Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomhole, who chairs a special committee set up by the National Economic Council (NEC), in this interview, insists that the ex-president Goodluck Jonathan administration plundered the nation’s economy despite the defence being put out by former minister of Finance and coordinating minister for the Economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. As a matter of fact, the governor who is a member of the NEC, made further disclosures that under the watch of Okonjo-Iweala, the Federal Government spent N140 billion on consultancy for the Second Niger bridge. He said the money was sourced illegally from the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF), asserting that the Igbos must hold the former president responsible since such amount was expended on no bridge on ground. He insists that the nation cannot succeed in the war against corruption unless people are prosecuted, stressing that “If Nigerians know what these people did, they will stone them to death, jungle justice; $700 million gone on second Niger bridge without any bridge to show.” Oshiomhole, visibly angry, said he may not be able to reveal as much as he would have liked but maintained that if Nigerians knew what actually went down during Jonathan’s reign, they would stone him and his cabinet members on the street.
He also spoke on the Edo World Bank loan, the race for the Edo guber in 2016 and other national issues.
The National Assembly recently approved the World Bank’s $75 million loan to Edo State, but the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), opposed the loan deal saying the state is already heavily indebted. How would you react to that?
First is that PDP does not believe in development and for them, anything that will bring prosperity to the people negates what they stand for. Which is politics for the benefit of PDP leaders. And of course they are embarrassed by the amount of goodwill that we have continued to enjoy from the people of the state; it is not easy to be in government for six and half years and you can still walk the streets – on and off. You find people trooping out to hail you and, see, they have been praying, with the declining oil prices such that many states can’t pay salaries. Their first shocker is that Edo State was never in the club. Then they started praying that okay, if we can’t default in salaries, we will default in our contractual obligations. That once people see that no job is going on, they will now cook up stories to confuse the people. So the PDP people are worried that with more resources available to us to sustain the projects we have started and even start new ones, there is no hope for them in the state. But you know there is nothing I have ever done that the PDP did not oppose. While PDP states in the South South were taking bonds of N100 billion, N200 billion, we applied for N25 billion and they went to court to try to stop it, but of course they failed. If you look at the document by the DMO – you have listened to the narrative by the PDP governors which give a window about the debt profile of the states in the South South – you will find that even Bayelsa with eight local governments is far more heavily indebted than Edo State; we are the least. From a bond of N25 billion we have been servicing it because we pay N530 million every month and we have paid over N21 billion leaving us with less than N5 billion. If you compare this with what is happening in other states across the country, Edo State is the least borrowing. Remember that our neighbours are super rich states but they have borrowed more than us. Even more outstanding for me, is that I am proud to say any day anywhere that our books are available. We have never borrowed a dime to pay salaries because I feel that will be the height of irresponsibility to borrow to pay salaries because if you borrow to pay salaries, what will you use to do projects? We have met our personnel cost strictly within our revenues while others could not. So PDP’s worry is basically, ‘Oh, this guy is going to finish stronger even more than he started’. So everything must be done to stop him.
But they claim that……
(Cuts in) What is their claim? Look, I have also said to them, when we look at how much PDP stole under Okonjo-Iweala and Goodluck Jonathan who is their chief, from LNG alone, that they did not remit to the Federation Account, Edo State’s share of it is more than N30 billion. Osun State’s share of that is more than N25 billion, Ekiti’s share of it is more than N24 billion. So if they did not steal the money that should have accrued to Edo and other states of the country, what the World Bank has lent to us is not up to 50 percent of what we lost as a state from one source – LNG. If you add other sources together, if you add NPA, in 2014 alone, they spent N160 billion out of N162 billion that they earned. They only remitted N2 billion to government. The total revenue that accrued to Edo, Osun and Ondo states from the Federation Account is not up to what the NPA spent. So it is like we are the victims of the PDP’s massive looting and they have gone round to cause distractions. But Edo people are clear, they know that we are working and we will continue to work.
Was the loan really necessary?
Let me make this clear. The World Bank facility, even the PDP Federal Government tried hard to secure such facility, but it failed because it was never transparent. When you run a budget of 85 percent recurrent and 15 percent capital and even the capital projects, as the National Assembly keep saying, was never implemented up to 40 percent, it means that for all the period of the past five to seven years of PDP, their capital expenditure was not more than 7-10 percent of the total budget. Now, in Edo State, we reversed these figures to 60-40 percent in favour of capital. And we carried out massive reforms of our financial system. You have not heard me talk about ghost workers in Edo State because we computerised our operations and with the press of a button, everybody gets his pay, not by a team of clerks and typists. And it is these reforms that we carried out that we reformed our tax system, we are now less dependent on the Federation Account compared to what it was under the PDP, where they collected N250 million and out of that they paid 30 percent as cost of collection to their agent. We don’t use agents, our cost of collection is even less than 40 percent and we build institutions rather than contractors. These are the reforms the World Bank saw before they offered this DPO. Read the sentiments expressed by the bank as reason for giving us the loan. It settles all the questions. One point which they made, which I feel is amplifying is that only Lagos has enjoyed the facility and now Edo is second. They hope that this offer of support which is like free money, when you borrow at one percent with a ten-year moratorium in a country where the lending rate average is 20 percent, then it is free money indeed. Even a fool can see the beauty of this kind of facility; but they only extended it to Edo and Lagos because we have shown capacity to sustain reform, to build transparency, accountability and a procurement process that will ensure that we get value for money. And talking about value for money, look at how much PDP government spent on the Airport road in Abuja. On dry land using granite that you find even on the road. All the money we spent in Edo State over the past six years, both capital and recurrent, is not up to half of what PDP spent constructing Airport Road in Abuja. We looked at their procurement policies, we have contractors that work for them that also work for us, we see their rates as compared to our rates. Everybody can see how much we are getting in terms of value for money compared with PDP. So the loan was a bold testimonial, an acknowledging of the profound reform that we have carried out. They saw the books of Edo State under the PDP for ten years and contrast that with our record of performance under our tenure and it was clear. The only sad thing about this is that people now talk about the $75 million as if it is such a big money; but really it is not when you look at the projects on ground.
But how are you going to spend that money?
We are working in all the sectors; we are not limiting the funds to a particular sector. You see the hospitals we are building in Benin and other areas, we are building a university, we are building schools, we are sustaining our investment in education, we are refocusing on technical education because we realised that a lot of young people graduate and no jobs, they can read and write but no skill. So we want to shift emphasis to technical education. We are not limited to any particular area, we are going to sustain all we are doing. Our urban renewal programme will continue, but don’t forget $75 million is not a big money. If you remember the debate about a kilometre of runway in Abuja that they were going to do for about N15 billion per kilometre, this entire money, by PDP standard, is not more than one kilometre of road. One project we are doing in Edo, the Benin City Water Storm Project which has helped to de-flood the city. When you hear of flood problems in other states, it would have been crazy in Edo if not for this project. We have lost children and families to flood in the past during the PDP reign; but today, it does not happen. That project alone is N30 billion, just drainage and construction of about ten adjourning streets. So we appreciate the money but it is not the kind of money that can do miracles in the life of a state.
Your Committee recently appointed auditors to look at the books of President Jonathan’s administration; you must have discovered some shocking expenditures which led to your action, can we know some of them?
Yes, we have appointed auditors to look at the books and at this point, we will allow them to do their jobs, to carry out a forensic audit. Whatever they come out with, people will know. So I don’t think it will be fair to say much about that.
But you recently said $6 billion was stolen and each time you make such comments, Okonjo-Iweala comes up to dispute them. Are you still insisting that huge funds were stolen?
This is the problem sometimes with the media. Vanguard should publish the three statements made by Okonjo-Iweala because they were all published in the Vanguard. When I said she took N2.1 billion without approval and without knowing what it was used for, she denied and claimed that I lied; that it was approved by the Commissioners under the auspices of FAAC. When the Commissioners met, they said Madam, where is the minute? We never ever discussed this not to talk of approval. In any event, it is not within our competence to approve. She realized that she could not hide under that, she came up to say no, it was the President who approved it. These two statements were published at different times issued by Okonjo-Iweala on the same subject matter. So, the problem I have is that the media sometimes for one reason or the other they don’t follow these stories. If a woman reports in the morning it is Commissioners of Finance, when those people now said no, ‘we were not the one’, she turned around to say it was the President. I expect Vanguard to ask if President Jonathan is in a position to spend the money of the local governments and that of the state governments. And which of this version will you believe, the first one or the second one? Okonjo-Iweala came with two, three versions and the more she tries to cover it, the more she exposes herself. My position remains simple. If you celebrate publishing what you gave to Local Governments and states and Federal, fine, why do you not also publish what is not distributed? Publish the total sum earned, how much was distributed and how much was left in the account for month to month. So that Nigerians, researchers and commentators can follow through the transactions. Not a complicated argument. But I am happy that some editorials have captured this very well so it is not about what Okonjo-Iweala said. She just pretends because she worked in the World Bank and that does not mean angels work in the World Bank. The World Bank has had cause to sack some of its officials. So what the hell are people saying just because she worked at the World Bank.
But we are talking about the issue of stealing money here?
Monumental stealing went on under her watch and supervision. Would she claim she didn’t know? Would she claim she didn’t participate? How could she be paying for fake subsidies? How can she be excused for making payment for fake subsidies some of which EFCC has charged to court? When Sanusi said money was stolen, she was quick to defend even before the books were opened. Everybody knows who her agents are, who were the consultants who were handling all kinds of financial transactions in the Ministry of Finance? Who is Mr. Chi Chi? What is Chi Chi’s relationship with her? I think she does not know people know much more than she thinks. Now the umbrella covering her has been removed and the broom is now sweeping all the dirt they are trying to cover up. We have a duty that those who want to be celebrated must be honest with their jobs. Okonjo-Iweala was not fair to Nigerians. People expected so much from her as a professional but she just buckled. And people have never asked the question which for me is one of the contradictions in our environment: She worked under President Obasanjo and everybody knows the circumstances under which she left – Obasanjo had to move her out of the Federal Ministry of Finance. Till today, nobody has asked that if she was so good, so helpful president Obasanjo moved her out and few years down the road, Jonathan moved her back and even gave her a higher responsibility, why? So, if you are a coordinating minister of the economy, how can you be excused that the economy suffered this kind of haemorrhage from every sector? Where is transparency when people earn and spend as they want? Like I tell people, we all can afford to keep quiet but it will not help us as a nation. It is not my problem it is her problem. I am speaking with facts, she can go to court but the auditors will show the truth.
What did PWC tell the committee?
Now, PWC told us on record that although they were appointed publicly to go and audit, the government of the day did not want the audit and that is why they were forced to audit books that were closed and that was why they came up with a report that was neither here nor there. And look at the way they celebrated that report that meant nothing. How can she defend as she had done that NNPC could spent 47 per cent of their total earnings? And that is more than all the monies allocated to the 36 state governments, the 774 Local Governments plus the Federal Government. How? For me, it is up to our people to choose to keep quiet or speak out, but Okonjo-Iweala is a failure there is no question about that. She cannot withstand rigorous public scrutiny and those she was having these transactions with they are alive and they are all talking, some of them are even singing. So she should know that the umbrella is no more there to cover her and everything is open now. More revelations will come out; much more will come out.
After the report of the audit is published, what next? This would not be the first time that a government would make so much noise about probes and investigations?
We are all stewards in the service of the President. The Federal government will decide what to do with the findings; we are just appointed to help to play a role; the power belongs to the President. The position of the President on this issue is very clear. But it is not in my mouth to say, I am sure when the report is ready, the President will do the needful.
Your colleague governors in the PDP and their party have cried that this war on corruption is selective, do you agree with that?
This is also the problem of the media, PDP crying that the probe is selective, the question you should ask: Who has been in power for sixteen years? Who did the PDP share power with? All the federal institutions were run by the PDP for sixteen years. So should they go to Vanguard or Thisday to find out how NNPC was run? Should they go to Guardian or where? They are the ones who ran the Federal Government and the treasury was in their hands. So where else do you expect the probe to go to? I think we are not just thorough in our commentary. If you monopolise power for sixteen years, you must also monopolize the burden of investigation for that period. I don’t think it is a complex thing to do. And it is silly for people to say it is witch-hunting. So far tell me who has been arraigned in court? And these are the same people who are saying that we need a President with political will, now you have one. Let me tell you, witches will not be celebrated; they will be hunted, particularly when the witches are responsible for the monumental bleeding of the economy. If they are not hunted down, Nigeria cannot make it. This is the only country where people want to celebrate fighting corruption, you are fighting a war and no casualties, is that war? There must be casualties and the casualties must be the witches that were responsible for the wrongdoings that have caused so much pain and anguish in many families in the country.
The worry is that this war on corruption may distract the President from fulfilling his promises to the people?
Good, what did he promise? The President said three issues he was going to deal with. First he said corruption. He said if we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill us; so he will confront it. Two, he said insecurity. We must rebuild, re-motivate and rearm our Armed Forces. The third is the economy so that we can create jobs and eliminate poverty. These are the issues. So how do you fight corruption by not prosecuting proven cases of corrupt practices? There is no distraction there in line with his promises. Don’t forget that our symbol is the broom, you have to use it to sweep. It is not for nothing that the broom is the symbol, it is meant to sweep clean. We must not allow these people to eat their cakes and have it. But the people who want him to just move on and forget about what has happened, let it be business as usual, they can look for another party to vote for. But this government on the basis of his promise, I expect him to keep his word. And what he is doing now is exactly in line with his commitment.
But people are saying that the probe should start from the Obasanjo or others too if it must be total?
Those who said it should start from the Obasanjo era are the ones who have a problem because in normal accounting, you take a five year circle. You look at the years, if it shows that things went wrong beyond that five years, depending on your discovery you can now decide to go further backward. You cannot on the one hand say going to look at what happened in five years is a distraction then on the other hand, you say look at the past ten years, look at sixteen years ago. Then somebody will say please go and look at 1960. So, you have to draw the line. There are matters that are time-based. I don’t think that argument makes sense. But if people have specific issues they want the President to do, I think it is up to them to raise it.
Some Nigerians are equally calling on the President to implement the Confab Report, what is your take on that?
What is the confab report? That we should return to the old National Anthem? People should know that Jonathan put the Confab in place to buy time because he was under severe pressure. In that confusion, he realized that a good section of the Nigerian talking class were idle and he empowered them to go and talk and they talked. For that period, the headline moved away from the Villa to the Conference center, what did they say that was new? The only element there was devolution of power which the conference did not need to tell us; the Constitution already said we should review our revenue formula every five years. For sixteen years, the PDP did not review the revenue allocation formula. Some people said the present Constitution was done by the military it should be reviewed and I said this military people, are they foreign Army? Are they an invasion force? They said oh, they were not elected. Then I asked, the conference delegates, were they elected? All the delegates were appointed. I also had the privilege of appointing some from Edo. Everybody who attended from Edo came from two forces, the ones I appointed and the ones appointed by the former President. What gave them more legitimacy than those elected at the National Assembly? I think people don’t realize that we don’t need a national conference to deal with corruption; you don’t need it to deal with issues of unemployment and other stuff. When people talk about implementing the Confab report, my question is what makes it a legitimate institution more than an elected National Assembly? What is there to implement? They should have got Jonathan to implement it. If you talk of distraction, that will be the distraction. We should build institutions. You have a parliament, you are spending so much to maintain the parliament; the parliament has the powers to do all of the things that are purported to be in that report. Let me tell you, Jonathan who convened that conference did not mean to implement anything from it. And I knew that we did not need that conference to deal with the issues. The diversity of Nigeria is rightly expressed in the composition of the membership of the National Assembly. All we need to do is to deepen the institution. The confab was meant to be a diversion and it achieved some purpose for those who needed it. But they should have put the pressure on Jonathan to implement it, there was enough time for him to start. In Buhari’s campaign, he did not say he was going to implement the confab report, it was never in the manifesto of the APC.
People particularly from the South East are worried that appointments made so far by President Buhari are tilted in favour of the North?
That is not correct; the NNPC MD is not from the North. Ministers have not been appointed, we still have many positions unoccupied. It is still very early for anybody to complain. When we have our son from the South South as President, what did he do for the South South, not to talk of the South East? People should not bring these distractions. I don’t care where anybody comes from. What I care about is, those policies and programmes that will deliver comfort and enhance the welfare of the Nigerian people. I don’t care where the driver comes from. For me, ethnicity is not an issue.
But Ndigbos believe they are being victimized by this administration because they did not vote for APC?
Let me tell you, it is even wrong for anybody to feel that the Igbos did not support APC. They did and I am surprised they have not noticed. If you look at the votes Jonathan got in the East in 2011 and compare to what they delivered in 2015, it is clear that Ndigbo gave Jonathan less support in 2015 than they did in 2011. Where you got 2 milion miracle votes before, this time you got 1 million in 2015, there was something positive in favour of Buhari on that. Even though overall you lost, but in a sense the level of turnout and the number thrown up were not attractive as the PDP had expected. The President has told everybody that he is President of Nigeria, not President of those who voted for him and so far, I have not seen evidence of tribalism. I think it is too early. I have not heard anybody that told me that this appointee made by the President did not merit it. In fact, when I listen to senior military officers, they tell me that the appointment of military chiefs by President Buhari, that if you talk about merit, that was it. Yesterday I saw somebody appointed as Acting Chairman of Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS. You cannot question that appointment. But let me say this, where you come from must not be a qualification. For those who are interested in politics of sharing, I am not interested; I am interested in the politics of baking. If the competent hands come from one family and they will deliver to the nation, so be it. If a Kenyan can be elected as an American President why should we continue to discuss South South or South East? The second Niger Bridge is what Ndigbo needs to ask Jonathan, where is that bridge? They did ground breaking, water-breaking, where is the bridge? When Father Mbaka talked about the shame of Onitsha-Enugu road, people misconstrued his comments. Let me tell you, if the Igbos were marginalized, it was by President Jonathan under the PDP. Even the consultancy they did in the name of the second Niger Bridge, the expenditure they incurred which is not on ground, about $700 million of that was funded from the Sovereign Wealth Fund which is money not belonging to the Federal Government but to the 774 Local Government Areas, the 36 states and of course the Federal Government. We called them to appear before us and they said they spent $700 million from the Sovereign Wealth Fund and I asked them where is the bridge? That $700 million amounted to N140 billion on the second Niger Bridge and that money belongs to the three tiers of government. Okonjo-Iweala was shouting on the need to have a Sovereign Wealth Fund but you can see what they used the money for. Those are the issues the Igbos should ask Jonathan to account for. Where is our bridge? Where is the dual carriage way from Onitsha to Owerri and Enugu? The roads in the South South as Obasanjo will say are embarrassment to the people of the South South. You cannot drive to Yenagoa, no road; so much noise about East West road, where is the road? You go to Akwa Ibom, the Federal roads there are in bad shape. I have listened to governors from the South East, they will tell you there are no roads in the South East. So if the Igbos were marginalized, it was President Jonathan and the PDP. If Nigerians know what these people did, they will stone them to death – jungle justice; $700 million gone on second Niger bridge without any bridge to show.
On the issue of appointments?
So this issue of appointments, the Igbos should ask for good roads, second Niger Bridge, things that will bring development and enhance trade and not concentrate on where the appointments are coming from. Whoever is appointed will not even give you his salary. I want our focus to shift away from who gets what in cake sharing to who is benefiting what from government’s development policies.
There has been this call for the National Assembly members to cut their salaries due to the economic situation, what is your take on that?
There is no question that we all must cut the cost of governance. But as far as I know, the cost of governance is not in salaries, it is not in emolument. It is in wasteful recurrent expenditure by whatever guise they are put. And it is not limited to the National Assembly, that is what everybody should focus on. In Edo State, we tackled the cost of governance and we saved N5 billion in my first year and that does not mean that we cut anybody’s salary or legitimate allowances. When I see reports of people talking about cutting salaries, what is the salary? For instance, I am underpaid. I am entitled to a wage, right and it is not realistic to keep somebody’s pay. Since 1999, the wages of political office holders have not been improved. That does not make sense. We ought to have increased the legitimate wages of political officeholders and cut the non-legitimate ones. If you say a man earns N2 million in a year earns too much, and the person asking you is a clerk earning about N5 million as a supervisor in a bank or the oil industry; so it is not the salary. People who talk about this salary thing keep missing the point. Personnel cost is not synonymous with wages and allowances. It includes travels and all sorts of things, those are the issues to focus on. So those who are talking about salaries are playing into our hands, because anybody you ask will tell you we are not the ones that fixed the salaries and when you check, you find out it is the truth. But that is not the burden of the economy. Nobody tells you how many times you travel, nobody tells you how many people travel with you, these are your decisions and that is where the cost lies. So I think most of those commenting on this salary matter are not informed, the issue is not the salary. Though there is room for cut, but not for salaries. I will not cut my pay, I don’t believe in pay cut. I believe in expenditure cut. Cut down your running cost. Right now, I am entitled to pay rise. I cannot be on the same salary for 16 years, it is wrong. In the face of inflation and massive devaluation of the currency, that is not right. So Nigerians should insist that public officers be well paid on the table, but fight that other wastage in government must be cut. I remember when I was President of NLC. We organized a protest over N5 million furniture allowance. Those are the kind of things. Salary is not the burden; the burden is other hidden costs and they can be dealt with, they can be reduced, they can be eliminated. And they have to be eliminated because with the current realities, if you insist on those wasteful spending, you will have to borrow to sustain them. And if you have to borrow to sustain running cost, where will you get money to do projects that will have impact on the lives of people?
The PDP in Edo State is jostling to oust the APC. They have boasted on several occasions to match your APC come 2016 governorship election. How prepared is your party for the 2016 guber?
To match presupposes that you have legs; but the PDP has no leg now, how can they march? PDP members first have to look for their feet before they talk about matching APC. But for me, the next election is the best we are going to have God willing because it is the first election PDP will be participating in after the merger of the PDP and NNPC has been broken. Don’t forget the words of President Buhari when he said when ACN, ANPP and CPC were merging, the PDP went and reinforced their merger with NNPC, CBN, etc. This election they are going to do in Edo, they will be doing it as PDP in isolation without the merger with NNPC. Secondly, PDP don’t even know how to campaign, they don’t know how to win votes, all they know is to rig. Now the instrument of rigging is no longer in their hands; this is the first time they will not be able to criminalize us, get the Brigade Commander to deploy soldiers to my house, or arrest our youth leaders or criminalize our leaders; this is the time they won’t be able to drag our leaders underground by misusing the armed forces and the police. So it will be nice to see PDP learning to win votes, and speaking to their records in office, whether their performance at the Federal level or their record of service in Edo State. You remember the Esogban of Benin and several other Benin Leaders of Thought, saying, look all those who are ten years and above who know what the PDP did in the state in the past ten years they were in power, that the PDP has huge reparations to pay not to talk about coming back in Edo. Who are they going to field? The next election will be the easiest, mark it. These people are not used to winning votes and that is why they use the word capture. And you know they were in Abuja oxygen and that oxygen has been switched off. They are now in political paralysis, they are now plotting underground and they will remain underground because that is where dead people are kept. So for me the next election is going to be the easiest we will ever have in Edo State because our report card is compelling and PDP’s report card is appalling. I will not say we are waiting for them because there is nobody to wait for there. We are looking forward for next year’s election. Goodluck Jonathan said the last time he came to Edo that Edo will fall and I said no, Goodluck will fall and PDP will fall even in Bayelsa his home state. Play back the tape and find out who was right; Jonathan has fallen and PDP has fallen. And I said Edo will not fall and Edo is standing. We have more members in the House of Assembly now than ever before. In my election, we cleared 18 over 18, all the Local Governments.
But what kind of guber candidate are we expecting from the APC?
We have done it over and over. We have a lot of people who are qualified in APC so it is not a problem at all. Any one of them can lead Edo State.