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NNPC: Cock and bull story

By Chioma Gabriel
When the news broke that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Africa’s biggest oil producer,  is facing questions about where billions of dollars in oil money is going amid suspicions of fraud and it being siphoned among other things, the first thing that came to my mind was how my own family missed out on the whole thing.

How could  I have had an uncle who worked and became a Director in NNPC for years and all these monies were being diverted and he didn’t bring home any for the family?

And to imagine that my police man father used his hard-earned check-point allowance  to send him to the United States to study but Uncle Chris came back after many years, worked in NNPC, became a Director for years but was not able to steal any money.  And he died without making the family rich with all these monies allegedly being siphoned. Imagine!

Mr. Andrew Yakubu  GDM NNPC
Mr. Andrew Yakubu GDM NNPC

How could an NNPC Director leave behind uncompleted buildings all over the place and just die like that when such outrageous sums were being siphoned before his very nose? Would Uncle Chris be so wicked to have wanted our family to keep groaning in hardship when he could easily have made ‘clean’ money for the family?

Abi his own NNPC dey different?

Tu te rends compte

And with all his education and grammatical assault on our senses? This Americana Uncle had this thing about grammar and phonetics while his mates were being money-wise. He was obviously speaking grammar all over the place while money was consistently being moved around?  And he had the impetus to die,  leaving behind uncompleted buildings all over the place. Who did he expect to complete the job when he couldn’t  even misappropriate ordinary  N1billion? He would have distrubted it to all family members and by now, we would have joined chorus with those saying there is no missing money in NNPC.

But blague à part, it is disheartening that some greedy thieves in high places, probably numbering not more than 150 persons, deliberately did not remit $20 billion dollars of Nigeria’s oil earnings into the Federation Accounts within a period of just 18 months and at a time  that about 80 million Nigerians live below $1 dollar daily.

This  issue has been  on since  last year and we have been going back and forth since the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi accused the NNPC of withholding $49.8 billion in oil revenue.

Let’s forget the inconsistency in figures. Money is missing and it’s a monumental amount and we are here playing politricks  with the issue.  At this point, whether $49.8billion or $12 billion or even $20billion is missing is not the problem. The problem is that money is missing and what was the money used for? Where was it diverted to?

If the truth must be told, the whistle blowing by Sanusi  on the NNPC for its non-remittance of $20 billion (N3.2 trillion) to the Federation Account has done the nation a lot of good. It has  once again beamed a light on the long suspected financial irregularities in the oil and gas sector and exposing a fraudulent defiance to a presidential directive in 2009 banning the payment of subsidy on kerosene.

NNPC should stop dilly-dallying over this issue. It should produce the proof that the unremitted $20 billion  did not belong to the federation or was legally and constitutionally spent. It is not a cheery news that $20 billion dollars belonging to estimated 170 million Nigerians, half of whom live below $1 dollar or N160 naira daily, have been stolen, withheld, unremitted by some people within the NNPC and other accomplices within the corridors of power.

Nigeria is one of the biggest producers of oil; producing about two million barrels of oil per day, and crude exports account for about 80 percent of government revenue and that ought to make every Nigerian a millionaire.

From past records, NNPC generated about $49 billion in export revenue,some of which go into a rainy-day fund, called the Excess Crude Account (ECA), to ensure the government’s budget is financed in case world oil prices fall sharply.

It was reported that last year, as global oil prices stood above $100 per barrel, revenue above $79 per barrel  benchmark set by the government and lawmakers went into the ECA.

The CBN figures revealed that the ECA held $11.5 billion at the end of 2012, but this had dropped to $2.5 billion in January this year, coming on the heels of a decrease in foreign reserves.

According to the CBN data, last year, the ECA figure stood at $48 billion but is now at about $42.7 billion.
What drew the ire of many Nigerians is that government has indulged in a spending jamboree without any noticeable improvement in the standard of living of the people. The ECA is meant to protect Nigeria in the event of price shocks but it appears the purpose for setting the fund aside is now being defeated.

It is worrisome that the people in government are not thinking about tomorrow. They are not bothered about what becomes of the economy if the ECA dries up and there is drop in the international price of crude.

The opposition All Progressives Congress, APC, believes  the money has been used to weaken states controlled by the party after dozens of members of the ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, defected to APC.

But the NNPC and the Federal Government are of the opinion that the money has gone to legitimate projects and that oil theft and vandalism have contributed to the reduction in revenues.

Well, the issue of oil-theft or “bunkering” has been  a problem in Nigeria for years. In the Niger-Delta area of the country, the business of bunkering thrives and men of timbre and calibre are behind it. They steal an estimated 150,000 barrels per day, robbing the country of about $6 billion a year.

With the 2015 general elections in view, many believe the money may have been diverted to fund the 2015 election campaign and Jonathan’s presidential bid. The Jonathan administration has been accused severally, at different fora, of  siphoning money to prosecute its re-election agenda.

It’s really baffling that at a period when our oil is sold at $30 above the benchmark price, the foreign reserves and excess crude accounts are going down.

By virtue of Nigeria being an oil-producing country, every Nigerian ought to be a multi-millionaire but it is obvious that the money is being stashed away into the pockets of a few and the ‘loot’ is not going round. At a time like this, the only explanation for this abnormality is that politicians and officials are stashing money for elections.

The irony of it all is that many corrupt Nigerians of Christian and Muslim folds  who throng Jerusalem, Rome, Mecca, Medina, Redeemed Camp, Shiloh Camp, Adoration Camps and observe all the religious approved ceremonies at holy sites might be guilty of  deliberately withholding  $20billion dollars  for themselves,  family members and village heads.

And after hearing all these bogus sums being mentioned as missing or stolen,  many children of the poor are taking to prostitution, armed robbery, advance fee fraud, kidnapping, ritual killings, theft and other multiple vices due to poverty.

There are many who would rather die than get into these vices but they are few. Poverty has driven many into wickedness. Graduates being churned out of Nigerian universities every year stay for  years without employment and yet, they hear of billions of dollars  being stashed away by  a few set of executive thieves .

Many Nigerians believe that NNPC stinks and has been a haven for corruption and inefficiency. But it does not have the power to spend any money without appropriation.

The Group Managing Director (GMD) of the NNPC, Andrew Yakubu, once explained that  the alleged missing $20bn is sales money, insisting that all the money had been accounted for and that the unremitted $10.8 billion was for kerosene subsidy, pipeline maintenance, product losses and other operation costs. This explanation is not  satisfying.

The way things are going, nothing would likely come out of this. There would not likely be any consequences. I don’t foresee a situation where fraud or corruption would be established in this matter. So far,  the Petroleum Minister, Deziani Alison-Madueke has said  the NNPC did not violate any law in the deduction at source of $10.8 billion for subsidy on imported petroleum products, insisting that the presidential directive was ineffective because it was not gazetted.

To add credence to this, the Attorney- General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke, equally clarified that the  NNPC or its wholly owned subsidiary, Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NPDC) was empowered by law to transfer its interests in any Oil Mining Licences (OMLs) provided it secured the approval of the Minister of Petroleum Resources.

Many people who don’t understand the implication of what is going on would  not make head or tail out of these confusing figures and issues.

What many Nigerians are asking for is food on their table, a place to lay their heads and enough facilities to send their children to school. Many Nigerian families are lacking in these and yet outrageous figures get quoted everyday as being stolen or missing  while patriotism is being preached to the poor.

Nigeria ranks very high  in Corruption Index  especially given the pervasive culture of impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of high level official corruption in the country and government’s efforts to tackle the problem are simply not working.

The government is not sincerely waging the war  against corruption. it is letting down millions of Nigerians while benefiting only a few staunch  backers.

Indeed, lack of solid political will to fight high level official corruption remains an impediment to the full enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights in Nigeria. Despite making the fight against corruption one of its key agenda, the government continues to lag behind  in its commitments to fight graft.

The government lacks political will and good faith to fight official corruption as demonstrated by its lukewarm attitude towards bringing to justice those accused of official corruption and its failure to disclose how much stolen public funds have been recovered and the use to which recovered money have been put.

The fight against corruption has been bought over and politicised with innocent Nigerians paying heavy prices. There is now a growing public skepticism about the ability of the government to successfully combat high level official corruption and to promote public accountability.

High level official sleaze will continue to grow and eat deep into the public treasury and lead to worsening poverty and economic inequality if the government does not change its policy of shielding powerful politicians and its own officials  from prosecution.

Je conclus mon plaidoyer .

 


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