Zainab S. Ahmed is the Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (NEITI). In this interview, she revealed how stressful it is to reconcile data from the oil and gas industry, and what the Ribadu Report meant to NEITI.
How easy is it to collect data on oil and gas industry?
The collection of data is very challenging. The companies, as well as government agencies, don't just give data because you requested for it. You have to do a lot of follow ups to get it. Upon that, when you get the data, you will find out that it is not complete. Sometimes it's unreliable. That is how we keep going until we get to the level when you get satisfactory data from them.
What we do is to bring the companies to sit together with government entities, with NEITI looking over what they are doing. The entities will come with all their records and then the companies will also come with their records, including evidence of payments. Normally, we have the FIRS, DPR, CBN and OAGF sitting like for a couple of days and then the companies will come in batches, to do the reconciliation. Still, even after that, because of limitations, we still end up with some differences.
Looking at the short time given to Ribadu Task Force, do you think it had enough time to conclude such huge task?
My understanding of what Nuhu Ribadu task force did is, they collected data on a unilateral basis. They wouldn't have had time to verify the data and to do a reconciliation process of the data like we are able to do. What we do is an audit process.
What they did was like a task force process that relied on collection data from the agencies, sometimes even via meetings, presentations or via references to other reports, including the NEITI reports. I think from what I have seen from the report, they concentrated on reporting the exception, whereas in the NEITI report, we compute the revenue that is generated and we report the differences.
Where is the meeting point between your report and that of Ribadu's task force?
The outcome of the Ribadu's report is very similar to NEITI reports. For example, both reports show underpayment of taxes and royalties; there are debts that are not yet paid by NNPC and other companies to the federation accounts; that the system the regulators use to manage the industry is inadequate. In a lot of cases, you find out that the technology is not sufficient and there is significant lack of capacity on the side of government, compared to the companies.
As a professional auditor, what advice would you give to government on what to do with the Ribadu's report?
I read somewhere that government has set up a committees to review the report. That is a good sign for me. It means government wants to look at the recommendations of that reports. Hopefully that committee will look at the details and the recommendations of the report and may be do a little bit more work, because some of the recommendations would require some more work to be done and then who ever responsible should be dealt with. Whatever needs to be corrected should be corrected.
If we don't use the finding of the NEITI audit report, the findings of Ribadu's report, the findings of KPMG report, we will just continue producing report that are gathering dust on shelves. There has to be a political will to implement the findings of reports such as this.