Mr. Abati accused the Nigerian media of unprofessionalism.
President Goodluck Jonathan never confirmed that Nigeria’s state owned oil company, NNPC, withheld $10 billion from the Federation Account, the presidency has said.
The spokesperson to Mr. Jonathan, Reuben Abati, said in a statement on Tuesday that media reports that the president confirmed the ‘missing’ funds were untrue.
The NNPC has been enmeshed in allegations of failing to remit $20 billion to the federation account as constitutionally required; money believed to have been stolen.
The suspended Central Bank Governor, Lamido Sanusi, raised the dust last year in a letter to Mr. Jonathan. He alleged that the corporation failed to remit $49.8 billion as constitutionally required. The money was eventually reduced to $20 billion by the bank chief after reconciliation of the sums. Mr. Sanusi was controversially suspended early in the year by President Jonathan, for alleged financial recklessness; although the bank chief, and several Nigerians, believes he is being punished for exposing the fraud in the NNPC.
The National Assembly and the Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, unable to clear the NNPC of the allegations, subsequently called for a professional audit of the NNPC to reveal the true situation of its finances; a proposal the presidency accepted.
Mr. Jonathan had on Monday in the Netherlands addressed Nigerians living in the country on the controversy.
Reacting to media reports that Mr. Jonathan confirmed to his audience that NNPC defaulted on $10 billion dollars, Mr. Abati said, “Reports in some domestic media today (Tuesday) which quoted President Goodluck Jonathan as “confirming” in Amsterdam that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) wrongly withheld $10 Billion from the federation account are completely false and a total distortion of the President’s comments during his meeting with the Nigerian community in the Netherlands.”
“At no time during the well-attended reception did President Jonathan also confirm any “irregularities” in the NNPC,” the spokesperson said.
Mr. Abati said the president’s exact words was that “As at the time, the Finance Ministry was saying they had not been able to reconcile only 10 billion dollars. There are issues in NNPC but we are on it.”
He said Mr. Jonathan reassured “Nigerians of his administration’s continued commitment to openness, transparency and probity in the aftermath of the unsubstantiated allegations, the Federal Government had authorised a professional forensic audit of NNPC accounts to clear the air.”
“The Presidency deplores the mischievous and unethical distortion of his comments in the media today,” the spokesperson said.
The NNPC had claimed that it used some of the money for its own operations and for the payment of subsidy on kerosene, something described as illegal by some lawmakers and Mr. Sanusi.
No provision has been made for kerosene subsidy in the Nigerian budget since 2011 ever since a directive by late President Umaru Yar’Adua in 2010 removing subsidy on the product.
Majority of Nigerians do no buy kerosene at the ‘subsidised’ prize of N50 per litre with the product sold nationwide at more than 100 per cent over that amount.
The ‘missing’ $20 billion and the kerosene ‘subsidy’ are still being investigated by the National Assembly.