Despite not including payments for fuel subsidy in the federal budget, the President Muhammadu Buhari led government has been paying subsidies on fuel, and apparently doing so illegally.
Under Nigerian law, the federal government cannot spend public funds without approval from the National Assembly.
But the Buhari-led government has been paying fuel subsidies from funds jointly owned with states and local governments without permission from lawmakers, documents published by Premium Times show.
According to the documents, the Buhari government illegally diverted $1.05 billion (N378 billion at N360 to a dollar) sourced from the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) dividend funds to secretly fund subsidy payment on petroleum products.
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), through its spokesperson, Ndu Ughamadu, initially claimed the corporation sourced the fund from an “international agency”.
But NNPC group managing director Maikanti Baru admitted to lawmakers last week that the money was sourced from the NLNG dividend fund. NNPC never admitted to doing so till lawmakers summoned Baru as part of investigations into the illegal subsidy payments.
Memos Baru presented lawmakers showed President Buhari knew and approved NNPC’s illegal action. To justify the illegal action of the Buhari government, Baru said NNPC took the decision after the National Assembly directed it to “do all it takes” to end the fuel scarcity that gripped Nigeria in the December of 2017 through January of this year.
Buhari and NNPC, however, never informed the National Assembly, state and local governments, before spending NLNG dividend fund which belongs to the public and cannot be touched without approval from lawmakers.
Before becoming president, Buhari had promised to end fuel subsidy payments stating that only corrupt administrations pay such. But while his predecessors include fuel subsidy payments in federal government budgets, Buhari refused to do so giving the impression that his administration was not paying subsidies on petroleum products.
It is now clear that the Buhari administration which claims to be fighting corruption is not only illegally paying fuel subsidies but also lied to the Nigerian public about it. Buhari could have included the payments in his government’s budget. His failure to do so raises suspicions of corruption. Anti-corruption bodies say lack of transparency is feature of corrupt regimes.
During the last fuel scarcity, Baru, according to documents published by Premium Times, told Buhari the scarcity could lead to social unrest. Buhari’s government then apparently decided to pay subsidies on petroleum products without informing the Nigerian people.
When lawmakers asked Baru about the illegality, he said the government was only acting on lawmaker’s directive that the NNPC “do all it takes” to end the scarcity.
Last December, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo raised concerns among stakeholders when he said the NNPC and not the Federal government was paying for oil subsidy. NNPC later claimed it was souring the money from and unnamed “international agency”. Documents show the government and the NNPC acted illegally and lied about it.
Lawmakers say spending funds without approval from the National Assembly is an impeachable offence.