'Missing U.S.$20 Billion' – As Buhari 'Sets Sail' With Probes [opinion] (allAfrica.com)

It was difficult suppressing a yawn of boredom when President-elect Muhammadu Buhari stated recently stated he will probe the so-called ‘missing’ $20b. Hear him: “Since this (missing fund) was documented, the new administration will take a look at it. You all know what the Emir of Kano talked about this when he was the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria when he said $20 billion US dollars, not naira; $20 billion US dollars was unaccounted for. They said it was a lie, instead of investigating it they sacked him. And God in his infinite mercy made him the emir of Kano; in any case that is what he wanted.”

Buhari, according to news reports, spoke while receiving a delegation of All Progressives Congress, APC stalwarts in Abuja led by Adamawa State governor-elect, Alhaji Jibrilla Bindow last Sunday. While conceding the right to sound-off to his cronies, a cursory assay of Buhari’s proclamation raises some worrying angles. The general from Daura in Katsina State is certainly not a rookie politician even if certain observers claim his sharp edges have been mellowed by age. He should be seen not act or speak as a greenhorn. Governance policy proclamations are not positions to be shaped by caprice or whims. They should be informed by deep thought to deliver enduring effects and meaningfully leverage society. Buhari could deliberately confine himself for now to small talk as he receives the customary courtesy visitors. It will serve the interest of his impending tenure if he were to limit himself to simple statements of his party’s blue-print. Buhari’s fond reference to the former governor of Central Bank of Nigeria Sanusi Lamido Sanusi – perhaps as a fellow member of the northern ruling class – and his deprecating wrist-slap on the outgoing administration suggests unnecessary bias. His words again: “They said it was a lie, instead of investigating it they sacked him.” The most recent pronouncements from the presidency which ordered release of the PriceWaterhouseCoopers forensic audit report of the phantom $20b have even essentially taken the wind out of Buhari’s probe sail. To cap it further, the presidential spokesman Reuben Abati has even stated that reviewing certain policies from previous regimes was not out of place.

It is instructive that while the released forensic audit did not mention any missing funds it required NNPC’s exploration and production (E&P) subsidiary – the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company to remit $1.48b to the federation account. But perhaps more importantly, for General Buhari to state categorically and sentimentally commit himself to a course that he assumes he has all the necessary information puts him in a bad light in the morning of his yet to take-off administration. Here is why. Tracking back, President Goodluck Jonathan’s removal of former CBN governor, now the Emir of Kano followed a process that has hardly been faulted by objective analysts. Sanusi had earlier controversially alleged that $49 billion was missing, a figure that he willy-nilly reduced to $20b, et cetera. The Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was to state that the alleged unaccounted money was between $10 billion and $12 billion, adding that the money was for crude oil sales which often captured in government accounts only after payment. At press time the remittable figure to the federation account stands at $1.48b The decision to suspend Sanusi Lamido was actually based on a report of the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria dated June 7, 2013. The report was made after a review of Sanusi’s response to the query issued to him by the President over the apex bank’s financial statement of 2012. His response was dated May 20, 2013. FRC report signed by FRC’s Executive Secretary, Jim Obazee noted that Lamido Sanusi ran a weak corporate governance structure as transactions that needed board approval were carried out in the apex bank without such approvals. Interestingly, it could be recalled that that the Lamido Sanusi-led CBN had removed some bank executives on the basis of lack of corporate governance.

According to a copy of the report the council indicated that the explanation provided by the suspended CBN governor was “a clear display of incompetence, nonchalance, fraud, wastefulness, and abuse of due process and deliberate efforts to misrepresent facts on the part of the leadership of the CBN.” The council then advised the President to exercise the powers conferred on him by Section 11(2)(f) of the CBN Act 2007 or invoke Section 11(2)(c) of the said Act “and cause the governor and the deputy governors to cease from holding office in the CBN.” Amongst other infractions, the report stated that board approval for the equity investment in the shares of International Islamic Liquidity Management Corporation of Malaysia to the tune of N0.743 billion was also not provided. The share certificate is also to be provided as it seems that section 34 of the CBN Act was violated. It said that the date of the board approval of the apex bank’s financial statements was not disclosed, adding that in the CBN response, “the president was informed that the management letter on the financial statement was yet to be discussed by the Board Audit and Risk Management Committee, a scenario contrary to section 3 (b) of the CBN Act 2007. This is supposed to take place, considered by the Board and decision taken.” The particulars of the infractions by Sanusi included: Persistent refusal and/or negligence to comply with the Public Procurement Act in the procurement practices of the Central Bank of Nigeria. (A) By virtue of Section 15 (1)(a) of the Public Procurement Act, the provisions of the Act are expected to comply to ‘all procurement of goods, works and services carried out by the Federal Government of Nigeria and all procurement entities.’ This definition clearly includes the Central Bank of Nigeria.

(B) It is however regrettable that the Central Bank of Nigeria, under his leadership, has refused and/or neglected to comply with the provisions of the Public Procurement Act (PPA). You will recall that one of the primary reasons for the enactment of the PPA was the need to promote transparency, competitiveness, cost of effectiveness and professionalism in the public sector procurement system. (C) Available information indicates that the Central Bank has over the years engaged in procurement of goods, works and services worth billions of Naira each year without complying with the express provisions of the PPA. (D) By deliberately refusing to be bound by the provisions of the Act, the CBN has not only decided to act in an unlawful manner, but has also persisted in promoting a governance regime characterised by financial recklessness, waste and impunity, as demonstrated by the contents of its 2012 Financial Statements. The fact that Sanusi Lamido Sanusi is no longer the CBN governor does not confer him with immunity from being answerable to key infractions of office by the incoming regime. Will the incoming General Buhari-led administration move against the new Emir of Kano in the spirit probing all everything under the President Jonathan regime. Your guess is as good as mine here – Buhari will not! Against this background, his loud proclamation that he will probe the phantom $20b in NNPC would appear not to have been a product of deep thought.

Currently, by all objective parameters of delivering governance, deep thinking is crucial as opposed to ad-hoc proclamations. It is worth noting here that Nigeria is the world’s fifth largest federation, after India, the United States, Brazil and Russia and deserves genuine visioners to move forward. Quality, democratic governance must be epitomised by predictable, open and enlightened policy-making, a bureaucracy imbued with professional ethos acting in furtherance of the public good, the rule of law, transparent processes, and a strong civil society participating in public affairs. This must be devoid of arbitrariness as his recent pronouncement suggests.From May 29, General Buhari will have the opportunity to make history or be rubbished by history. His choices will ultimately decide his fate.

Chukwuma is a public issues analyst based in Abuja.