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Fuel subsidy thieves threatened my life, Okonjo-Iweala says

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World Trade Organisation (WTO) Director-General anf former Nigeria’s Foreign and Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala speaks during the press conference of the G20 High Level Independent Panel (HLIP) during the G20 finance ministers and central bankers meeting in Venice on July 9, 2021. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

The director-general of World Trade Organisations (WTO) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has said she received death threats when she tried to sanitise Nigeria’s fuel subsidy payments to some marketers during the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan.

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Okonjo-Iweala served as the country’s finance minister under Jonathan. She was also the coordinating minister of the economy.

She previously held the same position under the regime of President Olusegun Obasanjo, during which her efforts led to the cancellation of the $18 billion Paris debt.

“We had an oil subsidy system in which we used to pay marketers,” Okonjo-Iweala told the Atlantic Council, an American think-tank on international affairs.

“Oil marketers who brought in refined oil, you know, we paid them the difference between the market price and the subsidised price that the government was mandated for selling oil to people.

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“And so, that was when I came the second time. This was a big problem. When I left government the first time in 2006, these subsidies were about $2 billion, when I came back, the first thing we noticed was that it had grown to $11 billion.

“So, I asked President Jonathan that we could audit the oil accounts which he fully supported. When we audited, $8.5 billion of the accounts, we found $2.5 billion of fraudulent claims and with his backing, we refused to pay that to the marketers and that led to a series of problems, which I won’t bore you with, including threats to my life.”

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Apart from the death threats, the WTO boss also had to endure the kidnapping of her mother for five days. She believed the kidnapping was a part of the effort aimed at halting her reforms.

“My mother being kidnapped for five days was one of the worst periods of my life and it was a very tough period,” Okonjo-Iweala said.

Despite the ugly episodes, the WTO DG insisted that “the privilege of serving my country as finance minister for several years, to being able to work on some reforms is one of the best things I have ever done.”

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