Former Governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi granted an interview to newsmen in which he made revelations on Okonjo-Iweala, Excess Crude Account, Sovereign Wealth Fund, why Nigerians pull prominent citizens down, and what he thinks should be the criteria for disbursement of bailout funds to states.
Below are excerpts from the interview.
Q: The news all over the place is that State Governors did not receive any money from the ‘Excess Crude Account” in the past 16 years. Is it true?
A: I am no longer a Governor. I believe those in office are best-placed to answer your question.
Q: With all due respect, the question is better answered by former Governors, as their tenures fall into the period in focus. Aside from your 8 years in office, you were also the Vice-Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum…
A: If you insist, let me fore-warn you that I can only speak for Anambra State and within the period I was the Governor. The truth is that during that period at several times, Anambra State received her own portion of what was shared from the Excess Crude Account.
Q: It is also alleged that the Jonathan administration disbursed funds from that Account without the approval of the National Economic Council [NEC]. We even heard, as well, that Governors’ Forum did not approve of the disbursement.
A: I don’t think that was correct, let me clarify it properly: There was never a time the NEC, Governor’s Forum or any other body approved the release of excess crude money. The release of excess crude money was only and only by the express approval of The President. The practice was that the Governors’ Forum would meet and agree to appeal to The President to release funds to assist them in fulfilling their various states’ obligations. I was a State Governor during the Presidencies of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and the procedure was the same.
Q: Some Nigerians are presently seeking the indictment of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo- Iweala supposedly for the reason that she mismanaged the Nigerian Economy. What is your take about this?
A: It is rather unfortunate that we have this attitude of trying to pull down our best. Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is a global star and only came back to serve her country and she did that with passion. We gain nothing trying to pull her down. We did it with Aruma Otteh, but we know what she is today.
I have been in several meetings where this woman (Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala) was almost crying as she explained and pleaded with all and sundry on the need to save for the rainy day. She advised that proceeds from excess crude sales should be saved in the Sovereign National Wealth Fund for effective management. I have read newspaper reports that it is ironic that she spoke of a rainy day when it was already pouring. I personally remain indebted to her because it was from her persistent preaching on the need to save in the Sovereign National Wealth Fund that made me incorporate savings in foreign currency – that is why one third of the money we left on leaving office was in foreign currency, $156 million(N25 billion at that time). With interest now it would be about $170 million and with the current rate it is almost N40 billion.
My position in all this is that we must cultivate the attitude of saving as a country. Excess crude money should be saved in the Sovereign Wealth Fund. No country will survive without saving for the future. Even in animal’s kingdom, the ants save for the rainy day. We must save bearing in mind that natural resources that we enjoy today are depleting assets.
Q: Today, practically all the State Governors are complaining of “empty treasuries” and seeking bail-out from the Federal government. With the benefit of the impressive savings you made for your State, what are your impressions on the current hue & cry?
A: I have said several times that there is nothing wrong with bail-out or restructuring of debts, but I insist that such reliefs must be with conditions to instil fiscal discipline; else we make it a bad habit.
A debtor must live and behave like one. Let me give you a revealing example: EU Ministers had to make comment on the leather jacket of Yanis Varoufakis (Greece Minister of Finance) at a meeting to reschedule his country’s debts and this eventually led to his resignation.
So as a nation, whenever there is a need for a bail-out, be it for a State, banks or another sector we must ensure that such bail-outs do not allow the same irresponsibility that brought about its occurrence.
Q: Thank you, sir. What was your experience at Oxford University where you recently completed a programme; becoming a student again?
A: Like I have always said even while I was Governor, learning and living are inseparable so for us to be involved at the stage where we are involved you can’t stop learning. I am actually in school till July of the coming year