Senator Olubunmi Adetunmbi, representing Ekiti North senatorial district, Tuesday disagreed with a human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), that the National Assembly lacks the power to undertake forensic audit of accounts of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
Adetunmbi, in a statement in which he defended the decision of the Senate Committee on Finance to take over the forensic audit of the oil corporation’s accounts that the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, had earlier been mandated to carry out, said the ministry of finance could not be trusted with such a sensitive assignment.
Falana, in a statement last Sunday while reacting to the efforts to carry out a forensic audit of the NNPC accounts, had said both Okonjo-Iweala and the Senate lacked the powers to investigate allegations by that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, that the oil corporation had failed to remit huge funds to the Federation Account.
Falana, who described 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.
But Adetunmbi disagreed, saying it is the constitutional duty of the National Assembly to audit institutions’ accounts more so when the Ministry of Finance has so far portrayed itself as a biased umpire in the controversy surrounding unremitted funds by NNPC.
According to him, ceding the responsibility of the forensic audit of NNPC’s accounts to the Ministry of Finance is against the spirit of accountability, transparency and credibility.
He explained that previous actions of the ministry had heightened doubts in the minds of the general public on whether the ministry could be trusted with the responsibility of such a magnitude, adding that the ministry had not been transparent in the handling of the controversy so far.
He therefore added that the development had already cast severe doubts on its credibility.
“Now we are talking of another forensic audit. No one should be hoodwinked about this attempt to feed the thirst of the public for breaking news of scandals, which dies naturally a few weeks after their unveiling.
“Given the past experience, there seems to be an unholy alliance between the Ministry of Finance and NNPC to conceal embarrassing discrepancies in the revenue of the federation.
“I don’t think the public trusts the Ministry of Finance to carry out this forensic audit. This audit should emanate directly from the Senate. Sections 88 and 89 of the constitution grants the power of investigation to the parliament and it does not need to cede this responsibility to the Minister of Finance, which incidentally in this scenario is also a party to be investigated in the case of the unremitted funds,” Adetumbi said.
He also alleged that going by previous experiences, Okonjo-Iweala had been known for subtly diverting public attention whenever issues of accountability on public revenue and expenditure had come under public scrutiny.
“What happened to the KPMG independent audit report of December 2011 that considered the monumental fraud and corruption at NNPC on the petrol subsidy scam that led to the ‘Occupy Nigeria’ protest of January 2012? I can recall that the Senate committee that investigated the oil subsidy scandal gave a seven-day ultimatum to produce the KPMG report on oil at a subsequent public hearing.
“I cannot recall if the Coordinating Minister for the Economy has obliged the Senate with this report or if the report was ever officially released or published by the Ministry of Finance.
“We are once more being faced with the same minister who refused to share this information with the public making another promise of another ‘forensic audit’ of the NNPC when the last audit is yet to be officially made public or acted upon.
“Otherwise, if it were, should we be at this point again? Nigerians are not interested in an audit circus that only feeds their desire to be informed only for the resultant report to be kept under wraps and the people kept on a roller coaster.
“The Ministry of Finance only makes strident calls for forensic audit when the agitation for transparency by the public can no longer be ignored. But they eventually kept such reports from the people,” the senator added.
By Omololu Ogunmade