By Chijama Ogbu
I have a problem in the way Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, is going about his allegations of misappropriation against the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Allegations or insinuations of fraud is serious matter and must of necessity be so treated. And it is doubly so required, if such words are coming from the hallowed office of a central bank governor.
It is good for the CBN governor or indeed anybody to speak up against perceived or observed fraud, but for the governor the revered office casts additional burden on his shoulders. He ought to be consistent in his facts and sure with his figures. This has not been the case with the Sanusi’s crusade against the NNPC. From the time he wrote his letter to President Goodluck Jonathan to the latest presentation to the lawmakers, the Kano prince has thrown up three different figures as the missing money.
First, in the letter to the president, Sanusi alleged that the NNPC had bilked the country of a whopping $49.8 billion. Second, after the inter-agency reconciliations that included the NNPC, Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), the Budget Office, Ministries of Finance and Petroleum Resources, Department of Petroleum Resources and other relevant agencies, the governor publicly announced that the missing money was down to $12 billion. He did not agree with the $10.8 which other agencies at the reconciliation meeting all agreed was amount it was yet to reconcile.Third, in his presentation to the House Committee on Finance his figure for unaccounted earnings by the NNPC had metamorphosed to $20 billion.
In this circumstance, it is difficult to believe that the governor is sure of his facts. It appears that he is merely taking the nation on a ride through the well-worn road of suspicion that some shadowy activities are going on in the NNPC. Going back to the regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd) as a military head of state, there have been allegations of monumental corruption in the NNPC. It was under the regime that General Muhammed Buhari (rtd), who was then Petroleum Minister, was accused of embezzling $2.8 billion. Nobody has proven it but the allegations still dog him till today.
General Ibrahim Babaginda’s administration (1985- 1993) has to contend with the allegation of misappropriating $12 billion Gulf War oil wind fall. Though not proven, Babangida may have to live with the stigma of that alleged massive embezzlement of public funds for the rest of his life.
The perception remained the same throughout the eight years of Obasanjo’s presidency (1999-2007). Ditto under President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. What was different during two latest administration before Jonathan’s is that no particular figure was bandied about by the traducers of the administration.
In all the aforementioned cases, the allegations were closely tagged on the administration at the time. It appears that Sanusi, who has been severally linked with a political party in the country, is pursuing an agenda of trying to foist a similar toga on the Jonathan administration. Sometimes, reading Sanusi’s comments which oftentimes are thinly-veiled insinuations against the administration he is serving under, one would easily pass them for those from some attention seeking social crusader. The idea of a central bank governor being openly critical of the administration it is serving under, especially on some issues that are not germane to macroeconomic stability, is independence taken too far.
In the United States, Bernanke was appointed by a Republican administration and reappointed by Obama, a democrat, and in all the five years he served under Obama’s administration there was no single instance he made disparaging remarks against Obama or his administration. That does not mean that he agreed with all the policies and actions of Obama administration.
Sanusi’s charge, even without dwelling on the incentive behind it, is faulty from the start. It is preposterous that the governor does not know the actual accruals to Nigeria from oil sales in the period for which it alleged hefty leakages. While he was working with about $50 billion, it was the NNPC officials who corrected that the actual accruals were indeed about $67 billion.
Secondly, what he should have done as part of the administration’s economic team is to initiate internal process of clarifying the cloudy financial issues with the NNPC and any other agency involved. This should have happened even before the letter to the president. I believe that neither the NNPC nor any other agency of government would take questions from CBN governor with levity.
I read in latest presentation to the Senate Committee on Finance that he had indeed sought clarification from the NNPC. A report quotes him as saying that he had visited the NNPC in 2010 to ask for an answer to why Nigeria’s reserves had failed to rise in the face of unprecedented high oil prices internationally.
According to the report, “Sanusi said NNPC official lectured his team that the trouble arose because much of Nigeria’s oil production came from deep offshore wells; and that the Sani Abacha government had scandalously agreed with oil companies to peg such oil earnings at $10 dollar per barrel — the prevailing price at the time. The arrangement was fixed to run for 30 years.
“Officials of the corporation explained that only the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, the voluminous government-sponsored oil sector reform legislation, could reverse that agreement, according to the governor.
“But while he obtained a legal opinion from a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, debunking that claim and demonstrating the contract can be re-negotiated without the PIB, Mr. Sanusi said he and his colleagues however shifted focus to other possible avenues of revenue leakages.”
But to me that was not enough. I believe that when he observed fresh evidences and discovered that a whopping $49.8 billion had not come in as it was supposed to, he should have taken further steps to seek further clarifications. Ideally, he should have raised such issues on their various meetings at the government level and follow up to ensure that something was done and done pretty urgent.
In the event that the government failed to handle the matter to his satisfaction, the option would have been to resign rather than to continue to shadow-box the administration he is part of all this while.
By Chijama Ogbu