Okonjo-Iweala, who briefed journalists on the state of the economy, yesterday said she was not ready to be drawn into political issues as she has a job to do in managing the nation’s economy, adding that she works for President Goodluck Jonathan and was therefore answerable to him. Replying to the call by Rivers State governor Rotimi Amaechi-led Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) to resign, the minister said that the economy remained strong despite the current shortfalls in revenues.
But a member of Plateau State governor Jonah Jang-led NGF and Delta State governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, yesterday rose in defence of the minister, insisting that all the revenue-collecting agencies of the federal government should be asked to provide answers for the bad state of the economy.
The Amaechi-led NGF had, in a five-point communiqué at the end of its meeting at the Rivers State Governor’s Lodge, in Asokoro, Abuja, asked the finance minister to resign if she could not redress the situation by adhering strictly to the contents of the Appropriation Act.
But Uduaghan who spoke to newsmen in Lagos yesterday insisted that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, should account for where all the revenue generated through crude oil sales had gone.
Okonjo-Iweala maintained that the budget is only an estimate of spending based on expected revenues and are dependent on two major variables, oil production volume and price in the international market, both of which are beyond the control of the Ministry of Finance. “Nigeria produces oil from the ground and sells it at a price in the international market. These two variables are not under the control of the Ministry of Finance,” she said, noting that while the price of crude oil has not been an issue, the level of production has been below the budgeted estimates.
“I will not involve myself in political issues with the state governors. We are here to manage the economy for the good of the nation and what we are doing here is based on facts on the ground. I am minister for the economy, I am working for President Goodluck Jonathan and I am answerable to him. Do I look like someone who is preparing to resign? I am not resigning; I dey kampe. I have a very committed and dedicated team and so I am not going to respond to such issues,” she stated.
“We are taking a prudent approach because that is what other countries are doing so we are not caught off guard in the face of volatilities and uncertainties.”
Uduaghan also said, “There was a call by some of my colleagues yesterday on the minister of finance to resign if she cannot manage the economy. While I know that this month’s FAAC meeting has been suspended indefinitely as there is not enough money available to share, calling on the minister to resign is not the way to go.
“’We know that this year’s budget is predicated on the sale of 2.3 million barrels of crude oil at the benchmark of $79, but we have been consistently selling the product above $100. While we complain of theft of about 400,000 barrels of crude oil, I know that we have been able to reduce the theft to about 80,000 barrels.
“The question that we should ask ourselves as a nation and directed at the NNPC is: where has all the money gone, to the extent that we cannot hold FAAC meeting this month,’’ Uduaghan said.
He said that the implication of the grim financial position of the economy is that some states may not be in a position to pay workers’ salary at the end of the month.
While Uduaghan admitted that the world economy is undergoing tremendous stress now due to high unemployment, particularly among the youths, he wondered why the country would be broke when most of the revenue-collecting agencies of government are doing fine.
He, however, said that Delta State has been pro-active in looking at how to generate revenue without depending on the federal government.
“We have been in the forefront of looking at how to generate revenue beyond oil, and that is why we have been championing Delta State Beyond Oil, which the federal government is now trying to key into,” he said.
On the crisis rocking the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Governor Uduaghan said the crisis would be resolved with time but described what happened at the National Assembly on Tuesday as unfortunate.
Uduaghan also supported the call for a national conference where Nigerians would sit at a roundtable and discuss the various crises rocking the country and the way forward.
“I have been calling for a national conference in the past three years and now that other leaders are thinking in that line now, it is better. We need to sit down and talk,’’ Uduaghan said.
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