Nigerian presidential-elect Muhammadu Buhari yesterday revealed that he is to investigate an alleged $20bn hole in the finances of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) when he is sworn in next month.
In a meeting with a delegation from the All Progressive’s Congress (APC) party’s Adamawa State chapter at his headquarters in the capital, Abuja, the former military ruler announced that he would investigate the claim of the former governor of the Nigerian Central Bank, Lamido Sanusi - now the emir of the northern city of Kano - that $20bn (£13.13bn) could not be accounted for.
Sanusi was suspended by president Goodluck Jonathan for “financial recklessness and misconduct” last year after he exposed the alleged shortfall in oil revenues in 2012 and 2013. At the time, the NNPC denied that any money was “missing” but Buhari, who will be sworn in on May 29, has now criticised the decision to sack Sanusi instead of investigating his claims.
"This issue is not over yet. Once we assume office, we will order a fresh probe into the matter,” the former oil minister confirmed in his address. “We will not allow people to steal money meant for Nigerians to buy shares and stash away in foreign lands."
"Imagine a situation where the former CBN (Central Bank of Nigeria) governor, who by God's grace, is now the emir of Kano, raised an issue of missing billions of money, not in naira but in dollars, $20 billion,” Buhari continued.
"What happened, instead of investigating whether it was true, they simply found a reason to remove him. So, these are the issues we are talking about,” he added. "I heard that some people have started returning money; I will not believe it until I see it by myself.
At the same time as the announcement, Nigeria’s Petroleum Resources minister Diezani Alison-Madueke announced that an unremitted payment of $1.4bn would be refunded to state coffers on recommendation of an audit carried out by Jonathan, Africa-focused outlet Sahara Reporters reported.
His confirmation of the oil probe comes as little surprise, says Manji Cheto, vice-president of risk consultancy Teneo Intelligence, with the incoming leader looking to assert his authority and build his credibility and he has long spoken of the oil ministry with suspicion.
“It was always quite obvious that he was going to go for the oil sector. It is a low-hanging fruit,” says Cheto. “The oil industry is an industry he understands. He knows exactly where money should be going and how the allocation should be.”
“If they can tackle a major corruption case, it gives them the credibility boost that they need to make bigger structural changes that they need going forward,” she adds. “They need to win public support first of all, they need people to believe from the onset that they are a credible government and that they mean business. It’s clearly a strategy designed to give them a bit of breathing room.”
Last month, Buhari sealed a historic election victory, defeating outgoing president Goodluck Jonathan in what is the country's first ever democratic change of power to an opposition party. A Reuters tally confirmed that his APC party secured 15.4 million votes to People’s Democratic Party (PDP) leader Jonathan’s 13.3 million in the country’s 36 states.
Before this win, Buhari, 72, had failed on three occasions (2003, 2007 and 2011) in his bid to return as Nigerian president since the country moved from a series of military rulers to a democratic system in 1999. He survived a Boko Haram assassination attempt last July when a suicide bomber aligned to the radical Islamist group targeted his car in the northern city of Kaduna.