After the explanation of the former Finance Minister, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala that no loan was diverted, contrary to the impression created President Buhari, analysts are worried that the president should exercise more restraint in throwing up allegations in the future, writes EMMA ALOZIE
After getting a brief by the permanent secretary of federal ministry of transport last week, President Muhammadu Buhari came down hard on the immediate past administration, accusing it of diverting $1.3 billion dollar Chinese loan allegedly meant for railways upgrade.
The Permanent Secretary, Alhaji Mohammed Bashar was said to have told the President Buhari that only $400 million of that loan remained with the Ministry of Finance.
Media reports had it that the president was so angry that he had to issue a query to the federal ministry of finance. The President was said to have regretted that government had, over the years, failed to meet its counterpart funding obligation on some projects, leading to such projects being left uncompleted or abandoned. “I hope that due process was followed before such diversions were carried out. Taking money from one project to another has to be done properly,” the president fumed.
However, while replying to the query, the immediate past minister of finance and former coordinating minister of the economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala gave a lucid and graphic detail of how the loan was obtained and how it is being disbursed.
According to a press statement by the former minister’s media aide, Paul Nwabuikwu, no such thing as diversion happened. “I want to state categorically that there is no truth in the reported allegation. Anyone who is interested can cross-check with the China-EximBank or the Chinese Embassy.
“It is noteworthy that even though President Buhari, in his reported comments on the allegation, made no reference to Dr. Okonjo-Iweala but rightly stressed the need for due process and transparency in the execution of public projects, a sponsored media campaign has once again been launched by political elements to make the former minister the culprit in a non-existent scandal.
“The alleged diversion has no substance for the simple reason that the Kano-Lagos project was not even among the projects presented for funding by the China Exim Bank for several strategic infrastructural projects across the country.
“In fact, it was the Lagos-Ibadan rail project, not Lagos-Kano rail project, that was proposed in the original application to the China-EximBank. But in the end, no funds were assigned for the Lagos-Ibadan rail project by the China-EximBank.
“It is also important to note that even if the alleged project was on the list of China-EximBank funded projects, diversion of any Chinese funds would have been extremely difficult because the terms of the contract and the processes would simply not have permitted such action.
“The procedure is that funds for approved loans remain in the China-EximBank and are released directly to the Chinese firm executing the contract only after the presentation of duly certified proof of work by the responsible ministry, in this case it would have been the Federal Ministry of Transport, based on the agreed milestones.
“For the sake of emphasis, the China-EximBank does not disburse money directly to government and, therefore, the issue of diversion does not arise.
“This is yet another example of the kind of whispering campaign of calumny, innuendo, misinformation, and outright distortions being perpetrated by certain political elements against Dr. Okonjo-Iweala in a bid to try to damage her reputation.”
The explanation of the ex-minister has once again exposed the president as one who speaks in a hurry when there is an avenue to cross check facts. And this is another in a series of gaffes of the president. For instance, while in the USA, the president came up with what is now known as the 97% and 5% dichotomy where he said “Going by election results, constituencies that gave me 97% cannot in all honesty be treated, on some issues, with constituencies that gave me 5%. I think these are political realities. While, certainly there will be justice for everybody but the people who voted, and made their votes count, they must feel the government has appreciated the effort they put in putting the government in place. I think this is really fair.”
Also in the USA, he threw caution in the wind and accused the US government of indirectly aiding Boko Haram by implementing the Leahy Law. “Regrettably, the blanket application of the Leahy Law by the United States on the grounds of unproven allegations of human rights violations leveled against our forces has denied us access to appropriate strategic weapons to prosecute the war against the insurgents.
“In the face of abduction of innocent school girls from their hostels, indiscriminate bombings of civilians in markets and places of worship, our forces have remained largely impotent because they do not possess the appropriate weapons and technology which they could have had, had the so-called human rights violations not been an obstacle.
“Unwittingly, and I dare say, unintentionally, the application of the Leahy Law amendment by the U. S. Government has aided and abetted the Boko Haram terrorist group in the prosecution of its extremist ideology and hate, the indiscriminate killings and maiming of civilians, in raping of women and girls, and in their other heinous crimes.
“I believe this is not the spirit of the Leahy Laws. I know the American people cannot support any group engaged in these crimes,” the president said.
The frequency of these gaffes by the president has opened him up for criticisms and analysts are worried that it is too early in the day.