A former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on Wednesday said she transferred $322m (N64.148bn) from the looted funds recovered from the former Head of State, the late Gen. Sani Abacha, to the Office of the National Security Adviser for military operations in the North-East.
The ex-minister, in a statement by her Media Adviser, Mr. Paul Nwabuikwu, said the transfer of the fund was approved after a committee, set up by former President Goodluck Jonathan, gave approval for the use of the fund.
She explained that based on the decision of the committee, she personally requested that part of the recovered fund be used for security operations while the rest be channelled to developmental purposes.
The minister stated that she decided to release the amount to the ONSA following various accusations from some quarters that she was starving the military of funds to prosecute the war on terrorism.
There was a report on Wednesday that the former minister diverted N61.4bn from the Abacha loot to the office of the former NSA, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.).
Okonjo-Iweala was reported to have written a letter to Jonathan requesting the transfer of the fund to the NSA office.
The former finance minister had, last week, said she had nothing to do with the $2.1bn arms probe.
Responding to a statement by the Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, the ex-finance minister had said she had “absolutely nothing” to do with the arms purchase scam.
But the statement by Nwabuikwo explained that as captured in the memo, Okonjo-Iweala insisted that the fund be deployed after satisfying three conditions.
The statement reads in part, “As part of the campaign of falsehood against the former Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala by Edo Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, and other powerful and corrupt interests, another baseless story has been published by some online media.
“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.
“It will be recalled that throughout 2014, there were public complaints by the military hierarchy to President Goodluck Jonathan about the inadequacy of funds to fight the anti-terror war in the North-East, resulting in Boko Haram making gains and even taking territories.
“A lot of the criticism was directed at the Federal Ministry of Finance under Dr Okonjo-Iweala, which was accused of not doing enough to find funds for the operations.”
She added, “It was about this time that some new Abacha funds of about $322m were returned with another $700m still expected to be returned.
“Former President Jonathan set up a committee, comprising the former Minister of Justice, former NSA and the former Minister of Finance to determine how best to use both the returned and expected funds for development.
“The NSA made a case for using the returned funds for urgent security operations, since, she noted, there could not be any development without peace and security.
“Based on this, a decision was taken to deploy about $322m for the military operations, while the expected $700m would be applied to development programmes as originally conceived.
“Following the discussions and based on the urgency of the NSA’s memo, Dr Okonjo-Iweala requested the President to approve the transfer of the requested amount to the NSA’s Office for the specified purposes.”
The statement said the attempt to link the ex-minister’s name to any misuse of these funds for any purpose other than security “is totally false and cannot stand.”
Okonjo-Iweala must be arrested, insists Oshiomhole
Meanwhile, Oshiomhole has said the Federal Government must make sure that the ongoing investigation into arms deals under the past administration is total by ensuring that all those involved in what he called “the chain of conspiracy” are dealt with decisively.
Specifically, the governor called for the arrest and prosecution of Okonjo-Iweala, arguing that there was no way money could have been taken from the nation’s treasury without her knowledge.
Oshiomhole spoke with State House correspondents on Wednesday shortly after he met behind closed-doors with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
He said the government could not afford to be selective in the probe because in criminal law, all those involved must be charged with conspiracy.
He said Okonjo-Iweala, who was also the Coordinating Minister of the Economy under former President Goodluck Jonathan, could not be coordinating “a corruption-ridden economy” and be pretending to be an angel.
Oshiomhole argued that if a Minister of Finance endorsed documents to ensure the release of funds, it was the responsibility of the government official to also ensure that the money was spent on the purpose for which it was released.
The governor said, “I am not shocked at the revelations from the arms probe. I have just told some people that the government has to go the whole hog because I know as a governor that no money gets out of the treasury even after I have approved as the governor without the commissioner of finance. That is the procedure.