© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
How Accountant General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris turned ‘blind eye’ to fraud at NBET
THE Accountant General of the Federation, AGF, Ahmed Idris was a significant player in the trail of fraudulent practices that occurred at Nigeria Bulk Electricity Trading Plc, NBET under the watch of Marilyn Amobi, its embattled boss, fresh revelations have shown.
A trove of documents obtained by The ICIR revealed that Idris had turned a blind eye to a series of infractions and irregularities that took place at the electricity company by sidelining existing laws.
Oversight functions without oversight
NBET was granted self-accounting status by the AGF’s office in 2012 after fulfilling the conditions stipulated by the financial regulations act which includes setting up an internal audit and finance units at the company.
With this status, NBET would be able to enjoy the benefits of an autonomous agency, managing its operations and funds without undue interference.
But in June 2017, Idris directed staff from his office to be transferred to NBET to head the Internal Audit and Finance Departments, heeding a request from Amobi to send treasury officers to NBET.
In a news report, he threatened to cut off fund releases to agencies that reject treasury officers from his office claiming it was the mandate of his office to manage financial and audit units of government agencies.
“It is the role of Treasury officers to manage the Finance and Accounts Departments as well as the Internal Audit Units in MDAs.
“As long as you receive public funds from government, you must allow the Treasury Officers to manage operations of the system and application of the funds,” he said.
Idris contradicted himself because NBET had attained self-accounting status and was able to manage its audit and financial operations without unnecessary influence from his office.
He reassigned Waziri Bintube of the Finance Department to the department of Risk and Guarantee, while Sambo Abdullahi of the Internal Audit unit was transferred to Learning and Development, Department of NBET.
The AGF brought Hauwa Bello from the National Centre for Women Development, NCWD, to become head of Internal Audit at NBET and Ibrahim Otaru from his office was also transferred to head NBET’s Finance department.
His action was an obvious violation of Section 2.4 (b) of NBET’s charter which reserves powers of organizational restructure within the agency for the board of Human Resource Committee of NBET but allows the AGF to make reviews.
However, since Amobi was appointed substantive boss of NBET in July 2016, there has been no audit of the financial accounts of the electricity company. Available records show that from 2015 to 2018 there were no external audited financial statements submitted by the firm to the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, OAGF, as required by law.
The last financial audit carried out by external auditors, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, PWC, and Aminu Ibrahim & Co was in 2014, reflecting a flagrant breach of the financial regulations and extant circulars.
Under the direct watch of staff from the OAGF, the same trend continued from 2017 to 2019 without any sanctions from the Accountant General, Idris.
Section 3210 (iv) of the financial regulations and extant laws stipulates that “The Chief Executive Officer shall submit both the audited accounts and management report to the Auditor – General and the Accountant General not later than 31st May of the following year of account.”
This breach of the law has continued at NBET with the staff of the OAGF in charge of internal audit and finance units of NBET.
In the face of the alleged corrupt infractions at NBET under the supervision of staff from the OAGF, The ICIR identified suspicious NBET’s projects that were inserted in the Federal government approved budgets of 2018 and 2019.
In its 2018 approved budget, a project titled “External audit for the year ending December 31, 2017,” referred to as an ongoing project was earmarked to cost ₦43,565,908 but enquiries by The ICIR revealed that no external audit was carried out at the electricity company within the period.
However, NBET slated ₦22, 687,536,388 as the required amount it needs to execute its projects in the approved 2018 budget, but ₦27,782,386,771 was released by the federal government which was more than enough to ensure the projects were fully carried out within that fiscal year.
The difference between the amount utilized by NBET and the amount released was an excess of ₦5,094,850,383 according to data obtained from the OAGF.
Surprisingly, only ₦21,915,509,596 was utilized by NBET in the 2018 budget but the financial audit of its accounts for that fiscal year which was a significant provision in the budget was not done.
External audit of NBET’s accounts which was expected to cost ₦73, 600,000, also appeared in the 2019 approved budget but as at the 31st of May, its financial books were not audited by an external auditor.
Meanwhile, every financial statement of government parastatals, agencies, and ministries ought to be audited within 6 months of the succeeding year, with copies submitted to the OAGF, Auditor General of the Federation and the Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly.
Shady emoluments, sketchy agreements
In July 2018, Amobi made a request to the head of Corporate Services at NBET in a letter demanding that two members of staff posted from the OAGF to her agency should receive a salary upgrade and also be put on NBET’s payroll.
“The Director of Finance/Accounts, DFA, and Head of Internal Audit, HIA, will be paid the difference between what their counterparts earn at NBET from what they earn at the OAGF that is (₦23,302,910.52 – ₦5,135,001.96) for the DFA and (₦19,251,174.19 – ₦2, 548,925.04) for the HIA,” a section of the letter reads.
Their appointments letter signed by the AGF reflects a sketchy agreement, which did not state their exact employment status if it was in an acting capacity at NBET or on permanent transfer basis from the OAGF.
It also did not state if they would be answerable to Amobi or the accountant general of the federation who put them in charge.
Section 5(a) of the Federal Government Public Service Rules defines transfer as the permanent release of an officer from one scheduled service to another or from one class to another within the same service.
This provision of the law guides the deployment of civil servants from one agency to another for which their remuneration is handled by their new ministry but in this case, their salaries were upgraded by NBET and their names were also on the OAGF’s payroll.
Meanwhile, the directive from Amobi was carried out resulting in the upgrade of Ibrahim’s monthly salary from ₦427,916.83 which was what he received at the OAGF to ₦1,513,992.38. Hauwa also receives ₦1,391,854.10 compared to what her peers on the same grade level at the OAGF who collect ₦212,410.42.
The names of the staff included on NBET’s payroll from the OAGF are Hauwa Bello, Ibrahim Otaru and Alex Ogbuokiri who was also posted to the Department of Internal Audit.
However, this violation of the public service rules has continued unabated under the supervision of the AGF without his intervention.
In January 2018, NBET’s heads of internal audit and finance who were officers assigned from the OAGF approved a mortgage payment for Amobi to the tune of ₦77,371, 600.80 which was a 6 years upfront payment for her rent and furniture allowances.
With less than three years to the end of her four-year tenure, this illegal payment was approved by the staff of OAGF which the Independent and Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC, in its March 2019 report indicted Amobi for receiving an excess furniture allowance ₦22,646,328.48 above the approved ₦5,777,595.00 for Chief Executive Officer, CEO’s of Ministries, Departments and Agencies.
AGF refuses to comment
The AGF is charged with the responsibility to manage receipts and payments of Nigeria to ensure a proper system of account exists in every department of the nation’s treasury and to exercise general supervision over the receipts of public revenue and over the expenditure of the Federal Government.
The ICIR wanted the AGF to explain the separation of duty of the OAGF treasury staff who were serving as head of finance and internal audit since their role was to be an independent observer reporting to the AGF.
When contacted, Idris did not respond to text messages, WhatsApp messages and phone calls sent to him, despite the fact that he read the message. The green tick on WhatsApps confirmed he did.
Idris was re-appointed as Accountant General of the Federation in June after completing the four-year term from June 2015.