Lost and found! By Sanya Oni

If Nigerians ever needed iron-clad evidence of outlawry of their national oil corporation, weekend’s response by the General Manager, Media Relations, Group Public Affairs Department, NNPC, Omar Farouk to the firestorm over the alleged missing $10.8billion may have finally supplied one.

Not that anyone ever doubted the farce that rules the nation’s finance system as a whole; or the plague of officials helping themselves to the national till that has long become norm. However, the latest revelation of the laissez faire conduct, the outrageously out-of-control practices by a corporation that is supposed to be a creation of statute –with active connivance of top officials of the finance ministry – may have set new limits in outlawry.

Let’s start from the very beginning.

Late last year, Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria, Lamido Sanusi, had alleged that the corporation failed to remit $49.8bn to the Federation Account for the period spanning 18 months – that is, between January 2012 and July 2013. The problem, as it later turned out was that the figures declared missing had failed to take into account the $39 billion paid by the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, and the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, into the federation account.

I had said on this page that, coming from the nation’s top banker, the ‘omission’ was inexcusable, if not entirely irresponsible. Since then, the officials of the finance and petroleum ministries – including the NNPC, have made valiant attempts to pass off the charge as fiction even when there was still $10.8 billion unaccounted for.

Apparently, the corporation’s weekend tale of the missing money was meant to be the final demolition job on the charge by the CBN governor. While I do understand that some so-called defence do not so qualify; the suggestion that the missing money has been spent on behalf of the federal government, is not only worse than no defence at all, it borders on the treasonable!

Let’s look at the three-part component of how the money went as told by the NNPC’s spokesman.

The first part, he claims represents “the expenses on some of the responsibilities, which the corporation carries out on behalf of the Federal Government with respect to domestic crude oil utilisation. One of such issues is the unpaid subsidies on kerosene and Premium Motor Spirit”.

Here, if Nigerians are any familiar with the billions allegedly paid to the scores of ghost importers of petrol and kerosene, the tale about the value being deducted at the source from NNPC’s piggy bank on behalf of the federal government has been told so severally to the point of being wearisome. Considering that the same subsidy is also said to be charged on the excess crude account, Nigerians must wonder at what is going on.

The same applies to the 32 days’ stock of premium motor spirit at 40 million litres of national consumption per day. Isn’t that supposed to be one-off budget? Of course, while the reserve accounting looks easy and simple and straightforward to determine upfront, NNPC and its allies in government obviously think that they require something outside the cycle of the budget to defray.

And the third – you guessed right: the cost “of pipeline vandalism, oil theft and other security issues”.

Again, that is supposed to be indeterminate – the kind that requires the rule of thumb to determine.

And the three, we are told is what makes up the yet-to-be-reconciled balance of $10.8bn”!

Should anyone be surprised at the creative account that seeks to work backwards to the answer? To be candid, the shock would have been if the reconciliation team came up with anything new?

To begin with, for a corporation that has long acquired the image of a lawless entity, the self-indicting revelation that the quantum of national obligations – reckoned in billions of dollars – could be financed outside of the framework of appropriations can only pass on the altar of the ingrained culture of criminal impunity. Before now, the arguments about the deductibles from the federation account had always centred on the shady operational costs borne by the NNPC in the course of its activities. Quite familiar also is the creative accounting in which all manners of expenses gets passed off to the federation account.

Now, the revelation that the corporation has a licence to do as it pleased with the federation account has finally been declared as legit!

So, no money is missing? Only when one accepts that the beneficiaries of the accruals into the federation account actually get the amount due to them can one suggest otherwise.

Now to the specifics: Did Finance Minister Okonjo-Iweala actually claim last year that she had not paid any subsidy on kerosene since she assumed office? At what point was it therefore charged to the NNPC account? Is a case of looking for expenses to charge to the missing money?

The latter obviously raises the question of who authorised the payment from the NNPC accounts. Petroleum Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke? Or the NNPC board which she chairs? Does the board – if it exists – have such powers? Is it the Federal Executive Council? Could they have done so without the authority of the National Assembly?

While Nigerians may not have bothered about the laws of the republic being broken by officials sworn to uphold the law, I guess it’s time to worry about the parallel government described as the NNPC; a quasi-government without the strictures of parliament; an entity only answerable to a conclave.

Still want to know where the money went? Certainly, it’s not in the books. Try as the reconciliation team might, the job goes beyond reconciliation. That itself assumes that the reconcilers have the nerves to do the job. Soon enough, Nigerians would see evidence in the cities and the country-sides when our Abuja overlords unleash their war-chest for 2015. That time, it would be headache for Sanusi as it would be for everyone of us all.

Again, it is happy New Year!

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