President Jonathan missed the point on missing N30trn – Charles Soludo

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In his interview with ThisDay newspaper published last
Sunday February 22nd, President Jonathan accused
former CBN Governor Charles Soludo of being political
with his claims that N30 trillion had gone missing
under the watch of the Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi
Okonjo-Iweala. What President Jonathan said about
Soludo’s claims below and Soludo’s response after the
cut…
“So you’ll see that there is a lot of politicking
about some of the serious issues. Not too long
ago I read in one of the papers, I think Vanguard,
that former chief economic adviser to President
Obasanjo who also went to become a CBN
governor… Soludo is a professor and first class
material. Yes, making a first class in economics,
he is a brilliant person. His secondary school
records are fantastic. So by all standards he is a
brilliant person. So the Vanguard wrote that he
accused Ngozi; that N30 trillion was stolen under
the watch of Ngozi in four years. Ngozi became a
finance minister, let’s say from 2011 till date.
From that time till now, our annual budget is
between N4.3 trillion and N4.9 trillion. So even if
you put all together, it is about 18 plus trillion
naira, & not 30 trillion.
The budget for these four years is less than N20
trillion, but Soludo said that under Ngozi’s watch
they stole N30 trillion. This is in the papers, social
media, stored in the clouds and will continue to be
there. And when you type it in it will come out
that during President Jonathan’s time they stole
N30 trillion. We asked Ngozi how her colleagues in
the World Bank saw the accusation and she said
they were laughing and couldn’t believe it. There
are certain things that you just cannot believe and
if that is coming from somebody considered to be
cerebral like Professor Soludo, then of course you
know what the ordinary person would say. It is all
political”President Jonathan said.
Professor Soludo reacted to this interview by releasing
an article this evening. See it below…
My attention has been drawn this morning to an
article entitled: “Jonathan Replies Soludo over
“missing N30 trillion” claim”— extracting from Mr.
President’s interview as published by Thisday
newspaper.
ThisDay quoted Mr. President as saying that
“Soludo said that under Ngozi’s watch they stole
N30 trillion” but that since the sum of the federal
budget over the last four years was less than N30
trillion, such an amount could not have been
“stolen”.
According to the President, “it is all political”. I
had earlier stated that I would not make further
comments on the issues until probably after the
elections but since Mr. President has decided to
join the fray, I am constrained to make a further
brief clarification.
For me, President Jonathan is a gentleman and a
friend but I have a fundamental disagreement on
his management of the economy. On the issues at
stake, I believe that the pressures of office and
the hectic electioneering campaigns have not
allowed him time to read my articles or that his
staff have not explained the contents to him
hence he totally missed the point in his
comments. For the avoidance of doubt, let me
clarify as follows:
1. In my article entitled “Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and
the Missing Trillions”, I presented some rough
calculations covering: oil theft, money that ought
to accrue to stock of foreign reserves, unbudgeted
oil subsidy payments, customs duty waivers,
leakages through the self-financing government
parastatals, unremitted sums by NNPC, etc.
I concluded that section of my article by noting
that: “I have a long list but let me wait for now. I
do not want to talk about other ‘black pots’ that
impinge on national security. My estimate,
Madam, is that probably more than N30 trillion
has either been stolen or lost or unaccounted for
or simply mismanaged under your watchful eyes
in the past four years”.
2. It is evident that the monies I referred to are
“off-budget”. These are monies that did not make
it to the budget. I find it funny that the
Government deliberately avoided the issues raised
above but instead has sought to divert attention
by focusing on the “federal budget”.
Let me state for the record that I believe that the
amount of resources that are either stolen from
the economy or out-rightly mismanaged by
government far exceeds the federal budget per
annum.
Ours is about a N100 trillion economy, and I will
be shocked if the government pretends that it
does not know that currently about 10% of the
GDP falls into a ‘black hole’ on annual basis.
We have not added figures based on
counterfactual analysis such as the cost to the
aggregate economy of bad or misguided economic
policy. For example, in today’s Thisday
newspaper, a headline news reports that “Aliko
Dangote, Africa’s Richest Man, Loses $7.8 Billion
as Naira, Stocks Plunge” while reporting that “In
dollar terms, the devaluation has knocked more
than $40 billion off the value of Nigeria’s
economy”. Of course, most people predicted that
oil prices would soon fall but we were caught
unprepared, and today, the parallel market
exchange rate is N225 to the dollar.
Thus, the kind of analysis in today’s Thisday is
just one little example of the kind of collateral
damages–‘costs’ or ‘losses’– that
mismanagement foists on the system. To repeat,
my article did not focus on the federal budget: the
mismanagement of the consumption budget and
its unprecedented debt accumulation (with low
value-for-money expenditures) are entirely
different matters.
3. What I found particularly disconcerting as a
Nigerian from the comments I read is the fixation
to validation from the World Bank. According to
Mr. President, “we asked the Minister how her
colleagues at the World Bank saw the accusation”.
I shook my head in disbelief. It is instructive that
no one asked what Nigerians thought or ‘how
Nigerians saw it’ but rather what was important
to government was the impression of the World
Bank. If this is the mind-set of our leaders, then
ordinary citizens have real cause to worry.
Well, I have read several editorial comments of
Nigerian media and they do not agree with the
‘impression’ of the World Bank official. I read a
similar comment by a high government official
stating that World Bank officials and CNN had
told them that government was doing well and
therefore who else could question them.
But neither the World Bank nor CNN conducts
comprehensive independent surveys on the
economy— they comment based on the data they
are given— and their subjective “opinions” cannot
substitute for hard facts.
The World Bank is not a statistical agency. I can
provide a long list of countries that World Bank
reports praised as ‘star performers’ and they
slumped into deep crisis almost immediately after.
Check out the World Bank and IMF reports on the
US and other countries’ economies shortly before
the unprecedented global financial and economic
crisis in fifty years (the Great Recession of
2008/09).
Actually for many countries once they start
getting such ‘praises’, then perceptive officials
begin to worry. Nigeria is probably the only
country where its government officials quote the
World Bank while ignoring data from its own
statistical agency!
A serious concern is that while government relies
on external validation (opinion) as ‘proof’ of its
performance, it is selective in the process—
accepting the positive ones and disparaging the
negative ones. Our recent exchanges illustrate the
point. In my first article (26th January): “Buhari
Vs Jonathan: Beyond the Elections”, I argued that
“the economy seems to be on auto pilot, with
confusion as to who is in charge, and government
largely as a constraint.
There are no big ideas, and it is difficult to see
where economic policy is headed to. My thesis is
that the Nigerian economy, if properly managed,
should have been growing at an annual rate of
about 12% given the oil boom, and poverty and
unemployment should have fallen dramatically
over the last five years”. No one has credibly
challenged the above, except what the Financial
Times of London described as a “furious response
by the Minister”. But, the influential Economist
Magazine of London and New York Times agreed
with us. According to the Economist editorial (7th
February, 2015):
“… as Africa’s biggest economy stages its most
important election since the restoration of civilian
rule in 1999, and perhaps since the civil war four
decades ago, Nigerians must pick between the
incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan, who has proved
an utter failure, and the opposition leader,
Muhammadu Buhari….
The single bright spot of his rule has been
Nigeria’s economy, one of the world’s fastest-
growing. Yet that is largely despite the
government rather than because of it, and falling
oil prices will temper the boom. The prosperity
has not been broadly shared: under Mr Jonathan
poverty has increased. Nigerians typically die
eight years younger than their poorer neighbours
in nearby Ghana”. I gave the Government an “F”
grade on economic management, and the
Economist described its performance as “utter
failure”.
The Economist also basically agreed with me that
the re-basing of the economy and its observed
‘growth’ have nothing to do with government
policy. Again, government has not credibly
challenged the above or is the Economist’s view
also ‘all political ’? Government simply waved it
off. My point is that if Government has to rely on
the “impressions” of external bodies, then it should
be consistent and comprehensive.
4. In conclusion, let me re-state that I firmly stand
by my earlier statements. These are weighty
statements which I weighed carefully before
issuing. I appreciate that this is an election time
and so attempts would be made to trivialize, or
either play politics with, or divert attention from,
them. In a serious society, we should have had a
good debate on these matters as they could
provide some of the building blocks in trying to
pick the pieces after the elections.
Part of our citizen duty in a democracy is to raise
such issues and demand for answers. In the
meantime, I grant that our leaders are busy with
campaigns but these issues won’t go away until
we have a transparent resolution. Be assured that
after the elections, we will be back with even
more questions!

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