13 November 2012

Nigeria: Corruption - the Writing On Nigeria's Wall

Photo: Vanguard


Corruption did not begin with President Goodluck Jonathan's government. But, at the current rate, corruption would kill Nigeria on his watch. By a number of credible accounts, more than $500 billion (N80 trillion) has been stolen from Nigeria's public coffers since independence in 1960. We don't know exactly how much of this has been stolen under Jonathan. With record heists reported almost daily from the oil sector to pension funds, it is beyond a doubt that corruption is plumbing new, frightening depths under this government.

And the crooks are roaming free. Not only that, they are enjoying executive protection and daring the public to do its worst. This is the climate under which the world has witnessed the bizarre drama following the submission of the report of the Nuhu Ribadu-led Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force last week.

While Ribadu was submitting the report to President Jonathan, two members of the task force, who had been offered jobs in the same NNPC that they were supposed to be investigating and who contributed nothing to the panel's work, were allowed to discredit the report without anybody reprimanding them. In the particular case of one of them, Steve Oronsaye, it is baffling that he is never in short of supply of juicy appointments from every government in power. He is not only on the board of the NNPC, he is also on the board of the Central Bank of Nigeria. A few days after the Ribadu panel submitted its report, the president's aide, Doyin Okupe, dismissed it as shoddy and "impossible to implement". And now there's a rash of spin about everything other than about when the criminals will be brought to justice. How long will this nonsense continue?

President Jonathan has often spoken of his administration's resolve to crush oil thieves or drive all economic saboteurs in the country into another planet. While inaugurating new service chiefs last month, he gave them a marching order to crush oil thieves. For the umpteenth time, last week, at the launch of Reforming the Unreformable, a book authored by finance minister Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the president swore that all those found culpable in the fuel subsidy scam would be severely punished after they had been forced to refund the funds they illegally collected. He was obviously referring to those who allegedly stole N2.6 trillon in the name of fuel subsidy funds last year. The Ribadu report, by the way, revealed that $16 billion or N2.8 trillion had been separately stolen in the oil sector.

Indeed, it's under the Jonathan regime that the country has witnessed the exposure of looted trillions of naira. Billions - like the N100 billion stolen by a syndicate that specialises in stealing pensions -- have become relatively insignificant! The source of looted trillions, of course, is the nation's oil wealth -- oil contributes more than 80 per cent of government's revenue.

Need we recount a few other cases of larceny on a grand scale? Nigerians are aware that the country loses 600,000 barrels of crude oil daily to illegal bunkering. At the current price of N112.52 per barrel, a whopping sum of N 3.7 trillion ($24.64 billion) is lost annually. The NNPC disclosed that 1.7 million barrels of crude oil were lost between May and June 2009 alone. The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has reported that "West African pirates have been increasingly attacking ships further and further from shore. They illegally siphon US$3 billion yearly worth of crude oil and refined petroleum products between 100,000 and 130,000 barrels a day with an international market value of about US$3billion; the equivalent of a large 95,000 metric ton crude oil tanker is being stolen from Nigeria without punishment".

The situation of oil theft has grown worse with allegations of complicity by members of the ruling party and others close to the corridors of power who have been indicted by various administrative panel reports. This illegal activity is being carried out without a licence, authorisation or valid documents and in violation of the Nigerian maritime laws and guidelines. Not a few people snorted when the minister of trade and investment, Dr. Olusegun Aganga, blurted that some documents from his ministry were forged to perpetrate illegal oil theft. According to him, the country loses N775 billion annually over non-metering of oil wells and inaccurate ship-to shore loading and offloading of vessels. In the third quarter of this year, documents were forged leading to the export of 24million barrels of oil valued at $1.6billion.

The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the NNPC have demonstrated gross incompetence in tackling these oil thieves in spite of the huge resources at their disposal, apparently because their officials also collude with them. The engagement of repentant militant Government Ekpemupolo's (Tompolo) company to secure our maritime coast has equally been a pipe dream. The nation continues to experience huge revenue loss through oil theft and various forms of criminality at sea. Two vessels believed to have been used in this criminal act recently are said to be owned by some high-ranking PDP members and top officials of the NNPC who were allegedly accused of stealing about 6.5 million barrels of Nigeria's crude oil.

More often than not, the Nigerian judiciary has aided and abetted this crime through endless litigations. That is why Nigerians do not believe any of the indicted would be brought to justice. Recently, the EFCC arraigned 13 suspects in connection with the fuel subsidy scam. These suspects, eight individuals and five companies, were accused of allegedly receiving N1,265,204, 348.20 and N76, 267,387.47 purportedly as subsidy for the supply of 17, 989,540.00 litres and 20,021,873 litres respectively of PMS. More of the suspects are expected to have their day in court. The question still: where is the justice? How long will this nonsense continue?

President Jonathan should have facts and security reports on these economic saboteurs more than any other Nigerian. Pandering to sentiments and schmoozing with them will only continue to do damage to the already battered image of his administration. He has to act fast before corruption kills the country on his watch. It is not enough to vow, at every forum, to eliminate corruption. It requires a few days of surveillance to be carried out in the swamps of Rivers, Cross River, Bayelsa, Ondo and AkwaIbom states, where these oil thieves load crude oil or petroleum products into large barges, and in the labyrinthine creeks of the Niger Delta, directly from oil field production wellheads or from NNPC jetties at Okrika, Effurum, Calabar, Escravos, Atlas Cove (Lagos), and deliberate puncturing of crude oil or petroleum product pipelines across the country's hinterland.

The oil thieves are not spirits. Report after report, panel after panel, and committee after committee have named them, indicted them and turned them in. The Ribadu report has done no less. Yet Jonathan's government keeps vowing that heads would roll without lifting a finger. If the government continues playing its favourite game of obfuscation - its promise of action not worth a kobo in the piggybank - it is only a matter of time before the government would collapse under the weight of its own malfeasance.

In addressing a gathering of the Communist Party in China a few days ago, the outgoing Chinese president, Hu Jin Tao,told them that if corruption was not tackled, both their party and the nation together with it would be sunk.That is the stuff that great leaders are made of.

The writing is on the wall.

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