BY Emma Ujah, Abuja Bureau Chief & Ben Agande
ABUJA — The Presi-dency, yesterday, asked suspended Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, to provide a clear response to allegations of financial recklessness levelled against him and stop misleading Nigerians and the international community that his suspension was because he alleged that monies were unremitted to national coffers by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC.
Addressing State House correspondents, yesterday, Special Adviser to the President on Media & Publicity, Dr Reuben Abati, reiterated that Sanusi’s suspension had nothing to do with his disclosure of alleged shortfalls in remittances by NNPC.
Abati said as a demonstration of government’s transparency, it has ordered a forensic audit of the NNPC to unravel the truth about its remittances.
While condemning Sanusi’s “resort to playing politics with serious national issues,” Abati said Sanusi’s suggestion that the “phantom missing funds may have been diverted to fund campaigns for next year’s general elections is mischievous, irresponsible and designed to incite other political parties and members of the public against the Federal Government.”
However, the absence of Justice Gabriel Kolawole stalled further hearing in the suit filed by the embattled CBN governor against the Federal Government challenging his suspension from office by President Goodluck Jonathan.
At the resumed hearing of the case yesterday, Justice Kolawole was not in court, while parties to the suit were asked to come back to court, March 19, as the judge was attending a seminar.
Abati’s statement said: “We have noted with disappointment, the unrelenting attempt by the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi to falsely portray his recent suspension from office as an attempt by the Presidency to bury his allegation that huge sums of money due to the Federation Account are unaccounted for by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC.
“The Presidency wishes to reaffirm that Mallam Sanusi’s suspension has absolutely nothing to do with his unproven and inconsistent claims 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, Malam Sanusi’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.
“It is most unfortunate that instead of trying to provide some reasonable response to the clear and unambiguous query of his official conduct as Governor of the Central Bank, Mallam Sanusi has 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 is 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 Sanusi’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.
FG orders forensic audit of NNPC accounts
“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 Presidency condemns Mallam Sanusi’s resort to playing politics with serious national issues. His suggestion that the phantom missing funds may have been diverted to fund campaigns for next year’s general elections is mischievous, irresponsible and designed to incite other political parties and members of the public against the Federal Government.
“The claim which amounts to cheap blackmail against the government and was clearly made in furtherance of a selfish personal agenda is most unbecoming of someone who still holds the high office of Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria.
“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.”
Malam Sanusi only last Monday alleged that kerosine subsidy was a big scam being operated by a cabal in government and that the money was being used to finance election.
In an interview with the New York Times, Mallam Sanusi claimed that he was sacked because he threatened to conduct special examination on the banks to ascertain their involvement in the missing $20 billion fuel money. He explained that many of the bankers panicked at his threat to open their books and two of them reported to the government, saying that at that moment he knew his days at the CBN were numbered.
Absence of judge stalls hearing in Sanusi’s suit
The absence of Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court, Abuja, yesterday stalled hearing in the suit filed by suspended CBN Governor, Lamido Sanusi.
Malam Sanusi had, through his counsel, Mr Kola Awodein (SAN), challenged his suspension by President Goodluck Jonathan and prayed for an order to re-instate him as CBN Governor.
At the resumed hearing yesterday, Justice Kolawole was not in court and an official informed the parties and counsel that the judge was attending a seminar.
All parties and counsel were asked to come back to court on March 19.
Justice Kolawole had earlier declined to grant an order reversing the president’s decision.
“I feel hesitant and constrained to grant the plaintiff’s application because it would be unfair to grant such an application without affording the respondents a hearing,’’ he said.
Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi had, February 24, approached the court with a motion ex-parte seeking to restrain the defendants from “obstructing, disturbing, stopping or preventing him in any manner whatsoever, from performing the functions as Governor of the Central Bank,’.
Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi had also sought to be allowed to fully enjoy the statutory powers and privileges attached to the office, arguing that any delay might cause him irreparable and serious damages.
N24bn Police pension money not missing, says Okonjo‑Iweala
Meanwhile, Co-ordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo‑Iweala, has said the N24 billion allegedly unaccounted for from the Police Pension Fund was not missing.
She also said the issue of 45,000 names on the payroll of the government that were discovered to be ghost workers had been referred to the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, for further investigation.
She clarified in Abuja, yesterday, that the alleged missing Police pension money was returned to the Federal Government treasury on her orders.
Director‑General of Pension Transitional Arrangement Department, PTAD, Mrs Nellie Mayshak, had shocked the House of Representatives Committee on Public Accounts at a hearing, Tuesday, that the money could not be traced.
According to her, there was no evidence to show how the N24 billion released from Service Wide Vote in 2010 for Police Pension Fund was expended.
“We have no evidence, we have no record. It just looks bad on our part,” the D‑G told the committee, claiming that she was new in office and that the internal auditor whom she asked to brief her had no documents to show how the money was spent.
Internal Auditor of the Pension office, Mr Adeyemo Julius Adebolu, who was around when the N24 billion was received by the Pension office, told the committee that it was true that N24 billion was received from the Service Wide Vote for payment of pensioners in 2010.
I was kept in the dark —Internal Auditor
Mr Adebolu told the committee that when the money was released, he advised the office to lodge the money in a FirstBank account, stressing that after the lodgement of the money in the account, he was kept in the dark on further disbursements of the money to pensioners.
He also told the committee that a consulting firm was contracted to disburse the pension fund, instead of the staff of the Police Pension Office, noting that he had to come in when some of the pensioners after receiving their money complained of being short‑changed by the consulting firm. Adebolu added that, he was not also involved in the auditing process of the account.
I ordered freezing of the account—Okonjo-Iweala
But in a statement issued by her Special Adviser, Mr. Paul Nwabuikwu, the Minister of Finance said the money in question was not missing and that she had already briefed the Joint Senate Committee about the matter in March 2012.
She added that when it was discovered that the N24 billion was an over estimate of Police pension arrears, she ordered that the account be frozen and the money returned to the treasury.
According to her, “contrary to media reports, the sum of N24 billion is not missing from the Police Pension Fund. As told the Senate Joint Committee on Pensions Administration at a public hearing in March 2012, she ordered the account frozen to prevent fraud based on reports of suspicious transactions.
“Of the amount in the account, N24 billion was discovered to be an over‑estimation of pensions arrears. The money was subsequently returned to government coffers as is the standard practice.”
Ghost workers issue referred to ICPC
Meanwhile, the minister has referred the issue of ghost workers to the Independent Corrupt Practices and other offences Commission , ICPC, for further investigation .
Okonjo‑Iweala said: “As a result of the implementation of Integrated Personal Payroll System, IPPIS, about 45,000 names of ghost workers have been taken off the payroll and about N118 billion saved.
“The Federal Ministry of Finance has taken the additional step of referring the issue to the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, for further investigation so that any identified culprits can face the full wrath of the law.”
The minister added that in obedience to the recent court judgment, the ministry, through the Budget Office, “is collating the details of appropriations and statutory transfers to the National Assembly, the Independent National Electoral Commission, National Judicial Council, the Niger Delta Development Commission, Universal Basic Education and National Human Rights Commission for publication.
“These agencies are all on first‑line charge to the Federation Account and, therefore, the ministry must work with them to obtain the necessary information.”