Nigeria's Central Bank Governor, Sanusi Lamido, struck a defiant tone again Tuesday, accusing state-run oil firm, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, of failing to pay to the federation account at least $20 billion of government oil revenues.
The Nigerian government and the NNPC in particular have come under intense scrutiny after a leaked letter from Mr. Sanusi to President Goodluck Jonathan last September showed how the NNPC failed to pay the huge oil sale money into government coffers.
In the memo, Mr. Sanusi said the firm cornered $49.8 billion- about N8 trillion- which is the equivalent of Nigeria's entire budget in two years.
Despite data and documentation provided by the CBN governor, the government has denied losing money. At a meeting with the Senate Finance committee in December, Finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said a government inter-agency committee, which includes the NNPC and the CBN, had realized that "only" $10.8 billion was yet to be accounted for.
The traced sums were paid to other agencies of government like the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, and the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, the NNPC said.
The finance minister said the "reconciliation process" was ongoing and assured the outstanding $10.8 billion will be fully accounted for.
But more than a month later, the government has failed to account for the missing money. The Director General, Budget Office of the Federation, told the senate finance committee on Tuesday the delay was because the NNPC had failed to provide all needed documents.
He said the NNPC claimed it was still accounting for the missing money with the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency, PPPRA, which is in charge of subsidy managements. The corporation and the PPPRA have another one week to provide all required documents before the committee begins full examination of their responses.
Intrigues ahead of Senate hearing
The NNPC had earlier claimed, without providing proof, that the remaining $10.8 billion was used to maintain oil pipelines, and pay fuel subsidy, a claim that many Nigerians, including governors, have rejected.
Last week, lawmakers told PREMIUM TIMES exclusively how the presidency, the NNPC and the petroleum ministry mounted pressure on the Senate to jettison its investigation.
According to our sources, the government feared Mr. Sanusi, whose tenure ends June 2014, will expose even more damaging evidence of high wire fraud in the petroleum sector.
The government offered to back the hearing if the senate committee makes available to it Mr. Sanusi's presentation, to enable administration officials prepare appropriate response.
To stem the pressure, the investigative hearing, originally billed for last Thursday, was rescheduled for Tuesday.
At the session, Mr. Sanusi accused the NNPC of not accounting for $20 billion.
The CBN governor said while he agreed some agencies such as the FIRS received other payments on behalf of government, available documents showed that the NNPC shipped $67 billion but only paid $47 billion into the government account.
"Let us know what happened to the remaining $20 billion," he said.
Mr. Sanusi said the NNPC's claim that 80% of the unremitted funds came in form of subsidy on kerosene cannot stand since a presidential directive had long barred such subsidy. "NNPC must show where it got the authority to buy kerosene at N150 and sell at N40, and then inflict the burden of loss on the federation account," he said.
The CBN governor also accused the NNPC of illegally divesting the federal government's interest in some oil wells in favour of two private companies, Atlantic Energy and Seven Energy and turning about to claim the proceeds from those wells were not for the government.
Also, on the NNPC's claims of paying subsidy on behalf of government, Mr. Sanusi said the claims could not be credible since the NNPC had consistently rendered returns to the Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) indicating that it made no deductions for subsidy.
The NNPC again dismissed the new allegations, saying the CBN is not an auditing organization to understand its accounting.
"Let me make this point clear, CBN is a banking outfit, not an auditing outfit. It is therefore understandable why they keep making unsubstantiated claims, which a little understanding of the technicalities of the oil industry would have saved them from making," the NNPC group general manager, Andrew Yakubu, said.
"CBN is not an auditing outfit. But what it is doing now is auditing. We have no problem with auditing, but let the professionals, the certified bodies and agencies that are charged with this responsibility of auditing, to do their work," he added.
The finance minister, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, and her petroleum resources counterpart, Diezani Alison-Madueke, did not attend Tuesday's hearing. The committee chairman, Ahmed Makarfi, said they had been excused on health grounds.
Both ministers are to attend the next hearing next Thursday when the committee said it expects all required submissions to have been submitted.