Former Finance Minister and Coordinating Minister of the Economy during the Goodluck Jonathan years of 2011 to 2015, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has alleged that Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State once verbally assaulted her over savings in the Excess Crude Account (ECA) and Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF).
She disclosed this in her newest book: ‘Fighting Corruption Is Dangerous, the story behind the headlines’.
Okonjo-Iweala says as oil prices began to plummet circa 2014, she got the backing of then President Jonathan and Vice President Namadi Sambo to save for the rainy day. However, she adds, powerful state governors were having none of it.
“Oil prices had recovered from their 2008 lows and were hovering near $86 a barrel in August 2011. There was no reason not to save more. I sounded the alarm right away and continued to press the point at every opportunity.
“My insistence on savings was backed by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and Vice President Namadi Sambo. The Vice President was Chair of the National Economic Council (NEC), the monthly forum designed to bring the federal and state governments together to discuss national economic policy”, she wrote.
“The issue of savings, the rationale for it, and modalities for doing so were most often debated at the NEC. The strong support of the president and vice president enabled us to engage the governors in 2012 and 2013 and to rebuild the country’s fiscal buffers. As a result, the country had saved about $9billion in the ECA by the end of 2013”.
A year before the general elections, Okonjo-Iweala writes, the governors turned on her for insisting on savings.
“By the beginning of 2014, the governors began to argue constantly in the NEC that there was no need to save money for “these rainy day funds”—as I had termed them—because it was already raining, the roof was caving in, and money should be spent to take care of the multiple needs of their states.
“The chief opponent of these arguments to deposit savings in the SWF or the ECA was Governor Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State, chair of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF). He was strongly supported by Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo state, who was very vocal in voicing his disapproval and his suspicions of the federal government’s management of the ECA; Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola of Lagos State, a lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) who objected on constitutional grounds; and Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom state, later chair of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) Governors Forum.
“Others, such as Governor Peter Obi of Anambra state, argued for savings but were not supported. Their voices were drowned out and NEC sessions became unpleasant when this topic arose”.Verbal assault
Okonjo-Iweala recalls one particular NEC meeting with the governors where tempers flared.
“I recall one session early in 2014, where I was quizzed, harangued and bullied by some governors and then verbally assaulted by Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State. The vice president had to intervene to tell Governor Aregbesola that people might carry on aggressively in his state capital but that such behavior would not be tolerated in the meeting or in Abuja.
“The vice president’s firm stance and his support ended the abuse. Although some of Governor Aregbesola’s fellow governors apologized to me after the meeting, I felt very uncomfortable after the verbal attacks and decided to limit my attendance at NEC meetings as much as possible and to keep my distance from the hostile governors. Some of these same governors—particularly Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State—spearheaded attacks against me after I left government in 2015, trying to tarnish my name with false accusations of corruption.
“The pressure from the governors to share the accumulated savings was overwhelming. Over the months, money that should have been safeguarded to secure the country against a fall in oil prices was shared with the states. By the end of 2014, the ECA had been spent down to $2.3billion. There was pressure to share even that as the 2015 elections drew closer. But we held the line, leaving some resources in the coffers for the new government”, Okonjo-Iweala says.