NIGERIA: Did Sanusi Cry Wolf?

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Perhaps, the senate committee's report on the non-remittance of $49.8billion to the Federation Account has dealt a deadly blow on the controversy, writes Ojo M. Maduekwe

A front page headline of a national daily on May 29 read: “Senate Committee: Neither $49.8bn nor $20bn is Missing”. This headline was sequel to the allegation by the former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) failed to remit some money to the federation account.

A summary of the first paragraph of the news story was that “in a blow” to the allegation made by Sanusi, “the Senate Committee on Finance cleared the corporation of wrongdoing, saying neither $49.8billion nor $20billion was missing.” The committee, in its report, also “said it could not reconcile how the CBN governor arrived at the said amount.”

For supporters of the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, this was good news and a vindication of their earlier accusation that the former CBN governor was only playing the script of those who oppose the government of President Goodluck Jonathan and the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) to derail the federal government.

Now, a flashback: When the letter Sanusi had earlier secretly written to President Jonathan in December 2013, intimating the president of the sum of $49.8 billion allegedly missing from Nigeria’s oil proceeds leaked to the public, he was hailed by many even as sympathisers of the president immediately dismissed him as an opposition mole.

Those who dismissed his claims believed that Sanusi had come up with the claim as a strategy to divert public attention from the then on-going investigation into his alleged shady deals by the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FRCN) among which was his financial recklessness coupled with his perceived imbalance in donations to states and institutions.

In the letter, where Sanusi alleged that the NNPC failed to remit more than two-thirds of the oil money earned by the country between January 2012 and July 2013, the former governor insisted that out of the sum of $67 billion, only about $18 billion had so far been accounted for, while the sum of $49.8 billion was unaccounted for.

At the time, the Senate was drawn into the issue during one of its plenary by Senator Olubunmi Adetunmbi, who raised a Point of Order on Matter of Urgent National Importance under the Senate Order 42 that the Chamber look into the allegation he considered “grave to be overlooked.”

Adetunmbi, a member of the APC representing Ekiti North, cited newspaper reports alleging that the money was proceeds from the sale of crude by the NNPC.

“There has been a raging debate on the issue of missing money from the coffers of the Federal Government of Nigeria. Today, all newspapers carried the report on 49.8 billion dollars that has not been remitted to the federation account. As a parliament, this is a very grave issue,” said Adetunmbi, adding that it was the duty of the parliament to ensure that “we get to the bottom of this issue”.

Making reference to the law, Adetunmbi said it stipulated that proceeds from the sale of crude should be lodged with the CBN and requested that the Senate should institute a probe into the alleged missing funds. The Senate President, David Mark, who presided over the day’s affairs, said since the details of the matter were not before the Senate, it would be difficult for senators to consider it instantly as a matter of urgent national importance and so referred the matter to the Senate Committee on Finance for further investigations.

Minutes after Mark made this remark, in what seemed unsatisfactory to them, the APC senators assembled journalists for a press conference, a move that made many Nigerians allege that Sanusi was being sponsored by the APC. At the conference, the Senators urged the Senate leadership to get to the root of the matter. Led by Senate Minority Leader, George Akume, they said the CBN source on the alleged missing funds was authentic and should not be doubted.

Reading from a prepared speech at the conference, Akume said they were determined to ensure that the matter was given the urgent attention it deserved because “we have been told and we have every cause to believe that this money is missing, this document is coming from the CBN. It is an authentic source. We are determined to follow it to the fullest and we want you to join us in doing so. One of our responsibilities is to identify with the people by ensuring that those of us who are charged with higher responsibility conform to very high standard expected of people in public office.”

Shortly after the committee was inaugurated, it held a number of public hearings where all the parties involved either submitted a memorandum or testified orally. Beyond the public hearings it held on Thursdays in February, March and April, the committee also sought the services of forensic experts to examine NNPC’s financial records and the one earlier submitted by Sanusi.

Waiting for the Committee’s report created some form of anxiety, especially given that over six months after holding a public hearing, the committee was yet to release its report. Eventually, the Committee, headed by Senator Ahmed Makarfi (PDP) representing Kaduna North, released its report. Before that, the Federal Ministry of Finance, CBN, Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), NNPC, Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) as well as the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), met at various times to reconcile the differences.

During the reconciliatory meeting, Sanusi had admitted to error and said it was only $12 billion that was missing. But the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, disagreed, saying the amount stood at $10.8 billion even as she said the reconciliation traditionally was an on-going thing and not basically because of Sanusi.

But when he appeared before the Senate committee in February, Sanusi gave a new figure of $20 billion and also accused the NNPC of operating illegal kerosene subsidy, saying this was against the president’s letter directing stoppage of same.

According to Sanusi, while some funds had been accounted for, the sum of $20 billion remained outstanding. The Senate committee then asked him to submit his written presentations, which he did. Responding to the new allegation, Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Mr. Andrew Yakubu, said contrary to claims that the subsidy on kerosene was illegal, the federal government never asked the corporation to terminate it.

Back to the Makarfi committee report: In its 73-page report submitted to the Senate, the committee denied that the alleged sum of $49.8 billion or $20 billion was missing just as it said the allegations by Sanusi had no bearing. “There was never any unremitted $49.8 billion. The total crude oil lifting from January 2012 to July 2013 was $67 billion and not $65 billion as the CBN Governor had presented.

“The committee could not see how the figure of $49.8 billion was arrived at by the CBN Governor in the first instance. That the CBN Governor at the first hearing had put forward the figure of $12 billion as money to be reconciled and changed his position to $20 billion at subsequent hearing. At the conclusion of his written submission, he (Sanusi) posited that it could be $20 billion, $12 billion, $10.8 billion or anything in between.

“The CBN Governor orally or in writing never submitted outright that monies were missing but that monies were not remitted to federation account by the NNPC.”

Although the committee is awaiting the forensic examination to round off its investigation, it said there was the need for the NNPC to incorporate its spending on kerosene subsidy in the national budget, noting that while the subsidy on petrol was budgeted for, that of kerosene, though spent by the NNPC with evidence, was not budgeted for in the nation’s yearly plan.

Several other points were listed by the committee in its report. One is that gross lifting under the Third Party Financing was $2,430,750, 973 out of which share for federation account was $1,588,242,004. The committee indicated that the Auditor-General of the Federation (AGF) confirmed and gave documentary evidence showing the sum of $1,370,172,650.36 was remitted to the federation account and, therefore asked the NNPC to remit the balance of $218,069,354.32 to the federation account.

Others were: “Royalties and taxes amounting to $447,817,884 being outstanding federation account share from the US $6.815 billion listings by NNPC on behalf of NPDC remain unremitted… NNPC should not pay for their operational expenditures direct from federation fund without appropriation by the National Assembly; NNPC should strictly adhere to international best practices in keeping records; NNPC should not control the revenue account of NPDC in order not to undermine its separate legal status and make accountability more difficult.”

The committee suggested that further legislative action by the Senate should be taken after the receipt of the forensic audit report being undertaken by foreign auditors. Lastly, the committee, given the outcry over the existing fuel subsidy, and the complaint from the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC), recommended the removal of petroleum subsidy, which it said was contrary to reasons adduced during its formation and a drain on Nigeria’s economy.

Therefore, to supporters of Alison-Madueke, the Senate committee’s report did nail the allegations that the opposition APC, through the former CBN governor sought to use to discredit the President Jonathan-led government, since the Makarfi committee report did not indict the minister or the management of the NNPC.

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