charge of the report.

“I was only interviewed for it and there was no way I could be in charge, but some people decided to paint it as if I was in charge of the report and that is very unfortunate.

“It is part of the packaging and misinformation in this politics, and it has to stop because Nigerians cannot be continuously deceived,” the minister said.

Responding to a question on if the country is broke, Okonjo-Iweala reiterated that 2015 is going to be a “very tough year,” adding that: “This question of the economy is broke has been going on for four years now.

“People in the opposition have tried to package this and they have been saying this because they just wish the economy will be broke because they want to get Nigerians alarmed.

“They want to make them feel hopeless about the economy. But Nigerians cannot be deceived. All these three years that they have been saying that the country is broke, has the economy not been running?

“Now they saw that oil prices are falling and they are holding on to that. I have been very clear in saying that it is going to be a difficult year for the country, but this is something we can manage.”

Continuing, she said: “The other story going around is that we are not able to pay salary. In December, the reason why salary took so long was because the payroll system we are using actually locked out some agencies when they tried to pay more people than are in the system. The system locked out 14 agencies and we had to restore them for payment manually.

“I want to make one thing clear, because of the fall in oil price and the drop in quantity, less has been coming to the coffers.”

Meanwhile, the former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, on Tuesday rose in defence of Okonjo-Iweala and federal government, stating that it was impossible for N30 trillion to be ‘missing’ from nation’s treasury.

Ribadu, in an interview with the News Agency Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja said: “I was baffled and got deluded for anyone to say that N30 trillion got lost. I think we just have to look at what we earn as a country and what our budget had been in these few years, and see how possible is it and if everything we earned is not up to that within the period she has been the minister, which is about three to four years.
“And for somebody to say that N30 trillion is missing is baffling, especially if you know what our budget is these years. We need to be careful to avoid more damage to our nation because there are certain things that when it comes out, it will never go back again,’’ he said.

Ribadu stated that while working under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Okonjo-Iweala was the leader of the Economic Management Team and coordinated the economic policy of the administration effectively.

“I challenge anybody to say that she stole N1 at that time; we were all there. I was in charge of EFCC and I want to hear anybody say  that she did this and that.

“And I followed her up till now; I think it is somehow uncharitable for someone to come out to say that such an amount of money was missing under her watch,’’ he said.

Ribadu, who is also the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Adamawa State said it was unfortunate for such controversies but noted that Okonjo-Iweala was one of the most respected Nigerians with unimpeachable integrity.

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