Abuja - The Minister of Information, Mr Lebaran Maku, in Abuja on Sunday debunked allegations that the Federal Government `` squandered’’ 67 billion dollars foreign reserve of the country.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), recalls that Dr Oby Ezekwesili, a former Minister of Education, made the allegation in a convocation lecture she delivered at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State.
Maku told a news conference that the claims of Ezekwesili, a former World Bank Vice- President for Africa, were outlandish.
He said that as a former minister in Nigeria, her statement ``betrays a surprisingly limited understanding’’ of government’s finances considering the high positions she held in Nigeria.
The minister said that government found it necessary to respond to her claims as Nigerians might be susceptible to believe her because of the positions she held in Nigeria and at the World Bank.
``The statement by the former World Bank vice- president that the governments of Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan have squandered 67 billion dollars in reserves, including 45 billion dollars in external reserves, 22 billion dollars in Excess Crude
Accounts left by the Obasanjo administration at the end of May 2007, is factually incorrect.
``At the end of May 2007, Nigeria’s gross reserves stood at 43.13 billion dollars, comprising the CBN’s external reserves of 31.5 billion dollars; 9.43 billion dollars in excess crude account and 2.18 billion dollars in Federal Government’s savings.
``These figures can be independently verified from the CBN’s records: the figure of 67 billion dollars alleged in her statement is, therefore, clearly fictitious,” he said.
Maku, however, said that after the administration of Obasanjo, the reserves rose from 43.13 billion dollars in May 2007 to 62 billion dollars in September 2008.
He said during the time when oil prices fell from 147 dollars per barrel to 31.7 dollars in September 2011 and the global financial crisis, the CBN had to intervene to defend the value of the naira.
The minister said that the excess crude savings, a component of the reserves, was then used to stimulate the economy to the tune of about one billion dollars and Nigeria had no need for foreign assistance in combating the meltdown.
Maku said it was fallacious to say that the government dipped its hands into the foreign reserves as government could not do that.
``It is important to note that the Federal Government cannot dip its hands into external reserves.
``Like in other countries, the management of external reserves is one of the statutory mandates of the CBN.
``Section (2) sub-section (c) of the CBN Act (2007) states that the bank shall maintain external reserves to safeguard the international value of the legal tender currency.
``To defend the value of the naira, no president since the democratic dispensation, has contravened this Act,” Maku said.
He said that the former minister’s aspersion on the education sector was ``somewhat disingenuous and borderline hypocritical’’ since she was the education minister between 2006 and 2007.
He queried her impact on the sector given the huge sums that were allocated to the sector during her tenure as minister.
``During her tenure as minister of education between 2006 and 2007, she collected a total sum of N352.3 billion from direct budgetary releases.
``In addition, she received about N65.8 billion under the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) Fund and over N40 billion from the Education Trust Fund (ETF).
``What did she do with all these allocations? What impact did it have on the education sector?” he asked.
The minister acknowledged the numerous challenges facing the country but stressed that government was working tirelessly to solve the problems.