The Central Bank of Nigeria may be asked to withdraw its audited annual financial reports which were released last month, according to findings by The PUNCH.
This came after a team investigating the apex bank discovered discrepancies and irregularities in the financial accounts.
In August, the CBN released its financial accounts for the years 2016 to 2022 amid an ongoing probe of the financial services sector regulator by a Special Investigator appointed by President Bola Tinubu.
Tinubu had on July 28 appointed a former Chief Executive Officer of the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria, Jim Obazee, as Special Investigator to probe the activities of the apex bank under its suspended governor, Godwin Emefiele.
Aside from the CBN, the Special Investigator is also investigating the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited, FRC and other Government Business Entities.
The President, in the letter which he personally signed, said the move was in continuation of the government’s anti-corruption fight.
The letter, dated July 28, 2023, read, “In accordance with the fundamental objectives set forth in Section 15(5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), this administration is, today, continuing the fight against corruption by appointing you as a Special Investigator, to investigate the CBN and Related Entities. This appointment shall be with immediate effect and you are to report directly to my office.
“The full terms of your engagement as Special Investigator shall be communicated to you in due course but require that you immediately take steps to ensure the strengthening and probity of key Government Business Entities, further block leakages in CBN and related GBEs and provide a comprehensive report on public wealth currently in the hands of corrupt individuals and establishments (whether private or public).
“You are to investigate the CBN and related entities using a suitably experienced, competent and capable team and work with relevant security and anti-corruption agencies to deliver on this assignment. I shall expect a weekly briefing on the progress being made.”
The President also attached a copy of his directive suspending Godwin Emefiele as Governor of the CBN on June 9, 2023.
According to findings by The PUNCH, the CBN Special Investigator is working with a team of accountants, auditors, and forensic accountants to carry out the investigation.
Meanwhile, it was gathered on Monday that the CBN might be asked to withdraw its seven-year audited financial account reports (spanning 2016 to 2022) over allegations of containing inaccurate and false data.
Multiple sources close to the investigation said a presidential approval would soon be obtained to enable the relevant agency (FRC) to order the CBN to withdraw the controversial financial accounts.
Top sources close to the Special Investigator and his team said while the CBN financial accounts were not prepared using the International Financial Reporting Standards 9, which demands full disclosure of all financial transactions, the apex bank allegedly used guidelines purportedly obtained from the FRC in a controversial manner to prepare the financial accounts.
It was further learnt that the CBN allegedly paid N401.75m to IFRS Academy for the guidelines used in preparing the accounts.
“As a government institution, if you are getting any revenue, you are meant to pay it into Treasury Single Account from which certain percentage will be deducted for the government. According to documents, the N401m paid by the CBN for the accounting guidelines between 2016 and 2022 was paid into IFRS Academy account. The academy is a limited guarantee company set up by the FRC to train people in IFRS accounting,” a top official close to the investigation, who spoke on condition of anonymity, alleged.
“The issue is that the guidelines used in preparing the CBN accounts between 2016 and 2022 were not supposed to be paid for. Also, any accounting guidelines issued by the FRC are meant to be approved by its board and published on its website. These things were not done. The reason IFRS 9 was being avoided is to understate figures,” the official added.
Other officials close to the investigation, who spoke with The PUNCH, also claimed it was wrong to give the FRC accounting guidelines to external organisations.
As a result, it was learnt the Special Investigator team had included its recommendations that presidential approval be given to the FRC to order the CBN to withdraw the released annual financial accounts between 2016 and 2022.
“The team has also invited the auditors that prepared the accounts for questioning. Some of the data contained in the CBN financial accounts cannot be relied upon as far as the team carrying out the investigation is concerned. Once the President approves, the CBN will be asked to withdraw the accounts in order to prepare new ones using the proper accounting methodology and standards,” another official close to the team said.
Meanwhile, findings have shown that Department of State Services may invite the Executive Secretary/Chief Executive Officer of FRC, Shuaibu Ahmed, and some top officials of the agency for questioning.
Also, the Special Investigator and his team are expected to question officials of the FRC for allegations bothering on the controversial accounting guidelines used by the CBN, among other issues.
Already, the DSS has quizzed some deputy governors of the CBN as the investigation continues.
Also, It was learnt that more cases involving Emefiele might soon be revealed in court sessions.
Tinubu had on July 28 directed the CBN Special Investigator to work with security and anti-corruption agencies to provide a comprehensive report on public wealth currently in the hands of corrupt individuals and establishments, whether private or public.
Economists and civil society organisations are divided over the probe of the CBN, NNPCL and other Government Business Entities by the president.
While some supported the move, others expressed concerns saying it might send the wrong signal to the international and foreign investment community.
However, some experts and groups said the investigation was necessary to ascertain if there were any infractions or alleged abuse of office by the suspended CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, and other top government officials.
The Chief Executive Officer of the Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise, Muda Yusuf, said the investigation had become necessary to ascertain if there were any infractions or abuse of office.
He said, “It is a new administration, and if there is any reason to suspect that the case has not been managed well, the only way to get the facts out is through the normal audit and maybe a forensic audit. It is not out of place.
‘’If there is any suspicion of abuse of office, the normal thing is to do a forensic examination to ascertain whether there was any infraction or abuse of office. You need to get the facts before you can take action against anybody. That is what it is.”
Also, a professor of Economics at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State, Prof Sheriffdeen Tella, also supported the investigation.
He said, “Any investigation is worth it. There is a need for investigation to determine the transparency and accountability of their job and to ensure that they have been working in the context of corporate etiquette. So, there is nothing wrong with the investigation at all.”
An economist with the School of Management and Social Sciences, Pan-Atlantic University, Prof Bright Eregha, observed that the Federal Government might have ordered the probe because it felt the apex bank did not perform well or stick to its mandate.
He added that the probe would also be extended to other government enterprises, such as the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited and other entities, stressing that the investigation might restore confidence in the system.
Eregha said, “The CBN ought to be an independent body, however, we see in the last government, that independence was not really there in terms of the CBN governor not being involved with political issues.
“We saw what transpired in terms of his affiliation and moves. And then, there is the issue of the Naira redesign. I think this government just thought that the CBN is not doing well regarding the sanctity of the central bank in terms of its independence. So they felt a need to do a number of investigations.
‘’Don’t also forget that the CBN in the past has been involved in a lot of financial support to several sectors. I think the current government felt that for us to move forward, they need to investigate.
“That investigation is not only on CBN, it is also looking at other financial institutions. I’m also thinking it will go beyond the financial institutions to companies like the NNPC and all these places that we need to investigate to restore some level of confidence in Nigeria.’’
But the Chairman of the Foundation for Economic Research and Training, Professor Akpan Ekpo, expressed worries that the audit of the apex bank might send the wrong signals to potential investors.
He, however, maintained that the President might have his reasons for ordering the probe.
He stated, ‘’My worry is that to have made the audit of the central bank so open will send wrong signals to potential investors; foreign investors, who will start wondering whether our apex bank has serious problems. That is my take.
“But as a president, maybe he knows what we don’t know. When you start probing your apex bank, then you send a wrong signal in terms of the direction of the economy and in terms of what will happen going forward. Already, there is a challenge with getting investors to come in and there is a challenge with our forex reserve. It is depleting every day.’’
On the choice of the special investigator, Ekpo said, “I don’t know him but I wish he had sent someone completely neutral.”
The Chairman of the Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, Debo Adeniran, said Obazee must investigate the monetary policy of the suspended governor of the central bank, and the illegality of the redesign of the naira note, noting that the former CBN boss should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity if it is found that the implementation of the policy had political undertones.
Adeniran noted, “They should investigate how the former governor of the CBN changed the Nigerian monetary policy and the illegality that was perpetrated when he didn’t do due diligence before he changed the colour of the naira. We need to see whether he had good reasons for changing the colour of the naira or otherwise because basically, the naira doesn’t have a problem. It is the monetary policy that he put in place that could have been the problem.
“They should look at the monetary policy he implemented, and if there is any political undertone, for the implementation, or the changing of the colour of the naira without recourse to due process, and if he were to be politicking with the lives of Nigerians, then he should be seen to have committed a crime against humanity.
The Executive Chairman of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, Auwal Rafsanjani, said the appointment showed the laxity of agencies of government such as the National Assembly, who should ideally checkmate activities of government, adding that anyone discovered to have looted public funds should be prosecuted and banned from holding public office.
“We commended the effort to recover every looted fund from every looter. So, we are calling on the administration of Bola Tinubu to ensure that everyone that has done something wrong must be not only investigated, but also if there is any evidence of looting or stealing public funds, the monies must be returned, and those people must be barred from holding public offices. We hope that this probe would be carried out without any political consideration or cover-up,’’ he advised.