Ini Ekott, PremiumTimes
February 1, 2014
The Nigerian Senate has come under intense pressure from the presidency, the petroleum ministry and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation [NNPC] to abandon a planned investigation into the disappearance of a staggering $48.9 billion (about N8 trillion) crude oil money, senators have told PREMIUM TIMES.
A Senate investigative hearing into the scandal, regarded as one of Nigeria’s biggest fraud, billed to commence Thursday, was rescheduled for next Tuesday.
Senators told PREMIUM TIMES the move was part of efforts by the upper chamber of parliament to deflect a growing pressure from multiple government offices, including the presidency, demanding that the probe be suspended.
Lawmakers said the government fears its defiant Central Bank Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, whose leaked letter to President Goodluck Jonathan first exposed the huge fraud, might provide even far more damaging details at a public hearing.
“The government is suspicious that Sanusi might embarrass President Jonathan and the administration at the hearing,” a senator familiar with the matter said. “So, the presidency and the petroleum ministry are pressuring us not to hold the hearing.
“But we have decided to go ahead. The best concession we made was to shift the hearing forward from Thursday to Tuesday. We can’t cancel it because Nigerians will ask questions.”
In his memo to the president in September 2013, Mr. Sanusi detailed how state-run oil firm, the NNPC, systematically sliced 76 percent of crude oil proceeds between 2012 and 2013, a heist that totalled $48.9 billion.
For each barrel of crude sold, Mr. Sanusi said referencing sales and shipping documents, the NNPC only paid 24 percent of the proceeds into federal government coffers, while the balance was siphoned in an unspecified account.
Many Nigerians fear the money may have been stolen by government officials, but the administration insists not a kobo is missing. Yet, it has failed to fully account for the funds which is the equivalent of Nigeria’s national budget for two years.
The Nigeria Governors’ Forum has called for extensive investigation, saying claims by the NNPC were unconvincing, and that it was suspicious the missing funds were in private pockets.
But the NNPC has since denied the CBN claims, accusing Mr. Sanusi of being ill-informed of the workings of the oil and gas sector. The corporation claimed the purported missing funds were received by other agencies of government, including the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, and the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR.
At an early meeting with the Senate in December, Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, told lawmakers the missing sum had been “reconciled” and that respective agencies — including Mr. Sanusi’s CBN– had realized that the outstanding figure was a “mere $10.8 billion”.
Mr. Sanusi rejected that figure, and pegged the outstanding sum at $12 billion.
Still, the finance minister claimed the outstanding $10.8 billion was not “missing” as the process of “reconciling” the accounts continued.
But in a surprising twist, the NNPC, offering no new proofs, now claims the outstanding $10.8 billion was spent on fuel subsidy and maintenance of oil pipelines.
The Senate Committee on Finance now wants to get to the root of that discrepancy. Senators said they were pushing ahead with their investigation and the House of Representatives has indicated it might be conducting a separate probe.
The Senate committee on finance, which is conducting the probe, said Friday it has received submissions from some agencies of government ahead of the commencement of the public hearing.
Its chairman, Ahmed Makarfi, however denied facing any pressures.
“I’m not aware of any pressures, and as far as I know, relevant MDAs are making their written submissions,” said Mr. Makarfi told PREMIUM TIMES late Friday via a text message.
But in separate interviews, some members of the committee said they were facing increasing pressure from the executive and the presidency to abandon any inquiry into the missing money.
Those who spoke to us insisted their names be withheld because of the sensitivity of the matter.
“Our chairman is only being diplomatic,” one of our sources said. “There is pressure everywhere but we want to go ahead because our integrity is at stake.”
Our sources said the government is uncomfortable that Mr. Sanusi, whom the president has asked to resign from his post ahead of the expiration of his tenure in June, might make far more damaging revelations if allowed to testify publicly.
On the contrary, the presidency has offered to allow the hearing proceed if the Senate committee would avail it of Mr. Sanusi’s submitted presentation to enable administration officials prepare an appropriate rebuttal.
The lawmakers said they rejected that suggestion.
Neither the presidency nor the CBN spokespersons responded to our inquiries on the matter on Friday.