Embattled former minister of finance in Nigeria, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has reacted to allegations that she diverted a substantial part of loan of $1billion from the Chinese Exim Bank, meant for the construction of a standard gauge rail line linking Lagos and Kano states.
The former supervising minister of the economy, who has been under fire in recent months for misappropriation of funds under her watch, took to the social media to make clarifications on the recent allegations against her.
The statement signed by Paul Nwabuikwu, Okonjo-Iweala's media officer, noted that there were distortions in the reports making rounds, especially because those making the allegations did not get their facts straight.
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The statement read in part: "since this story was first reported, we have continued to receive media inquiries regarding an allegation reportedly made by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Transport, Alhaji Mohammed Bashar, that a substantial part of a $1bn loan obtained from the China-EximBank by the Jonathan administration for a Kano-Lagos rail project was diverted to other projects.
"I want to state categorically that there is no truth in the reported allegation. Anyone who is interested can cross-check with the China-EximBank or the Chinese Embassy.
"It is noteworthy that even though President Buhari, in his reported comments on the allegation, made no reference to Dr. Okonjo-Iweala but rightly stressed the need for due process and transparency in the execution of public projects, a sponsored media campaign has once again been launched by political elements to make the former Minister the culprit in a non-existent scandal.
"The alleged diversion has no substance for the simple reason that the Kano-Lagos project was not even among the projects presented for funding by the China Exim Bank for several strategic infrastructural projects across the country.
"In fact, it was the Lagos–Ibadan rail project, not Lagos-Kano rail project that was proposed in the original application to the China-EximBank. But in the end, no funds were assigned for the Lagos-Ibadan rail project by the China-EximBank.
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"The fact which can be confirmed is that the following projects which are at various stages of progress are being funded from facilities obtained from the China-EximBank: $500m for the expansion of four International Airport Terminals in Lagos, Kano, Abuja and Port Harcourt, $500m for the Abuja Light Rail project, $984m for the Zungeru Hydro-electric power project, $100m for the Galaxy Backbone project.
"It is also important to note that even if the alleged project was on the list of China-EximBank funded projects, diversion of any Chinese funds would have been extremely difficult because the terms of the contract and the processes would simply not have permitted such action."
While explaining appropriately the procedure to obtain the loans from the China-EximBank, Nwabuiku said: "the procedure is that funds for approved loans remain in the China-EximBank and are released directly to the Chinese firm executing the contract only after the presentation of duly certified proof of work by the responsible Ministry, in this case it would have been the Federal Ministry of Transport, based on the agreed milestones.
"For the sake of emphasis, the China-EximBank does not disburse money directly to government and therefore the issue of diversion does not arise.
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"This is yet another example of the kind of whispering campaign of calumny, innuendo, misinformation, and outright distortions being perpetrated by certain political elements against Dr. Okonjo-Iweala in a bid to try to damage her reputation.
"We are confident that those behind this campaign will continue to fail.
"We respectfully request the media to refrain from attaching Dr. Okonjo-Iweala's name and photographs to spurious and unfounded allegations. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala as a Nigerian citizen in a democracy, a citizen who has served her country with honesty and integrity, also has some fundamental rights to justice and fair play."
The former minister was recently summoned by the Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari over the diversion, but her recent comments may have cleared the air on the allegations.