Radical Lagos lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, has accused the immediate past Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of leaving behind appalling records, advising her to “stop giving the erroneous impression that she rendered selfless service” to Nigeria since her salaries were paid in dollars.
The brickbat started when Falana sent a petition to the ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, describing as “criminal” the transfer of recovered $322 million loot of former Nigerian dictator, Sani Abacha, to the then National Security Adviser, NSA, Sambo Dasuki.
He said Okonjo-Iweala should be prosecuted since such happened under her watch, adding that, “The failure of a former Finance Minister, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to prevent widespread and systematic corruption including the re-looting of the Abacha loot amounts to complicity under the Rome Statute, and therefore fits the legal requirements of a crime against humanity.”
But responding on Monday in a statement by her media adviser, Paul Nwabuikwu, the former minister absolved herself of complicity in the arms deal, saying she gave her approval for the transfer after receiving an order from Goodluck Jonathan, the former president, to transfer a part of the recovered Sani Abacha loot to Sambo Dasuki, the former NSA, after also securing guarantees that the money would be properly accounted for.
Nwabuikwu argued that while Falana and his sponsors have claimed that billions of dollars of Abacha funds were recovered and that Dr Okonjo-Iweala should account for the recovered funds, the fact is that some of the funds recovery was done under the regime of former leaders, Abdulsalami Abubakar and Olusegun Obasanjo when she was not even in government.
But reacting to Okonjo-Iweala’s statement yesterday, Falana accused her of being quick to deflect criticisms by accusing anyone seeking to hold her to account for her ‘appalling records’ in government, of having ulterior political motives.
The statement in part reads:
“When Prof Chukwuma Soludo alleged that about N30tr could not be accounted for under her watch he was described as “an embittered loser. When comrade Adams Oshiomhole questioned the illegal withdrawal of $2bn from the Excess Crude Account, he was accused of having animus towards her because she had blocked Edo State from obtaining a loan.
“Therefore, instead of exchanging vulgar abuse with the former Minister I shall respond to the diversionary allegations which lacerated her response and the attempt to extricate herself from the mass looting of the commonwealth under her watch.
“The claim that I am unfamiliar with the mandate of the ICC shows that Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala has not been following the practice of the court and its active and robust approach to its mandates, in particular with regard to the investigation of crimes in Darfur, the warrant of arrest for Joseph Kony (Uganda), and the warrant of arrest for Ahmad Harun, (Sudan).
“In many decided cases, the ICC has expanded its mandate to humanitarian issues, aimed at forestalling and impeding the perpetration of crimes which cause gross human rights abuse. There is absolutely nothing in the Rome Statute of the ICC to suggest that the court cannot address impunity for enormous financial crimes (and its crippling impact) which took place while Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala was the Finance Minister and the Coordinating Minister of the economy.
“Dr. Okonjo-Iweala also claimed that my petition against her to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) “were lacking in credibility”, without any substantiation of what this means or specific rebuttal of the allegations contained in that petition. She has however not denied the accuracy of the claims in my petition.
“Whereas the former Finance Minister had insisted that only $500 million was recovered from the Abacha loot my petition detailed the recovery of $4 billion. As she could not challenge my claim Dr. Okonjo-Iweala now says that the $500 million was the amount recovered while she was the Minister of Finance under President Obasanjo. In making that claim she did not take cognizance of her recent statement that while she gave out $322 million to Col. Dasuki the sum of $700 million had been set aside for development. From her own account, over $1 billion was recovered from the loot under the Jonathan regime when she was coordinating the economy.
“Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has continued to give the erroneous impression that she rendered selfless service to the nation. But while her colleagues who served as Ministers under President Olusegun Obasanjo were paid their salaries and allowances in the local currency she received hers in dollars despite a judgment of the Court of Appeal which had declared the payment illegal and unconstitutional in the case of Fawehinmi v The President (2007) 14 NWLR (Pt 1054) 275. In order to weep up sentiments Dr. Okonjo-Iweala referred to the unfortunate kidnap of her 84-year mother, two years ago. But it is public knowledge that the lumpen elements involved in the kidnap were arrested by the Lagos State Police Command.
“From the report of police investigation the kidnappers were palace guards who were inspired by sheer avarice. In fact, they were arrested by the Police following the disagreement over the sharing of the N12 million ransom paid to them for the criminal enterprise. In the Appropriation Act of 2011, the sum of N245 billion was budgeted for fuel subsidy. But at the end of the year, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala had authorized the illegal payment of about N2.5 trillion to a cabal of fuel importers. As usual, she washed off her hands like Pontius Pilate. In order to unearth the monumental fraud I petitioned the EFCC and gave oral testimony before the House of Representatives Committee which separately investigated it.
“In the same vein, I have just asked the Group Managing Director of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation under the Freedom of Information Act to provide information on the failure of the NNPC to pay into the Federation Account the sum of $9.7 billion out of the $11.8 billion dividends paid by NLNG from 2004-2014. I have equally demanded information from the NEITI over its claim that the NNPC and some oil companies are indebted to the Federal Government to the tune of $19.1 billion. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s claim that I own the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) is far-fetched and laughable.
“A simple google search would have shown her that while I am one of the legal advisers of the organization, there are other very distinguished lawyers and academics of international repute on SERAP’s board. Her claim that SERAP is ‘discredit’ is the exact opposite of reckless characterization because it is an organization that has won national and international recognitions—including nomination for the UN civil society award; the Ford Foundation Jubilee Transparency Award; and the Wole Soyinka Anti-Corruption Defender Award. It is my belief that the recovered loot should be channeled towards job creation and infrastructural development.
Therefore, all hands should be on deck to ensure that the recovered loot is not criminally diverted by another set of looters,” Falana’s statement read.