By Clifford Ndujihe & Levinus Nwabughiogu
ABUJA— Disturbed by the rot and thriving corruption in the civil service, which has cost the country trillions of naira, President Muhammadu Buhari has taken his anti-graft war to the sector.
He has ordered that all outstanding audit queries which had piled up over the years be resolved within the next 30 days.
Confirming the presidential directive, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media & Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, said the unanswered audit queries sounded unsavoury to the President who, on hearing it, expressed his displeasure.
An audit query is the request for an explanation by the Auditor-General of the Federation over improprieties discovered in the Accountant-General of the Federation’s report. The report is done quarterly.
By law (Civil Services Re-organization Decree No. 43 of 1988), the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation supervises the accounts of federal
and extra-ministerial department; collates, presents and publishes statutory financial statements of account required by the Minister of Finance; conducts routine and in-depth inspection of the books of accounts of federal ministries and extra-ministerial department to ensure compliance with rules, regulations, policies, and internal audit guides; investigates cases of fraud, loss of funds, assets and store items and other financial malpractices in ministries/extra-ministerial department; ensures revenue monitoring and accounting; provides a system for the monitoring of the accounts of all Ministries, Departments and Agencies and ensures timely submission of all financial statements to the Auditor-General of the Federation.
If the Auditor-General is dissatisfied with the reports, he issues queries. Audit queries are also used to check fraud as the ‘ghost workers’ phenomenon.
Over time, an avalanche of these queries have not been answered, a development that has created a huge tunnel for graft through unaccounted expenditures, misappropriation and miscalculation of funds running into trillions of naira. The measure is used to check unspent budgets, which are expected to be returned to the treasury.
Following the disappointing manner the queries were handled, President Buhari directed that any civil servant who failed to answer audit queries within 24 hours, henceforth, would face a disciplinary action.
These are part of the marching orders Buhari gave the Auditor-General of the Federation, Vanguard gathered.
The orders followed the discovery of a plethora of unanswered audit queries which spanned a long period of time, running into years, under previous administrations.
Era of impunity is gone
Garba Shehu stated that President Buhari was irrevocably committed to tackling administrative and bureaucratic corruption head-on.
He said: “The era of impunity is gone. The President is taking the war on corruption to the civil service. He is not happy that standard operating procedures and financial regulations are no longer being observed as they should.
“President Buhari will ensure that public officials and civil servants in the service of the Federal Government pay a heavy price from now on for violating financial regulations or disregarding audit queries.”
He added that the President was determined to put an end to the present situation in which, rather than respond to legitimate audit queries, violators of financial regulations in the Federal. Government resort to threatening, bribing or mounting other forms of social pressures on auditors.
“On his watch, President Buhari wants to see firm action against those who violate extant financial regulations, not the prevarications and shenanigans that went on in the past in the form of endless probes and public inquiries,” the Presidential spokesman said.
Probe Siemens, Halliburton, other scandals, Igbo leaders urge Buhari
This came as Igbo leaders on the plank of Igbo Leaders of Thought, ILT, led by Professor Ben Nwabueze (SAN) urged President Buhari to extend his probe of past administrations to 1999.
However, the call to extend the probe beyond the Dr Goodluck Jonathan’s administration was opposed by former Minister of State for Education, Olorogun Kenneth Gbagi, who argued that late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Jonathan should have probed the former President Olusegun Obasanjo regime, if they had any issues with his government.
Commending President Buhari over his anti-graft war and calling on all Nigerians to support the crusade in the interest of the country, the Igbo leaders, however, said that making the probe extensive will lead to a “change that will endure.”
In a statement by Evangelist Elliot Uko, Deputy Secretary, ILT, founder, Igbo Youth Movement, IYM, and Leader, South-East Democratic Coalition, SEDC, the Igbo leaders said: ‘’The promise of change to the ugly manner things have been done in our country for decades, inspires hope among the citizenry.
“Talk about probe, prosecution and the eventual return of looted funds to the coffers of government is a wonderful, exciting and a most welcome idea.
“President Buhari’s corrupt-free image goes a long way here to inspire hope and confidence that this exercise will help send the necessary signal to public officials, that the era of mindless looting and siphoning of public funds is over.
“We support the probe, prosecution of looters and return of all stolen common wealth of Nigerians over the years. We also ask our countrymen to support this needful and timely exercise.
“But we have two worries: Firstly, we plead that the exercise be totally free of political vendetta as that would taint the credibility of the whole exercise. Secondly, we wonder why the exercise would be restricted only to the immediate past regime. Does that mean that the notorious Siemens and Halliburton bribery scandals have been rested forever?
“Are we saying that the glaring corrupt cases of 1999-2007 are closed cases? Is it morally right to target only the last regime while exonerating the 1999-2007 sleaze-infested regime? Will the deliberate isolation of the last regime alone for probe not give the impression of a political vendetta? Why is it so compelling to look away and leave out the 1999-2007 era?
“We conclude by pleading with our countrymen to support the probe because corruption remains one of the four great problems facing our country. Others are ethnicity and nepotism, religious bigotry and the mother of all problems: unjust political structure.
“It is important we thoughtfully appraise the impact of singling out only one regime for probe and prosecution while giving others a clean bill of health.
“The exercise must not be seen as political and divisive, as the essence and noble goal will be lost. If the change we profess is real, then false starts must be avoided.’’
Buhari has no business probing Obasanjo’s regime
Opposing the extension of the probe to Obasanjo’s administration, Gbagi said: “Whatever was done in 1999, there was a president before this president. It was the duty of Jonathan to have probed the government that he took over from. Buhari has no business going to a government which is not back-to-back with him. The Jonathan administration is back-to-back with him.
“Whatever negativity there was with regards to the Jonathan’s government will have effect on the Buhari government. Buhari cannot be going to the 1999 regime. What concerns him by law and every fact of life is the Jonathan’s government.”