Leadership (Abuja)

16 December 2013

Nigeria: The U.S,$49.8 Billion Question - Too Big to Ignore

Photo: Vanguard
Rep. Farouk Lawan accused of receiving bribe from oil marketers

editorial

Even for a country that is rapidly acquiring the reputation of the world's cover-up capital, the letter cannot - and will not - be swept under the carpet. On Tuesday, the press published a letter by the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, in which he accused the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation of failing to remit $49.8billion (N8trillion) received from the sale of crude during 19 months ending July 2013 into the treasury.

NNPC's response has at best been obfuscating, and at worst, insulting. To tell the public that the governor of the CBN does not know how to add up oil receipts, is to say Sanusi does not know the difference between six and half a dozen. That is ridiculous. We know that the folks at NNPC are used to a president who doesn't give a damn and a legislature that doesn't take its job serious. But we promise them, on behalf of millions of ordinary Nigerians whose children have been robbed of a decent education, potable drinking water, safe neighbourhoods and a fair shot at a decent life, that we will hold their feet to the fire. We will not stop asking until the public has a full and satisfactory account of what happened to the $49.8billion.

They think that a scandal-weary public will accept anything. They are mistaken. This may well be the scandal that ends all scandals.The moment of truth has come; we either swim or sink.Only last Monday, finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, at a breakfast meeting with the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) in Lagos, bemoaned the destructive influence of "corruption, mismanagement and waste in government". Infrastructure and development, she said, were impossible with "this level of corruption" which "is eating into the fabric of the economy". In a rare moment of candour, she added: "We are not helpless; we need to have the courage to start the corruption fight."

About the same time, the speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, was addressing the Nigerian Bar Association in Abuja to mark the International Anti-Corruption Day. He said President Goodluck Jonathan was encouraging corruption in the country by failing to act on cases found by the legislature to be true. In particular, he drew attention to the purchase of two bulletproof cars for aviation minister Stella Oduah at the cost of N255 million, the failure of anti-graft agency EFCC to account for donor funds it receives, inaction over N1trillion stolen by fuel importers in the name of "subsidy", and the mismanagement of billions of naira of the police pension fund.

Other public officers (including Okonjo-Iweala) have since reported that about 400, 000 barrels of crude oil were being stolen daily in Nigeria. The NCC spectrum sale scandal, which cost the country about $53 billion, is still haunting us. Jigawa State governor Sule Lamido also charged that he had reported a minister that accepted a $250milion bribe from an oil company to President Jonathan but the latter took no action. Not long after, Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi said $5billion was missing from the Excess Crude Account. Other governors have joined Amaechi in seeking answers to the many puzzles surrounding the oil industry and proceeds from oil.

But Sanusi's disclosure remains the mother of all heists! "While government needs to continue its effort to combat oil thieves, vandals and illegal refineries in the Niger Delta," Sanusi wrote, "the major problems are transactions taking place under legal cover with huge revenue leakages embedded therein."

As these current affairs show, many daggers have been thrust into the heart of Nigeria. And it is just a matter of time before it bleeds to death. No other country pillaged in this way should hope to survive. Now, we have reached a crossroads where we must decide to tell the truth and find a way back from the precipice.

If the governor of the apex bank did not understand how money is remitted all the while, who else did? Only President Goodluck Jonathan, his petroleum resources minister Diezani Alison-Madueke and finance minister Okonjo-Iweala could perhaps tell us what happened. And the nation is waiting for a valid explanation.

Several other allegations of fraud have been levelled on those who supervise the NNPC. The situation is so bad that Nigerians do not know the actual quantity of crude oil extracted from under its soil each day. Even the fight between the executive and the legislature over the benchmark price for oil in this and next year's budget is on account of corruption: whereas the price of a barrel of Nigerian crude has hovered around $110 for almost the entire year, the budget is hardly implemented and yet the contest for benchmark is between $76 and $79. The difference, of course, goes into the Excess Crude Account that public officeholders often find easy to feast upon.

The Senate has promised to probe the missing $49.8 billion. It will have to work hard to regain its name and reputation. On his part, the president has acquired a reputation for protecting thieves in his government; he cannot pretend not to know. If this indeed is the country over which he is president, he cannot pretend that a letter from the CBN governor raising the alarm over $49.8billion is not a big deal. Think of what $49.8billion can do in Nigeria today. The figure is 40 times the N200billion that forced ASUU to shut down our universities for five months. It's the equivalent of two years' federal budget and the combined budgets of a dozen African countries. And Jonathan and the folks at the NNPC think Nigerians will turn a blind eye and let this pass, just like that?

We call on the National Assembly to immediately commence impeachment proceedings against the president, if within a week from today the public does not have convincing explanation of what happened to the $49.8billion. If $49.8billion was not remitted to the treasury and the president didn't know, then he is unfit to retain his position. If he knew but did nothing to stop it, then he is a danger not just to himself, but also to the very existence of this great, long-suffering country.

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