Former World Bank Chief and ex-Nigeria Education Minister, Oby Ezekwesil, has just one swift question concerning a debate on the status of Nigeria’s foreign reserves: “Why won't the federal government agree to the public hearing called by National Assembly?”
In a statement today, Mrs. Ezekwesili, who was once known in the corridors of the executive as ‘Madam Due Process,” said she had painfully rescheduled her international commitments when she was invited to the hearing, which was scheduled for the 5th of March, only to be told that the Executive was not "ready"?
“They were not and [are] still not ready for a public discussion of the issues but they seize every opportunity to make "side comments" on such a serious issue?” she said.
The latest such comment came from Central Bank Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, who said on that same day that Nigeria never had as much as $67billion in its external reserves, in reference to the substance of Ezekwesili’s statement last January.
“Sanusi has obviously misread the point of my Speech,” Ezekwesili said. “He needs to read that speech again.”
Speaking in riddles at a luncheon of the Metropolitan Club in Lagos, Sanusi tried to justify the criticism that the governments of Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan have squandered Nigeria’s commonwealth.
He said, "There is also a certain truth to a basic proposition that if we saved money when oil price was high, it is expected that when oil price crashes, we would de-save. Look at Germany, US, UK, after the crisis. They all had huge deficits. So our incurring of deficit was a reduction in reserves.”
According to his logic of inadequate savings and overspending, “No one can deny that between 2010 and 2011, when oil price was going up, we should have saved more than we actually did and we spent more than we ought to. As CBN Governor, I spent the whole of those two years talking about fiscal leakages.”
Fiscal leakages, it would seem, seems to be a soft description of looting and brigandage in government. Ezekwesili, when she heard that on Tuesday, had heard enough, and she was ready.
“Since they are finally admitting “fiscal leakages," perhaps with a debate we can all learn more,” she said, pointing out that Sanusi well knows that in her famous speech at the University of Nigeria, she stated that the Foreign Reserve was $45b and not the "$67b Foreign Reserve" government officials have been quick to quote in order to paint the picture of "false accusation," so as to manipulate and distract everyone.
“He knows that they are distorting the point of my article by using their "straw number" of $67b which I did not use in my speech. My speech stated $45b Foreign Reserve and $22b ECA and he more than anyone knows that Excess Crude Account is a sub-set of Foreign Reserve!
“Sanusi knows that the Foreign Reserve is a "composite" or "aggregate" amount of ALL official foreign exchange belonging to a country. So I wonder why they are seeking to confuse the point for citizens?
“He knows that I separated the ECA amount in that speech deliberately to make a separate point on the terrible fiscal choices of expenditure that wrecked what was supposed to be "savings for rainy days".
Of the CBN governor’s admission of fiscal leakage, she observed that it is proper that the public know the magnitude of that leakage of public resources especially in a democracy.
“Is it not proper that we should learn how it is that our Foreign Reserve depleted and was not growing over a period of at least 4 years of high oil prices - double the prices at the time that the $45b Foreign Reserve was accumulated?” she asked. “Except for a few months in 2009 when oil prices fell significantly but then sharply rose again what explains the fact that our public finance is under stress at a season of Oil Boom which other OPEC nations are relishing?
She called on the mass media to keep up the pressure for the Executive to agree to the Public Hearing by the National Assembly, stressing that the serious issue is not about her, but about Nigeria and how the political class abuses it with impunity.
“I have no personal gain in standing on my now over two and a half decade conviction that Good Governance is the foundation of any decent society that has ever been built to greatness all over the world,” stressed the former Word Bank Vice-President for Africa, pointing out that when Lamido’s predecessor left office in 2009, even after spending $15b to defend the Naira with the Foreign Reserve, he still left behind about $45b.
“Now imagine that since that time oil prices have averaged between $95-$100 per barrel and we export an average of 750 million barrels per annum,” Ezekwesili said. “How then can the Foreign Reserve only now be starting to grow back to the same size it was in 2009 after such hefty earnings of the last 4 years? The FG numbers do not add up at all and we need to know why!
“The citizens need an explanation and that's why I called for accountability. It is simply a patriotic call which should not result in the name calling by officials of government.”
On January 27, 2013, while giving the keynote at the 42nd convocation ceremony of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Ezekwesili accused Nigeria’s governments since 2007 of squandering $45 billion in the Foreign Reserve Account and another $22 billion in the Excess Crude Account, and demanded “full disclosure and accountability by the Federal Government on the issues of poor management of oil revenues.”
Ezekwesili’s former colleague at the World Bank, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who now serves as Nigeria’s Coordinating Minister of the Economy/Minister of Finance, seems to have adjusted her gele a little lower to cover her eyes, curiously silent about whether she agrees with the “leakage” of which Sanusi speaks, or the swindle and mismanagement Ezekwesili wants discussed publicly.