Saturday, 18 May 2013
“They Kidnapped My Mom Over the Fuel Subsidy!” Okonjo-Iweala Declares In Wild Claim
Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, in a shocking accusation, declared that the kidnappers of her 83 year old mother were seeking revenge for the government’s decision to end popular gas subsidies.
After a press conference at which she thanked the country for its prayers for her mother’s safe return, she took a sudden turn and launched into a vitriolic attack on presumed members of the ruling People’s Democratic Party of President Goodluck Jonathan who had thwarted her plans to eliminate the oil payments.
"They told (my mother) that I must get on the radio and television and announce my resignation," the minister said. "When she asked why, they told her it was because I did not pay oil subsidy money."
Okonjo-Iweala's mother, Kamene Okonjo, was kidnapped Dec. 9 from her hometown of Ogwashi-Uku in Delta State. During her time held captive, Okonjo received no food or water, her daughter said.
Okonjo-Iweala declined to take questions from journalists at the conference. Her mother was released by her kidnappers Friday. It is unclear if a ransom was paid, though most abductions in Nigeria only end once a payment is made.
As finance minister, Okonko-Iweala was behind a government decision in January 2012 to end subsidies for gasoline, a decision that sparked a major nationwide strike and widespread protests by affected citizens in what some called “Occupy Nigeria.” President Jonathan later reinstated a partial subsidy.
The subsidies are opposed by international finance organization because they are used pay off companies at inflated rates to bring in gasoline because Nigeria does not refine enough oil to meet demand. The oil is then sold at below-market prices.
Gasoline importation licenses are widely seen as a means of patronage, as the number of companies involved jumped from six in 2006 to 140 in 2011. In 2009, when there were 36 companies licensed to import, government officials once issued about $800 million in 128 transactions in a 24-hour period without proper documentation, according to the report.
In recent months, Okonjo-Iweala has again said the subsidy must be entirely removed because the country cannot afford it. That has led to panic gasoline buying and fuel shortages around the country as importers have held back from bringing it in. Citizens also believe the fuel subsidies represent the only benefit they see from the country's oil production, which has benefited the nation's kleptocratic ruling class for decades, according to many reports.