By Femi Falana
Following the decision the finance minister and coordinating minister of the economy, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, to investigate the allegations of Sanusi Lamido Sanusi that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation had failed to remit huge funds to the federation account, I challenged the powers of the minister to reconcile or audit the said account.
Thereafter, I questioned the powers of both chambers of the National Assembly to extend the oversight functions of federal legislators to cover areas that are exclusively reserved for other public officers and agencies of the federal government. While calling on the National Assembly to stop the diversionary probe, I requested the Auditor-General of the Federation to audit the federation account and submit the report of his findings to the National Assembly pursuant to section 85 of the Constitution. The request was ignored.
But as a result of the confusion created by Mr. Sanusi, who has been giving conflicting figures over the actual amount of the alleged missing fund from the federation account, the finance committee of the senate was compelled last week to concede that the accounts submitted by the NNPC be subjected to a forensic audit.
It is indeed embarrassing that the finance minister and the senate did not know, ab initio, that they were not empowered to audit any of the accounts of the ministries and agencies of the federal government. Indeed, it is a shame that the CBN governor does not seem to have any rudiment understanding of the operations of the Federation Account which is kept in the Central Bank. Hence, his figures of the missing fund have varied from $49.8 billion to $12 billion and $20 billion while the reconciliation carried out by the Finance Minister revealed $10.8 billion!
Before the nation is further exposed to unprecedented ridicule by the CBN, NNPC and the Federal Ministry of Finance, the Auditor-General of the Federation should proceed to audit the Federation Account as well as the accounts of the NNPC and the CBN. In particular, the auditing of the CBN account should cover the illegal payment of over N2 trillion by the CBN to fuel importers in 2011 when the National Assembly appropriated the sum of N245 billion.
Before the general strike and mass protests of January 2012 the CBN governor had claimed that the amount involved was N1.3 trillion. The Auditor-General of the Federation should also examine the legal validity of the several billions of Naira withdrawn from the Federation Account without appropriation in the last 5 years and donated to certain individuals and institutions at the whim of Mr. Sanusi.
Having realized that the National Assembly lacks the legal power and the technical expertise to audit the Federation Account, it is hoped that the Senate and the House of Representatives will henceforth desist from engaging in endless probes and concentrate attention on the business of law making. If the National Assembly had seriously considered all the reports submitted annually to it by the Auditor-General of the Federation and taken appropriate actions on the findings, the nation would have been spared the ongoing shameful accusations and counter accusations credited to senior government officials. For the past 15 years, the National Assembly has carried out diversionary probes of several agencies and departments of the Federal Government without any concrete results.
It is pertinent to point out that the powers of investigation conferred on the National Assembly under section 89 of the Constitution are meant to be exercised for the sole purpose of law making. To that extent, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Offences Commission, and the Nigeria Police Force should be allowed to investigate complaints of corruption, fraud and other economic and financial crimes in line with the provisions of the relevant laws.
The practice of usurping the statutory powers of such bodies to carry out investigation by the National Assembly should stop. More so, that reports of the investigation conducted by the National Assembly are usually turned over to the anti-graft bodies which have to commence fresh investigation in appropriate cases. This is what was happened last week when the Finance Committee of the Senate was compelled to call for an audit of the NNPC account in the middle of a probe.
Finally, if the federal legislators are genuinely interested in promoting accountability and transparency in the NNPC and in the entire oil and gas industry, this is the time to pass the much-delayed Petroleum Industry Bill.
While federal parliamentarians have been beating their chests for enacting irrelevant legislations like the Anti-gay Act (same sex was never recognised under the law), the Prisoners Exchange Act (to swap convicts with the United Kingdom when there are no British prisoners in Nigeria) etc, the PIB has once again been quietly jettisoned by the National Assembly.
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