By Ezeh Jude Ogechukwu
It was the 28th American president, Woodrow Wilson, who, having seen the rots in governmental hierarchies of his time, exclaimed: "A government which was designed for the people has got into the hands of the bosses and their employers, the special interests. An invisible empire has been set up above the forms of democracy."
This lesson-in-thought must have resonated in the minds of all lovers of this country on Wednesday 14th July 2021 when the Senate Committee on Public Accounts released landmines contained in a report of 59 recommendations from its meticulous scrutiny of our public accounts, which was brought to the fore, at plenary of that day. The report was startling. It showed that "corruption" is still an ambiguous term in Nigeria. And thus, the fight against it has to be both stratified and categorized.
Most of our key national revenue generation apparatchiks are, by the reckoning of that report, enmeshed in endemic corrupt practices capable of pegging the country in perpetual poverty if not fought with sincere arsenals of transparency, patriotism, and integrity in order to rebuild public trust in government ministries, departments, and agencies (MDAs).
The headlines of most media outfits on the outcome of the committee's investigation report, read: "The Senate faulted NNPC over under-remittance of N3.8trn of crude oil sales."
It claimed that between January to December 2015 (i.e six years ago) this difference remained unremitted to government coffers, yet the country moved on.
The fact that such a huge amount could remain unaccounted for, calls for concerns. It points to a frightening possibility of thousand other undiscovered (or maybe, never-to-be discovered) misappropriation of public funds and sundry looting, clandestinely ongoing in many MDAs of government. The upper chamber of our national parliament went further to indict the Nigeria ports authority (NPA), Federal in-land revenue service (FIRS), Federal Ministry of Youths & Sports, and SMEDAN for varied degrees of unholy financial dealings shrouded in jeering mystery.
But when one considers that plugging off these sorts of ignominy was the prima facie vocation of this regime, one will begin to shudder in utter dismay. From the onset, President Buhari made it clear that he will double as Minister of petroleum. This means he will personally oversee the dealings of this most lucrative of all ministries where transparency had remained a strange visitor. He summarily raised our hopes that light has eventually dawned in the tunnels of NNPC. But six years down the line, the hen is at home to roost.
Most national dailies were unanimous in their reportage of the red chamber's plenary decision, exactly as we saw in the live coverage of the session thus:
"On financial infractions by the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources, the Senate called for the sanction of the Permanent Secretary, in accordance with Rule 3129 of the Financial Regulations and Public Service Rules 030402 over the diversion of funds from the Capital Projects Funds for purchase of Sallah/Christians welfare package to the staff of the Ministry. The upper chamber queried the sums of N46,645,000.00 and N56,418,135.00 for the printing of the Ministry’s letter-headed paper, and demanded that the sum be recovered and paid back to the treasury."
And just before you scan over the figures in jolted disbelief, recall that Edo Governor, Godwin Obaseki, leaked a 'supposedly' classified government information three months ago. He raised the alarm that the federal government reported a blank page on its April/May federal revenue allocation sheet; which allegedly forced CBN to print new currencies in the border N60bn to share to states. The war of words that transpired between, and among the governor, Minister of Finance, and CBN governor which trailed that incident of government information leakage didn't bother many experts of economics, since the veracity of each of their respective claims can be proved in a matter of months when its effect on the economy will be marginally felt by the citizenry. And today, we all are witnesses to the current unsettling extraterrestrial inflation ravaging the country -- a testimony that what was denied three months ago was true.
But after that plenary in which impunity was laid bare by those allegations at the committee level, one will begin to see why the country has to face over 21% inflation rate. It also explained why the inflation rate in the foodstuff subsector alone, according to NBS 2021 second-quarter report is well over 17%. Blueprint newspaper was amazed in its July 21 Business report that "staple food prices soar above the reach of average Nigerian" despite the apex Bank's intervention fund to rice farmers.
Why won't the government report zero internal revenue generation in April when mismanagement of funds is allegedly entrenched in MDAs and major revenue generation organs of government? It also begs the question: how is Mr. President faring in his 'other' office as Minister of Petroleum Resources? Why have we not seen or heard of any intervention from his desk in these gray areas of allegations against NNPC? No punitive measures whatsoever had been served to the alleged erring departments or officers.
While these and many more questions crept up the mind, NNPC group managing director Mallam Mele Kyari, released a statement on 21st June, (exactly a week after the allegations) clearing the air. “The amount allegedly under-remitted is the applicable subsidy and unrealized revenue from petroleum products sales and other operational costs for the period.” read the statement.
He said breakdown of the various components of the alleged under-remitted amount which it said were presented as claims and were duly validated by forensic auditors and the Auditor-General of the Federation were as follows: PPPRA Certified Subsidy (2012-Nov 2015), N2.44 trillion (N2,439,859,459,982.00); Validated & Approved NNPC Claims (2004-2009), N797.7 billion (N797,710,684,354.00); crude oil and products losses (2012-Nov 2015), N245.2 billion (N245,184,597,565.65); pipeline maintenance cost (2012-Nov 2015) N409.9 billion (409,985,574,539.86); totaling N3.89 trillion in operational expenses (N3,892,740,316,442.12).
According to the corporation, "the root cause of the misunderstanding leading to the allegation is the non-incorporation of the above claims into the Accountant-General of the Federation’s report even though they had been validated by forensic auditors and the Auditor-General of the Federation."
This implicates another lacuna as to why hasn't the Ministry of Petroleum Resources inaugurated an interministerial and/or inter-agency committees to reconcile these yawning information gaps among the Auditor General of the Federation's office and Ministry of Finance/Accountant General of the Federation's office, and spare Nigerians these perennial scandals?
However, while we await clarifying statements from the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Petroleum Resources, NPA, FIRS, SMEDAN, and other agencies implicated in the indictments, it is fair to commend the 9th Senate for peeling off the sticker label of "rubber-stamp" title sarcastically gummed to its leadership, by the opposition party, to do a thorough oversight duty of checks and balances, on the executive arm of government and its agencies.
May daylight spare us!
...Eze Jude Ogechukwu (B.MLS), a Medical Laboratory Scientist, Columnist, and Public Affairs Analyst (Tel: +2348062494912)