Re-probing the “missing $20 billion” By Ochereome Nnanna

diezani-announceIt would seem that the “missing $20 billion” saga has come to stay. In Nigeria, once they say a large sum of public fund is missing, misappropriated or stolen, it becomes part of our story as a corrupt country. Till date, the “missing” $2.8 billion from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) when the president-elect, General Muhammadu Buhari was Minister of Petroleum in 1978 has not been laid to rest, even though the man is now depicted as saint.

In the same vein, the $12 billion oil windfall Nigeria earned during the Gulf War of 1990/1991 under the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida, which was confirmed “misspent” by the Dr. Pius Okigbo Panel set up by General Sani Abacha, remains unsettled.

When the former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, wrote President Goodluck Jonathan on September 25th 2013, alleging that a whopping $49.8 billion had not been remitted to the Federation Account by the NNPC, he started the current firestorm that refuses to go out. The inter-departmental Reconciliation Committee set up by the Minister of Finance, admitted that “only”$10.8 billion was yet to be remitted, but Sanusi stubbornly butted in, insisting that it was actually $12 billion. Not done yet, Sanusi, at a Senate hearing on 4th February, 2014 dramatically jerked the amount to the current $20 billion.

Some people were only attracted by the sensation of “missing billions” being peddled by the CBN Governor. They were not bothered that he was bandying confusion and making a great joke of himself and our country. If any money was missing or unremitted, it could not be those three separate amounts! The Senate waded into the matter. The Senate is the only body constitutionally empowered to look into such allegations and hold the Executive to account. It is made up of members from both the ruling Peoploe’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC). Its Committee, headed by Senator Ahmed Makarfi, conducted a comprehensive investigation. On May 28th 2014, it cleared the Minister of Petroleum, Mrs. Diezani Madueke and the NNPC, saying there was no missing money. There was no minority report or objection by APC members of the Senate about its findings, but the APC and its supporters continued to parrot the “missing $20 billion”.

Perhaps, to calm frayed nerves and bury the rumour conclusively, the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, decided to go the extra mile and conduct a forensic audit of the NNPC account, which the President approved. Through the office of the Auditor General of thFederation, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), one of the four most renowned auditing companies in the world, was contracted to conduct the forensic audit. In November 2014, PWC submitted the audit to President Jonathan amidst fanfare. Its findings also cleared the Minister and NNPC of wrongdoing, pointing out, however, that the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NPDC), a subsidiary of the NNPC, needed to remit $1.4 billion, being proceeds of signatures bonuses, to the Federation Account. The Minister of Petroleum, in an attempt to run away from the stigma of the “missing $20 billion” ordered it done immediately.

We all thought the matter was closed. If PWC does a forensic audit, surely it must be above question. The company has a worldwide reputation to defend, at least, so we thought. As the political campaigns were in full swing, APC resumed making references to the “missing $20 billion”, questioning the Presidency’s reluctance to release the full report to the public. To the dismay of watchers of this event, PWC made a startling revelation in an introductory letter to its 199-page, that it could not vouch for the integrity of its findings, as its work was limited to facts and figures available to it! In other words, what they did was not a forensic audit as we were made to know, but some kind of review for the benefit of the Auditor General of the Federation’s office, and not meant to be relied upon by a third party!

Based on this scandalous disclosure, it is not surprising that the in-coming President, General Buhari, has undertaken to revisit the “missing $20 billions”. Since he campaigned on the platform of anti-corruption, Buhari will start on a doubtful note if he chooses to sweep the matter under the carpet. I believe that a clear conscience fears no accusation. If the out-going Minister, Mrs. Madueke, and the hands that ran the NNPC under her in the past six years are sure they have been above board in the handling of our oil money, they need not lose any sleep over another probe.

Where I have my reservations, though, is the politics of this issue. Anyone who says there is no politics in this matter does not know what politics is. Will Buhari, the man we saw 31 years ago bundling politicians into jail through kangaroo tribunals, commit himself to a fair probe? Will he commit to establishing the truth, or will he lead a lynch mob or witch hunt?

These questions are accentuated by the established attitude of APC, his political party, and some of its supporters who already believe that nothing short of guilty for Madueke and the NNPC (and by extension, out-going President Jonathan and his PDP) will do. Stories have been bandied in the media about Madueke fleeing into exile or seeking asylum when she travelled recently. The APC may be tempted to adopt the attitude that the tag of “missing $20 billion” is too juicy a political weapon to forgo against Madueke, Jonathan and PDP.

If Buhari decides to press on with another probe, he must eschew politics. He has been presented with a second chance to put Nigeria right. He must focus on finding out THE TRUTH ONLY, keeping out POLITICS. Everyone must have fair and dignified opportunity to say what they know about it. As my Geography teacher in Enuda High School Abiriba, Mr. Ikoro, used to say in those days: “every charitable or uncharitable attitude is a boomerang”.