The recent declaration by the President-elect, Gen. Mohammadu Buhari, to probe the alleged missing $20 billion NNPC fund must be informed by the frustration of most Nigerians to see the end to this controversy. The allegation that $20 billion NNPC fund was missing or unremitted to the federation account has become a festering sore thumb that refuses to heal and seems to make the whole nation a big joke of a sort, even after a report by Price WaterHouse Cooper, a supposedly international audit firm.

Former Central Bank of Nigeria Governor, Mallam Lamido Sanusi, now Emir of Kano, blew the lip open in September 2014, which was perceived by many people as being responsible for his tumultuous exit from the apex bank. With the controversy threatening to tear the fabric of government apart as the ministries of finance and petroleum and the CBN issued different figures, an inter- ministerial committee was set up to reconcile the figures yet without success. Eventually, the audit firm was appointed to unravel the puzzle and establish the accurate figure.

Most people hailed the effort to get to the root of the problem with the appointment of the auditors, but after submitting its report to the Audit General, who subsequently released its findings, based on the executive summary, indicating that only $1.8 billion was outstanding to the government, as previously claimed by the NNPC, fresh questions have trailed it. The refusal of the AG to release the entire report as directed by the President raised misgivings about the report, prompting the president-elect General Mohammadu Buhari to weigh in on the matter, which forced President Jonathan to order the AG to release the whole report.

Intriguingly, the release of the report has proved to be a dampener and anticlimax as it leaves more questions than answers. It was even perplexing when the audit firm claimed that it did not do a forensic audit, but, rather a review of the accounts of the corporation. It has also emerged that a total sum of N286 billion or $18.4 billion was not captured in the audit report pointing to the fact that the $20 billion allegation may in fact be true.

As a newspaper, we believe the whole controversy is unnecessary and scandalous, and justifies the general perception of this government as being corrupt or condoning corruption.  It is embarrassing that a simple matter of setting up a probe audit could be so difficult and convoluted to save the nation this harrowing episode. We agree with Buhari that Nigerians deserve to know what actually happened and those culpable.

It is a national odium that this kind of impunity and insensitivity to the feelings of the public could be allowed for so long. What really rankles about the issue is not that the said amount is missing, as terrible as that would be. The NNPC was set up as a honey pot of those in power and its Act enables it to spend money without recourse to higher authorities. As a product or baby of military government this is not surprising.

What is really offensive about this affair is the deliberate attempt to stall or cover up the allegation for whatever reasons and fool the general public. The nation’s image must have suffered incalculable damage on account of this pussy-footing over such weighty issue which could have brought down governments elsewhere. That the nation was given an audit review, instead of the promised forensic investigation, is insulting and misleading, and should not be tolerated.

Hallmark urges the incoming government to provide Nigerians answers to the questions being raised in the report, such as the actual amount, what it was used for and who illegally benefitted from it. We must put this matter to rest and not allow it to go the way of previous allegations such as missing $2.5 billion under Obasanjo with Buhari then as petroleum minister made by late Dr.Tai Solari in 1980, and the $12 billion Gulf war windfall, which Dr. Pius Okigbo’s report has disappeared after being submitted.

However, while we support a more comprehensive investigation of the matter, this alone cannot solve the problem of corruption in the corporation – it doesn’t matter who runs it.  Global experience with state run oil corporations is a reflection of corruption as the current scandal in Brazil’s Petrobras shows. So, the ultimate objective of the probe should be how to rid the firm of corruption and make it more efficient.

The PIB legislation, which has suffered unconscionable delays at the NASS, should be urgently reactivated, review and represented for quick passage to enable the unbundling of the oil monopoly. This will make it more transparent and nimble in its operations. It is a travesty of economic logic to operate an institution that is both a regulator and operator; it can only be a recipe for the financial waste and corruption presently being witnessed in the NNPC.