$2.1bn arms scandal: Okonjo-Iweala’s claims untenable – Falana
Fiery Lagos lawyer, Femi Falana, on Wednesday, reacted to the rejoinder by Nigeria’s former Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who described as malicious his (Falana’s) application to the Special Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) over her role in the alleged $2.1 billion arms scandal.
Falana had written the International Criminal Court, ICC, asking it to investigate those allegedly involved in the arms deal, including Okonjo-Iweala.
According to Falana, Okonjo-Iweala’s claim not to have anything to do with the arms procurement scandal is fallacious.
In a rejoinder on Monday, Media Assistant to the former minister, Mr. Paul Nwabuiku, in a statement said: “The malicious attempt by Lagos lawyer, Femi Falana to mix Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala up in issues that have nothing to do with her in his letter to the International Criminal Court, ICC, is a desperate joke by an integrity-challenged charlatan. This misadventure shows that the so-called learned lawyer does not have any idea of what the mandate of the ICC is about.”
However, firing back at Okonjo-Iweala, Falana said: “In my application to the Special Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) last week, I requested for investigation into the allegations of crimes against humanity committed by serving and retired military officers and their civilian accomplices. Having diverted over $8 billion earmarked for the procurement of arms and armament for counter insurgency operations, I argued that the suspects who aided and abetted the dreaded Boko Haram sect in the barbaric killing of over 25 soldiers and civilians including children and the displacement of 2 million people ought to be prosecuted at the ICC. However, for having the temerity to request the ICC to investigate the crimes against humanity committed by some former public officers who bear full responsibility for the atrocities perpetrated by the terrorist group Dr. Okonjo-Iweala resorted to the scurrilous attack of my person.
“Her baseless attack is not unusual as she is always quick to deflect criticisms by accusing anyone seeking to hold her to account for her appalling records in government of ulterior political motives. When Professor Chukwuma Soludo alleged that about N30 trillion could not be accounted for under her watch he was described as “an embittered loser in the Nigerian political space.”
“When Comrade Adams Oshiomole questioned the illegal withdrawal of $2 billion from the Excess Crude Account, he was accused of having animus towards her because she had blocked Edo State from obtaining a loan. Therefore, instead of exchanging vulgar abuse with the former Minister, I shall respond to the diversionary allegations which lacerated her response and the attempt to extricate herself from the mass looting of the commonwealth under her watch.”
Continuing, he said: “The claim that I am unfamiliar with the mandate of the ICC shows that Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala has not been following the practice of the court and its active and robust approach to its mandates, in particular with regard to the investigation of crimes in Darfur, the warrant of arrest for Joseph Kony (Uganda), and the warrant of arrest for Ahmad Harun, (Sudan). In many decided cases, the ICC has expanded its mandate to humanitarian issues, aimed at forestalling and impeding the perpetration of crimes which cause gross human rights abuse.
“There is absolutely nothing in the Rome Statute of the ICC to suggest that the court cannot address impunity for enormous financial crimes (and its crippling impact) which took place while Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala was the Finance Minister and the Coordinating Minister of the economy.
“Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s claim that I own the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) is far-fetched and laughable. A simple google search would have shown her that while I am one of the legal advisers of the organization, there are other very distinguished lawyers and academics of international repute on SERAP’s board. Her claim that SERAP is ‘discredit’ is the exact opposite of reckless characterization because it is an organization that has won national and international recognitions—including nomination for the UN civil society award; the Ford Foundation Jubilee Transparency Award; and the Wole Soyinka Anti-Corruption Defender Award.
“Dr. Okonjo-Iweala also claimed that my petition against her to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) “were lacking in credibility”, without any substantiation of what this means or specific rebuttal of the allegations contained in that petition. She has however not denied the accuracy of the claims in my petition. Whereas the former Finance Minister had insisted that only $500 million was recovered from the Abacha loot my petition detailed the recovery of $4 billion. As she could not challenge my claim Dr. Okonjo-Iweala now says that the $500 million was the amount recovered while she was the Minister of Finance under President Obasanjo.
“In making that claim she did not take cognizance of her recent statement that while she gave out $322 million to Col. Dasuki the sum of $700 million had been set aside for development. From her own account, over $1 billion was recovered from the loot under the Jonathan regime when she was coordinating the economy.
“Dr. Okonjo-Iweala should have also provided further explanations as to why a substantial part of the Abacha loot was criminally diverted under her watch, especially in light of her confessional statement that she transferred $322m from the Abacha loot to former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, to prosecute the war on terror. Apart from the said $322m, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala also released £5.5m to Dasuki. Even on this ground alone, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala cannot plausibly claim not to have anything to do with the arms procurement scandal. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s excuse that the said $322m was released due to the urgency of the crisis in the North-East region is untenable having regard to the fact that former President Jonathan had sought the approval of the National Assembly to take a loan of $1bn to equip the armed forces to fight insurgency. Therefore, her self-induced urgency is not a justification for spending public funds without appropriation.
“In the course of my defending several military officers and soldiers who were charged before court-martial for demanding weapons to fight the terrorists I confirmed that the $1 billion loan for arms procurement. I was compelled to request Dr. Okonjo-Iweala for an inventory of the military equipment purchased with the $1 billion loan. The requested inventory was made available to me as the weapons were not purchased.
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has continued to give the erroneous impression that she rendered selfless service to the nation. But while her colleagues who served as Ministers under President Olusegun Obasanjo were paid their salaries and allowances in the local currency she received hers in dollars despite a judgment of the Court of Appeal which had declared the payment illegal and unconstitutional in the case of Fawehinmi v The President (2007) 14 NWLR (Pt 1054) 275. In order to weep up sentiments Dr. Okonjo-Iweala referred to the unfortunate kidnap of her 84-year mother, two years ago. But it is public knowledge that the lumpen elements involved in the kidnap were arrested by the Lagos State Police Command. From the report of police investigation the kidnappers were palace guards who were inspired by sheer avarice. In fact, they were arrested by the Police following the disagreement over the sharing of the N12 million ransom paid to them for the criminal enterprise.
“The most ludicrous of Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala sweeping and jejune allegation is that some “corrupt elements” are using me as a tool. Although the allegation is without factual support it is illogical, to say the least. My request that the disbursement of the Abacha loot be investigated is further buttressed by the fact that the $500m Dr. Okonjo-Iweala claimed was spent on development projects was also not appropriated by the National Assembly, contrary to constitutional provisions. However, I have asked the EFCC to discountenance the 700-page report of the World Bank which has listed some phantom projects executed with the $500 million.
“In the Appropriation Act of 2011, the sum of N245 billion was budgeted for fuel subsidy. But at the end of the year, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala had authorized the illegal payment of about N2.5 trillion to a cabal of fuel importers. As usual, she washed off her hands like Pontius Pilate. In order to unearth the monumental fraud I petitioned the EFCC and gave oral testimony before the House of Representatives Committee which separately investigated it. In the same vein, I have just asked the Group Managing Director of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation under the Freedom of Information Act to provide information on the failure of the NNPC to pay into the Federation Account the sum of $9.7 billion out of the $11.8 billion dividends paid by NLNG from 2004-2014. I have equally demanded information from the NEITI over its claim that the NNPC and some oil companies are indebted to the Federal Government to the tune of $19.1 billion.
“Finally, let me make it abundantly clear that my petitions to the anti graft agencies and the Special Prosecutor of the ICC were anchored on law and facts as there is nothing personal in the ongoing battle to end impunity and retrieve the looted wealth of the nation from corrupt elements and institutions. It is my belief that the recovered loot should be channeled towards job creation and infrastructural development. Therefore, all hands should be on deck to ensure that the recovered loot is not criminally diverted by another set of looters .