By HENRY UMORU & JOSEPH ERUNKE
ABUJA—A Report of the Senate Committee on Public Accounts, presented to the Senate, yesterday, revealed how the Federal Government under three successive administrations from 2002 to 2012, grossly abused funds from the nation’s Special Funds Accounts to the tune of N1.2 trillion.
According to the report presented by Senator Ahmed Lawan, Chairman of the committee, the said amounts cut across the Natural Resources Account, Derivation and Ecology Accounts and Stabilization Account.
The Special Funds Accounts, comprising Development of Natural Resources Account, Derivation and Ecology Account and Stabilization Account were being maintained by the Federal Government of Nigeria. Senator Ahmed Lawan in his submission said that the amount was misappropriated between 2002 and 2012 by the governments of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Late President Umaru Yar’Adua and current President Goodluck Jonathan, adding that the governments at various levels abused the Special Funds Account by making several releases not related to what the accounts were designed to achieve.
Breakdown of the report showed that N710,489,494,960.6, N149,881,359,210 and N191,780,136,241 were reportedly misused by the three administrations in the Derivation and Ecology Account; Development of Natural Resources Account and Stabilization Account respectively.
According to the committee in its report, within the period under review, the sum of one trillion, five hundred and eighteen billion, eight hundred and seventy one million, three hundred and fifty seven thousand, four hundred and twenty six naira, sixty four kobo (N1, 518, 871, 357, 426.64) was the accruals to the special funds accounts.
The sum of one trillion, two hundred and thirty five billion, one hundred and sixty six million, seven hundred and eighty one thousand, three hundred and forty seven naira, fifty two kobo (N1, 235, 166, 781, 347. 52) was the total payments from the special funds account.
Also, five hundred and eighty billion, nineteen million, six hundred and eighty two thousand, seven hundred and thirty eight naira (N580, 019, 682, 738) was released as loan; and three hundred and forty seven billion, nine hundred and ninety seven million, five hundred and eighty three thousand, and eight naira and forty one kobo (N347, 997, 583, 008.41) yet to be recovered from various loans beneficiaries.
Senator Ahmed Lawan, earlier in his presentation of the report said: “The operation of the Natural Resources Account is grossly abused because several releases under this account were not related to the intendment of the account.”
Out of a total of N329, 329, 745, 916 granted as loan, N200, 585, 790, 991. 64 is still outstanding under the Natural Resources Account; under the derivation and Ecology Account, a total of N61, 000, 000, 000.00 was granted as loan leaving an outstanding of N30, 000, 000, 000.00.
“Several approvals made from the special funds accounts do not conform to the purposes for which the funds were established; and there were no operational guidelines for the administration, regulations, approvals and procedures for the release of money from such funds.”
It also noted that loans granted from the accounts have not been paid back several years after such loans were granted.
Involve EFCC, ICPC — Ekeremadu
In his contribution, the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, called on the Public Accounts committee to undertake further inquiry to determine whether loans given from the special funds accounts had been recovered.
Ekweremadu said in an event where the monies have not been recovered, the Senate should invite the EFCC and ICPC to wade into the matter, as failure to do so would be interpreted by the public as the National Assembly abdicating from its responsibilities.
He said: “Section 8(82) (of the constitution) said, no money shall be withdrawn from the consolidated revenue fund of the federation except to meet expenditure.
“In this situation, we have seen where monies meant for ecological fund are being used to develop airports, to build malls and then to build abattoir. So that is the crux of the matter. Most of them according to the report of the committee, indeed all of them, have not been recovered.
“This committee will need to do further work to ensure that they hear from the other side of the divide or this matter be referred to the EFCC or ICPC to do further investigation.”
Also commenting, the Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma Egba said the impunity shown in the report confirmed his earlier belief that the nation’s public finances still remain opaque after 14 years of democratic governance as they were under military rule.
His words: “All the misapplications of funds carried out by the executive in the special funds accounts since 2002 are clear attestations of an opaque public finances in Nigeria where for now, transparency and accountability are rules not adhered to, in anyway by the executive arm of government.”
Deputy Majority Leader, Senator Abdul Ningi who also doubles as Deputy Chairman of the Committee on Public Accounts, said: “This is sheer crass executive recklessness and the National Assembly indifference to it.”
N’Assembly to be blamed too — Mark
Meanwhile the Senate did not exonerate itself from the blame, stressing that the abuse was an indictment on the National Assembly because if they had carried out their work effectively, the problem would have been discovered before now.
Senate President David Mark, while reacting to the absence of guidelines for the operation of the special funds account, said: “We are taking it for granted that these funds exist and they can be used in any way and manner. And I think that is truly an indictment on the National Assembly. It is a wake up call for the National Assembly to do its work properly.
“It is an intervention fund in several areas and they are also specified: Development of mineral resources, Derivation and Ecology fund and Stabilization Account. Our problem here is how these funds are being utilized.”
He demanded from the Chairman of the Committee as to whether there were guidelines on the appropriation of such funds.
“It is a combination of their own personal issues and those who collect the loans and those who are given. We as Nigerian citizens and as the legislature, this is about our own collective intelligence.
“We must not under any guise sweep away these findings. Going forward this chamber must have to add a committee to make sure that the loans which were collected are refunded, and where there is a breach, such persons must be brought to book by being prosecuted.
“This impunity is ongoing; it has not stopped, because even in 2011 we could see the impunity by the coordinating minister. That means the trend continues.”
When asked whether there were guidelines, Senator Lawan said, “there is no guideline. But during the public hearing, the committee asked the permanent secretary, Ministry of Finance, how he would define special funds accounts. And he said that is a discretionary account; and what that means is that they can do whatever they want with it. But again there are document of the Ministry of Finance indicating clearly the purpose for each of these three accounts and the beneficiaries, so it is not a discretionary account but there is no guideline.
“As the Senate Majority Leader stated, we are also at fault. We should have legislation and we should spell out guidelines.