By Christiana Ekpa
The House of Representatives on Thursday queried the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF), Ahmed Idris, for withdrawals made from the recovered loot accounts, saying such transactions were illegal.
Just as the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, told the lawmakers she had no information concerning the recovered £4.2 Ibori-linked loot from the United Kingdom. Idris and Ahmed were being questioned by the House Ad-hoc Committee on Assessment and Status of All Recovered Loots Movable and Immovable Assets from 2002 to 2020 by Agencies of the Federal Government of Nigeria for Effective Efficient Management and Utilisation, headed by Adejoro Adeogun.
On the illegal withdrawals from the recovered loot accounts, specific reference was made to the sum of N19 billion, which was withdrawn from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) recovery account.
Idris, who listed several recovery accounts including that of the EFCC, tried to justify the withdrawals from these separate recovery accounts.
He argued that they were all linked by the Treasury Single Account, hence technically an extension of the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF).
He said withdrawals from the accounts were made with the appropriate approvals. However, members of the committee disagreed with his position, saying there was no basis for such withdrawals as they were not appropriated for.
The lawmakers argued that no approval from any authority could supersede the Constitution of the country. They said cases of such “illegal” withdrawals were numerous according to their findings.
The lawmakers pointed out all the withdrawals from the recovery accounts could not be traced in any Appropriation Act, and the National Assembly was not aware of them.
They insisted any withdrawal must be from the CRF and must be backed by law and said the AGF should be held responsible for possible violation of the constitution and extant financial regulations. “Of what essence is appropriation if you can just dip your hands and take money from government accounts?” a member of the committee, Wole Oke, questioned.
The lawmakers insisted it was constitutionally wrong to withdraw money that was not from CRF and approved by the National Assembly.
Finance Minister Ahmed, agreed with the House members on this, saying it was wrong to take money from any other government account that was not the CRF.
She said even then, any money taken from the account must be appropriated for by the National Assembly.
She said though there is provision in the budget for recovered loot, they have to be moved to the CRF first before it can be used for anything else.
She said if there were instances where money is taken directly from the recovery accounts, then they were wrong.
Speaking on the status of the £4.2 million Ibori loot from the United Kingdom, Ahmed said she was yet to get any information on the recovery.
“On the £4.2 million I am still waiting to get information about this recovery. I have read in the media that the recovery has been made. But what has happened in the past is that the Attorney General would write to Mr President and report that recovery and then give advice on what needs to be done or give advice based on the negotiations that they made during the process of the recovery.
“And then that instruction is now conveyed to us. But up till now, I have not received any formal conveyance, any formal information written in respect of this £4.2 million. So I cannot say whether it is a Federal Government fund or a state fund. It depends on the advice that would come,” she said.
Adjourning sitting to the following day, the committee directed the AGF and Finance Minister to furnish it with a summary of all transactions made from the recovered loot accounts since 2002. The committee also invited the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, to appear before it on June 3, 2021 to properly reconcile all recovery accounts.