President Goodluck Jonathan seized the opportunity of an interview with a Nigerian newspaper last week to hit back at a former Central Bank governor, Charles Soludo, who accused his government of failing to account for at least N30 trillion, and allowing corruption to flourish.
Mr. Jonathan dismissed Mr. Soludo?s claim as politically-motivated, and ridiculed his academic standing, saying it was illogical for that sum to be ?stolen? as his government had not generated that much in all its years in power.
In an elaborate article on the state of the Nigerian economy mid-January, Mr. Soludo had tackled Nigeria?s finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, over her management style and inability to steer the nation aright amid an oil crisis.
Mr. Soludo, a first-class economist and professor, said whatever fiscal reserve Nigeria would have fallen back on during the crisis, had been badly depleted by corruption and poor management by the Okonjo-Iweala-led economic team of the Jonathan administration.
?Our public finance is haemorrhaging to the point that estimated over N30tn is missing, or stolen, or unaccounted for, or simply mismanaged,? the former CBN governor said.
Mr. Soludo said the sharp decline of the naira against the dollar was an indication of trouble for the nation.
He said his article was written for Nigerians to be informed ahead of the 2015 elections.
?Part of my frustration is that five years after, everything I warned about has come to happen and we are conducting our campaigns as if we are not in a crisis. As a concerned Nigerian, I have a duty to speak out again,? he said.
At the time, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala dismissed Mr. Soludo?s concerns as those coming from a sore political loser who wished the country ill. In a vicious tit-for-tat article, the finance minister labelled Mr. Soludo Nigeria?s worst CBN governor ever.
In his interview with Thisday newspaper last week, President Jonathan repeated some of those claims, and questioned Mr. Soludo?s scholarship.
The president made the remarks as he sought to explain widespread impression of his government as being terribly corrupt, saying such allegations are often fed by spurious claims made by notable figures like Mr. Soludo.
?So you?ll see that there is a lot of politicking about some of the serious issues. Not too long ago I read in one of the papers, I think Vanguard, that former chief economic adviser to President Obasanjo who also went to become a CBN governor? Soludo is a professor and first class material. Yes, making a first class in economics, he is a brilliant person. His secondary school records are fantastic. So by all standards he is a brilliant person. So the Vanguard wrote that he accused Ngozi; that N30 trillion was stolen under the watch of Ngozi in four years,? the president said.
?Ngozi became a finance minister, let?s say from 2011 till date. From that time till now, our annual budget is between N4.3 trillion and N4.9 trillion. So even if you put all together, it is about 18 plus trillion naira, and not 30 trillion. The budget for these four years is less than N20 trillion, but Soludo said that under Ngozi?s watch they stole N30 trillion. This is in the papers, social media, stored in the clouds and will continue to be there. And when you type it in it will come out that during President Jonathan?s time they stole N30 trillion.?
But while the president hinged his explanation on realized budget figures for Nigeria annually, Mr. Soludo, in his article, based his N30 trillion claim on funds available to the government, amounts not reconciled and what the country earn if there had been quality economic policies.
?Under you as the Minister of Finance and coordinator of the economy, the basket of our national treasury is leaking profusely from all sides. Just a few illustrations,? he wrote to the finance minister in January.
?First, you admit that ?oil theft? has reduced oil output from the average 2.3 ? 2.4 million barrels per day to 1.95 mpd (meaning that at least 350,000 to 450,000 barrels per day are being ?stolen?). On the average of 400,000 per day and the oil prices over the past four years, it comes to about $60bn ?stolen? in just four years.
?In today?s exchange rate, that is about N12.6tn. This is at a time of cessation of crisis in the Niger Delta and the amnesty programme. Can you tell Nigerians how much the amnesty programme costs, and also the annual cost for ?protecting? the pipelines and security of oil wells? And the ?thieves? are spirits?
?Second, my earlier article stated that the minimum forex reserves should have been at least $90bn by now and you did not challenge it. Rather, it is about $30bn, meaning that gross mismanagement has denied the country some $60bn or another N12.6tn. Now, add the ?missing? $20bn from the NNPC. You promised a forensic audit report ?soon?, and more than a year later, the report itself is still ?missing?. This is over N4tn, and we don?t know how much more has ?missed? since Sanusi cried out.
?How many trillions of naira were paid for oil subsidy (unappropriated?)? How many trillions (in actual fact) have been ?lost? through customs duty waivers over the last four years? As coordinator of the economy, can you tell Nigerians why the price of Automotive Gas Oil, popularly called diesel, has still not come down despite the crash in global crude oil prices, and how much is being appropriated by friends in the process?
?Be honest: Do you really know (as coordinator and minister of finance) how many trillions of naira self- financing government agencies earn and spend? I have a long list but let me wait for now. I do not want to talk about other ?black pots? that impinge on national security.?
Mr. Soludo added, ?My estimate, Madam, is that probably more than N30tn has either been stolen, or lost, or unaccounted for, or simply mismanaged under your watchful eyes in the past four years. Since you claimed to be in charge, Nigerians are right to ask you to account. Think about what this amount could mean for the 112 million poor Nigerians, or for our schools, hospitals, roads, etc.
?Soon, you will start asking the citizens to pay this or that tax, while some faceless ?thieves? are pocketing over $40m per day from oil alone.?
In his interview with ThisDay, the president said after reading the former CBN governor?s claims, they (cabinet members) simply asked Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala about the impression of her former colleagues at the World Bank, about Mr. Soludo?s charges. And they were convinced it was political.
?We asked Ngozi how her colleagues in the World Bank saw the accusation and she said they were laughing and couldn?t believe it. There are certain things that you just cannot believe and if that is coming from somebody considered to be cerebral like Professor Soludo, then of course you know what the ordinary person would say. It is all political,? the president said.