3 March 2014

Nigeria: Auditor-General to Falana - Why We Can't Audit NNPC's Accounts

The Auditor General of the Federation (OAuGF), Mr Samuel Ukura, has informed a human rights activist, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), that it can neither audit nor vet the accounts of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and other government statutory organizations on the grounds of constitutional, ethical and professional reasons.

Falana had written to the OAuGF under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), seeking for detailed information on the audited accounts of the NNPC, following conflicting figures of unremitted oil revenue into the federation account.

Falana further gave the OAuGF a 14-day ultimatum to make available the information on the NNPC accounts, saying that his failure to grant the request would prompt him to file a mandamu suit at the court that would compel him to disclose the information.

But Ukura had in a letter signed by one Okafor-Agbi Uche, quoted Section 85 (2) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which empowers the Auditor-General of Federation or anyone authorized by him to audit "the public accounts of the Federation and of all offices and courts of the Federation" and submit his report to the National Assembly. But subsection 3 of Section 85 reads: "Nothing in subsection (2) of this section shall be construed as authorising the Auditor-General to audit the accounts of or appoint auditors for government statutory corporations, commissions, authorities, agencies, including all persons and bodies established by an Act of the National Assembly."

Incidentally, the Constitution mandates the Auditor-General of the Federation to provide NNPC and similar bodies with a list of qualified external auditors to choose from, guide on level of fees to pay the external auditors, comment on their [NNPC and others] accounts and the external auditor's reports. Also, subsection 4 of Section 85 empowers the Auditor-General to "conduct checks of all government statutory corporations, commissions, authorities, agencies, including all persons and bodies established by an Act of the National Assembly."

Ukura further pointed out that Chapter 1.2 of the Guidelines on the Implementation of the FOIA, 2013 revised edition, as issued and signed by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, made provisions for 'consultation with originating institution during consideration of the FOIA application' and to transfer the 'application to another public institution with a greater interest in the requested information'.

The OAuGF's letter also stated that , "OAuGF shall always comply with the foregoing and by forwarding same to the public accounts committees of both houses of the National Assembly for necessary action, being the Supreme Public Institutions to which the Auditor General for the Federation reports," the letter noted.

Ukura further informed Falana that when the Audit Bill is passed into law, the ethical and professional threats facing it will be mitigated and it can then "carry out the audit of these institutions."

But Ukura's reply is in contrast to what he said when he appeared before the House of Representatives Public Accounts Committee (PAC) last Thursday, to defend the 2013 and 2014 budget proposal for his office.

He told the Committee, "We had a budget of N60million for training and we were able to train 20 officers who are presently on the field auditing the accounts of NNPC."

But some analysts have raised questions over why Ukura suddenly raised competent 20 auditors within a month to audit the NNPC accounts when he had earlier admitted that he lacked the constitutional powers, the technical and professional competence to do so.

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