Over the years, the stories of corrupt practices in Nigeria, and the colossal funds expended in executing non-existent government contracts seem to have become a normalcy. Not minding that such projects when completed would impact largely to alleviate the sufferings of the populace. Everyday Nigerians are inundated with tales of how corruption in high places has continued to drain the nation's huge resources into private pockets.
Worse than the funds embezzled is government's hoodwinking practice of either feigning helplessness in apprehending the culprits, or tactically sweeping the issue under the carpet, and subsequently dumping every matter related to the fraud into the waste bin of history. It's either government sets up an investigative panel whose report is never implemented or made public, or perpetrators go through a stage-managed trial that is at best inconclusive. And they go ahead and lavish their loot unchallenged.
Recently, the Senate admitted that a strong cartel was milking the nation dry of its hard-earned revenue through the fuel subsidy policy of the Federal Government. This was during a debate by the Senate on the planned removal of fuel subsidy by the government.
It, therefore, directed the Senate Committees on Petroleum Resources (Downstream), Appropriation and Finance to investigate the fuel subsidy scam.
The debate was initiated by Abubakar Bukola Saraki on his motion titled: "Investigation into the current fuel subsidy management". He had filed the motion to investigate the supervision of fuel subsidy a few weeks ago. Before putting the question on the motion, Senate President David Mark said there is a cartel within the petroleum industry that has robbed the Nigerian masses of the benefits of subsidy.
According to him, "In my personal view, there is a cartel within the petroleum industry and whatever they do, is exclusive to them. Ninety per cent of us are totally outside the circle and we don't know what happens. It is necessary to open it up. The crucial issue here is how much we have spent on fuel importations; who are the beneficiaries and has the subsidy achieved desired goals and targets?"
About 13 senators contributed to the motion sponsored by Senator Saraki who is the immediate past governor of Kwara state. The lawmakers were unanimous that the policy had been abused, raising a moral burden on whether it was desirable. Even the executive arm of government's implementation of the fuel subsidy scheme was queried by the Upper House. The government was accused of spending beyond the amount appropriated for fuel subsidy without recourse to the National Assembly as stipulated in the nation's constitution.
According to Saraki, N240 billion (N20 billion monthly) was being appropriated from 2011 budget for fuel subsidy. He said of the N20 billion monthly allocations, N11.2 billion was approved for domestic fuel subsidy for the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) while N8.8 billion goes to independent marketers for the same purpose from the 2011 Appropriation Act.
He said although N20 billion was set aside for subsidy monthly in this year's budget, by last August the amount spent was N165 billion, of which NNPC accounted for N88 billion and the independent marketers N77.7 billion. The lawmaker added that at the end of August 2011, N931 billion was spent, which is N771 billion or 700 per cent above the N240 billion contained in the budget.
He expressed worries that in the first three months of the year, both the NNPC and the independent marketers did not exceed N62 billion monthly but within the last three months, the figures had ranged between N150 billion and N186 billion.
Saraki said, "With this trend, by the year-end, we will have a fuel subsidy bill of over N1.2 trillion as against the N240 billion budgeted in the Appropriation Act. The implementation of 2011 Appropriation Act will surely be in troubled waters if a variation of N1.2 trillion arises as a result of the level of expenditure incurred on fuel subsidy so far."
Most senators who contributed to the debate agreed that the management of fuel subsidy had been shrouded in secrecy and it was time to carry out an inquest into it. They described it as a critical motion.
It would be recalled that a similar committee was set up by the last House of Representatives headed by Godwin Ndudi Elumelu to investigate what happened to the huge sums of money expended on the power sector between 1999 and 2007 with nothing to show for it. A seven-man ad-hoc committee set up by the House of Representatives to review the report of its committee on power stated that a total of $12.93 billion was expended by the administration of former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, to reform the power sector within the years of his adminstration.
Popularly tagged the 'power probe', the Elumelu panel informed a stunned populace that about $16billion had been pilfered from the national treasury in the name of providing electric power supply. But the power and money were nowhere to be found.
The committee held live telecasts its activities where it interrogated those supposed to have stolen the money meant for the power sector projects. The committee literally earned the trust and support of mot Nigerians to reveal the perpetrators. It made all the necessary noise on the pages of newspapers across the country, while Elumelu became the most celebrated law maker in the land. He was a hero of sorts to the people.
But alas, today Elumelu and others are standing trial for allegedly stealing N5.4 billion meant for Rural Electrification Agency on a 56 count-charge brought on him, and then chairman of the Senate Committee on Power, Senator Nicholas Ugbane. Also taken to trial was Elumelu's deputy, Alhaji Mohammed Jibo, the House Chairman of the Committee on Rural Development, Mr. Igwe Paulinus; the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Power, Dr. Aliyu Abdullahi; and the Managing Director of the REA, Mr. Sam Gekpe among others.
Somewhere along the line, the necessary questions concerning the actual crime of none delivery of additional megawatts to the national grid, despite the funds expended were sidelined and left unanswered.
Reports indicate that there were clearly desperate attempts by a majority of the House members to cover up some of the principal characters indicted in the report. Leadership of the House of Representatives forestalled a 'disaster' when it stopped the House sitting in plenary from throwing away all the 88-recommndations of the Elumelu report.
The House later emerged from an executive session to form a seven-man committee to be headed by Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal. Tambuwal who was then Deputy Chief Whip of the House, was mandated to review the recommendations of the power probe report and report back to the House after seven days.
Some members who had spoken anonymously to a reporter at that time said not all parts of the report and recommendations were controversial. But that Elumelu and the Consultant excluded other members of the Committee from contributing to the report. Some even alleged that the report was influenced to favour others and to indict certain individual and firms.
For all that one could gather, the strong resentment against the report was the suspicion by members of the committee that Elumelu may have taken advantage of his position and cornered some deal for himself, excluding others from it.
But, there were some Reps who swore that there is the likelihood that billions of Naira may have changed hands. Those who spoke said some powerful people indicted in the report may have bought their way out, and that the report would be eventually rubbished. How right they were.
The crucial questions now are; how far can the Saraki panel go in unearthing and breaking the so-called cartel behind the fuel subsidy scam that has drained the nation of billions of naira. Will they rescue Nigerians from the planned removal of the subsidy which many fear will create untold hardship to the citizenry? Or, will the work of the panel go the same way as others in the past with no resultant change in the lives of the mass of Nigerians.
An outline from the Petroleum Product Pricing Regulatory Agency, PPPRA the body responsible for managing the subsidy regime indicates that a litre of petrol should ordinarily cost N143 at the pump station. But that price is allegedly brought down to N65 a liter as a result of government subsidy.
A greater percentage of the extra cost are incurred from demurrage, freight, traders margin, lightening expenses (cost of transferring products from big tankers to lighter vessels), Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) fee, product fee, thruput charge (fee for discharging the fuel), depot charge among others. This means that the so-called subsidy comes as a result of the inefficiency of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, (NNPC) to produce fuel domestically and thereby compelling Nigerians to rely on imported fuel products. Most of these costs can therefore be avoided should government decide to rely on internal production of the refined crude products.
During a recent interview, Senator Ahmed Maccido, Chairman Senate Committee on Appropriation promised that Senate will expose those behind the scam and let Nigerians know the truth. He said "I assure you that we will be ready to expose those behind it. We will even name names if necessary". Time they say, will tell as Nigerians continue to look on in expectation of the result of the panel's investigation.