Business

Nigeria's finance minister puts pressure on Goodluck Jonathan

  • 25 February 2014
  • From the section Business
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File picture of Nigeria oil terminal 2005

I have just been sent the following statement by the Nigerian finance ministry, which I understand it is putting out later today.

I am going to quote most of it, because it is gripping, in the context of the the decision of the Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan to suspend the central bank governor, Lamido Sanusi.

The gloss from the ministry goes like this:

"The Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has asked for urgent action with regard to an independent forensic audit of conflicting claims of unaccounted funds made by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and suspended Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mallam Sanusi Lamdio Sanusi".

And here is a direct statement from Dr Okonjo-Iweala, the finance minister:

"My position on this has been clear from the start. The Ministry of Finance's reconciliation showed a shortfall of $10.8bn in NNPC remittances to the Federation account. After this, the conflicting claims continued with new figures such as $20bn being mentioned.

"So since 13th February I have called for an independent forensic audit.

"President Goodluck Jonathan indeed announced last night that there will be an investigation into whether there are any funds missing from NNPC. He also indicated that the correct process needs to be followed in this investigation and I understand that the entity that has the proper authority to initiate such an investigation is the Auditor-General of the federation.

"I therefore want to see the truth from an investigation under the auspices of the Auditor-General, which in my view should be undertaken as a matter of extreme urgency by independent external auditor."

On the face of it, this looks like a declaration of at least semi independence by the finance minister from Nigeria's president, who has been accused of punishing the central bank governor for raising concerns about the allegedly missing oil billions.

The reason I say that is because - I am reliably led to believe - the finance minister is concerned that Goodluck Jonathan, if left to his own devices, would not have initiated an independent probe of the allegedly missing billions.

Goodluck Jonathan suspended Nigeria's central bank governor last week for "various acts of financial recklessness and misconduct". The president has insisted that his decision to suspend the governor was taken "in absolute good faith, in the overall interests of the Nigerian economy and in accordance with our laws and due process".

Governor Sanusi, whose international reputation is strong, had been criticising the government over oil subsidies and apparent shortfalls in oil revenues.