The Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, on Saturday accused the Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, of providing false details on how the federal government tampered with and depleted the Excess Crude Account, ECA, leaving as much as $5 billion(N794 billion) allegedly unaccounted for.
Mr. Amaechi had first accused the government of secretly withdrawing the huge sum for an undisclosed purpose, from the account which itself is illegal. The government says the account retains saved oil funds for the “rainy day”, to be shared between the federal, states and local governments.
At a governors’ forum retreat in Sokoto last week, the Rivers State governor said $5 billion was missing from the account and that the government had failed to account for it.
Responding to the claim Mrs Okonjo-Iweala admitted Wednesday that the sum was used, but said the money augmented the 2013 budget revenue shortfall, monthly allocations to the states, and the Subsidy Reinvestment Empowerment Programme, SURE-P.
Mrs Okonjo-Iweala said the governor’s claim was “shocking” since Rivers State was the second biggest beneficiary of the withdrawals, drawing N56.2 billion between January and September 2013.
Mr. Amaechi admitted on Saturday that Rivers government received N56.2 billion, but said since it was a known procedure that funds in the Excess Crude Account be not tampered with, without the approval of the National Economic Council which includes all state governors, there was no way his government, as well as other states’, would have known the funds they received were from the ECA.
“Since it is not procedural for States to receive allocation from the Excess Crude Account, it may smirk of mischief to suggest as the Honourable Minister did that Governor Amaechi refused to acknowledge ‘Rivers State has received N56.2 billion from the Excess Crude Account between January and September 2013’,” the governor said in a statement by the state commissioner of information and communication, Ibim Semenitari.
The statement said “Neither Rivers nor any other state would have any inkling that the money received by Rivers state government and other state governments for that matter were funded from the ECA.”
Mr. Amaechi also rejected the minister’s claim that his allegation came after he and the other governors “mounted pressure” on President Goodluck Jonathan to share accruals from the Excess Crude Account.
Mr. Amaechi said he and other governors made one request for the funds, and that was for only $1 billion.
“Beyond that one meeting, there has been no other meeting where it was decided that money from the ECA be shared among the three tiers of government,” he said.
The governor said Ms. Okonjo-Iweala’s response to the point of claiming the ECA was used to fund SURE-P, was indeed a confirmation of his allegation that the account had been hijacked by the federal government.
“The Rivers State Government finds it curious and very disturbing that our rainy day savings has been “shared” in complete breach of the known procedure for doing such and in what might be considered an under the table and clandestine manner,” he said.
Subsidy Reinvestment Empowerment Programme, SURE-P, is implemented by the federal government as a developmental scheme funded by funds saved by the government from partial payment of subsidy on petrol.
Funds saved by the government, which should have gone to fuel importers as subsidies, were meant to be used for providing jobs, and building infrastructure.
It is not clear how those projects, with a clear and predictable source of funding, are now being financed from the Excess Crude Account which holds the differential between government’s proposed price of oil, and the real cost.
“Is the Honourable Minister is telling Nigerians that the SURE-P is now being funded from the ECA! Might it then be true as was recently suggested in the National Assembly that over N500billion of SURE-P money may be missing?” he asked.