We spent Abacha loot to develop rural areas – Okonjo-Iweala

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Minister of Finance and Co-ordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has said that the $500 million recovered Abacha loot was used to develop the nation’s rural areas.

The minister was reacting to an article by Sonala Olumhense who claimed that $2.5 billion was recovered from the funds looted by the then Gen. Sani Abacha but that the money disappeared under the minister’s watch.

According to the minister, $500 million, not $2.5 billion was recovered and had been spent on development projects in rural areas as agreed with the Swiss government.

A statement by Paul Nwabikwu, Special Adviser to the minister said that the claims by Olumhense were unverified and largely false.

“The problem I have with Sonala Olumhense’s articles on the Coordinating Minister and Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala is the general absence of verified facts and the basing of opinions on gross inaccuracies.

“For instance, Olumhense writes that $2.5 billion of Abacha money was recovered during Dr Okonjo Iweala’s time as Finance Minister under President Obasanjo and that the money disappeared implying some involvement in the disappearance by the Minister. This is absolutely false. First, the amount recovered was $500 million, not $2.5 billion.

“The recovered amount was channeled into rural projects and programmes as per the agreement with the Swiss government which repatriated the funds. A combined team of Nigerian and Swiss NGOs with the World Bank later verified the use of this money on the ground in the projects cited and they certified the money had been accurately utilized.

“The World Bank had written about this in a 2007/2008 Handbook on stolen Asset Recovery where the case was cited as a best practice example of how to deploy returned proceeds of looted assets. Readers of Olumhense would benefit more if his passionate writings on Dr Okonjo Iweala are supported by a bit more research as opposed to sweeping, unverified statements”, the statement read in part.

On the NNPC oil accounts issue, Nwabuikwu said that the minister has been at the forefront of the anti corruption crusade and had called for an independent forensic audit to establish the facts of any unaccounted for money and ensure that all every Naira owed the treasury was returned to the Federation Account.

“This is the best way to proceed given the conflicting claims by Sanusi Lamido Sanusi and the NNPC. After all the speeches and comments like that of Olumhense, the fundamental problem of determining the facts as a basis for action must still be tackled. Is there room for more action on corruption? Of course the answer can only be yes. But action is needed to achieve change. Talk is cheap, action is crucial.

“The clean up of the fraud in the subsidy payments regime to oil marketers for which she paid a heavy personal price in the form of the abduction of her mother by paid kidnappers in November 2012 is one clear example”.

“Another example is the clean up of the pension fraud with the establishment now of a new institution under the Federal Ministry of Finance – the Pension Transition Administration Department to ensure that pensioners under the old defined benefits scheme are not defrauded anymore”, he said.

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