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Reps may summon Okonjo-Iweala over N1.17bn grant

Ngozi Okonjo Iweala
The House of Representatives is seeking detailed information on how the N1.17bn approved by former President Goodluck Jonathan for the Sokoto Rima River Basin Development Authority was reversed by a ministerial directive last May.
It was learnt that the House may summon the immediate past Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, for allegedly reversing Jonathan’s approval in controversial circumstances, thereby denying the agency of the funds.
The PUNCH learnt on Sunday that an ad hoc committee of the House chaired by a Peoples Democratic Party lawmaker from Delta State, Evelyn Oboro, was interested in knowing how a ministerial directive could override a presidential approval and what the money was used for after it was stopped.
A preliminary finding of the committee indicated on Sunday that the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation paid the money into the accounts of the SRRBDA on March 9, 2015 for the purpose of funding the projects of the river basin after Jonathan’s approval.
However, the committee noted that the same money was stopped and withdrawn in two tranches within a week in May 2015 by a ministerial directive.
The committee stated, “The conduct of post mortem after payments does not seem to promote transparency and accountability.
“We are interested in who applied for the withdrawal since payment was initiated through an application by the SRRBDA.
“More importantly, there is a need to know how a ministerial directive can override a presidential approval.
“We also want to know where the money was returned to after it was withdrawn from the account of the authority. We are interested in how to make agencies of government responsive to the people.
“This is an organisation that can bring a whole lot to the agricultural sector in that region and the country as a whole, yet through whatever we have yet to understand, it was being deliberately starved of funds. We are determined to get to the bottom of the matter.”
Findings indicated that the committee had been meeting with officials of the authority, the office of the AGF and the Central Bank of Nigeria up till Friday last week, but did not seem to get satisfactory answers on what exactly transpired.
Officials of the CBN merely told the committee that the apex bank, as a banker to the government, acted on instructions from the office of the AGF to either pay or stop payments.
On its part, the AGF’S office told the committee that it passed directives to the CBN as communicated to it by the minister.
The committee did not specify whether it would invite Okonjo-Iweala for clarification, but only said it would continue to investigate the transaction.