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Nigeria's Government May Have Just Caught the State-Owned Oil Company Hiding $16 Billion

President Muhammadu Buhari and his administration may have uncovered onto the biggest case of graft to date, with a report out this week revealing $16 billion worth of missing revenue from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation in 2014.
Photo via Reuters

When Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari came to power a year ago, the former military leader vowed to rid the West African country of corruption that costs the economy billions of dollars annually. Now, his administration may have uncovered the biggest case of graft to date, with a report out this week revealing missing revenues from the state's nationalized oil company totaling $16 billion.

The Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) is required to pay all of its revenue to the federal government, but in 2014 the corporation reportedly held onto the 3.2 trillion naira in revenues. The information was revealed in a report that Auditor-General Samuel Ukura gave to the national assembly on Monday.


Each year, NNPC is expected to pay the entirety of its revenues to the Central Bank of Nigeria. In total, oil company exports $77 billion worth of oil per year. Ukura compiled the information for the report by examining information from NNPC and the central bank.

While this could end up being Nigeria's largest corruption scandal, it wasn't entirely unexpected. In fact, back in 2014, central bank Governor Lamido Sanusi claimed NNPC was $20 billion short in the revenues it handed over during a 12-month period that began in January 2012. Then-president Goodluck Jonathan suspended the official for "financial recklessness and misconduct" for making the comment, which NNPC claimed was unfounded.

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A member of OPEC, Nigeria is Africa's top economy and the continent's largest oil producer. The country has been hit by falling oil prices, which have impacted other sectors of the economy as well, but NNPC reported losses for several years before the cost per barrel took a dive last year.

When Buhari was sworn into office in May 2015 he quickly took control of the oil company. Under his rule the corporation is set to be divided into separate institutions.

Beyond corruption at the financial level, there have also been concerns about the oil that never makes it through the state company's books. Estimates indicate that billions of dollars in stolen oil from the Niger Delta make their way out of Nigeria each year. Chatham House estimates that around 100,000 barrels are stolen daily.

Ukura's report also indicated that other federal agencies had also withheld funds from the federal government.

Another high-profile graft case in recent months involves the case of Sambo Dasuki, the country's former National Security Advisor during Jonathan's presidency. Dasuki was arrested late last year over allegations of fraud related to $68 million from the defense budget — more specifically, money that was allotted to combat the militant group Boko Haram entrenched in northern Nigeria since 2009.

The graft accusations are part of a larger fraud scheme involving more than $2 billion in funding meant for arms purchases, money that was allocated towards fake contracts. The former Chief of Defense Staff Alex Badeh is also charged with nine counts, including money laundering allegations, related to $15 million in fraudulent spending. Badeh, who Buhari removed from power, plead not guilty in court earlier this month.

Reuters contributed to this report.