Okonjo-Iweala Named In N1.17b ‘Suspicious’ Transfer

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A House of Representatives ad hoc committee is probing the “suspicious” transfer to another account of N1.17bilion approved for a Federal Government agency.

The committee is seeking answers to why the immediate past Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, reversed a presidential directive which approved the money for the Sokoto Rima River Basin Development Authority (SRRBA).

Besides, the committee is seeking to establish:
* Who applied for the withdrawal since payment was initiated through an application by the SRRBDA?
* How a ministerial directive can override a presidential approval;
* Where the money was returned to after it was withdrawn from the account of the Authority; and
* Whether the withdrawal was politically motivated given the time of the withdrawal

The committee has hinted of the likelihood of inviting the ex-minister.

Mrs Okonjo-Iweala is at the centre of a storm over her release of $330m Abacha loot to the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), without appropriation. The money, which she said was meant as a loan for arms procurement, later turned out to be part of the cash being shred to politicians and friends of that government before the last general election.

President Goodluck Jonathan, in a letter, approved the release of the money to the River Basin Authority. The approval was conveyed to the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF) by the (then) minister of Finance, according to the office of the AGF.

The payment was made into the accounts of the SRRBDA on March 9 but withdrawn in two tranches within a week, two months later in May.

The first withdrawal of N784m was made on 6th May, 2015. The second, N90m, was effected on 12th May 2015 but executed on 16th May 2015 by the CBN.

Only N874.6million was withdrawn by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) from the account of SRRBDA because the agency had started spending the money.

The investigative hearing by the ad hoc committee was told how the CBN credited and reversed the payment on the directives of the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation (OAGF).

The Committee, it was learnt, would request from the CBN records of tranfer and reversal of the money from the Natural Resources account and other accounts.

SRRBDA’s Managing Director (MD) Mukhtar Anka said the agency made an appeal to (then) President Jonathan, knowing that the agency had some outstanding funds with the Federal government, “Because all our previous budgets were never fully released since 2012.

“We could no longer meet our projects and contractual obligations while our contractors were bothering us.That was why we made the appeal,” he said.

The representative of the CBN, Suleman Barau, told the committee that the bank carried out its duties based on approved and duly-signed mandates from the OAGF, who owns all accounts of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA).

Mr. M Dikwa, Director, Funds, who represented the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF), Ahmed Idris, said the reversal of the fund was carried out through a ministerial memoranda, unlike the approval that was effected through a presidential approval.

He also disclosed that the OAGF will recover the balance from the SRRBDA when there is enough money in its account since it had already spent out of it.

When the Committee asked the AGF why the withdrawals were made, Dikwa said some discrepancies were discovered after the payment.

He said the one-page approval letter had no attachment detailing the purpose of the funds. It was also discovered that the Federal Government had already paid the said amount by way of budgetary allocations.

The committee wondered if the reversal was politically-motivated, considering the period of reversal and the 2015 general elections.

The Evelyn Oboro-led Committee regretted that many of such payments may have been made by the AGF in the past only to claim to have made new discoveries later.

When the committee asked the AGF to produce the application for the withdrawal, the AGF could not produce any.

Also, the AGF had no response when asked by the committee to justify effecting the withdrawal with a ministerial directive while the approval for payment was by a presidential directive .

The committee faulted the AGF for failing to conduct needs assessment and due diligence before effecting payment of funds to MDAs.

Oboro said: “Conduct of post mortem after payments does not seem to promote transparency and accountability.

“We are interested in who applied for the withdrawal since payment was initiated through an application by the SRRBDA.

“More importantly, there is a need to know how a ministerial directive can override a presidential approval.

“We also want to know where the money was returned to after it was withdrawn from the account of the Authority.

“We are only interested in how to make agencies of government can be responsive to the people.

“This is an organisation that can bring a whole lot to the agricultural sector in that region and the country as a whole, yet through whatever what we are yet to understand, it was being deliberately starved of funds. We are determined to get to the bottom of the matter.”

The investigation continues.

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