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Published On: Fri, Mar 28th, 2014

‘Missing’ $22.8bn: The NEITI recant

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By Ifeanyi Izeze

Just one question that Nigerians want answered: how much do we make from our oil and gas production and is the money being fully and transparently accounted for? Unfortunately, the quasi anti-graft agency, the Nigerian Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (NEITI) that should provide the answer is clearly showing that it lacks the competence and integrity to answer this question. Is it not a big shame for this country that a transparency and accountability agency saddled with the responsibility of monitoring the nation’s revenues in the extractive industries including the oil and gas sectors is now struggling with issues of integrity and credibility in the information they made us believe was genuine?

Is it not funny that NEITI has literally denied all the submissions it made that Wednesday 26th of February 2014 at the Hon Muraino-led House of Representatives joint committee of Justice, Petroleum (Upstream), and Petroleum (Downstream) that investigated the Berne Declaration allegation of fraud against the NNPC? What kind of a country is this?

How could the NEITI executive secretary, Zainab Ahmed who in the public glare concurred that the NNPC cannot account for $22.8 billion oil revenues as it cannot be found anywhere in the corporation’s account book only to turn around to recant her submissions blaming the media to have misled the public by quoting her wrongly? How could this have been possible? Was she threatened to recant the findings she claimed came from her agency’s audit report? What kind of a country is this?

These were her exact words: “There is similarity in NEITI audit report and the Bernes Declaration report. The report (Bernes Declaration report) has a lot of substance in it”. The question is: did she also not say this or the entire spectrum of the Nigerian and international media also did not understand the language she spoke and so reported her wrongly?

In a 29-page presentation made before the joint House Committee by the NEITI Executive Secretary she clearly and loudly said, “these transactions which sum up to $22.8 billion are off balance sheet items (not disclosed in NNPC’s Audited Financial Statements). The implication is that there may be significant contingent liabilities to the Federation that is not being disclosed”. What does this mean? Was it not that the money is missing?

It means what NEITI as an agency has been feeding us with were based on mere perception and stereotyping of massive sleaze in the NNPC. Is this in itself not a more serious fraud and economic crime? It is now very clear that NEITI never made an iota of genuine effort to go beyond hearsay and stereotype to dig out facts about corruption in the NNPC. What kind of transparency initiative is this? Is this not pathetic for this country?

Rather than NEITI accept its incompetence, cluelessness and even opaque transactions in applying the hundreds of millions expended biannually to audit the oil and gas industry, the organization chose to shift the blame of juggling of figures of the missing/unremitted amount to all sections of the media for reporting and quoting the executive secretary wrongly. How can we continue like this as a country? Can someone please replay the original tape at the House proceeding to hear exactly what the NEITI boss said or did not say?

So, should anybody be blamed to now believe that all the allegations of corruption against the NNPC and the Petroleum Minister as alleged by the NEITI audit reports were mere perception and stereotype and fictitious figures generated and dangled as audit reports to justify the hundreds of millions this country spends every two years to grease unqualified and incompetent rural-based auditors who only sit down to change figures and rewrite Hart Grants 2004 audit report- the only credible one so far. If you allude that the nature of NNPC’s operations is opaque because the corporation’s accounts and accounting styles are too complex, the question then becomes: What has NEITI being auditing all these while to be dangling all these conflicting figures?

Obviously, what happened at that House investigative panel was that in her haste to join and boost the case of the army of those who want the head of Diezani Allison Madueke off her neck, the NEITI boss did publicly acknowledged that her agency in its assigned responsibility also unraveled that NNPC cannot account for $22.8 billion thereby confirming/supporting the allegation by the estranged CBN governor. Sanusi first said NNPC failed to remit $49.8 billion out of the revenue from crude oil shipped by NNPC between January 2012 – July 2013, but later came down to $10.8 billion before reviewing the figure to $20 billion shortly before his suspension by President Jonathan.

If the NEITI boss lifted the figures she juggled at the National Assembly hearing from her agency’s audit report as she claimed and turned around few weeks later to denounce all the figures, then there is a very serious issue of the integrity of not only the NEITI 2009-2011 report but all the audits done and presented to Nigerians and the international community by the agency. There are serious questions that the government (the executive and the National Assembly) should address especially in this shameful display of gross incompetence by a top functionary whose assignment is not just a civil service routine but a responsibility of paddling the canoe of transparency and accountability in the management of the country’s oil and gas revenues.

Ifeanyi Izeze via iizeze@yahoo.com

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