By Talatu Usman*
President Goodluck Jonathan on Monday publicly received the report of the forensic audit carried out on the accounts of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation [NNPC] from the accounting firm that conducted the investigation.
The report submission ceremony, held a day after a former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria [CBN], Chukwuma Soludo, wrote a long, acerbic article accusing the managers of the Nigerian economy of misappropriating over N30trillion of public funds, including several billions in oil money.
“Now add the ‘missing’ $20 billion from the NNPC,” Mr. Soludo said. “You promised a forensic audit report ‘soon’, and more than a year later the Report itself is still ‘missing’. This is over N4 trillion, and we don’t know how much more has ‘missed’ since Sanusi cried out. How many trillions of naira were paid for oil subsidy (unappropriated?).”
Insiders in the administration had long told PREMIUM TIMES that the report was submitted months ago by auditors but that it was gathering dust in the cupboards of the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and the Auditor General of the Federation.
In what appeared a hurried response to Mr. Soludo’s allegations, President Jonathan suspended campaign activities Monday to receive the report from the auditors in the presence of journalists, in a move aides say was aimed at correcting the impression created by the former CBN governor that the administration was sitting on the document.
At the ceremony held at the Presidential Villa, Mr. Jonathan received the report from Uyi Akpata, the country senior partner for PriceWaterHouseCoopers, and then promised a comprehensive reform of the oil sector.
The President did not give any insight into the details of the report. He only said the document would be sent to the Auditor General of the Federation in the next one week.
He said it is at the Auditor-General’s end that details of the report would be made public saying “media will want to know the key findings vis-a-vis the senate findings and figures being bandied around in the newspaper, but Nigerians are interested”.
The President noted that as part of the recommendation made, the petroleum industry bill would correct the lapses in the oil and gas sector.
“Indeed you mentioned the issue of reform in the sector, everybody knows that the sector needs to be reformed,” he said. “By the time we go through the petroleum industry bill and pass it into law, most of this lapses will be corrected and the misconception will be properly addressed.”
Suppressing the Report
PREMIUM TIMES had on December 27 reported how the government plotted to suppress the report. The forensic audit was commissioned following allegation by the immediate past Governor of the CBN, Lamido Sanusi, that about $20 billion oil money was missing from the NNPC.
The Presidency had on March 12, 2014 announced, through a statement by the president’s spokesperson, Reuben Abati, that it had authorised the engagement of reputable international firms to carry out the forensic audit of the accounts of the NNPC.
The audit firm had earlier submitted an interim report which the President said he rejected as the subject matter of the probe needed to be completely dealt with.
The allegation that the huge amount had been stolen was raised in 2013 by a former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Lamido Sanusi, who is now the Emir of Kano.
Mr. Sanusi said as much as $49 billion was diverted by state oil company, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC.
He later reviewed the amount to $20 billion, and called for investigations after writing to President Goodluck Jonathan.
A Senate probe into the allegation yielded no result. Mr. Sanusi was later fired by President Jonathan after he was accused of “financial recklessness”.
The government said no money was missing, but promised a forensic investigation of NNPC.
In April, the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, announced the appointment of the accounting firm, PriceWaterHouseCoopers (PwC), to conduct a detailed investigation into the accounts and activities of NNPC.
The minister said the investigation, under the supervision of the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation, would take about 16 weeks.
That schedule meant at most by September 2014 ending, the report should have been ready. A two-month delay meant the report should have been ready by November.
But more than two months later, the government failed to release the report.
PREMIUM TIMES independently investigated the whereabouts of the report and its contents.
At each turn, relevant government offices denied having the report despite confirmation by senior officials of the finance ministry to this newspaper that the report had since been submitted by PriceWaterHouseCoopers.
The sources said the document was submitted to the office of the Auditor-General of the Federation. Our reporters contacted the offices of the Auditor-General and the Accountant- General repeatedly, pressing for the report, without success.
A spokesperson for the Auditor-General of the Federation, Florence Dibiase, said she was not aware of the report.
Also, Abba Dabo, the Director, Extra Ministerial Department, in the Office of the Auditor general of the Federation, denied knowledge of the report. Mr. Dabo said he should be in charge of such documents if they were available.
He said the role of the auditor-general’s office was in selecting PriceWaterHouseCoopers as the auditing firm, after which the matter reverted to the finance ministry.
Mr. Dabo said only the Auditor General, Samuel Ukura, could speak authoritatively on whether any such report was ready. Mr. Ukura could not be reached for comments at the time.
PREMIUM TIMES also contacted PriceWaterHouseCoopers, where an official said the firm would only be able to comment on a later date.