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Probing the probe of $20 billion?

By Luke Onyekakeyah
05 May 2015   |   4:11 am
IF reports that President-elect, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, is going to initiate fresh probe into the controversial “missing” $20 billion are anything to go by, then we may be in for the usual merry-go-round that is the bane of Nigeria’s backwardness and under-development.
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Buhari

IF reports that President-elect, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, is going to initiate fresh probe into the controversial “missing” $20 billion are anything to go by, then we may be in for the usual merry-go-round that is the bane of Nigeria’s backwardness and under-development.

It is not that probing official financial recklessness is bad per se; the problem with this particular probe is that the outgoing Jonathan administration has already probed the issue and laid it to rest, using world-acclaimed accounting firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

The probe would have won popular acclaim if Jonathan didn’t do it. It is advisable that the issue be put behind while the new administration tackles the mounting challenges facing Nigeria.

Except there is a hidden agenda to witch-hunt the outgoing President and his much-maligned oil minister, Mrs. Dieziani Madueke, it is needless going back to exhume a buried issue.

The PwC did not just do a probe in the commonly understood manner; rather, it carried out what financial experts call “forensic audit”. By definition, forensic is the application of science to decide questions arising from a crime.

By forensic audit, it is understood to mean that the PwC probe was scientific, thorough, in-depth and rigorous enough to be trusted. Besides, PwC is an independent external body that has a reputation to protect worldwide.

Its reputation cannot be dragged to the mud in Nigeria, that would put it in bad light. Therefore, any move to re-probe a probe already carried out by such a renowned body would be counter-productive.

It would mean discrediting the famed accounting body.If that is done, where does it place Nigeria? Could the country have the temerity in future, to approach PwC or any other accounting firm in that category for a probe when their work is discredited? The country would have shot itself on the foot. My people say if you kill the medicine man (dibia) who supplies you with charms; the people that are out to poison you are not finished.

The N20 billion may not be the last money over which probe would be instituted. Rather than embarking on a wild goose chase of an issue that has been laid behind, the Buhari administration should enthrone CHANGE, which Nigerians voted for.

It should evolve systematic structures that would make stealing of public funds difficult. Such a system should also make it easy to apprehend culprits. The difference between us and the developed world is not that there are no corrupt people out there.

There is corruption everywhere. The difference is that they have systems that make it difficult to steal public funds and those that attempt it are easily apprehended. The ease of catching the thief restrains would-be thieves.

Our system is porous. People steal without being caught and the money is declared missing.  That encourages new thieves and corruption blossoms.

No amount of probe would stop corruption in Nigeria. Otherwise, thousands of probes in the past would have done it. It is against this background that I am worried about what probing this matter is out to achieve.

Would it make any difference and outweigh the one already carried out by PwC? Is PwC going to be re-engaged, to probe itself? Or, is another accounting firm, probably, one greater than PwC, going to conduct the fresh probe? If that is the case, I don’t know how an equally competent accounting firm of PwC clout, would discredit what its peer has done. This is why I call this a wild goose chase.

But, if the probe is going to be done the usual Nigerian way – by that I mean, having a panel constituted by Nigerians, then, the exercise would equally amount to a waste of time and resources.

It is advisable that the incoming Buhari administration accepts the PwC report, closes the chapter and faces other more serious national issues that need attention.

Gen. Buhari, the other day, reportedly told a delegation from Adamawa State led by the State Governor-elect, Bindow Jibrilla, that he would investigate the allegations of the missing fund despite information that some persons have already started returning money to government coffers.

He reiterated that the Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, was removed from the Central Bank because he said that about $20 billion was missing, noting that instead of the government to investigate the matter, they refused and sacked him.

Sanusi, it would be recalled, had in September 2013, written a letter to President Jonathan alleging that a whopping $49.8 billion was missing from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC)! The NNPC quickly debunked the allegation.

A reconciliation committee set up estimated that $10.8 billion was unremitted. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) said it was $12 billion. Later, the CBN told a Senate committee that the amount was $20 billion.

A forensic audit conducted by PwC came up with the verdict that only $1.48 billion was actually unaccounted for. That should settle the matter. If we don’t trust our own reconciliation committee and don’t trust PwC, who then should we trust?  We are boxing ourselves to a corner and have no route for escape.

Gen. Buhari had earlier promised to draw a line on this matter but seems to be recanting. Sanusi, who was at the centre of the storm as former CBN Governor, seems to be prompting the incoming government to re-open the matter. As a financial expert, he should appreciate the fact that the probe he was seeking for has been carried out by PwC. His position as Emir of Kano places him as a strategic stakeholder in Nigeria. He is a father to millions.

I think he should help the incoming administration to enthrone change. We cannot continue to dwell in unproductive shenanigan and innuendoes.

I am an admirer of Sanusi, and have severally written in his support. On one occasion, I described him as the lone voice that cries lion, of which people won’t know when he is saying the truth. If after the PwC’s forensic audit, he still wants another probe, that would amount to pursuing a personal vendetta against Jonathan. And that will not help Nigeria.