Timi Frank’s Obsession with Phantom $20bnArticles/Opinion Friday, September 12th, 2014
By John Abiola-Bada
These are interesting times for Nigeria. It is a time in which people revel in propaganda and falsehood. As we make steady progress to the election year of 2015, there will be more mudslinging, character assassination and all kinds of propaganda to score cheap political goals or to gain some advantage even if short term.
It is trite to say that the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy is petroleum and that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), being the government agency that manages the nation’ oil resources will constantly be under public scrutiny.
There is nothing wrong in keeping an eye on public agencies. It puts those agencies and public officers on their toes, thus making them to discharge their duties transparently.
However, it becomes destructive when someone deliberately engages in tale of lies to pull certain individuals down and run down public institutions.
Ever since the former governor of the Central Bank and now Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, made the wild allegation of missing money in NNPC account, some individuals have decided not to let the matter rest, long after it has been established that no money was missing.
Timi Frank’s article in Leadership newspaper of Tuesday, September 9 is the latest of such diatribes by paid writers who pose as commentators. He did not offer any fresh insight. Of course there is no fresh insight to offer because the matter has long been resolved by Senate in favour of the NNPC.
Timi Frank wrote: “Nigerians must not forget so soon that the whereabouts of $20billion of the nation’s oil revenue is still shrouded in mystery. The former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and now Emir of Kano, Mallam Muhammadu Sanusi II, had shocked the world with incontrovertible evidence that $49.8billion of crude sales was yet to be remitted into the Federation Account by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Even though the allegation was contained in a confidential letter to President Goodluck Jonathan by Sanusi, no action was taken until the matter became public knowledge through the press, about three months after the president got the letter.
“The nation was appalled. The uproar it generated had sent the relevant machinery of government into over-drive. The Senate waded in and referred the matter to its Committee on Finance for “thorough investigation”. Public and private hearings were conducted. Countless reconciliation meetings were held by the CBN, NNPC, Ministry of Finance (MoF), Ministry of Petroleum Resources (MoPR), Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) and the auditor-general of the federation”.
On the above score, Timi Frank had revealed himself as one who engages in cheap blackmail, one who is incapable of intellectual rigour before he puts pen to paper.
As recent as September 9, 2014, Timi Frank is still obsessed with N49.8 billion, a figure which even Sanusi felt so embarrassed that he had to change it and kept changing figures in a way that surprised not only the discerning Nigerian public but even the Senate committee that was set up to look into the matter.
It is actually shameful that somebody who calls himself a columnist will go this low. How much did his masters pay him that he would not border about his integrity on an issue that is public knowledge?
It is necessary to do a flash-back to put the issue in proper context. It was just a couple of months ago, specifically in July that Senate deliberated on the report of its finance committee that investigated the allegation of missing funds against the NNPC by Sanusi. The Senate resolved that no money was missing after painstakingly deliberating on the 73-page report of its finance committee. The committee headed by Senator Ahmed Makarfi did a very thorough job for which it was applauded by the entire Senate.
Sanusi’s allegation was contained in a letter to President Goodluck Jonathan in September last year but the allegation became an issue only when the letter was leaked to former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the press two months later. Initially, Sanusi had alleged that the NNPC had failed to remit $49.8 billion to the federation account over a 19-month period.
According to him, between January 2012 and July 2013, NNPC lifted $65 billion worth of crude oil and only remitted $15 billion into the federation account. This implied that about $50 billion was missing from the federation account.
The magnitude of the allegation and the wild reactions which accompanied it from Nigerians and the international community made the Senate to mandate its committee on finance on December 11, 2013, to investigate the allegation and report its findings to the Senate. The decision followed a motion on a matter of urgent national importance raised by Senator Olubunmi Adetumbi (Ekiti North) during which he drew Senate’s attention to a newspaper report on the alleged missing funds. The Senate also asked the committee to investigate the allegation of N700 million subsidy payment by NNPC on kerosene daily. The latter mandate followed a motion by Senator Babajide Omoworare (Osun East).
The committee began its investigative hearing on December 18, 2013. At the Senate Committee Room, venue of the hearing, tension was high as people expected to see further explosions from Sanusi whose allegation had been widely believed by the greater percentage of Nigeria’s population ahead of investigation.
Sanusi, then still governor of CBN was invited to substantiate his allegation. But it was a shocked audience that listened to Sanusi quietly saying that it was actually $12 billion that was missing and no longer $49.8 billion as he had earlier claimed.
At this point, Co-ordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, interrupted him, saying Sanusi’s claim of missing $12 billion was also false, disclosing that it was actually $10.8 billion that was yet to be reconciled by inter agencies. Sanusi then urged the committee to suspend the hearing to enable him and other stakeholders continue with ongoing reconciliation efforts at the time.
Upon the return to the public hearing on February 4, 2014, the committee only expected an update on the ongoing reconciliation over the outstanding $10.8 billion, but was again shocked when Sanusi reeled out another allegation, saying it was no longer $10.8 billion that was missing but this time, $20 billion. According to him, NNPC had shipped $67 billion worth of crude oil and remitted only $47 billion into the federation account between January 2012 and July 2013, leaving the balance of $20 billion unaccounted for. Further, he claimed that only $14 billion directly came into the federation account out of the total $67 billion in addition to the $15 billion he claimed that NNPC paid to Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS).
With Sanusi coming up with different figures, the original mandate of the Makarfi committee shifted from the probe of $49.8 billion to $20 billion. It is important to note that from the take-off of the public hearing, it had been established that between January 2012 and July 2013, NNPC had remitted $47 billion into the federation account. Breakdown of the remittances as later submitted by CBN before the committee were $14 billion as payment on equity crude; $15 billion as payment to FIRS by international oil companies (IOCs) as the value of crude lifted by NNPC on behalf of FIRS; $16 billion as domestic crude and $2 billion royalty payments to Department of Petroleum Resources by IOCs. While CBN claimed that it was $15 billion that was remitted to FIRS by NNPC, FIRS established that NNPC actually paid $16 billion to it. The committee confirmed the latter.
The fresh allegation by Sanusi compelled the committee to assemble all stakeholders including the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke; Auditor-General of the Federation, Sam Ukura; NNPC’s subsidiary, Nigeria Petroleum Development Company (NPDC), besides ministers of finance and petroleum, CBN, NNPC and third party agents.
However, in its 73-page report, the committee submitted that it could not reconcile how Sanusi arrived at the alleged missing $49.8 billion and therefore dismissed the allegation as false and a figment of Sanusi’s imagination. It also accused Sanusi of reversing himself several times before the committee.
“The committee could not see how the figure of $49.8 billion was arrived at by the CBN Governor for instance,” adding “there was never any unremitted $49.8 billion.”
Further, it said: “The CBN governor at the first hearing had put forward the figure of US$12 billion as monies to be reconciled and changed his position to $US $20 billion at subsequent hearing. At the conclusion of his written submission, he posited that it could be US $20 billion, US$10.8 billion or anything in between,” it said.
On the alleged unremitted $20 billion, the committee however, said it found that the sum of$218 million considered as federation account share of the third party financing was still in dispute and therefore should be remitted by NNPC.
It also noted that another sum of $447.8 million which it described as the federation account share from the $6.815 billion liftings by NNPC on behalf of NPDC remained in dispute.
Also in dispute, according to the report, is $262 million which the committee described as expenses incurred by the NNPC in respect of holding strategic reserve pipeline maintenance and management cost/capital expenditure.
The committee therefore asked the corporation to refund this sum of money into the federation account, saying NNPC could not satisfactorily defend it even though it acknowledged that the sum is still very much in dispute by the corporation.
Eventually, when the committee opened the 73-page report for debate on Thursday,
July 10, 2014, it approved all these submissions. During the debate, Senate had lots of knocks for Sanusi whom it described as cooking up allegations without considering the weight of his office and the effect such an unfounded allegation would have on the nation.
Specifically, Senators Ayogu Eze (Enugu North) and Heineken Lokpobiri (Bayelsa West), said it was regrettable that Sanusi while occupying a position of that magnitude opted to mislead the public with falsehood.
The Senate’s findings appeared to have justified the position of NNPC on the issue. The corporation had argued that the allegation was politically motivated. NNPC also accused Sanusi of lacking technical knowledge of the workings in the oil industry. According to the corporation, the allegation was not based on facts but rather an orchestration meant to score cheap political points and embarrass the government. It was however later revealed that Sanusi came up with the allegation to divert attention from his investigation by the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FRCN), which was closing in on him following financial recklessness observed in the 2012 CBN audited accounts on the strength of which he was later suspended on February 20, 2014 by President Goodluck Jonathan.
It is not surprising that Timi Frank will go this path. The opposition has never wanted the issue to go away even after the matter has been resolved. They have latched on $20 billion even though Sanusi, who made the wild allegation, was not convinced about the allegation. That’s why he said it could be $20 billion, $10.8 billion or anything in between as if the difference between both figures is only a few hundreds of naira or dollars. Him and the stable he writes for, Leadership have been known for this type of mudslinging and murder of facts to serve political ends. The publisher of his medium, who has been going round the country campaigning to be president of Nigeria in 2015 on the platform of the opposition APC, believes that the best way he can achieve his ambition is by pulling government institutions and government officials down. In doing this, he uses his medium to dress lies in magnificent apparel to deceive the public. But Nigerians are no fools.
So, nothing good can come from Timi Frank. He cannot deceive anybody. The Senate president, David Mark, who presided over the Senate deliberation on the finance committee’s report said the report had laid to rest the “rumours” that heated the polity, adding that the report before the Senate was a fact and no longer a rumour.
Any person who has knowledge of elementary economics will know that if $20 billion is missing the Nigerian economy will collapse. Where will such amount of money be kept?
With the publication of the article, Timi Frank has earned his pay. He must have since taken the copy to his pay masters to prove to them that he can deliver. Let him smile to the bank. That is what he is worth but Nigerians are watching.
*Bada is a public policy analyst based in Lagos
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