31 January 2013

Nigeria: House to Probe Alleged Squandering of U.S.$67 Billion

The House of Representatives has mandated its committees on Finance and Appropriation to investigate allegations and counter allegations by the ... ( Resource: Reps To Probe Ezekwesili's Allegation

The House of Representatives Wednesday joined the fray over the alleged squandering of U.S.$67 of Nigeria's Foreign Reserves and Excess Crude Account.

It disclosed that it would soon issue warrants of arrest on the Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, and Chairman, National Population Commission (NPC), Mr. Festus Odimegwu, over the failure of the duo to honour parliamentary summons.

Former Vice-President of the World Bank, Mrs. Obiageli Ezekwesili, had at a recent convocation lecture alleged that the Yar'Adua/ Jonathan regime mismanaged $45 billion in Foreign Reserves and $22 billion in Excess Crude Account it inherited from former President Olusegun Obasanjo's administration in 2007.

The lower chamber of the National Assembly yesterday mandated its Committees on Finance and Appropriation to investigate the allegations and submit a report in six weeks.

The resolution was sequel to a motion sponsored by the Chairman, House Committee on Interior, Hon. Umar Bature (PDP/Sokoto), in which the lawmaker recalled the allegations made by Ezekwesili and demanded that the issue of disappearance of public funds under the watch of the government must not be swept under the carpet.

According to him, the House needed to conduct an investigation into the allegation given the pedigree of Ezekwesili as a former Minister of Education and one-time Special Adviser to the President on Public Procurement.

The lawmaker expressed concern that rather than address the issues raised by Ezekwesili, the Federal Government had resorted to accusing the former Education Minister of misappropriating N458 billion between 2006 and 2007.

Ezekwesili during the lecture at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka said Nigeria had learnt nothing from its past failures at curbing corruption in the management of its resources.

"This is because we are still caught up in it and it is more egregious than the other periods in revealing that we learned absolutely nothing from the previous massive failures.

"The squandering of the significant sum of $45 billion in foreign reserve account and another $22 billion in Excess Crude Account being direct savings from increased earnings from oil that the Obasanjo administration handed over to the successor government in 2007.

"Six years after, the administration I served handed over such humongous national wealth to another one most Nigerians, especially the poor have continued to suffer the effects of failing public health and education systems as well as decrepit infrastructure and battered institutions.

"One cannot but ask what exactly does this level of brazen misappropriation of public resources symbolise? Where did all that money go? Where is the accountability for the use of these resources and the additional several hundred dollars realised from oil sale by the two administrations that have governed our nation in the last five years? How were these resources applied or more appropriately misapplied? Tragic choices."

Ezekwesili, who was a founding director of Transparency International (TI), however, asked graduating students of UNN and other young Nigerians to become the turning point generation of Nigerians willing to make the right choices by serving their country with patriotism and commitment to transparency and accountability.

The resolution to issue the warrants of arrest on Jega and Odimegwu was taken yesterday at the meeting of the House Committee on Public Accounts.

Chairman, Public Accounts Committee, Hon. Solomon Adeola, said the duo failed to honour the invitations of the parliament to defend queries raised on the audited accounts of their commissions.

Adeola said the queries were raised in the report of the Auditor General of the Federation (AGF).

He said INEC had a backlog of queries on its audited accounts for years between 2003 and 2011, while that of NPC was from 2003 to 2009.

Adeola had at yesterday's meeting told members of the committee that the heads of INEC and NPC have spurned the invitations of the committee a record five times and, therefore, sought the permission of his members to issue a warrant on the affected officials.

"Anyone who occupies public office must show due diligence and accountability and this the parliament will demand of them whether they like it or not.

"When INEC looked for power to be on firstline charge, it ran to parliament and its problem was solved, why is it now afraid of showing up to give account of what it has spent?

"We insist the head of these organisations must show up to give proper account of what they used monies allocated to them for.

"No body will be allowed to behave as if they are bigger than Nigeria as a country. INEC will soon be making budget for 2015 elections, but it must first clear all doubts raised on its award of contracts for 2003 and 2007 elections.

"This is what we expect the commission to do, but since they have refused to turn up willingly, we will tomorrow (today) issue a warrant asking the police to bring them down here next Friday to clear all doubts raised by the auditor general against their audited accounts," Adeola said.

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