Apr. 15, 2014
Saharareporters, New York
The Corner House, a United Kingdom non-governmental organization, has urged Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister, to resign her appointment if she finds herself unable to carry out her duties without fear or favour.
The call is contained in an explosive letter dated April 12, and signed by Nicholas Hildyard, a Co-Director of The Corner House. In it, the group expressed the position that the Minister should simply have declared that she was afraid of the reactions of her cabinet colleagues should she take the appropriate action demanded of her office.
Mr. Hildyard was writing in response to the Minister’s response to the NGO’s third letter requesting her intervention to secure for Nigeria some funds being held by UK courts arising from the controversial sale of OPL 245 oil field by Malabu Oil and Gas to Shell and Eni.
To the Minister’s claim that the group’s request was made at unfeasibly short notice since a ruling on the case that had led to the funds being held by the UK courts was imminent, he reminded her that The Corner House first made its request to her in May 2013, to be followed by a second request in September.
“You have therefore had almost a year to act and any suggestion to the contrary is simply risible,” he said.
“You also suggest that it was up to us to take action in the courts to secure the funds. If this is indeed your position, we are gobsmacked,” he stated.
“Non-governmental Organizations are not part of government and cannot intervene to secure funds that belong to governments. They can (as we have done) alert government officials to their duty to act in a case such as this, but they cannot initiate such action. You are the Minister responsible, in your own words, for getting ‘any and all money that belongs to the Federation Account and to root out any fraud that may be there.’ And it was therefore for you to use the powers vested in you by the Nigerian people to secure the funds on their behalf. Instead, you chose not to act.”
The Corner House then told the Minister she should simply have confessed she was afraid of her cabinet colleagues, pointing out that her attitude stands in sharp contrast to the commendable actions of ousted Central Bank Governor Lamido Sanusi who fearlessly raised concerns about the non-repatriation of funds to the Federation Account.
“We are aware that it has been alleged in a UK court that the Attorney General has a corrupt interest in OPL 245 and that the deal is now subject to police investigations in Nigeria and internationally. But Ministers are obliged to carry out their duties without fear or favour. Where this is not possible, the option is always open to resign; indeed remaining in post arguably only serves to reinforce what must be challenged.”
An interesting element of Mr. Hildyard’s letter relates to Dotun Oloko, a colleague of his at The Corner House about whom Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala apparently made some unflattering remarks.
In an open letter to the Minister on March 27, 2014, entitled “It Is Too Late,” Mr. Oloko had alleged that Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala had referred to him as “scurrilous” and “underhanded” for his efforts concerning OPL 245, saying he had tried to make use of an online journal she described as “a disreputable, corrupt and fraudulent online paper to make uninformed remarks about [her] and level false allegations.”
“I can assure you that we shall be providing a substantive response to your letter in due course and it is too late to embellish your blighted veneer,” Mr. Oloko shot back. “The days when corrupt public officials like you, can stand up and say whatever they like in the misguided belief that Nigerians and the wider public will just lap it all up like they used to are coming to an end.”
Two months earlier, on January 7, against the background of the grievous allegations made by in a famous open letter by Nigeria’s former President, Olusegun Obasanjo to President Goodluck Jonathan, he had written another letter to the Minister entitled “Before It Is Too Late.” In it, Mr. Oloko recalled that during an exchange of correspondence with Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, she had expressed some views and opinions he believed should be made public in the wake of that dispute.
“I must therefore call on you to do your duty to God and our country and act on those views and opinions, before it is too late,” he pleaded.
In the strongly-worded letter, Mr. Hildyard alluded to that background, but declined to engage with the Minister about what he called the “unsubstantiated and frankly absurd assertions you make against our colleague Dotun Oloko (whom you single out for a particularly ill-formed ad hominem attack), save to say that his integrity needs no defence.”