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Tuesday, 7 June 2016

How we were pressured to squander $18bn excess crude saving — Jonathan


Former President Goodluck Jonathan speaking at the Bloomberg Studio in London
Former President Goodluck Jonathan speaking at the Bloomberg Studio in London

Former President Goodluck Jonathan has spoken out about how the excess crude oil revenue account, which stood at over $20 billion at the inception of his administration, was depleted to about $2 billion when he left office on May 29, 2015.

Answering questions on an interview programme with Bloomberg TV, Mr. Jonathan blamed the state
governors for regularly pressurizing the federal government to draw from the reserve fund to augment revenue allocations from the federation account.

“At any time the earnings (from oil) drop, the governors would insist that there is no place in our laws that actually say that the federal government should keep the reserve,” Mr. Jonathan said. “They always insisted that a part of it (excess crude revenue account) should be brought.”

He said there had always been misconception about the excess crude account, pointing out that while a number of people felt it was a reserve fund for the rainy day, others said it was fund that could be drawn from in times of economic difficulty.

“Yes, it is also part of our own reserves. But, when I was there, I tried to make a special fund called a sovereign wealth fund, so that it would not be easy for one to take from there,” the former president said.

Asked to react to claims by the current administration that it inherited empty treasury at inception of its tenure, Mr. Jonathan said that could not be true, arguing that there was no way the administration would have inherited empty treasury and still be able to give bailout to states the way it did.
On the diversification of the economy away from oil, the former president said his administration did

“very well”, particularly in encouraging manufacturing and industrialization as well as agricultural development, which he said got to its peak within the five years he was in power.
He spoke of the agriculture transformation agenda of his administration, which he described as not only the best since the history of the country, but also one that received global acclaim.

According to him, it was the administration’s achievements in the agricultural sector that recommended the then minister of agriculture, Akinwumi Adesina, to be elected president of the African Development Bank.
He however expressed regrets that his administration did not succeed much in the solid mineral sector, despite its efforts to attract investors.

“The blue print and everything was worked out. So, if somebody says I did not diversify the economy, I will say that is not true,” he said. “Of course, I was president of Nigeria. Sometimes, when people ask me question, it would seem I was the president of Nigeria from Independence till 2015. I was president for five years.”

On the perception among Nigerians that corruption was rampant during his administration. Mr. Jonathan said there was nothing new about such perception, pointing out that that had always been the case since the country’s independence.

“Perception is based on what people say,” the former president said. “In Nigeria, somehow it has been a routine. From the collapse of the First Republic, what the military said was the reason for taking over was corruption.

“When the Second Republic collapsed, the same was the story. If there is a major change in government where one political party is taking over power from another one, there must be issues that would be raised.

“Yes. I cannot say the country, from beginning of independence, there was no corruption. Yes, there was corruption. I did well to cut down on corruption. My approach was not to make money available to anybody to touch,” he said.

The former president said although his administration succeeded in eliminating corruption in fertilizer subsidies, his attempt to extend same to the oil industry was frustrated.

“The very people that have been accusing us of corruption are the very people that frustrated it. It’s unfortunate,” he lamented.

On whether he would come under investigation by the present administration for corruption, Mr. Jonathan said he was already under probe but that he was reserving his comments on the matter, arguing that it was improper to make comments while investigation was still on.

“Of course, obviously I will be investigated. I am being investigated. Yes, investigations are going on. But, I wouldn’t want to make certain comments, because when a government is working, it is not proper for immediate past president to make certain statements.

“I will allow the government to do the work it is supposed to do. So, I would not want to make serious comments on that. Definitely it’s not proper. After all these investigations and so on, the whole story will be properly chronicled. It is not a good practice. I have just left office. I should allow the person that is on the seat to do what he feels is good for the country,” he said.

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