The Punch, Monday
May 16, 2005

A window may have been opened on a dark era in the country's past as the long-sought-for report of the Pius Okigbo panel entered the public domain on Sunday. In spite of desperate official efforts to keep the report away from the public in the last 11 years, there are indications that the report indicted the former military President, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, and two others for mismanaging about $12.4billion oil revenue in six years. The others are the late Gen. Sani Abacha, and a former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, the late Alhaji Abdulkadir Ahmed.

Okigbo's panel was set up by Abacha in January 1994, as part of efforts at the time, to re-organise the CBN.

The panel was also mandated to examine the use of dedicated accounts and other special accounts for oil receipts. The panel submitted its report in September 1994.

As part of its duties to the public, PUNCH had written several letters to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Ufot Ekaette, for a copy of the report.

In a letter on October 27, 2004, PUNCH informed the government that its investigations had traced a copy of the report to a former Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Finance, Alhaji Ibrahim Idah.

In his last letter to PUNCH on the report, Ekaette said, “We have since written to Idah to send us a copy of the report. We are still awaiting his response.”

Also, in one of his public outings, President Olusegun Obasanjo said, “I don't have the report. In fact, I don't know if any such report existed. I will be happy if anyone can give me the report.”

But The News magazine, in its current edition, circulated on Sunday, published the Executive Summary of the 335-page report of the Okigbo Panel.

In the summary, the three former public officers were accused of wasting the oil revenue from September 1988 to June 1994.

The report claimed that the $12.4billion was secretly sourced and spent from six extra-budgetary accounts, which were only known to the two former heads of state and the former CBN Governor.

The report further identified the sources of the $12.4billion fund as Central Bank Dedication Account, NNPC sales of Mining Rights Account, Stabilisation Account, the Signature Bonus Account and GHQ Special Fund Account.

The report said, “In 1988, the President authorised the dedication of crude oil of 65,000 barrels per day for the finance of special priority projects including Ajaokuta Iron and Steel, Itakpe Iron Mining, and Shiroro Hydro electric projects. The account was also to be used for external debt buy-back and the build-up of reserves. The quantity was subsequently increased to 105,000 barrels per day and in early 1994 to 150,000 barrels per day.

“In addition, a stabilisation account to receive the windfall of oil proceeds from the Gulf War and a special account for Mining Rights and Signature Bonus were opened. Altogether, $12.4billion was received into these accounts from 1998 to June 1994, all of which have been spent leaving a balance of $206million as at the 30th of June, 1994.”

It said, “The problem with these accounts is that even when revenues were shown globally, as in the case of dedication account, the expenditures were not included in the Federal Budget.

“Apart from the projects which the accounts were established, their use was extended to a wide variety of projects, many of which could not be classified as priority. The details of receipts and disbursements on these accounts were, however, carefully maintained and all payments were duly authorised by the President.”

The panel said if the two former Heads of State prudently managed the funds, the exchange rate of the Naira would have been stronger to the dollar in 1994.

It said, “If only the funds had been regarded as part of the external reserves and had been counted as such, the impact on the exchange rate in the year under review would have been so significant that the Naira would have been stronger in 1994, in relation to the dollar, than it was in 1985.”

On the operation of the accounts, the Okigbo Panel said it was not subjected to budgetary processes and lacked transparency.

“By limiting the authorisation process for its operation to the approval of the President or Head of State, which was communicated directly only to the CBN Governor, it created considerable room for abuse of procedures, abuse of application and reduced accountability.

“From the foregoing, it is clear that the instructions relating to the operation of these accounts ran between the President and the Governor and between the Governor and the Director, Foreign Operations.

“The Panel was informed that each time the Governor received an authority from the President to effect a payment, a Minute was sent to the Director, Foreign Operation, through the Deputy Governor, International Operations. The dedicated accounts were not operated whenever the Governor happened to be away. The Deputy Governor, International Operations and the Director, Foreign Operations, had no discretion with regard to the operation of the dedication accounts. They acted only on the authority of the Governor.”

On the disbursement of the accounts, the panel traced it to three categories, including security and defence expenditures, contractors and presidential fleet and other payments.

Although the details of the expenditure of the $12.4billion were not provided, the Okigbo Panel identified some projects of importance but it added that there were many large projects of doubtful viability and many more of clearly misplaced priority.

Some of the curious sub-heads included a documentary film on Nigeria, $2.92million; purchase of TV/Video for The Presidency, $18.30million; ceremonial uniform for the Army, $3.85million; staff welfare at Dodan Barracks/Aso Rock, $23.98million; travels of the First Lady abroad, $.99million and the President's travels abroad, $8.95million.

Other expenses were medical (Clinic at Aso Rock), $27.25million; Gifts (Liberia), $1million; Gifts (Ghana) $.50million; Embassies-London, $18.12million; Riyadh, $14.99million; Teheran, $2.76million; Niamey, $3.80million; Pakistan, $3.80million; Israel, $13.07million; TV equipment for ABU, $17.90million; Ministry of Defence, $323million; Security, $59.72million; Defence Attaches, $25.49million and General Headquarters, $1.04million.

The panel said, “In addition to these, the Dedication and Special Accounts had become a parallel budget for The Presidency. The President alone made the decision as to what expenditure items to be financed out of these dedicated accounts, depending on the pressures brought to bear on him by the sponsors of the items.

“For example, the accounts had been utilised to defray assortment of expenses that could not in any way be described as priority.”

The panel did not recommend any sanction for Babangida, Abacha and those involved in the illegal operation of the six accounts.

It, however, urged the Federal Government to discontinue the Dedication Account and other Special Accounts.

It said, “The balance in the existing Dedication and other Special Accounts should immediately be taken into the external reserves of the Central Bank.

“Receipts from sales of dedicated crude oil should be paid into that account up to the end of the 1994 fiscal year. Thereafter, with effect from January 1995, there should be no further dedication of crude oil.

“But if for any reason, there is to be a dedication account, there should be a total and full disclosure of both the expected revenue and the item(s) of expenditure in the budget and the GHQ Special Account should be transferred to the normal budget of the government.”

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