President Muhammadu Buhari has given the go-ahead to a coalition of anti-graft agencies, including the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to recover about N2.65 trillion unremitted funds by 77 oil companies operating in the country.
Barely two weeks ago, NEITI disclosed that 77 oil and gas companies operating in Nigeria were indebted to the federation to the tune of N2.659 trillion, arising from failure to remit petroleum profit tax, company income tax, education tax, value added tax, withholding tax, royalty and concession on rentals.
Speaking in Abuja on the status of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) implementation in Nigeria, Executive Secretary of the organisation, Dr. Ogbonnaya Orji, stated that when converted to forex, government was being owed $6.48 billion at today’s official exchange rate of N410.35.
He noted that a breakdown of the figures showed that a total of $143.99 million was owed as petroleum profit taxes, $1.089 billion as company income taxes and $201.69 million as education tax.
According to him, others include $18.46 million and £972,000 as VAT, $23.91 million and £997,000 as withholding tax, $4.357 billion as royalty oil, $292.44 million as royalty gas, while $270.187 million and $41.86 million were unremitted gas flare penalties and concession rentals respectively.
But the NFIU Director and Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Modibbo Tukur, who spoke when he visited the NEITI secretariat to officially sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the two government organisations, noted that it was unacceptable that government would be owed such huge funds at a time it was borrowing to fund major projects around the country.
Tukur, who broke the news of the president’s nod, pointed out that the Minister of Finance had been directed by the President to oversee the process, including the setting up of a panel of the anti-corruption agencies to recover the unremitted monies.
“And that (NEITI’s hard work) has led to some kind of fruition because I briefed him (President Muhammadu Buhari) this morning and you may not be aware of it. This week, Mr. President has officially approved all the recoveries to be done in this area. The Minister of Finance has been directed to set up a recovery panel with the EFCC, NEITI and NFIU in it and even NAPIMS and all the others.
“So, we are heading to maximum transparency. And there will be consolidation of data coming from NEITI, from NFIU and other agencies and there will be very clear reconciliation with the players and those regulating the sector. So, no more hiding of our national revenues. We all know what we are going through. Nobody wants to see the government borrow,” he stated.
He noted that although he had done some work in the past with the organisation, this time around, the new NEITI management was raising the standard in the execution of EITI principles, traversing the entire country and getting results.
Tukur stated that the NFIU has various departments which will fully analyse every single kobo owed the government, adding that there’s no more hiding place for people who defraud the government.
According to the NFIU boss, from the organisation’s in-depth work on analysing the flow of funds, a huge chunk of monies from illegal extractive business was either being moved out of the country illegally or used in financing terrorism.
He added: “So this is also a natural environment issue where people hide and they do illegal mining, they exploit, then they do certain things and they move it out of the country without even the Ministry of Mining knowing and sometimes they go as far as using this sector to finance terrorism.
“We ran into so many cases, in this particular area when we were doing our analysis on terrorism. So, I think today is the day to congratulate you because we are taking off and you will see the results because now we have all seen the zeal.
“We are talking about N2.6 trillion, then we also reported over $5 billion not paid in the area where the players are, which is the Niger Delta area. And then over N700 billion not paid, and in some cases companies receiving as agents and not even remitting.”
To achieve greater transparency, the NFIU stated that artificial intelligence must be deployed, because, according to him, it’s almost impossible to get full remittance when human beings are involved in the end to end collection of revenues.
“Very soon, both our teams will move to the Ministry of Finance, where we are going to sit down, call these companies and talk about the real issues. We have walked the walk so that the results will come in. And from that data you have and the one we have, the alert will start coming in very soon,” he assured.
Earlier, Orji stated that the essence of the collaboration was to strengthen partnerships to ensure that resources available in the country are prudently managed in a manner that benefits all Nigerians.
He noted that the process that culminated in the MoU commenced earlier in the year, with special attention to the management of information and data in the oil, gas and mining sectors because of the strategic importance of the sectors to the economy.
“We can’t all sit down and watch as a few people will want to fritter the resources that are available to this country. This country is in a haste to develop and needs resources to provide roads, water, electricity, build infrastructure for our people and our teeming youths and make life abundant and to reduce the exodus of our youths to other jurisdictions where they go and even things get tougher.
“When we travel around the world and we meet Nigerians, I feel pained because some of them are the best talents and brains that could have been more useful in our country,” he stated.
Orji noted that the relationship between NEITI and NFIU will be underpinned by information sharing, joint preventive and remediation action in governance processes, regular capacity building and training, joint stakeholder awareness creation, intelligence sharing and investigations.
“Everyday, we get reports of illegal mining, extortion and selling of our mineral resources in the international market without any consideration, especially in the area that these activities border on our national security,” he lamented.
While expressing joy that the president was acting quickly to enhance NEITI’s work, Orji explained that the organisation had met with the EFCC, ICPC, NFIU for similar engagements which have gone beyond signing papers.