Ini Ekot, Premium Times
Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
The apex bank says the minister was privy to a letter directing Customs not to inspect imported fuel
Current finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, may have been privy to the manipulations in the importation of petroleum products in her first tenure between 2003 and 2006, if the position of the Central Bank of Nigeria on the documentation of the products is correct.
Reacting to the Nigeria Customs Service’ allegation that the bank and the federal ministry of finance had in 2002 issued a circular barring the Customs from inspecting imported petroleum products landing in Nigerian, the apex bank said the memo was issued in 2004.
Lawmakers have said the arrangement, which has continued for nearly seven years now, triggered the era of manipulations in the payment of government subsidy.
Adamu Ciroma headed the finance ministry in 2002, the date given by the Customs service. Mr. Ciroma told Premium Times before the story was published a fortnight ago that all his decisions abided by due process, although he denied specific knowledge of the circular.
The present minister, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, headed the ministry in 2004, the date given by the CBN.
By CBN’s estimate, that will appear an indictment of Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, who has repeatedly distanced the ministry from alleged misdeeds in he oil sector even when the many of the sharp practices have existed for more than a decade, including when she first held office.
At a second appearance before the House of Representatives committee investigating the subsidy management on Tuesday, the CBN failed to exonerate itself from the said circular, but claimed the letters were not at the instance of the bank, but the inter-agency committee which the bank represented.
The bank accused Customs of being privy to the position as a member of the inter agency committee.
“We have an inter agency committee -if the circular was issued, it was not a CBN thing, it was the secretariat decision which customs was part of,” said Tunde Lemo, the bank’s deputy governor.
Representatives of the bank and the Customs met with the lawmakers on Tuesday.
The Customs Service hit harder at the CBN accusing the bank of sidelining a presidential directive in giving the order.
The Customs’ allegation followed an earlier position accusing the apex bank and the finance ministry of ordering the service to allow undocumented petroleum imports and not to inspect the contents.
Speaking before the House committee a fortnight ago, Julius Ndubuisi, a deputy comptroller general of customs, had said his service was “warned” sometimes in 2004 by the two agencies not to press for documentations for petroleum imports to “avoid crisis.”
As a key government institutions involved in importation, the Customs said it was restrained from the processes of importation and clearance of petroleum products at the ports, and subsequent payments and deductions.
The second time, Customs maintained that position, but somehow exonerated former President Olusegun Obasanjo of the happenings then.
“We even contested it; and it is on record that what was issued in the circular was not what was approved by the president, and petroleum products is not listed,” Mr. Ndubuisi said.
“That was the basis of our contest. That petroleum is not listed under the items that are exempted from inspection. The documentation we are talking about is the documentation as to relates to imported petroleum products. The records are there.”
On its membership of the inter-agency committee, the service said that did not convey its approval of the decision taken.
“Agreed, customs is a member, I was attending the meetings,” Mr. Ndubuisi said. “CBN will agree that at several times we raised the issue of documentation. There are records that we raised these objections to the CBN that the approved list does not contain petroleum products.”