Chuks Okocha writes that the lingering controversy between the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and the Central Bank of Nigeria over alleged unremitted oil proceeds is a national embarrassment
In the last five months or thereabout, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has been in the news for the wrong reasons. In September of 2013, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi had raised the alarm through a letter to President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan that the NNPC had not remitted the sum of $49.8 billion it made from sales of petroleum products into the CBN accounts as it ought to.
The letter to the president which was meant to be confidential was however â€˜leakedâ€™ to former president Olusegun Obasanjo and subsequently, the press. The allegation became a topical issue in the media and a subject of public discourse. The Senate immediately waded in but that was after the NNPC, had dismissed Sanusiâ€™s alarm as false and lacking in the understanding of the workings of its financial transactions.
The corporation had insisted that no such money was missing and the Senate in its wisdom invited Sanusi, the Minister of Petroleum, Diezani Allison-Madueke, and the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, for clarifications.
At the meeting with the Senator Ahmed Markafi chaired Committee on Finance, the CBN governor said a reconciliation team comprising the officials of the apex bank, the NNPC and the finance ministry had discovered that it was not $49.9 Billion that was missing but $12.8 billion.
Okonji-Iweala pointed out before him and in the presence of the committee that the reconciliatory team found that it was $10.8 billion that was yet to be reconciled.
Instructively, the CBN governor didnâ€™t take objections to that. Instead, he raised another alarm of $67 billion worth of crude shipped by the NNPC between January 2012 and July 2013, of which only a remittance of $47 Billion was in the CBN records, leaving a shortfall of $20 Billion unaccounted for.
He further said the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NPDC) along with two other companies, Atlantic Energy and Seven Energy shipped $6 billion worth of crude from the nationâ€™s oil wells which they failed to remit to the federation account.
A cursory look at Sanusiâ€™s allegations appear at least on the face value, a man who is apparently pointing out the irregularities in the NNPC remittances and defending such position with all guts in the same way they tended to paint the NNPC and its operators as one stinking entity riddled with corruption.
This posture adopted by the CBN governor since September last year has sort of shaped the tune of public discourse and commentaries on the issue, such that Obasanjo bought into it and was influenced by it as represented in his letter to President Jonathan before emerging figures from the accounts reconciliation efforts of the CBN, the finance Ministry, the Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory unit and the NNPC.
There is no doubting that Sanusiâ€™s allegations, whether they had achieved the tailored purpose, were meant to become very controversial given the conflicting figures. Is it not instructive to ask that after participating in the accounts reconciliation that pegged $10.8 billion as the final amount the NNPC needed to clarify and which was done with the Petroleum Product Pricing and Regulatory Agency (PPRA) certifying same, Sanusi still appeared before the senate committee on finance to say that $12.8 Billion was still missing?
His posture portended that he was not satisfied with the final certified report the NNPC presented to the committee on how it spent the money he alleged was missing, yet he had nothing to the contrary to present.
Even at that, Sanusiâ€™s conflicting figures as controversial as they appear have inspired the discerning to ask whose script he is actually reading from and which portrays him as a man who speaks from both sides of his mouth.
Put differently, the fact that the hirelings assembled in Sanusiâ€™s defense with no in-depth knowledge of the NNPC transactions have turned into emergent economic analysts on the NNPC finances and Nigerian economy, soothing his feathers as it appears; one question they have failed to answer is: why is the team of seeming arm-chair researchers in Sanusiâ€™s CBN poor in its methodology and interpretation of its findings.
If it had been up and doing, there would not have been the need for the reconciliation of accounts that produced $10.8 billon or it would have been done before Sanusi went public with the now infamous missing $49.8 billon that has cast a slur on his public image and makes the CBN governor appear like one playing the ostrich.
These same arm-chair researchers, it would be recalled, once prepared a speech for the CBN governor for which he was embarrassingly sued in a court of law by a United States of America-based Nigerian professor, who claimed that he plagiarised his work.
Where it is generally that the CBN governor may not be a professional accountant who would be conversant with figures, it is common knowledge that before this ascendancy to the office of the CBN governor, Sanusi had worked in a normal banking sector at both the United Bank for Africa (UBA) and the First Bank of Nigeria (CBN) plc at top management level.
It is assumed, therefore, that he would be abreast with the banking system and the need to thoroughly verify and be sure of his figures before dishing them out to the public. That he didnâ€™t do this and went on to make skewed allegations that impinge on his personal and professional integrity and that of the NNPC and its operators has cast a deep smear on the veracity or otherwise of his allegations.
And coming a few months from the time of his disengagement from the apex bank, and at a time he is being accused of hobnobbing with the opposition political parties and individuals against the government of President Jonathan, as well as a time the search light of the National Assembly was beamed towards his unchecked donations well above his spending range, not a few people would see this whistle-blowing as a strategy to extricate himself, play the saintly ostrich and divert public attention from his unwholesome donations.
Sanusi, from all indications, appeared to have cried wolf where none existed. As Nigerians watch the unfolding drama, it is only pertinent to note that it is well enough that the senate committee on finance has in its wisdom subjected the whole accounts reconciliation to forensic examination to determine the veracity or other wise of the expenditures.
A clean bill for the NNPC could vindicate it and vice-versa and until then, enough of doing this dirty national laundry in public.