N17bn budget controversy: What FG, Okonjo-Iwela must do, by SANs

SENIOR lawyers yesterday weighed in on the controversy surrounding claims by former finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala that the National Assembly (NASS) arm-twisted the Federal Government to include N17 billion in the 2015 budget as election expenses.

They welcomed the revelations and urged Okonjo-Iweala to make a formal, detailed complaint to the government, so that it can direct law enforcement agencies to begin an investigation.

They said unless this is done, the revelations would have no effect whatsoever.

Those who spoke included Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) Yusuf Ali, Ahmed Raji and George M. Oguntade.

Okonjo-Iweala, in her book Fighting Corruption is Dangerous: The Story Behind the Headlines, said the N17 billion was besides the NASS N150 billion annual ‘standard’ budget.

She revealed the blackmail and arm twisting tactics that characterised budget passing by the National Assembly during the Goodluck Jonathan administration.

According to her, the National Assembly leadership forced the executive to part with N17 billion before the lawmakers could pass the 2015 budget at a time crude price had gone down drastically.

Oguntade said: “These are very serious and weighty allegations that certainly warrant further probing and investigation.

“To proceed, she (Okonjo-Iweala) will need to make a formal statement on the allegations and supply detailed particulars.

“Whether she is willing to do this is another matter as I doubt any of the prosecuting agencies can act on the basis of what is contained in a book.

“I hope she will do what is necessary to launch a new formal investigation, particularly the identity of the participis criminis.

“If she is not willing to do so, then all her “revelations would have been in vain and of no purpose. No lessons would have been learnt and the extortion will continue unrestrained.”

Raji, who welcomed the revelation, “for historical purposes”, lamented Okonjo-Iweala’s failure to alert the world sooner.

Raji said: “However, if the highly respected former Minister and a World Bank Vice President found the alleged acts or demand by the then National Assembly reprehensible, illegal  and unacceptable, she should have alerted the world and resigned her appointment.

“After all, her job was waiting for her at the World Bank. Had she done that, she would have assisted the system and thereby earned more honour.”

But Ali laid the blame at the doorsteps of Nigerians who make excessive material demands of political office holders, thus pressuring them to accumulate more than their due.

He advised the country to find a way to quell money politics as a long-term solution.

Ali said: “All of us must make up our minds on the kind of government we want to run. For a society to be upright, it’s not about the leaders alone: the followers have a role to play too.

“ We the followers must make up our minds that in our society, we don’t need this kind of occurrences.

“But unfortunately, it is the followers that corrupt leaders in this country, because they make unnecessary material demands of the leaders and the expectations are too high. So, it puts political office holders and the elite under pressure to look for any way to pacify the majority who are always making demands.

“The primaries that produce people to go into office, how are they conducted? Elections, how are they conducted? Until we stop this money politics we will remain in trouble.”

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