Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, yesterday responded to an accusation by a newspaper columnist, Mr. Sonala Olumhense, that the $2.5 billion Abacha loot recovered during the regime of former President Olusegun Obasanjo disappeared when she was also presiding as the nation’s finance minister.
Reacting to the accusation via a statement, Special Adviser to the minister, Mr. Paul Nwabuikwu, described the writer’s piece as lacking “verified facts and the basing of opinions on gross inaccuracies.”
Nwabuikwu noted that $500 million and not $2.5 billion was recovered when the Okonjo-Iweala presided as finance minister during Obasanjo’s, adding that contrary to the writer’s position, the money did not disappear, but was channelled into rural projects.
In his words: “For instance, Olumhense writes that $2.5 billion of Abacha money was recovered during Okonjo-Iweala’s time as finance minister during President Obasanjo’s reign and that the money disappeared implying some involvement in the disappearance by the minister. This is absolutely false. First, the amount recovered was $500 million, not $2.5 billion. The recovered amount was channelled into rural projects and programmes as per the agreement with the Swiss government which repatriated the funds. A combined team of Nigerian and Swiss nongovernmental organisation with the World Bank later verified the use of this money on the ground where the projects from were cited and they certified the money had been accurately utilised.
“The World Bank had written about this in a 2007-2008 Handbook on stolen asset recovery where the case was cited as a best practice example of how to deploy returned proceeds of looted assets. Readers of Olumhense would benefit more if his passionate writings on Okono-Iweala are supported by a bit more research as opposed to sweeping, unverified statements,” the statement added.