Senate Probes Alleged Missing $49.8bn
SAN FRANCISCO, December 11, 2013, (THEWILL) - The Senate on Wednesday directed its Committee on Finance to conduct a full-scale inquiry to unravel the mystery behind the alleged missing $49.8 billion from the treasury of the Federal Government. To underscore the seriousness of the matter, the committee was asked to conclude the investigation and submit report within one week. The directive was sequel to a Point Of Order raised under Matter of Urgent Importance by Senator Olubunmi Adetunbi,(APC Ekiti North). He relied on the Senate Order 42, not only to draw the attention of the upper legislative chamber to the allegation but request that it carries out an indepth probe of the alleged missing fund. The money is said to be the value of crude oil export and proceeds from the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, expected to be lodged in the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN. Senator Adetunbi who is the Vice Chairman, Senate Committee on Planning and Budgeting said during plenary that; 'There has been a raging debate on the issue of missing money from the coffers of the Federal Government of Nigeria. Today, all papers carried the report on $49.8 billion that has not been remitted to the Federation Account.' He further explained that the CBN had written on the account from January 2012 to July 2013, urging the Senate to carry out a holistic investigation on the matter. 'Mr President, as a parliament, this is a very grave issue. The parliament owes a duty or responsibility to the public to ensure that we get to the bottom of this issue for purposes of public information and for purposes of integrity of this parliament, because appropriation and revenue is the major responsibility of this parliament,' he said. Senate President, David Mark, while ruling on the order, said the matter cannot be instantly treated because, according to him, "there was no detailed information before the Senate yet." Besides, he said the allegation which Senator Adetunbi was relying on was a newspaper report, adding that he had earlier in a meeting with the senator on the issue, promised that the Senate Committee on Finance would handle the matter. 'You have come under Order 42, you know what you showed to me was the newspaper report and I also told you that on the basis of that, since you don't have all the details, that I will refer it to the committee and the committee will get all the details and bring their report here. 'You know that was my discussion with you. So, this new dimension of a letter coming from Central Bank was not discussed with me. But whatever it is, I think rather, that because we don't have the details at this point, we cannot go into any further detailed discussion. 'So, I will refer it to the committee on finance. I am just saying what you have discussed with me and that is what I am going to do, because the newspaper is what you brought to me, so you will lay the newspaper on the table and then I will refer the matter to the committee. I want the details, 'he said. The Senate President's position that the issue be handled by the committee on finance attracted subtle resistance from some members of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who suggested that rather than assigning the matter to the committee on finance, the issue be directed to the Senate Committee on Public Account, but Mark stood his ground, saying: 'Please, there is no expenditure involved yet. This is money that we have not found, so there is no public account yet. The public account will come in when the money is spent. But whatever it is, please lay it on the table before we see who values it.' Mark therefore directed the Deputy chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, Joshua Dariye, (LP, Plateau Central), to ensure that the report gets back in less than seven days. 'I will refer this to the finance committee and I want it back within seven days, but I will want it in the earliest possible days because this is a matter that requires urgent attention,' he said. Meanwhile, APC senators have warned that the probe must not be swept under the carpet even as they assured that they would follow the probe to its logical end. The senators, led by Senate Minority Leader, George Akume, at a press conference shortly after plenary, said there was no cause to doubt the authenticity of the alleged missing fund, because, according to them, the report came from a very authentic source. 'We have been told and we have every cause to believe that this money is missing. This document is coming from the Central Bank of Nigeria. It is an authentic source,' Senator Akume, who read a prepared speech before newsmen said. He added: 'This matter cannot be swept under the carpet. We are determined to follow it to the fullest and we want you to join us in doing so. One of our responsibilities is to as much as possible identify with the people by ensuring that those of us who are charged with higher responsibility conform with very high standard expected of people in public office. 'We have invited you on an issue which is very grave and central to good governance in our country. You are already aware of the missing $49billion. Now this money is the value of crude oil export and proceeds from the NNPC. Section 162 is very clear on where federally collected revenue are supposed to be lodged. For clarity and emphasis, I quote this section. 'We have every cause to believe that this money is missing. This document here is from the Central Bank of Nigeria. This is a very authentic source. It is a very authentic document. The issue is who actually authorised the lodging of this money elsewhere if at the money is not missing, then who gave authorisation for opening of this account where these monies are paid contrary to section 162 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria?' Senator Akume also asked: 'Who gave authorisation for appropriation of this money? If these funds are lodged elsewhere, what happens to interest accruing to this account?' He said their action was borne out of their love for the country, saying: 'Those of us here love this country, we have no other country but Nigeria. Today, whenever you travel out, Nigeria is painted as a very corrupt society. This is not good enough for a country with a population of 170 million people, richly endowed in human and material resources and yet this country still remains one of the poorest in the world. 'Mandela, may he rest in peace, before he died, he gave an interview to a Nigerian journalist and the journalist took him on as to why he had very bad words to say about Nigerian leaders and he said they expected Nigeria to provide leadership not only in Africa but throughout the black world and yet we have turned our material resources into personal resources. 'We have not forgotten the report which was compiled and presented to the House by the Farouk Committee on Fuel Subsidy. Nigeria remains a country where fuel subsidy is as big and as uncontrollable like the federal budget. That report, nobody is implementing it. 'The pension scam report is still outstanding and crying for implementation. The recent one is too quick for us to forget. Of course, if a minister can approve the purchase of two cars at over N250 million, why can't ASUU be allowed to have their own funds for the rehabilitation of vehicles? 'They are not talking about bullet proof cars. ASUU is talking about loans for rehabilitation of their vehicles.' Akume urged President Goodluck Jonathan to act appropriately if he was serious on his transformation agenda. 'This government as the President has told us repeatedly, is anchored on transformation and we believe it is time for him to react quickly and realistically to this letter from the CBN. 'I recall in the past, President Olusegun Obasanjo addressed the whole country on the issue of N54 million bribe at the National Assembly. We believe that this merits an address from Mr. President. It is good to address and reassure the people of our country that you are transparent in all these transactions. 'I want to reassure you that all of us here have confidence in the leadership of the Senate. We are an opposition group. On matters of national security, we are always in the forefront. We love this country like any other group of people and what we are doing is a national assignment with malice towards none but love for all the good people of this country, ' he concluded.