The House of Representatives has expressed dismay over the directive of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami ordering Keystone Bank to pay $40 million belonging to the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) in naira equivalent.
The Executive Director, North and Public Sector Directorate, Keystone Bank, Mr. Lawal Ahmed, who appeared before the AdHoc Committee on Assessment and Status of all recovered loots, Movable and Immovable Assets from 2002 to 2020 by agencies of the federal government of Nigeria for effective efficient management and utilisation, said the total amount of money established by the AGF to be paid to NNPC was $136,676,600.51.
Giving a breakdown of the figure, Ahmed said, “Out of this entire amount, we paid $96 million in United States dollars and we paid the equivalent of $40 million in naira. That was the directive by the Attorney-General at the rate of N305 to a dollar. The schedule is also attached.”
But the chairman of the Committee, Hon. Adejoro Adeogun asked how much Keystone had paid out of the $40 million at the N305 exchange rate and Ahmed in response said all the money had been paid.
According to him, the AGF recommended the rate.
Also, Adeogun wondered why the $136 million that was supposed to be for Brass LNG Investment Account was paid to a different account.
Responding, Ahmed explained, “We were paying into the Brass LNG’s NNPC account in the TSA and at the time the Attorney-General gave the directive, he instructed that the funds be credited to the FGN Assets Recovery Account.”
Adeogun however showed a letter from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for Ahmed to see the differences in the details given to the committee.
After reading the document, Ahmed argued that there were no discrepancies in the exchange rates as recorded in the CBN and Keystone’s documents.
He noted, “The first item, which is N12,421,794,504.88 is the equivalent of $40 million at N305, which was directed to the federal government Assets Recovery Account.
“There were two accounts: there was Brass LNG and there was OML 40. At the time this (AGF) letter was written, I believe that we had not concluded payment yet. The final payments were made thereafter in tranches.”
But not satisfied, Adeogun insisted that each of the two parties should be paid what was due to them.
According to him, “You could see there; you paid $18 million to a different person. So, we cannot accept that the payment to that other party is part of this payment (to the first party).”
Ahmed, however, insisted that the bank was duly advised on which account was to be paid into.
The committee chairman further aasked who instructed the bank pay money meant for (Brass) NLG to a different entity
Responding, Ahmed said, “I stand to be corrected but I believe that the instruction to pay would have come either from the NNPC or the CBN.”
Adeogun stated that the committee would not admit the $18 million payment to be part of the remittance to (Brass) NLG.
He added, “Right now, we have two issues in contention: $18 million that was wrongly paid, which we don’t know where it is, and as long as that cannot be determined, it means the $18 million is missing; and you need to prove that you paid $13 million. What we would do is to adjourn your own hearing for that purpose until you are able to give us evidence.”
It was at this point that a member of the committee, Hon. Olanrewaju Edun, said the House could take up the bank for the payment of $40 million in naira.
He said, “Out of the $40 million that you claimed that the Attorney-General gave you a letter…as far as I am concerned, I don’t know why you have to take a letter from the Attorney-General. This is Nigeria’s money owned by the three tiers of government. We can take you up on that.”
But Ahmed asked Edu if the bank should have disregarded a letter from the AGF.
Responding, Edun said “that is contentious” insisting that the committee would get to the root of the issue.
Edun said, “Mr. Chairman, I believe that my constituency has been robbed of money. Yes. And we need to contest that letter. I don’t know why the Attorney-General had to issue a letter that something that was transacted in dollars should be paid in naira rate when you have differential rates in Nigeria.
“You have one that is official and one that is outside the (black) market. That is a lot of money, and this money belongs to the three tiers of government. There is a need to subject the Attorney-General to questioning in this case.”
“The contention is this: if you (Keystone) owe a particular value, why was it that you were asked to pay a part in dollars and another part in naira equivalent; the money that belongs to the three tiers of government?
“The meaning is that your bank is using that money at a value against the interest of Nigerians,” he queried.
Adeogun said as an arm of government, it would be proper to invite the government to reconcile the figures.
He said: “Even if all they (Keystone) had to do was to lobby to get it done, lobbying is allowed in banking. So, we should not crucify them for that.
“I think I need to rule on two issues: the first one has to do with the $13 million which we have agreed that Keystone is going to clarify and the $18 million. So, we are saying that about $31 million need to be reconciled.”