The federal government has authorised a forensic audit of the accounts of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
It also told the suspended Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, who had accused the oil corporation of failing to remit $20 billion of oil sale proceeds to the Federation Account, to respond to the report of the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FRC), which indicted him of financial mismanagement, among others, instead of whipping up sentiment over his ouster.
The presidency, in another development, has challenged the jurisdiction of a Federal High Court to hear the case filed by Sanusi against his suspension.
Presidential spokesman, Dr. Reuben Abati, in a terse statement yesterday which announced the president’s directive on the forensic audit of the NNPC’s accounts, said: “In keeping with its avowed commitment to full transparency, openness and accountability in governmental affairs, the federal government has authorised the engagement of reputable international firms for the recommended forensic audit of NNPC accounts.â€
Jonathan’s directive came against the backdrop of a lack of clarity over who will supervise the forensic audit.
Shortly after the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, suggested the forensic audit of the NNPC’s accounts to get to the root of Sanusi’s allegation, the Senate Committee on Finance had announced its decision to take over the exercise.
However, this did not sit well with a Lagos-based lawyer and human rights activist, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), who said neither the National Assembly nor the minister was constitutionally empowered to carry out the exercise.
According to Falana, only the Auditor-General of the Federation (AuGF), Mr. Samuel Ukura, is empowered to audit the Federation Account and submit the report of his findings to the National Assembly, pursuant to Section 85 of the Constitution.
But responding to a request by Falana that he should audit the Federation Account, the Legal Unit in the AuGF Office, in a letter dated February 19, 2014, signed by Mr. Okafor-Agbi Uche, stated that Section 85(3) of the constitution does not empower the AuGF to â€œaudit the accounts of or appoint auditors for government statutory corporations, commissions, authorities, agencies, including all persons and bodies established by the Act of the National Assembly.â€
It added that the constitution only empowers it to provide the NNPC and other similar bodies with a list of auditors qualified to be appointed as external auditors and from which the bodies shall appoint their external auditors.
Meanwhile, the presidency yesterday took on Sanusi over his claim that his suspension from office was because of the exposure of the non-remittance of proceeds of oil sales by the NNPC into the federal treasury.
Abati, in a statement, urged Sanusi to stop whipping up public sentiment in his favour and respond to the allegations of financial recklessness levelled against him.
The statement stressed that Sanusiâ€™s suspension had nothing to do with his unproven and inconsistent claim that $49.8 billion, $12 billion or $20 billion is missing from the national treasury.
“As was clearly stated in the letter suspending him from office and confirmed by President Goodluck Jonathan in his last presidential media chat, Mallam Sanusiâ€™s suspension was wholly based on the need for him to step aside while the weighty charges of financial recklessness, gross misconduct and persistent disregard for laid down rules and regulations in the management of the Central Bank made against him by the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria and others are properly investigated,” the statement said.
The presidency said it was most unfortunate that instead of providing some reasonable response to the unambiguous query of his official conduct as governor of the central bank, Sanusi had cynically chosen to whip up public sympathy for himself and anger against the federal government by deliberately misleading unwary Nigerians and the international community into believing the falsehood that he was being punished for exposing corruption.
“In recent days, the suspended CBN governor has, following in the footsteps of others who have an axe to grind with the government, taken to spreading his false claims and allegations through gullible foreign media correspondents, telling them among other things that his threat to force commercial banks to open up their books to unravel the whereabouts of the ‘missing’ funds whether $49.8 billion, $12 billion or $20 billion, ultimately led to his suspension.
“He also continues to make the mischievous claim that the government is somehow involved in a scam to divert huge sums of money from the Federation Account through the misappropriation of kerosene subsidy funds.
“Mallam Sanusiâ€™s allegations are patently untrue. But government is making no effort to bury them as he falsely claims. Relevant committees of the National Assembly are still investigating the claims and the suspended CBN governor remains free to give evidence before them in support of his allegations.
“Furthermore, in keeping with its avowed commitment to full transparency, openness and accountability in governmental affairs, the federal government has authorised the engagement of reputable international firms for the recommended forensic audit of NNPC accounts,” the statement said.
The presidency however condemned Sanusiâ€™s resort to playing politics with serious national issues.
According to the presidency, “his (Sanusi) suggestion that the phantom missing funds may have been diverted to fund campaigns for next yearâ€™s general election is mischievous, irresponsible and designed to incite other political parties and members of the public against the federal government.
“The presidency would not ordinarily have wished to join issues with Mallam Sanusi who as CBN governor remains an appointee of the president, but the very unacceptable manner in which Sanusi has been misinforming the public made it imperative that this statement be issued.”
Also responding to a suit filed by Sanusi against his suspension, the president challenged the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court, sitting in Abuja, to hear the suit.
In a preliminary objection filed on his behalf by his counsel, Dr. Fabian Ajogwu (SAN), dated March 11, Jonathan formulated one issue for determination by the court which is that whether in the light of section 254C(1)(a) of the constitution, the Federal High Court has the jurisdiction to entertain the suit.
He argued that by virtue of Section 254C(1)(a) of the constitution, the National Industrial Court is the appropriate court vested with the jurisdiction to entertain the matter.
Jonathan stated that since the dispute relates to matters arising from the employment of Sanusi by the Federal Government of Nigeria represented by the president, it was the industrial court that should adjudicate on the matter.
He further contended that the legality of the suspension of Sanusi was settled by a recourse to the Supreme Court decision in Okomu Oil Palm Co. Ltd vs Iserhienrhien, where the court affirmed the provisions of Section 11 of the Interpretation Act, 2004 to the effect that where an enactment confers a power to appoint a person either to an office or to exercise any function, whether for a specified period or not, the power includes the power to remove or suspend him, and to appoint someone else to act in his place for such time as is expedient.
The case, which is currently before Justice Gabriel Kolawole, has been adjourned until March 19, for mention.
Sanusi had in an originating summons filed by his lawyer, Mr. Kola Awodein (SAN), sought a declaration by the court that Jonathan has no statutory power to suspend him from office as governor of the CBN.
He asked the court to restrain the president, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minster of Justice and the Inspector General of Police, who are also defendants in the case, from giving effect to his purported suspension from office, pending the determination of the suit.
He equally asked the court to make an order of interlocutory injunction restraining the defendants â€œfrom obstructing, disturbing, stopping or preventing him, in any manner whatsoever, from performing the functions of his office as the governor of the CBN and enjoying in full, the statutory powers and privileges attached to the office.â€
Urging the court to expeditiously grant his interlocutory application, Sanusi maintained that any delay might cause irreparable and serious damage and mischief on him in the exercise of his statutory duties as the CBN Governor.
He said: â€œThe presidentâ€™s continuing unlawful interference with the management and administration of the apex bank, unless arrested, poses grave danger for Nigeriaâ€™s economy.â€
He insisted that the danger his suspension posed to the economy was enough reason for the court to grant his application and as a result make an order for status quo ante bellum to enable him to return to his office as the Governor of the CBN.
In an affidavit deposed in support of the suit, Sanusi linked his suspension to the discrepancies he reported in the remittances of the NNPC to the Federation Account.
He explained that in the course of his duties as the CBN Governor, he uncovered certain discrepancies in respect of amounts repatriated to the Federation Account from the proceeds of crude oil sales between the period of January 2012 and July 2013.