NOT surprisingly, the Federal Government has yet to deliver on its promise to release the forensic audit report of the $20 billion that allegedly went missing from the accounts of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. Early this year, Lamido Sanusi, then the Central Bank of Nigeria Governor, had accused the NNPC of failing to remit $20 billion oil proceeds into the Federation Account.
Sanusi, now the Emir of Kano, had alleged in February that the NNPC had not paid $20 billion of proceeds from oil sales between January 2012 and July 2013 to the Federation Account. But the Finance Ministry put the contentious figure at “only” $10.8 billion. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Finance Minister said, “Initially, it was $48 billion, then $20 billion; but the figure we have always had is $10.8 billion.” The conflicting figures were not resolved until President Goodluck Jonathan suspended Sanusi as CBN governor in February.
When the furore refused to subside in spite of Sanusi’s ouster, Okonjo-Iweala gave categorical assurances last May at the 24th World Economic Forum for Africa meeting in Abuja, that a forensic audit would be carried out by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, and would “last for 16 weeks under the supervision of the Accountant-General of the Federation.” She later promised the report would be ready in November. But the forensic audit report is yet to be released now that the year is running to an end.
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An Online Law Dictionary says forensic audits are performed by a class of professionals with skill-sets in both criminology and accounting who specialise in following a money trail, keeping track of fraudulent and actual balance sheets and checking for inaccuracies in overall and detailed reports of income or expenditures. It is said that a forensic audit can be conducted in order to prosecute a party for fraud, embezzlement or other financial claims.
But what is our Finance Minister up to in ordering the forensic auditing? Is it the usual diversionary strategy of just dousing the tension that has stalled every investigation of waste, fraud and corruption in the Federal Government? Has the fraud allegation been swept under the carpet again? Every time government obstructs investigations into fraud, it ends up encouraging even more wrongdoing and impunity.
The Senate Finance Committee, which presumptuously cleared the NNPC of any missing money after its own hazy investigation, created another round of controversy by giving the corporation and the government a soft landing. Basing its report on the fact that the NNPC withheld $20 billion out of $67 billion due to the Federation Account, because it was spending money to subsidise petrol and kerosene imports on behalf of the government, only stoked the fire.
As usual, the Senate failed in its primary duty of acting as a watchdog of the executive arm of government though it agreed that the money the NNPC spent or deducted was not appropriated. Curiously, it only called for the removal of subsidies and that the government should send in a supplementary budget to cover the money illegally spent.
But we need to know. Without further delay, the minister, who also coordinates the economy, has to come clean with Nigerians about the audit. We are worried that if the report is not made public now, it might never see the light of day as the nation is entering into an election period, a time when every other thing is subsumed under politics. Many thought the government’s action was merely a ploy to sweep the matter under the carpet. With the pervasive opacity in the affair, they might have been right.
In a properly run economy that thrives on accountability and the rule of law, Petroleum Minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, and top NNPC officials concerned would have resigned their appointments for a proper investigation to hold, or the government would have taken steps to sanction them. Two months ago in Japan, the industry and justice ministers resigned the same day from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration over allegations of illegal use of campaign funds.
It is disturbing that state governors have been quite silent about the missing funds. Civil society groups should not join this conspiracy of silence. It is impracticable to know exactly how much Nigeria loses to waste, fraud and corruption through the NNPC annually. In a shocking 2012 report, the Nuhu Ribadu committee on Petroleum Revenue Task Force put it conservatively at $35 billion over the last 10 years. This time round, the money involved is not a trifle. It will come in handy for an economy facing lower revenues. At this time when state governors are calling for another raid on the Excess Crude Account to augment their income, this is money that can go some way in bailing them out.
The NNPC should be made to toe the path of openness and honour in the way it runs its affairs. As Barack Obama puts it poignantly, “Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their government is doing. My administration will … disclose information rapidly in forms that the public can readily find and use.” An organisation that contributes 80 per cent to the treasury should be transparent about its activities. Its perennial reliance on a dubious self-accounting status has done more damage than good to the country. The parliament should expedite action on removing the secrecy in the operations of the NNPC.
The result of the forensic audit should be made public now.