Vanguard (Lagos)

31 December 2012

Nigeria: 2012 - the Year That Almost Wasn't

FOR a year that nearly did not start, 2012 had its high moments, like Nigerians waking up on January 1, only for their ululations of "Happy New Year" to be abbreviated on learning they might have to sell some of their kids if they wanted to fuel. If you think it was a joke, ask those who pawned their wards to raise the return fares from their villages to the cities after new fuel prices threw budgets - except governments' - out of control. The more enthralling details of the year follow in order of their irreverent peripherals to the lives of Nigerians who learnt the important lesson that with government, almost anything is possible.

Absences

DAME Patience Jonathan has no constitutional roles, unless amendments sail through, but Nigerians wondered if she had wandered off the Presidency. Was she on holiday? Was she ill? Had she lost interest in living in the Presidential Villa? Rumours swirled until she made a triumphant entry into Abuja to public kisses and embraces from President Goodluck Jonathan, whose versions of his wife's sojourn still run contrary to public defences by his media minders. Whatever it was has limited Dame's interactions with her numerous admirers.

Blather: Confusion continues over who warehoused $26.5 million plea bargain money construction company, Julius Berger paid on the $180 million Halliburton bribe scandal, a confirmation that Nigerians and their government do not bank their money. The President, like in all things, has a committee to locate the money. Please note, the money - equivalent of what the Federal Government is spending on three of its nine new universities - is not missing, it just cannot be found.

Also similar is ownership of $15 million in the custody of Central Bank of Nigeria, which former Governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori allegedly offered to the former Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu as bribe in 2007. One would have thought the money belonged to Delta State, but the Federal Government and an individual appear determined to take it. Did $15 million earn any interest in five years?

Bombing, Bungling: We learnt differences between bombs, explosive devices, improvised explosive devices. Nigerians are still dying from bombing and bungling of the (in)security situation. Hardly a day passed without someone dying from an explosion, especially in Kano and most of the North East that is becoming a vast wasteland.

Clatter: You can almost hear the clatter of Governors Danbaba Suntai (Taraba) crashing in his self-piloted plane and Idris Wada (Kogi) shattering his limbs in a road accident. No height is safe for both high and lowly. We wish them quick recovery.

Deaths: Explosions from a petrol tanker in Etche, Rivers State killed 200 people who were scooping fuel. Dana Air's crash took more than 100 to their grave, some are not yet buried. The killing of four university students in Aluu, near Port Harcourt, remains controversial. Gunmen killed Senator Gyang Dantong, and Gyang Fulani, Majority Leader of Plateau State House of Assembly at a funeral for 63 people attackers killed in Riyom, outside Jos. Deputy Inspector General of Police John Haruna died in a helicopter crash on assignment in Jos. Other deaths from a helicopter - Governor Patrick Yakowa of Kaduna State and former National Security Adviser, General Owoye Andrew Azazi.

Do give a damn, Sir: Panellists infuriated the President over his assets declaration in a televised June media chat. "The issue of public asset declaration is a matter of personal principle. I don't give a damn about it, even if you criticise me from heaven. When I was the Vice President, that matter came up, and I told the former President (late Musa Yar'Adua) let's not start something that would make us play into the hands of people and create an anomalous situation in the country," he said. Even in death, Yar'Adua would be astounded about "an anomalous situation." His widow and the President's wife were in a legal combat over an expanse of land in Abuja about this time.

Glitters, grease, glitz: Son of Jigawa State Governor, Aminu Lamido was arrested with $40,000 (N7.5m), an amount in excess of authorised $10,000 for an overseas trip. The money pales to nothing when compared with $7 million (about N1.1 billion) found on another passenger last October. There have been other arrests since. There is no word yet about the owners of the money or why people are moving huge sums of money through the airports. How much would have passed undetected? Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said Nigeria lost a fifth of her oil production (500,000 barrels) daily to thieves, a daily revenue loss of more than N5 billion 0r more than N2 trillion year, about half of the 2012 budget.

Guesswork: Not even government knows how much it earns from oil. A presidential task force (no committee this time) nearly came to blows while submitting the report on oil and gas. Nuhu Ribadu, chairman, in the report claimed Nigeria lost more than $29 billion over 10 years to low pricing of its natural gas.

Pricing of natural gas

Steve Orosanye, a task force member and a presidential ally rejected the report. The President asked Orosanye to write his own report. Conflicting presidential positions rove from cancellation of the report, to setting up a white paper committee or ignoring it, the preferred option.

House of Gaps: The House of Representatives jumped into the fuel subsidy and got burnt. Its ad hoc committee on administration of fuel subsidy asked the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency, the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation, and 17 oil marketing companies to refund - N1.7 trillion, paid when supplies were not made. Later a scandal broke with allegations that the committee demanded $620,000 as first tranche of a bribe running into billions of Naira. The matter is in court.

Herma Hembe, Chairman House's Committee on Capital Market and his deputy Chris Azubuogu, are in court for allegedly collecting $4,095 (mere N655,200) each as estacode to attend a training abroad, they neither attended nor returned the money. Director General of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Arunma Oteh, further alleged she rejected Hembe's demand for SEC to contribute N44 million to finance a public hearing.

If symptoms persist after 12 Months... Solution to persistent symptoms is to ignore the problem, government did that with all areas of its operations. Corruption, the President explains, according to him, as explained to him, stems from ignorance of Nigerians, who have decided to call anything without a name corruption. There is no point fighting what Nigerians do not understand.

Power Without Energy: A distinction between power and energy must be made. The Minister of Power, in all its ramifications, is the President. Professor Barth Nnaji was the Minister of Energy. His departure has seen the President combining the Ministries of Power and Energy. Promises of more electricity are on going with contracts signed in important global languages: English, French, Germany and Mandarin (Chinese). Someone forgot Spanish; the world's third most widely spoken language.

Scams, Scandals, Slaps: The House of Representatives probed withdrawal of N114 billion from the Stabilisation Account by the President in eight months for certain unbudgeted expenditures. Shall we call that a scam? Two years after government released N5 billion to contractors for police barracks it was discovered the money had been diverted. The Inspector-General's Special Task Force would find the fraudsters. Is that not a scandal? Some top officials in the Office of the Head of Civil Service are in court for diversion of N32.8 billion from the Nigeria Police Pension Fund. It is a slap on the police.

Soon Means...Government favourite assuring lingo that something was being done about a situation is "soon". The best "soon" is another committee to under-study the situation, another having over-studied it.

Spot The Indifference: Nigeria's 2012 Olympic team won no medals in London, the first time Nigeria did not win Olympic medals since 1988.

The paralympians (physically challenged competitors) won six gold, five silver and two bronze. They still do not have training facilities nor do public buildings recognise the fact that some people are physically challenged.

Water Get Enemy: Afro juju musician Fela was wrong with his claim that "water e no get enemy". Floods, the worst for more than 80 years, swept through many parts of the country. Water became the latest enemy of our long suffering people. The issue was forgotten once its media opportunities waned.

What's God's Offence? If we are unwilling to do our work, we blame God. The Senate Committee on Establishment returned this decision on Chairman of Pension Reform Task Team, Alhaji Abdulrasheed Maina - we have handed him over to God because powerful people are protecting him.

Pension office

Maina claimed his team uncovered N3.3 trillion pension fund fraud while the Senate summoned Maina over theft of N195 billion at the Pension Office. Maina ignored the Senate which now wants God to conduct the hearing. Is it God's money that is missing? Or is God a Senator? Some senators should refund public expenses on them and go home.

Who, What We Aren't: Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Maryam Aloma Mukhtar, took flaks for refusing to administer oath of office on Justice Ifeoma Jombo-Ofo, as a Justice of the Appeal Court. Of Anambra State origin, she married an Abia State indigene. Abia State nominated her to the Court of Appeal. Mukhtar ruled she was not from Abia.

Section 42 (1) of the Constitution states, "A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person: (a) be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religion or political opinions are not made subject."

The Constitution awards us rights as citizens that we can only access as indigenes: what a contradiction!

Zipper: The passing year brimmed with potentials, and so did Nigeria. We wasted them in niggles. With all these matters pending and lying in a presidential closet, and his preachment that haste was not a strong point of his, we would have a prospective (not prosperous) New Year. It is up to you to prospect and prosper. If you did not eat cassava bread in 2012, you have at least one great reason for bubbling into 2013.

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