Writes B. Y. Muhammad
The Punch newspaper in its edition of 22nd of August, 2016 published a report filed by one Mr. Ramon Oladimeji under the caption: “IBB must face probe over $12.4bn oil windfall, says SERAP”. In the said report, a Nigerian rights advocacy group, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, (SERAP) had in an open letter, called on the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), to use his office and power under Section 174(1) of the Constitution and sections 104 -106 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act to re-open the unresolved case of the “missing $12.4bn oil windfall.”, which SERAP, according to the report claims was spent between 1988 and 1993 by the government of former President, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida.
The purpose of this write-up is neither to defend the Babangida regime against any act of financial impropriety which its detractors are alleging it committed while in power nor is it meant to prevent the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) from exercising the constitutional powers of his office to probe General Babangida and his regime as he is being urged to do by SERAP.
It is almost 22 years now, precisely on the 27th September, 1994, when Justice Pius Okigbo submitted his report. It is important to note the most vociferous critics of, and commentators on General Ibrahim Babangida and his regime today are either in their 30s or early 40s and may not have been sufficiently conversant with some of the observations of the Okigbo Panel which relate to certain items of expenditure by the administration of former President Ibrahim Babangida, which some individuals and organisations have in the last two decades consistently drummed up to attract undue public hysteria.
Since the relevant facts of the Okigbo report have been variously mangled and misrepresented to serve the ends of political mischief, and equally dangerous to leave important national discourse of a historical nature in the hands of people with inherited prejudices and second-hand wisdom, it is necessary to place on record the correct facts for the interest of the discerning public, in order to bring an end to the lingering doubts and the regime of mischievous misinformation.
The much talked about Okigbo Panel was set up by the Federal Government in 1994 to examine the operations and make recommendations on the Re-organisation and Reform of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). Its scope of time reference was from 1988-1994. While it encompassed the period of the Babangida regime, its time frame stretched to 1994, long after the end of the regime in August 1993. The work of the Panel was never a probe of the Babangida regime or indeed its financial management practices. It was rather aimed at improving the operations of the CBN.
The Panel had questioned the funding of certain projects from dedication accounts. Before going further on the dedication accounts under reference it is important to point out that the institution of dedication accounts held with the Central Bank is not new in Nigeria’s public financial management system. Accounts of extra-ministerial agencies like the PTF, OMPADEC, NDDC, PTDF, etc. are examples. The object of these accounts is usually to dedicate and hypothecate funds for the execution of specific projects and items of expenditure that the government, from time to time, may consider urgent and important but outside the scope of the normal budget process. The institution of Dedication Accounts under the Babangida regime is therefore not an isolated phenomenon.
The relevant dedication accounts are as follows: Central Bank Dedication Account, for domiciling the proceeds of a quantity of crude oil set aside for the prosecution of ‘priority projects’ as listed further below. NNPC Sales of Mining Rights Account, opened with proceeds of the sale of 20% mining rights of the NNPC/Shell Joint Venture in 1989 also used to settle part of the country’s indebtedness to the London Club Group of Creditors. Other accounts were Signature Bonus Account and GHQ Special Fund Account.
Specifically, the Stabilisation Account, was created in October 1990 to receive revenue from crude oil sales above the budget benchmark. Between October 1990 and June, 1994, well after the Gulf War had ended the total receipts into this account was US$4.398 billion. By the admission of the report and based on an annexure from the Central Bank reproduced on page 211 of the Okigbo Panel report, the actual total receipts into the Account that could be attributed to the period of the Gulf War amounts to about US$2.4 billion, (i.e.US$1.234 billion in 1990 and US$1.160 billion in 1991 respectively). Even that figure makes a generous allowance that the Gulf War lasted to the end of 1991 but the war actually ended in February 1991.
From the relevant CBN records, the total sums remitted to ALL these accounts from 1988-94 was US$12.441 billion. Therefore, the much touted figure of US$12.4 billion as proceeds of the so-called Gulf War windfall has no basis. It is merely the sum total of all receipts into the combination of five dedicated accounts for the period of 1988-94. The sources of funds into these accounts were varied and therefore by no means restricted to the above – the – benchmark receipts from oil during the first Gulf War (1990-91).
A roll call of the projects funded from the dedication accounts shows that they were of long term national strategic interest. These include: Third Mainland Bridge, Ajaokuta Steel, Itakpe Iron Mining project, Shiroro Hydroelectric project, the LNG, Egbin Power station, The National Eye Centre, Kaduna, Abuja network of roads including the dualization of the Abuja-Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport highway, among others. It is important to point out that even the Panel admitted that the President’s approvals for these projects were informed by anxiety over delays in their completion: ‘’So much had been spent already on these projects that the President concluded that they warranted extra expenditure to take them to the point of commissioning.’’ None of them was spurious nor was money expended on non- existent projects. Similarly, monies expended to relieve some of Nigeria’s embassies abroad which were in dire straits as well as other minor expenses are normal occurrences under any government.
The observation that some of these items of expenditure may not quite fall into the Panel’s definition of ‘priority projects’ is a matter of opinion of an economist, whose sense of a priority project could fundamentally differ from that of a politicaL administrator or a head of state. The question of what constitutes ‘priority projects’ can only be the preserve of the government of the day. To question the sense of priority by a sitting Government after the event is merely an academic exercise and conjecture by distant actors. Former President Ibrahim Babangida, in the discharge of his solemn obligations to the people of Nigeria and in concert with his colleagues in the administration, made a determination that certain key projects and expenditure items were in the highest interest of the government and people of Nigeria at the time. He accordingly approved expenditures to ensure speedy and timely completion of these projects.
The Okigbo Panel made value judgments on some items of expenditure funded with receipts into these various dedication accounts. Nowhere did it indict the former President, General Ibrahim Babangida for any acts of financial impropriety nor was there any suggestion that he or anyone else acting on his behalf personally benefitted from any of these expenditures. Also, nowhere did the report mention that the US$12.4 billion went missing under the watch of General Ibrahim Babangida. SERAP ought to know that the Office of the President is too far removed from the centres of petty accounting and book keeping to be dragged into such matters.
One would have expected that SERAP that takes patriotism and concern for the national interest as its point of departure would at least display a minimum level of thoroughness and seriousness when it sets out to fight a public cause. Furthermore, organizations that claim affinity to civil society and who wish to appeal to a serious national and international audience should at least do their homework before hitting the headlines of newspapers with their spurious claims. A situation in which deliberate falsehood and outright ignorance is peddled in the name of interest in public accountability and transparency is to say the least, to lend the noble cause of civil society championship to cheap political opportunism and professional mischief makers.