By Ochereome Nnanna
SOMETIMES you have this feeling that Nigerians can be a very gullible lot. Some of us can be very easily hoodwinked. We have a penchant to leave things that matter and pursue things that have only empty noise value. Perhaps, people like General Olusegun Obasanjo discovered this long ago. That is why, in spite of his atrocities against the people and the country, even at his sensitive family level, some people still attach some importance to his words and activities when he ought to have been consigned to absolute ignominy long ago.
I am led to this sad conclusion after PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) submitted its forensic audit report of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). In a nutshell, PWC reveals there was no such thing as “missing 20 billion dollars” as alleged by former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, who today sits pretty atop the royal throne of Kano as the Emir. The company says the National Petroleum Development Company (NPDC), a subsidiary of the NNPC needs to complete the process of remitting to the federation account the outstanding sum of 1.48billion US Dollars being an amount it earned from the sale of its assets. It also recommended the reform of operations of the NNPC, as they are no longer in tune with modern best practices.
PWC is a world class professional services company. There are only three others in its rank: KPMG, EY and Deloitte. PWC is the second largest of the lot. If PWC conducts a forensic audit and concludes that there was no “stolen” or “missing” money, that is case closed. Indeed, even the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC), which has the habit of demonising every institution of state, such as the Directorate of State Services (DSS), the NNPC, the Nigerian Army, Police and others for “working for” the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the discharge of their duties, could not summon the venom to discredit PWC’s forensic audit report. All that the National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Alhaji Lai Mohammed said was that the NNPC “cooked” the report from the start, adding PWC merely audited documents submitted to it by the Corporation.
Lai’s statement betrays a limited knowledge of how genuine audits are carried out. The auditor usually summons every stakeholder or interest involved in the matter and extracts all the information they need to turn in a credible report of what actually happened. If all that an auditor does is to audit only documents submitted to him, then it means he adds very little value to the process of looking for stolen, misappropriated or missing funds. An auditor is essentially a financial investigator.
When the Senate Committee on the “missing billions” started its work, it summoned every entity connected to oil revenue gathering and spending, such as NNPC, NPDC, Petroleum Pricing and Regulatory Agency, Federal Ministry of Finance, Minister of Petroleum Resources and a host of others. After an exhaustive investigation, the Committee headed by Senator Ahmed Makarfi, submitted its report on May 29th 2014, with the conclusion that the alarm raised by the man who originated the confusion, former CBN Governor, Lamido Sanusi, was “incorrect” and “misleading”; a diplomatic way of saying he lied to the nation. The report was voraciously debated by a senate which by then had almost equal number of senators drawn from the ruling party and the opposition. It came out with a firm verdict that there was no missing money, even though it indicted the NNPC for spending unappropriated funds on petroleum subsidy.
No missing money: The Senate Committee and PWC investigations of this matter have made the total reform of the NNPC a task that can no longer wait. As long as the NNPC continues to operate under its current secret cult modus, there will always be questions surrounding its handling of our oil revenue.
Now, with the conclusion of the PWC forensic audit and the establishment of the fact that there was no missing money, what next? Should we just move on? I do not think so. Somebody took this nation for an expensive ride. Someone lied to Nigerians for his own personal closure. Does the law not have any punishment for that?
Mallam Sanusi was once a very vociferous defender of the economic policies of the President Goodluck Jonathan administration. We can remember very vividly how he stood solidly beside the Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, in defending the bid to remove the subsidy on petroleum imports in January 2012. Somehow, towards the end of his five-year tenure at the CBN, Sanusi became drawn into the undercurrent moves to snatch power from President Jonathan and give it back to the North. According to reports released by the Financial Reporters Council of Nigeria (FRC) Sanusi was doling out huge sums of the CBN’s monies to schools and higher institutions in the North, including leaders of opposition parties from the North.
It was while this scandal was making its way to the public arena that Sanusi launched his counter-allegations against the Federal Government, Minister of Petroleum Resources and the NNPC. He started by saying that 49.8 billion US Dollars was not remitted to the federal coffers. When he came under fire by Ngozi-Iweala, Sanusi brought the amount down to 12 billion Dollars. Then, just before he was asked to proceed on a compulsory terminal leave, he jerked it up to 20 billion Dollars. For some Nigerians, it did not matter that a Central Bank governor was flip-flopping with figures which suggested he either did not know his job or he was simply playing political skittle with the rest of us. All that mattered was that Sanusi was a “brave whistleblower” “exposing” a large-scale “looting”, for which he was being “hounded” out of office. It has since become a powerful weapon in the hands of the opposition to brand the President Jonathan regime with unprecedented corruption.
It is up to Nigerians to decide if the man who caused this false commotion should get away with it. It is also up to them – and the government – to decide if Sanusi’s own alleged squandering of the CBN’s funds as reported by the FRC, should be swept under the carpet because he has become an emir and visited Aso Villa several times to “mend fences” with President Jonathan. For me, Sanusi making peace with the president does not amount to a presidential pardon. Rather, the FRC report should be subjected to a forensic review to enable him clear his name. Anything less amounts to Sanusi successfully fooling us and escaping under the cloud of the confusion he created.
Let it, however, be noted that the President Goodluck Jonathan administration is the first presidency to probe itself. It has never happened before. This regime probed itself twice within eighteen months and successfully proved its innocence. It went beyond the Senate, which is constitutionally empowered to carry out the probe. It brought in a world class firm to confirm it. Before now, it was either successive regimes that probed earlier ones to buy legitimacy, or they simply did nothing about alleged missing moneys. Obasanjo even probed Buhari’s Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) and it was discovered that 25 billion Naira was “misappropriated”. Yet not only did Obasanjo sweep the report under carpet, he has even come forward to endorse the same Buhari for election as President.
That is the country we live in.