LAST week, the House of Representatives resolved to investigate the alleged illegal withdrawal of $1.05 billion from the account of the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). It, therefore, mandated its Committee on Public Account to conduct a thorough investigation into the activities that had taken place on the dividends account, invite the managements of the NNPC as well and the NLNG in the process, and report back to the House in four weeks.
The resolution was sequel to the unanimous adoption of a motion by the Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu. While moving the motion, Elumelu, who recalled that the NLNG was incorporated as a limited liability company in 1989 to produce liquefied natural gas and natural gas liquids for export purposes which began in 1999, observed, quite rightly, that dividends from the NLNG were supposed to be paid into the Consolidated Revenue Funds Account of the Federal Government and shared amongst the three tiers of government.
However, according to him, The NNPC, which represents the government of Nigeria on the board of the NLNG, had unilaterally without the required consultations with states and the mandatory appropriation from the National Assembly illegally tampered with the funds at the NLNG dividends account to the tune of $1.05 billion, thereby violating the nations appropriation law. There was no transparency in this extra-budgetary spending as only the Group Managing Director and the corporations Chief Financial Officer had knowledge of how the $1.05 billion was spent. There are no records showing the audit and recovery of accrued funds from the NLNG by the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation, hence the need for a thorough investigation of the activities on the NLNG dividends account.
The NLNG is jointly owned by the Government of Nigeria, represented by the NNPC, with a shareholding of 49 per cent, with the balance distributed between Shell Gas (25.6 per cent), Total LNG Nigeria Ltd (15 per cent) and ENI International (10.4 per cent). Thus, by law and as a matter of right, NNPC, acting on behalf of the Federal Government, the states and local governments, cannot unilaterally withdraw money from the account. However, as Nigerians are well aware, the operations of the corporation have been shrouded in mystery over the years. Indeed, not many organisations have been dogged by allegations of corruption, sleaze and malfeasance like the NNPC over the years. Against this backdrop, the resolution by the Green Chamber to probe the alleged underhand dealings over the NNLG dividends account is quite in order.
However, because the allegation is quite weighty, the House needs to do much more than a private investigation. There must be a public hearing on the issue, with all participants given the opportunity to state their respective claims. The matter at hand is, in our view, too big and too serious to be handled by a committee of the House. If anything, giving Nigerians the opportunity to ask questions and demand answers on their collective patrimony would further strengthen the noble task that the House has set for itself. If it is indeed true that money that should go into the Consolidated Account was withdrawn by the NNPC in shady circumstances, then all those who enabled such monumental rape of the public till must be unmasked and treated strictly in accordance with the laws of the land.
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