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What are we to make of the NNPC audit report?

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By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu
It was in the lead to the last election, that Petroleum Minister Diezani Allison-Maduekwe, was reported to have said that the “Forensic Audit” report conducted by PriceWaterHouseCooperson the NNPC was not released so that it would not be exploited for political purposes by the opposition.

Yet, just about 24 hours after President-elect MuhammaduBuhari vowed to revisit the allegation of a missing $20billion at the NNPC, President Goodluck Jonathan ordered the immediate release of the full report. Presidential spokesperson, Reuben Abati, told reporters that the release of the report was to put to rest any doubt about government’s transparency in the oil sector.

The hurried manner of the report’s release after months in the cooler, clearly betrayed panic and even while I am still very much digesting the report, I have to say that the devil in reports such as this, remains in the detail. And furthermore, the context within which the report was ordered was a politically charged one. There were allegations made about the management of revenues by the NNPC, by the former CBN Governor, now Emir of Kano.

In response, the Governor was suspended from office, by President Goodluck Jonathan, who was always willing to protect Diezani Allison-Maduekwe. It is clear that like the proverbial cup of water, some would see it as half full, while others would describe it as half empty!

Okonjo-Iweala, Diezani and Jonathan
Okonjo-Iweala, Diezani and Jonathan

It was very startling that the Introductory Letter to Nigeria’s Auditor General, by the auditing firm, stated that they were limited only to available information: “The procedures we performed did not constitute an examination or a review in accordance with generally accepted auditing standards or attestation standards”.

The letter went further that: “Accordingly, we provide no opinion, attestation or other forms of assurance with respect to our work or the information upon which our work was based”. The report, the letter stated, was: “solely for the Office of the Auditor-General for the Federation, for their internal use and benefit and not intended to, nor may they be relied upon, by any other third party”.

It gets even more baffling when the firm added that: “We did not obtain any information directly from NPDC, but in accordance with NPDC former Managing Director’s (Mr. Briggs Victor) submission to the Senate Committee hearing on the subject matter, for the period, NPDC generated $5.11billion (net of royalties and petroleum profits tax paid)”.

The firm also relied on legal advise of the Attorney-General of the Federation, in lieu of independent legal opinion.  This was in respect of the transfers of NNPC (55%) portion of Oil leases (OMLs) involved in the Shell  (SPDC) Divestments that impact crude oil flows during the period. As the report stated: “The AG’s opinion indicated that these transfers were within the authority of the Minister to make”.

But why did it appear, with that Introductory Letter, that the audit firm was at the same time, saying a “Forensic Audit”, that it carried out must not be taken as having met the most exacting standards? On the basis of that letter alone, can we say that the Jonathan Administration, and especially one of its scared cows, Diezani, has been given an all clear by the audit report?

Or given the importance of the NNPC to the Nigerian economy, was it right for the President-elect, MuhammaduBuhari to carry out his vow to investigate the alleged missing sum of $20Billion and other pertinent issues in the cash cow of Nigeria, the NNPC? What really was Jonathan’s “Forensic Audit” worth? And what exactly are we to make of that “Forensic Audit”? Click to down laod Audit Report on NNPC

NBC and Nigeria’s digital broadcasting blackhole

EArly this week, DAILY TRUST reported that Emeka Mba, the Director General of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) finally owned up that it was doubtful, that Nigeria was going to effect the digital broadcasting switch over, scheduled for June 17, 2015. Emeka Mba blamed that anticipated failure to funding, as setop boxes that are critical for the switchover are not yet available. The manufacturers of these devices, according to him, needed incentive from government in order to be able to commence production and that has not been forthcoming.

NBC was not financially able to offer such a support. Another reason that has been canvassed for the coming digital broadcasting failure, was the new political reality in the country; a euphemism for the defeat of President Goodluck Jonathan by the President-elect, General Muhammadu Buhari.

It was clear to every discerning observer of the Nigerian broadcasting scene that the NBC leadership, under Emeka Mba, had been on an elaborate journey to nowhere, as far as the digital broadcasting switchover was concerned. Stripped of subterfuge, Nigeria was being taken on a wild geese chase and there was not much, if ever there was anything in the first place, in terms of a patriotic process to lead us to the digital broadcasting Eldorado. Yet, what the NBC had told stakeholders and Nigerians at large, was that it had prepared the switchover to take place on March 24th, 2015, from Jos in Plateau state.

That was expected to be the pilot phase that would kick-start the national switchover. The NBC’s charade becomes clearer, only when one realises that Nigeria has only two licensed digital signal carriers, and none of the two was actually part of the NBC hoax that was allegedly set up to have taken place in Jos. So who was expected to provide the signal that NBC was to launch for distribution in Jos was therefore unknown, while there were similarly no transmitters that would have digitally covered Plateau state. There is no network coverage map for Nigeria or a network design that stakeholders in broadcasting knew about.

A major technical problem that would have arisen, had there been any so-called digital switchover in Jos, was the blackout of existing analogue broadcasts in Plateau and neighbouring states, since digital broadcasting is not compatible with analogue transmission. There would have been a major panic as people would have literally been plunged into a broadcasting blackhole they have not been prepared for. In a related sense, majority of television sets in Nigeria do not have digital tuners and they would have needed setop boxes (STBs), before any public viewing of television in a digital environment. While NBC has licensed STB manufacturers, none has commenced manufacture or importation of those boxes.

So there was no way, that viewers in Jos and Plateau state would have watched digital telecasts. NBC also said that there will be a digital access fee that must be paid by subscribers, before they can even view free-to-air channels, yet, there are no subscriber management services or conditional access service providers in Nigeria. So with this scenario, and many more that we can cite, there was no way under the sun, that NBC could have achieved a digital switchover as it allegedly set out to do in Jos at the end of last month. It was an elaborate charade.

In truth, NBC is in dispute with one of the two licensed digital services providers in Nigeria, Pinnacle Communications Limited. There is already a case in court, so the issue is sub judice, as lawyers say. However, there is a disturbing pattern of behaviour on the part of the NBC, and especially its DG, Emeka Mba, which worries observers and those interested in the digital switchover. And that is a consistent pattern of favouring foreign media companies, to the detriment of Nigerian companies in this business of digital switchover. And the company that is being favoured is the South African owned MULTICHOICE and GoTv.

These foreign bodies are to be allowed by NBC to independently carry and distribute their own signals. Yet it was only ITS and Pinnacle Communications that NBC officially licensed for the digital process in an open and competitive bid. When we recall that Emeka Mba was an employee of the South African company, MULTICHOICE, it becomes very disturbing indeed. And it was the same NBC, that looked the other way, when some of the most indefensible assaults were launched by television stations like AIT, on the basic canons of professionalism during the campaigns leading to the last presidential elections.

The incoming government of President Muhammadu Buhari will have a full plate of issues to deal with. But it will realise early into the administration, that it must pull Nigeria’s digital broadcasting switchover from the black hole it has been plunged into, by the actions and inactions of the NBC, under Emeka Mba’s leadership.

That order on AIT: An unnecessary faux pas

The story broke on Monday night. Security advisers of president-elect Muhammadu Buhari, allegedly barred an AIT crew from covering activities of their principal until further notice. They were alleged to have cited adverse security reports and ethical issues as basis of action.

Garba Shehu, the spokesperson for the Buhari campaign, was then quoted by the media as saying: “AIT has been asked to stay aside based on security and family concerns…(and) some issues relating to…standard and ethics. We will be talking to them but for now, the station has been asked to stay aside because, like I said, there are some family and security concerns.

They have been asked to step down their coverage until we resolve the matter with them on ethics and standards”. It was very shocking that such an episode was allowed in the first place! Let us be clear about it; AIT was very unprofessional and indecently gung-ho in the partisanship that it expressed during the last campaign. It was used to broadcast some of the most vulgar, abusive and unacceptable materials against candidate Muhammadu Buhari.

It was unable to hide its bias against Buhari and an ardent partisan of Goodluck Jonathan. Unfortunately, the regulatory body, NBC looked the other way and thus became complicit, as AIT flouted every letter of NBC’s Broadcasting Code, in respect of political broadcasts. Yet, it was unacceptable that AIT was stopped from covering the president-elect.

Over-zealous security officials might have even done that without the knowledge of General Buhari, but that doesn’t excuse the action. There is a lot that Nigerians expect from a president-elect that has promised change and he should be assisted to achieve his ambitions for Nigeria, not hamstrung with indefensible orders against the media, even when it is a medium as compromised as AIT became, in the lead to the elections.

The Nigerian Constitution does not give security officials the power to decide which medium can or cannot cover the activities of public officials. It was therefore correct that Lai Muhammed acted fast and eventually clarified the position. But the faux pas was unnecessary in the first place and must not be allowed to happen again into the future.

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