ABUJA— Indications emerged last night that the Federal Government would extend its dragnet towards apprehending and prosecuting more individuals and groups which allegedly helped themselves with huge funds meant for the acquisition of arms for the armed forces, leaving the soldiers to fight with bare hands.
Meanwhile, the war of words between Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State and former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala continued, yesterday, as the governor alleged that the former minister facilitated looting of funds by officials of the past admiistration.
Already, operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission probing how funds meant for arms were diverted and stolen by top politicians, have stumbled on fresh evidence that senior officials of the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank of Nigeria were actively involved in the transfer of funds to the suspects.
The operatives are upset that rather than help to protect the fortunes of the country, the said officials aided and abetted politicians to bolt away with the nation’s scarce resources.
The agency also discovered that most of the records which the Office of the National Security Adviser, ONSA, used in collecting the huge sums of public funds from the relevant government agencies and paying the sludge funds to the politicians, were not kept in the office of the embattled NSA.
It was learnt last night that EFCC operatives were set to summon the former Minister of Finance & Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okojo-Iweala and some top officials of the CBN to shed more light on what they know about the arms budget said to have been diverted by bigwigs of one of the political parties.
Also to be invited based on evidence of disbursement from the apex bank, are some serving and retired top officials of the CBN who helped in the disbursement of the arms cash to the beneficiaries.
Vanguard learnt that the decision to summon the former minister and the apex bank officials followed the discovery that the bank played an active part in wiring various sums of money to persons and institutions at home and abroad without paying attention to due process.
It was the gamut of transaction documents from the CBN that has assisted them to trace and arrest the high profile politicians and their cronies, who benefitted from the public funds meant for arms.
A source said: “It is clear from our discovery that some money taken from the Abacha loot was used to secure some arms and fight insurgency but it is also clear that a larger part of the money was diverted and nobody raised an eyebrow.
“We want these people to come and give us further clarifications on why they released the money and who got what and why.”
It was gathered that documents at the CBN have established that the $15 million cash which the office of the NSA ferried for the purchase of arms and was seized by the South African Government was part of the Abacha loot. The country is yet to refund the cash to Nigeria.
It was also learnt that part of the Abacha loot was used to secure the services of mercenaries and guerrillas from some countries to assist in re-taking 22 Nigerian territories in the North-East from Boko Haram.
The government at the time had engaged some of the foreign fighters to train troops in anti-terrorism warfare, intelligence gathering and counter terrorism which enabled them recover the lost territories from the insurgents. In spite of that, it never admitted using any of them for any of its operations.
Already, eight of the suspects have been charged with stealing, money laundering and breach of the Public Procurement Act, while none of them is yet to be released even on bail.
Okonjo-Iweala helped Jonathan loot stolen funds, Oshiomhole insists
However, Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State yesterday continued his verbal assault on former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, as the governor alleged that the ex-minister only helped the past administration to loot funds.
Oshiomhole who was the guest speaker at a dialogue session that was co-organised by the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, and the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, in Abuja yesterday to commemorate the International Human Rights Day, urged President Muhammadu Buhari not to spare the former Minister who he branded “Ali Baba”.
The Edo State governor spoke on a topic entitled “Towards Advancing the Right to Social Security Protection in Nigeria”.
Speaking to journalists at the end of his presentation, Oshiomhole, maintained that Okonjo-Iweala has serious questions to answer with regards to what happened to looted funds that were recovered from former military dictator, General Sani Abacha.
He said it was not enough for the former minister to “sit there in Washington”, and say that she “transferred part of the money recovered from Abacha to Dasuki for security purpose”.
“All I am just saying is that we are in a constitutional democracy. We are not under an informal arrangement. When you listen to all the narratives, all the disclosures and defence, you will realise that the Federal Government needs to prosecute everybody, not to exempt anyone.
“For example I have read in the newspapers and online, the former Minister of Finance and the Coordinating Minister of the Economy saying that she transferred part of the money recovered from Abacha to Dasuki for security purposes.
“Now, the first question the media should ask is, even under conditions of war, money must be appropriated. The National Assembly, I recall very well, when Aminu Tambuwal was Speaker of the House of Representatives, they reconvened on Sunday in order to attend to an urgent matter submitted by the President. So, the Constitution is very clear.
“Money was looted and foreign countries helped us recover that money and a minister assisted in ensuring that that money is re-looted again. And she is there in Washington and you are here languishing. I am saying that she also must be brought to justice”, the Edo governor said.
Okonjo-Iweala should apologise to Nigerians—SERAP
Meanwhile, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has asked former Minister of Finance Ngozi Okonjo Iweala to “apologise to Nigerians for claiming recently that recovered Abacha loot was transparently spent while she knew that $322m (about N63billion) recovered Abacha funds were inappropriately released to finance the fight against Boko Haram.”
SERAP’s statement yesterday followed Mrs Okonjo-Iweala’s statement that she released about $322m to the former National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki for military operations.
In a statement by SERAP executive director Adetokunbo Mumuni the organisation said: “The truth about the spending of Abacha loot is now coming out, and it is clear that Mrs Okonjo-Iweala was wrong to accuse SERAP of bias while she knew that we are simply seeking truth, justice and accountability on the spending of recovered Abacha loot.”
“Mrs Okonjo-Iweala’s approach of ‘no answers, no apology’ on how Abacha loot was spent is doing her reputation more harm than good. We hope that she will take cue from the World Bank (her former employer) when it defined ‘accountability and probity’ as knowing what task has been set, accepting to do it, and going about it with a sense of probity. Probity implying the willingness to self-disclose such information to which a specific stakeholder group has a right as well as tolerance of the scrutiny of such a stakeholder group on information to which they have a right,” the organisation said.
It will be recalled that the former Minister of Finance, had on Wednesday, disclosed that she transferred $322m (N64.148bn) from the looted funds recovered from Abacha to the Office of the National Security Adviser, NSA, to aid military operations in the North-East.
I secured ex-President’s approval — Okonjo-Iweala
In a statement by her Media Adviser, Mr. Paul Nwabuikwu, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, insisted that she secured the approval of ex-President Jonathan before the fund was transferred. She stressed that the approval followed the recommendation of a committee set-up by former President Jonathan to advise the administration on the way forward.
The ex-Minister explained that based on recommendation of the committee, she personally requested that part of the recovered funds be used for security operations while the rest be channelled to developmental purposes.
She said her decision to release the funds to the ONSA, was sequel to accusations that she was starving the military of funds to prosecute war on terrorism.
Okonjo-Iweala specifically accused Oshiomhole “and other powerful and corrupt interests”, of sponsoring a campaign of falsehood against her.
“To achieve their evil propaganda objective of tarnishing her name, these evil elements have distorted the contents of a memo, dated January 20, 2015, in which the former Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, responded to a request by the former National Security Adviser, Col. Ibrahim Dasuki (retired), for funds to prosecute the terror war against Boko Haram.
“The central responsibility of the Minister of Finance is to find sources of funding for the financing of approved national priorities such as security, job creation and infrastructure.”