By Gregory Austin Nwakunor
The management of National Gallery of Art has described as false, the recent allegation of graft by the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), Nigeria, which is currently circulating online.
In the story, ‘National Gallery of Graft: How former DG, others misappropriated funds’, the gallery’s past directors were alleged to have failed to account for N394 million within a 10-year period.
The story, which was authored by Ajibola Amzat, had said: “Sometime in November, a Nigerian Professor of Art History, Moyo Okediji, announced on Facebook that he was building an art gallery in Austin, Texas, United States. He wrote that the gallery is nearing completion and would hopefully be ready by January 2021. That is a timeline of about three months
“Eight years earlier, the National Gallery of Art, an agency under the Ministry of Information and Culture, made a similar announcement to build galleries in Taraba, Niger, Anambra, and Imo states. To date, none of the galleries are near completion, let alone open for business.
“Inside sources allege that directors at the Gallery have misappropriated over N200 million released for the construction of galleries in the four states, all within a period of 10 years.
“While investigating this claim, The ICIR discovered that the directors also have failed to account for N394 million within the same period, according to the record obtained from the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, OAGF.
“While OAGF’s records show that the Gallery was paid a total of N2.7 billion in capital allocation in the last 10 years, the Gallery could only account for N2.3 billion, showing that nearly 15 per cent of federal allocation has gone missing in one decade.”
However, in a statement issued by Oji Onoko, Head, Public Relations, National Gallery of Art, in Abuja, the gallery said, “There is nothing like missing fund in the National Gallery of Art. If there were, our financial statement would have revealed it. Our External Auditors or the Federal Auditors would equally have indicted us.”
The gallery said, “His report comes more than six months after visiting the National Gallery of Art’s head office in Abuja showed photographs he was given at that time. How would he have known the current state of the galleries? Fact: The Niger State project, Ancient Nupe Gallery of Art was completed and commissioned in 2014. Anambra State had two projects: Ufesoido Community Art Centre and Cultural Gallery, Akpu and the Ancient Gallery of Art, Ukpor, Nnewi South. The Ufesoido Cultural Gallery, Akpu has been completed, commissioned, and opened for business while the Ancient Gallery of Art, Ukpor in Nnewi South is almost completed. The Oriental Heritage Gallery, Mbutu, Imo State has been completed and will be commissioned on Thursday, February 11, next week. It would have been commissioned last year but postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Work at the Kulili Gallery of Art, Kulili-lau, Taraba State has reached advanced stage.”
According to the NGA’s rebuttal, “none of the amount mentioned in the story is close to what was appropriated not to talk of actual release of funds for the galleries. We must commend rather than vilify the lawmakers for choosing to take visual arts to the grassroots and their constituents, which will empower the youth in an enduring manner rather than distributing tricycles and wheelbarrows to them!
“The adverts for the construction of the galleries in the four states were in the September 2012 edition of the Federal Tenders’ Journal and Daily Trust Newspaper of the same month. All the procedures for awarding contracts were adhered to by the National Gallery of Art which as a government institution executes its projects and programs through third parties (Contractors and Consultants) according to the quantum of fund release for each year. Like many other Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs), the National Gallery of Art never had its capital appropriation released as appropriated between the years 2010 and 2019. It has always been some percentage release. In 2015, no kobo was released from the capital appropriation for any project. We only got N35millon released through AIE (Authority to incur Expenditure) in that year as capital for only one program.
“In 2012, we had in our appropriation some constituency projects for construction/development of galleries in Taraba, Niger, Anambra and Imo States. The contracts were awarded following due process but only mobilization was paid to the contractors for the year because further releases were not made to pay for the contracts.
“It is preposterous to claim that inside sources allege that Directors in the gallery have misappropriated over N200m released for the construction of galleries in the four states, all within a period of 10 years. Where is the paper trail? Does the writer believe that monies can just be withdrawn and ‘shared’ without a trial? The government does not work that way. There must be designated program, approval, and disbursement all properly documented. Did the reporter try to investigate what has been released and paid to these contractors and what their contract sums are? Or whether the contracts were advertised, bidded and awarded following due process? Do they understand the meaning of misappropriation? Or maybe all these are some gaging up to attack and tarnish the image of some personalities?”
The statement said, “If NGA records are not correct what would give our Director of Finance and Accounts the boldness to confront the office of the Accountant General of the Federation with our figures for clarification? The response from the office of the Accountant General of the Federation (OAGF) never accused NGA of giving incorrect account so why would the reporter be the judge in NGA’s accounting for releases and expenditure?
“What he refers to as three years of balanced record only shows the years we did not receive Service Wide Vote for the years 2015, 2016 and 2019. For the benefit of doubt, Appropriations and Service Wide Votes are accounted for separately because Service Wide Votes are not part of an agency’s budgetary allocations.
“There is nothing like missing fund in the National Gallery of Art. If there is, our financial statement would have revealed it. Our External Auditors or the Federal Auditors would equally have indicted us.
“The so-called discrepancy between the figures from the office of the Accountant General and National Gallery of Art is a matter of accounting reconciliation, not a fraud. This is the job of our External Auditors and Federal Auditors which the office of the Accountant General of the Federation referred to. These are the offices to indict or clear any agency of perceived malfeasance. Luckily, the National Gallery of Art has a clean bill of health from both,” the statement said.