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Locating ghosts within Nigeria’s oil cartel

By Tonnie Iredia

Nigeria seems to have many ghosts that have amongst its people for quite a while. They also appear to be everywhere. The immediate past federal government of President Goodluck Jonathan encountered many of them just as many of the states had their own share of the phenomenon.  During the administration of former Governor Jang of Plateau State, there was even a ghost commissioner in the state and for quite some time, collected salaries and all the perks of office of the post. At about the same time, former Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, claimed to have used the Integrated Financial Management System (GIFMS) to discover some 62, 893 ghost workers.

With such a big haul, one would have thought that the era of ghosts had ended and that the present administration with its change mantra would sanitize the environment such that we would have no cause to remember ghosts. Painfully that has not been the case. Instead, many more ghosts appear to have come on board and are now operating at will. Unfortunately, the nation is permanently under severe hardship because of the activities of her recurring ghosts. In his new year broadcast this year, President Buhari reiterated the determination of government to deal decisively with the subject but there are fears this may not happen as we have heard such tough talks in the past without any positive result.

There is also doubt if the acclaimed discoveries of government are helpful. Both our Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun and her Information colleague, Lai Mohammed had in the past told the nation about the movements of some ghosts. For instance, last February, Adeosun found one civil servant who had been collecting monthly salaries on behalf of 20 ghosts. Such a civil servant should have been made to lead government to the location of many more ghosts and their associates. Minister Adeosun also revealed at the IPPIS verification of staff on the payroll of the Nigeria Police Force, that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was set to prosecute 43,000 ghost workers. On his part, Lai Mohammed, announced the handing over to the Police of some top civil servants involved in employment racketeering. Such people should have also been made to provide ample links to the different locations of Nigeria’s ghosts

There have been other sources, especially in the states. In Imo state, the happiness governor was at a point saddened by his discovery of a huge wage bill of one public hospital which had only one nurse but claimed to also have 14 doctors. Not many know why Yahaya Bello of Kogi has been so apprehensive of ghost workers. Before he became governor, his state had a combination of ghost workers and ghost projects as a government committee set up by the state found 800 ghost schools. In Benue, Governor Samuel Ortom narrated how his predecessor allegedly floated a N4.96 billion bond to fund the rehabilitation and upgrading of water works at Makurdi, Otukpo and Katsina-Ala, which ended as ghost projects. In Edo, the opposition party made unrefuted allegations that the new Central Hospital in Benin which was commissioned by President Buhari almost two years ago had ghost equipment which vanished after the commissioning. They are yet to be found.  In Katsina state, a project verification committee set up by Governor Aminu Masani uncovered 32 ghost projects and another 12 that were reportedly undocumented

The latest report released by the office of the Auditor General of the federation, has added a new dimension which can be called ‘ghost visitation’ in the federal ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development. The report clearly indicts the minister, Aisha Alhassan of spending N12m on ‘familiarisation visits’ to unnamed skill acquisition centres on the same day she assumed office in 2015. In the words of the report. “an audit investigation established that the purported acclaimed appraisal visits to skill acquisition centres were never undertaken.”

Against this backdrop, we may never resolve the issue of the more sophisticated ghosts within the oil sector. For long, there had been stories of ghost exploration and ghost subsidy payments which the experts are trying to get the present administration to validate hence the last fuel shortages at Christmas. This obviously explains why oil producing Nigerians are suffering from oil. In a recent ranking of the way countries administer their oil, gas and mining industries organised by a New York-based Natural Resource Governance Institute, Nigeria finished a dismal 55th out of the 89 ranked countries.   Ghana, which only recently discovered oil, was ranked 13th, and best in Africa, followed by Burkina Faso, which ranked 20th.   In fact, out of about 20 African countries ranked, Nigeria lagged behind no less than 16.

A few days before the present government assumed office in May 2015, an on-going fuel crisis was reportedly resolved and fuel wholesalers assured the nation that they had reached a deal with the government. At the heart of the shortage was a row over the payment to wholesalers of the difference between the subsidised pump price and the international market price. On assumption office of the current President, the price of fuel was increased to bring an end to the subsidy racket. But whether the racket will ever end is an issue that no one can answer because the ghosts seem to be at work again. There are claims and counter claims producing irreconcilable versions. Our National Assembly had said the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation NNPC was behind it all. The Chairman of the Senate committee on petroleum downstream Senator Kabiru Marafa, said so in Gusau, Zamfara state on New Year’s Day after an assessment of fuel situation in the country. NNPC says it is the fault of the oil marketers which the latter promptly denied.

Industry sources however suggest that perhaps everyone in the sector is a type of ghost because the international oil companies, our security agencies and even some indigenes are said to play their own roles in the business. They say Nigeria neither knows the quantum of oil it produces nor is it prepared to rely on a petroleum industry legal framework. Senator Marafa is no doubt raising the real issues. By his empirical calculation, fuel gets to Nigeria at N141 and not N171. Besides no one has answered his question on why relevant government agencies collect charges of our naira denominated petroleum products in dollars. So, can we ever locate our oil ghosts?

 


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