Discordant Tunes, Doubts Over Planned Probe Of NNPC, Excess Crude Account
BEFORE now successive governments, especially at the national level had constituted various committees to probe controversial issues and events they deemed necessary. Majority of such probes, if not all had always ended up as wild goose chase or exercise in futility.
In most cases, various recommendations by such Committees were never implemented by the government, as it has always been dumped on the government’s shelf where it gathers dust.
This is despite the fact that huge taxpayers’ funds were spent in carrying out such assignments. A situation which has made majority of Nigerians to always sound skeptical or pessimistic whenever government constituted committee to probe anything. During the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, many Nigerians once tagged his administration, government of the Committee by the Committee and for the Committee.
This was due to several Committees his government constituted which their recommendations were never turned in or implemented by his government till he left office. Many Nigerians have always argued that the country’s problems is not setting up Committees or conducting probes, but lack of political will by the governments to implement the recommendations of the Committees.
The above narratives may not be far from the fears and pessimism of Nigerians as President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration recently after the inauguration of the National Economic Council (NEC) in Abuja set up a four-man Committee made up of state governors of Kaduna, Edo, Lagos and Gombe to probe Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) on apparent discrepancies in its accounts, as well as alleged plundering of a reserve account by the immediate past government.
Speaking after the panel was set up in Abuja, a member of the panel and governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole said the panel will look at NNPC accounts on crude oil sales between 2012, and May this year.
“The NNPC claimed to have earned 8.1 trillion naira ($40 billion, 36 billion euros), what NNPC paid into the Federation Account… was 4.3 trillion naira,” he said. “What it means is that NNPC withheld and spent 3.8 trillion naira… That tells you how much is missing, what is mismanaged, what is stolen.
These are huge figures,” he alleged. Oshiomhole said the panel would also look into a massive dip in Nigeria’s excess crude account, into which the difference between government-set oil prices and the international rate is deposited. He said the “rainy day” account has plunged to $2 billion from $4.1 billion in November 2014.
In the same vein, the spokesman for All Progressives Congress (APC) Alhaji Lai Mohammed has told journalists in Lagos on Tuesday that the excess crude account fund had been depleted “without explanation.” Sensing that Oshiomhole’s allegation was targeted at her, former Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala denied spending spent $2.1 billion out of the Excess Crude
Account “without authorization. Okonjo-Iweala’s media aide, Mr. Paul Nwabuko in a statement on Tuesday described the allegation as false, malicious and totally without foundation.
The former minister said no unauthorized expenditure from the ECA was made under her watch in the Finance Ministry, and that decisions on such expenditure were discussed at meetings of the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) attended by finance commissioners from the 36 states.
“It is curious that in their desperation to use the esteemed National Economic Council for political and personal vendetta, the persons behind these allegations acted as if the constitutionally recognized FAAC, a potent expression of Nigeria’s fiscal federalism, does not exist.’
“But Nigerians know that collective revenues, allocations and expenditures of the three tiers of government are the concern of the monthly FAAC meetings. “It is important to acknowledge the efforts of governors who are working hard to overcome the current revenue challenges facing their states without resorting to character assassination and blame games,” it said.
But not convinced with Okonjo-Iweala’s explanation, Mr. Oshiomhole on Wednesday, accused the former Minister of not only toying with figures about the country’s finances, but also being economical with the truth on the state of the economy bequeathed to President Muhammadu Buhari.
“With all due respect to the former Minister Okonjo-Iweala, she knows how to play around with statistics,” Mr. Oshiomhole said. “I have made the point before that she keeps opening part of the pages, and not the entire book. As a member of NEC, Mr. Oshiomhole said he had confronted the former Minister on several occasions to demand that reports on matters of Federation
Account should not be presented to members verbally, but in written form, for reasons of accountability. On the controversial unauthorized spending, Mr. Oshiomhole said the power to take money from the ECA was vested in the NEC, an institution created by the constitution, and not State Finance Commissioners, who were members of the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC).
As Oshiomhole and Okonjo-Iweala engage each other in war of words, many Nigerians have raised eyebrow on the composition and membership of the four-man Committee, stressing that the governors have been made judges in their own case. Others have described the probe as a political witch-hunt that will end up as exercise in futility as usual.
Some are also of the opinion that what is at stake is evidence of total accruals, not what has been shared and how it was shared among the three tiers of government. Speaking to The Guardian on the issue, an economist, Dr. Vincent Akorede said the probe is not necessary because it will not achieve any desired result as usual.
Akorede said: “Buhari government should be wary of constituting frivolous committees that was prevalent during the last administration. We have seen such probes in the past, but nothing good comes out of it. This one may not be different.
“President Buhari has promised that henceforth all the revenues that accrue to the federal government will be remitted into the Consolidated Revenue Fund.
Buhari and the governors should forget the past and move forward because Nigerians will misinterpret the whole move.’ In the same vein, a Lagos-based entrepreneur, Mr. Joe Obi said the probe is a clear indication that Buhari government is not ready to engage in governance.
“What does the government want to probe again that Nigerians did not know? What happened to the recommendations of different Committees and groups that have probed NNPC before now? Government should look for the recommendations and implement them instead of setting up another panel.
“We have always known and heard that NNPC is Presidency’s cash-cow or ATM machine. It behoves on Buhari’s administration to restructure the Corporation and plug the leakages, instead of wasting resources and time probing its past activities that were fraught with endless and enormous rot,’ Obi said. But a Lagos Chieftain of All Progressives Congress (APC) Alhaji Ganiyu Lawal has commended President Buhari for setting up the probe panel, arguing that there is no way the country can move forward without looking at the events of the past.
In his own remarks, Lead Director, Centre For Social Justice, an Abuja-based civil society organization, Mr. Eze Onyekpere, said the choice of state governors who are also interested parties in the issue as members of the panel has cast doubt on the credibility or otherwise of the panel. Onyekpere said: Reviewing critically Oshiomhole’s statements so far on the issue, it seems obvious the panel members have already drawn conclusion before commencing the probe.
It is very unfair making the governors judges in their own case by making them members of the panel. It is better for the government to engage independent auditors and forensic experts, if there is urgent need for such probe. I have my fears on what the governors can do.
This is because the governors before now have always demanded for the sharing of proceeds in Excess Crude Account. They have once described it as illegal account, forgetting that its existence is enshrined in the Fiscal Responsibility Act.