Opinion

Opinion: President Jonathan And The $20bn Unremitted Funds

by Mohammed Alhassan

On February 11, 2014, 30 civil society organisations (CSOs), alarmed like many Nigerians came together to demand that President Goodluck Jonathan act to clarify the situation pertaining to allegations of missing money belonging to the government to the tune of $20 billion.

The position of the CSOs as well as Nigerians in general is that the president as the custodian of the nation’s resources should clear the air on the matter and ensure that the said amount is returned to the coffers of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the nation’s official banker. It should be remembered that since the last quarter of 2013, CBN governor, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi has drawn the attention of the nation to the case of missing money which are monies not remitted by the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) for shipments of crude oil.

Clearly, it amounts to a serious failure of leadership on the part of President Jonathan, that such allegation of missing public money should rear its head, not once, but twice. This has not happened in a long time in the country’s history and it is a minus for the present administration which has prided itself as the most achieving of all governments before it. The president is definitely a poor manager of resources and lacks the authority to ensure transparency and probity in his administration. He is also weak in the fight against corruption as attested by the many corruption scandals involving officials of his government on which he failed to take action.

In the case of the unremitted 20 billion dollars, the Central Bank governor alleged that the national oil corporation, the NNPC shipped or sold crude oil worth $67 billion and that only $47 billion was paid into the coffers of the apex bank leaving the outstanding sum of 20 billion dollars unpaid. It is curious that no effort was made by the NNPC to pay this amount until the CBN governor sounded the alarm that money due to government had been withheld by the bank, before denies and explanations started to fly about.

Before the matter came to the public domain, the CBN governor had written to the president to complain about the missing money and the suspicious behaviour of the NNPC management. President Jonathan did nothing and did not compel the NNPC or the Minister of Petroleum Resources to do something about the issue. Such attitude aroused suspicion especially at a time when all tiers of government has been complaining of reduction in government revenue and poor remittances that has impacted negatively on overall solvency of government.

It would be remembered that when the CBN governor first made the allegation that public money was missing from the federation account, the impression was created by the minister of finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo- Iweala that the governor of the apex bank did not know what he was saying and that he had spoken in error. The Group Managing Director of the NNPC, as well as the Minister of Petroleum Resources all tried to portray the apex bank governor in poor light. Eventually, after what was termed reconciliation of accounts, the Minister of Finance reluctantly acknowledged that only $10.8 billion was unaccounted for. The matter rested for a while and resurfaced again in February 2014 with Sanusi going back to his earlier position that indeed public money has been withheld by the NNPC.

It is important to point out that as the concerned civil society groups inferred at their meeting recently when they called on President Jonathan to act and ensure that the money is recovered from wherever it was kept, without the acquiescence of the Commander- in- Chief, such a grave allegation coming from the governor of the Central Bank, who is an acclaimed banker of many years’ experience, should have prompted the president to institute an investigation which would have meant that the Minister of Petroleum Resources, the Group Managing Director of the NNPC and his top officials temporarily vacate their offices to allow a transparent scrutiny of the accounts of the NNPC.

Nigerians have always had misgivings about the way and manner the NNPC, an organisation set up to manage the nation’s crude oil business goes about its functions but this is the first time an open allegation about unremitted funds has been made. Therefore, if the present administration has nothing to hide, if it’s not party to withholding the nation’s revenue for its own purpose (crucial elections which the PDP is determined to win at any cost is coming in 2015) it is expected that a transparent government which abhors corruption would have seized the opportunity provided by Sanusi’s claims, to look into the dealings in the NNPC at least for the sake of posterity and for its own image. It is important to note that at last the NNPC has admitted that the alleged missing amount was not remitted but that it consists of charges and taxes and sundry payments etc.
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— Alhassan sent in this piece from Maitama, Abuja to Nigeria’s Leaderaship Newspapers

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