By Amara Christa
THE Senate on Friday faulted the authorities of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) for paying the sum of $289 million to the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) in 2015.
This revelation came barely three years after the $43million scandal that led to the sack of a former Director-General of the agency, Mr. Ayodele Oke.
The money found in an Ikoyi apartment of the former NIA DG by operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was said to be a fraction of the $289million cash collected by the ex-DG from the NNPC.
The Financial Director of the NNPC, Mr Godwin Okonkwo, disclosed this to the Senate Committee on Public Accounts in Abuja.
According to Okonkwo, the $289million cash given to the former NIA boss by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) was based on a directive to that effect from the NNPC.
Okonkwo said the NNPC directed the CBN to release the said money to the NIA based on a directive to it from the then Presidency.
The Presidency, he explained, gave the approval for the payment of the said amount to the NIA on February 16, 2015, which was carried out by the CBN on February 24, 2015 to the former DG and not to the account of the security outfit.
Okonkwo, while responding to a question from the Chairman of the committee, Senator Matthew Urhoghide, said: “Yes, we complied with the request. It is not true that we said the money should be paid to the Director – General but to the NIA as an institution.
“I’m not defending the NIA for requesting for the money to be paid in cash, but considering the circumstances which is for security purposes.
“The NNPC obliged because we are not in charge of security. If they request for payment in cash and they said it is for security, and that it must be transfered through electronic means to a particular account, the NNPC cannot say no because if anything happens afterwards, the NNPC will be held responsible.”
Senator Urhoghide noted that there was no document before the committee, suggesting that the directive for the release of the money to the ex-NIA DG was issued by the Presidency.
He said: “Available documents from the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation and even those from the NNPC did not indicate that any directive to that effect was given by the Presidency.
“The documents before us show that $289 million was released by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) from the Niger Delta Security Votes in the CBN to the NIA DG in February 2015 and in cash which is against extant laws.”
Urhoghide further insisted that from the documents available to the panel, it was the NNPC that advised the CBN to pay the money to the former DG of NIA in cash which is against extant laws.
He said based on the audit query from the Auditor-General for the Federation, the NNPC granted a request from the NIA to pay $289million in cash to the ex-DG of the NIA and that the NNPC also complied by directing the CBN to pay the cash to the NIA.
He wondered why the NIA should insist on cash payment when the procurement of the security equipment the NIA claimed the money was meant for was to be purchased outside the country.
He agreed with the submission of the Auditor-General for the Federation in his audit query that there was no way the that ex-President Goodluck Jonathan would have directed the NNPC to pay $289 million in cash to the then DG of the NIA.
“We want you to convince this committee why you think that the transaction must be done through cash payment.
“Tell us if the President expressly stated that the money should be paid to the NIA in cash. There is no way a government business, involving such huge sum would be transacted in cash”, Urhoghide said.
The NNPC’s representative, Mr Okonkwo, promised to make the mandate from the Presidency to that effect available to the panel at a subsequent sitting.