Human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), Sunday said both the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and the Senate lacked the powers to investigate the allegations of the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) failed to remit huge funds to the Federation Account.
Falana, who referred to the National Assembly probe as "diversionary," said only the Auditor-General of the Federation (AGF) was empowered to audit the Federation Account and submit the report of his findings to the National Assembly pursuant to section 85 of the Constitution.
Against this background, he urged that rather than subject Nigeria to further ridicule by the CBN, NNPC and the Federal Ministry of Finance, the AGF should proceed to audit the Federation Account as well as the accounts of the NNPC and the CBN.
He chastised Sanusi, whom he said, had created confusion by giving conflicting figures over the actual amount of the alleged missing fund from the Federation Account, which compelled the Senate Committee on Finance to concede that the accounts submitted by the NNPC be subjected to 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 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!"
"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"The Auditor-General of the Federation should also examine the legal validity of the several billions of naira withdrawn from the Federation Account without appropriation in the last five years and donated to certain individuals and institutions at the whim of Mr. Sanusi," Falana stressed.
According to him, having realised 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 would 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." He added 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 (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) 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," he said.
Falana said if the lawmakers 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 (PIB).