Crude Oil Thieves, Subsidy Thieves and A Battered Nation

I must confess that since he assumed full presidential powers with the 2011 presidential election, President Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan read what could easily pass as his most charismatic and inspiring presidential speeches on Monday July 23rd 2012 at the opening ceremony of a maritime sector presidential Retreat which he hosted at the heavily fortified Aso Rock presidential palace in Abuja.

Speaking at the summit with the theme “harnessing the potential of Nigeria’s maritime sector for sustainable Economic development”, President Jonathan in his rare moment of elevated profound philosophical mood, stated; “It is embarrassing that it is only in Nigeria that crude oil is stolen. It is a very bad news and I believe that Nigerians and foreigners who are involved in that act need to throw their heads under the pillow because all over the World, it is only Nigeria that crude oil is stolen. This must stop. We will be decisive in putting an end to this malaise. Our charge to all relevant agencies and departments of government is to work cooperatively with the desired urgency”.

In that speech, President Jonathan had set out to address the most disturbing phenomenon of crude oil theft which has become a hydra-headed monster which was recently described by the Coordinating minister of the economy and Finance minister Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the nation’s drain pipe and the greatest threat to Nigeria’s economic growth.

President Jonathan exhibited the profound intellectual depth of a sound university lecturer when he euphemistically described Nigeria as the only place in the whole wide world where crude oil theft occurs. He said that though Nigeria is not the only crude oil producing nation but unfortunately the country has easily won its way into the infamous global record as the nation that harbor the greatest percentage of crude oil thieves. The President promised to take further decisive steps to bring the ugly situation of crude oil theft in the oil rich Niger Delta to a quick end.

It is on record that the current Nigeria’s federal administration set up powerful joint military task force to combat the ugly phenomenon of crude oil theft but not much has been achieved by this formidably funded joint military task force. There are widespread allegations that crude oil theft in the Niger Delta are largely carried out by some powerful forces who have the backing and protection of some powerful forces in the military and the political hierarchy. Not too long ago, media reports quoted one of the crude oil thieves caught in the very criminal act that their major backer was a high profile leader of the ruling People Democratic Party [PDP]. High profile traditional leaders of the Niger Delta communities have also been fingered as being behind some of the most prosperous crude oil thieves.

The Presidential pledge by the current president to combat crude oil theft should not end up like the many promises to tackle the unprecedented terror-related violence in the North that the federal Government has so far failed to keep. President Jonathan is known to have addressed the armed Islamic insurgents as terrorist group waging war against the state and has also been severally quoted in the media as saying that the government would put measures in place to check the mass killings.
But rather than abating, the killings by these armed rebels in the North has become even more troubling leading to the recent declaration by the President Barrack Obama-led administration in the United States to declare three suspected kingpins of the armed Islamic rebels in Northern Nigeria as terrorists who are big threats to the American interest and are therefore legitimate targets for elimination through drone attacks which some human rights analysts have criticized.

But the Irony in the Nigerian scenario is that while President Jonathan has in more than one thousand reported stories in the local and international press called the Northern-based armed Islamic rebels as carrying out dastardly criminal acts of terrorism, the same federal administration vehemently opposes the decision by the United States government to brand Boko Haram as a global terrorist organization which would enable the United States to tackle the terror-related violence in Nigeria.

It is for this presidential inconsistencies that the recent presidential statement pledging to take decisive steps to tackle the economic threats posed to Nigeria by crude oil thieves may not be received favourably by analytic-minded thinkers.

President Jonathan clearly understood the magnitude of threats to Nigeria’s economy constituted by these bad elements in Nigeria and their foreign collaborators engaged in the dastardly criminal acts of crude oil theft, but the federal administration is yet to show clear evidence that the other gangs of cabals that stole several billions of United States Dollars from the nation’s petroleum subsidy scheme would be brought to effective, transparent and decisive prosecution in the competent court of law. To most Nigerians, the subsidy thieves are on the same page with the crude oil thieves and should therefore be prosecuted without further foot dragging by the relevant law enforcement agencies.
Although the officials of the current federal administration are yet to come to terms regarding the exact loses in monetary terms incurred by the nation to the dare-devil activities of the crude oil thieves, but there are scientific sound, water-tight and unimpeachable body of evidence to show that Nigeria has lost close to N1.4 Trillion to the activities of petroleum products subsidy thieves.

Two committees set up by the delectable and energetic minister of Finance Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala have come to a conclusion that over N400 Billion of tax payers’ money were stolen by members of the dreaded petroleum subsidy cabal from the petroleum subsidy scheme. Thus the distance between the findings of the discredited Farouk Lawan-led House of Representatives’ ad-hoc committee on petrol subsidy and those of the Federal Government accredited committees of experts is not much of a problem since both investigators arrived at the same conclusion that massive funds belonging to the Nigerian public were stolen by the petrol subsidy cabal members. The former Executive Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Mr. Nuhu Ribadu who was recently made the chairman of a task force on Petroleum Revenue has also blamed the Government funded Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) for the massive and historic theft of public funds from the petroleum subsidy scheme.

President Jonathan rightly stated that Nigeria is the only country that crude oil are stolen by the citizens but Mr. President should take special note that Nigeria is the only oil producing nation that harbours the greatest percentage of the gravely impoverished populace even as a tiny minority have cornered the entire common wealth to their pockets.

Has President Jonathan read the well-constructed editorial of the Nigerian Guardian Newspaper of Thursday July 12th 2012 in which the paper rightly accused the Executive and legislative arms of government of mismanaging the scandals trailing the probe of the petroleum subsidy scam in which the erstwhile chairman of the Federal House of Representatives committee that probed the mismanagement of the oil subsidy scheme, Mr. Farouk Lawan, publicly admitted collecting $620 USD from a businessman Mr. Femi Otedola to exonerate the businessman from eventual indictment?

In that editorial aptly titled “Stop the oil subsidy charade”, the Nigerian Guardian wrote thus; “Both the Executive and legislative Arms of Government have mishandled the oil scandals, thereby setting new lows for already discredited national institution. The impression created is that the Nigerian police will not take an interest in cases of clear criminality
if it senses that its political bosses want to resolve them otherwise…” I ask President Jonathan to tell Nigerians whether stealing of huge public funds in the name of petrol subsidy scheme by well known crooks in high places has become a ‘family affair’?

Does Mr. President also know that it is only in Nigeria that a government institution like the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is accused of several criminal and fraudulent acts of diversion of public fund only for the same federal government to fail to punish the persons so indicted and even proceeded to re-appoint the minister of petroleum as chairman of a reconstituted governing board?
Specifically, KPMG, a global auditing firm hired by the Federal government to audit the accounts of the corruption-ridden NNPC, came out with extensively damaging report of monumental heist and looting of public fund and yet no single official of that damaged public institution is confined to the fore walls of the Nigerian Prisons. The audit set up in July 2010 came up with the report in November 2010 tagged; “current state assessment Report on the process and forensic review of NNPC”.

Commenting on one of the many ways that officials of NNPC siphoned several billions of US Dollars from public treasury, the auditors found out that though it is the duty of the NNPC to remit its earnings promptly to the federal Account, but that is not exactly what obtains, from the report of the auditors.
The auditors noted that; “from our review of the cycle time for the remittance of domestic crude cost into the federation Account, sweeping of fund took an average of 110-120 days as against the 90 days credit line offered by the NNPC”.

A possible reason for these criminal lapses could be the rolling over of the money in private accounts where they are lodged before remittance and therefore “Nigeria is being deprived of timely use of fund, and non-compliance with contractual agreements on the side of the Federal Government”.

President Jonathan must name and expose members of the cartel within the NNPPC establishment responsible for these corrupt activities so that public fund in their private accounts are retrieved and they are sternly punished by the competent court of law.
Nigeria is the only country whereby the National legislators earn more money than the president of the United States of America who is the most powerful political office holder in the World- President Barrack Obama.

In the Nigerian Guardian of Monday July 9th 2012, we were rightly told thus; “One major point of concern in the nation’s National Assembly is the high cost of maintaining the federal lawmakers. It is so high that the total emolument of a Nigerian senator is more than the US$400,000 (63,822,400 million) US President, Barrack Obama, earns annually”.

“According to reports, in 2006, a member of Congress received an annual salary of $165,200. Congressional leaders got $183,500 per year. The Speaker of the House of Representatives earns $212,100 annually. The salary of the President pro tempore (Senate President) for 2006 was $183,500 equal to that of the majority and minority leaders of the House and Senate. Privileges for lawmakers include an office and paid staff”.

“In 2008, non-officer member of Congress earned $169,300 annually. While there are complain that congressional pay is high compared with a median American income of $45,113 for men and $35,102 for women, there are other arguments that the pay is consistent with other branches of government.”
But in Nigeria, legislators have become overnight billionaires who are busy chasing and securing huge contracts than concentrate on the arduous job of thorough and patriotic law making for the betterment of Nigerians who are increasingly becoming impoverished and insecured.

Although I don’t share the opinion that the current presidency has diminished due to impunity that takes place in higher places, but I am worried that economic criminals and bribe givers are openly seen celebrating, dinning and winning with the presidency in Abuja. This is sad and must be reversed if Nigerians and the rest of the civilized World would take us for our word to battle the scourge of corruption. I believe that Nigeria is not finished yet because we are eternally doomed if we allowed Nigeria to disintegrate since no country is generous enough to host us as refugees considering our number and higher intelligence.

Emmanuel Onwubiko, Head, HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS’ ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA, writes from www.huriwa.blogspot.com.

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